I came upon a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites in New York when I was there a couple of days ago and they were talking about how they are the first original Jews and that the whites are trying to replace them. Is this true and do they have any proof like genetics that can see if they are really the original Jews?
What if we could prove or disprove the claim of originality you heard? Would it change anything about Jews who are black, white, or any other racial heritage? As far as I know, we can't verify the claim of originality. Even if we could, I don't believe it would make any difference to my Judaism. Say I wasn't "first" or "original," my authenticity as a Jew is not affected in the least.
As far as the accusation of replacement, I react with incredulity and wonder. Judaism should be colorblind. I beloeve strongly that a Jew of color is no different in the eyes of God than a Jew who was born white. I wonder what pain this individual has experienced to cause him to claim that"whites" are trying to replace them.
I pray for the day that we all can own our Jewish identity fully, that authenticity is not a matter of lineage or heritage alone, but of the practice of Mitzvot, the study of Torah, and commitment to the betterment of our people and this world.
I can assure you that this is not true, there is no proof that they are of Jewish descent, and their existence as a group is relatively short. You can read their history on Wikipedia here.
The relevant material there states:
“Black Hebrew Israelites (also Black Hebrews, African Hebrew Israelites, and Hebrew Israelites) are groups of people mostly of Black African ancestry situated mainly in the United States who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Black Hebrews adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. They are generally not accepted as Jews by the greater Jewish community, and many Black Hebrews consider themselves—and not mainstream Jews—to be the only authentic descendants of the ancient Israelites. Many choose to self-identify as Hebrew Israelites or Black Hebrews rather than as Jews.
Dozens of Black Hebrew groups were founded during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the mid-1980s, the number of Black Hebrews in the United States was between 25,000 and 40,000.”
“In the late 19th century among some African-Americans, an identification with the ancient Hebrews developed into an identification as ancient Hebrews. One of the first groups of Black Hebrews, the Church of God and Saints of Christ, was founded in 1896. During the following decades, many more Black Hebrew congregations were established. These groups claimed descent from the ancient Israelites. They selected elements of Judaism and adapted them within a structure similar to that of the Black church.
The beliefs and practices of Black Hebrew groups vary considerably. The differences are so great that historian James Tinney has suggested the classification of the organizations into three groups: Black Jews, who maintain a Christological perspective and adopt Jewish rituals; Black Hebrews, who are more traditional in their practice of Judaism; and Black Israelites, who are most nationalistic and furthest from traditional Judaism.”
Needless to say, although some members of these groups may claim to be directly descended from the ancient Hebrews or Israelites, there is little or no basis for such a claim, and it is not supported by any facts or historical evidence. My tendency is simply to disregard these claims as spurious.
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