Sunday, April 19, 2009

Follow-up To The "Obama's Rabbi" Story

Letters: Obama’s Rabbi

Zev Chafets provided a joyful read about visiting Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago (April 5). As a regular Shabbat service attendee, I have visited a wide array of synagogues in my frequent travels. A snowy Saturday last December led me to a synagogue, where Rabbi Capers Funnye officiates. The shul was recommended to me by members of a large, mainly African-American congregation in northwest Philadelphia, Temple Beth’El.

On that cold Shabbat morning in Chicago, a gust of wind pushed the door open and a member of Funnye’s congregation warmly welcomed me with “Shabbat Shalom,” helped me off with my snow-covered coat and politely gave me a familiar Siddur. I was prepared for the four-hour service and was honored “as a visitor” at the large kiddush after services. Perhaps you thought it appropriate to title the article “Obama’s Rabbi,” but it could just as easily have been “A Welcoming Synagogue in (Obama’s) America.” Since color is a theme in your article, I should add that I am a white Jewish man with a trimmed salt-and-pepper beard.

Wilmington, Del.

Capers Funnye is a knowledgeable, committed Jew and, as an Obama relative, has exceptional yichus. But he is just one of many, most of them white, who call themselves “rabbi” despite lacking the requisite training and credentials. One does not become a “physician” by serving as a medical corpsman, no matter how skilled, nor does a foreign national become a “U.S. citizen” by living in and being loyal to America. When he obtains proper ordination, just as he underwent legitimate conversion, I will be delighted to welcome him as a rabbinic colleague. Until then, I can only embrace him as a fellow Jew.

Beachwood, Ohio

Your article on Rabbi Capers Funnye seems to gloss over the whole Black Hebrew Israelite movement. Based on your article, Funnye seems like a decent guy, but Zev Chafets doesn’t come close to explaining why the world’s Jewish community might be unwelcoming or suspicious of his movement.

Chafets briefly touches on its roots when mentioning William Saunders Crowdy and Wentworth Matthew. There are extreme Black Israelite groups that espouse a theology that is a kind of color-reversed version of the religion of white-supremacist Christian Identity groups, believing that blacks are the true Hebrews and rightful heirs to Israel and whites are evil. The neo-Nazi Tom Metzger, leader of White Aryan Resistance, has said of such black supremacist groups, “They’re the black counterpart of us.”

It seems to me that Funnye represents his own congregation. If he were to say that he represented the Black Israelite movement and its many splinter groups, then the world Jewish community should reject him and the movement.

New York City

I can’t dismiss the belief that many white Jews are descended not from the ancient Israelites but from the Khazars, a tribe of Turkic nomads who, according to legend, converted to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century.

Any interested reader should consult the Catholic and both the older and the newer Jewish encyclopedias on this subject. They will find documentation from even Jewish scholars to indicate the Khazar story may be more than a myth.

Avenel, N.J.

(Is McIntyre perhaps a myth? There's always a judeaphobe somewhere. He may be referring to this. I'll go with this: "Are all Jews around the world descended from the Khazars? Certainly not. East European Jewish ancestry originates substantially from ancient Judea, and the same is true of most other modern Jewish populations (with the exception of groups like Libyan Jews and Ethiopian Jews). But, it is rational to conclude that some Jews also have some Khazar ancestors".)

When I read (quite a few months ago) that Michelle Obama has a cousin who is a rabbi, I was pleasantly surprised. I hadn’t read much more about Rabbi Capers Funnye until the article in The New York Times Magazine.

This time it wasn’t pleasant. A friend of Louis Farrakhan? How can that be? The same Farrakhan that refers to Jews as “satanic” and whose aide used the expression “so-called Holocaust.” How does he explain this to his congregation? Perhaps the rabbi should be looking for some new friends to hang around with.

New City, N.Y.


Anonymous said...

Whem Hashem gave the Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai the Law was given to a mixed multitude, not just Israelites descendant from Abraham! Any one who accepts Torah, attends Shul regularly, adheres to the teachings of the Old Prophets, adheres to Hashem's statutes and ordinances, and is circumcised is considered part of the remnant...G_D will use anyone to establish a colony of righteous people on this earth...I look forward to the day when all G_D's people will serve him in truth...This will only happen when the Messiah comes...and HE WILL BE OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH!

Rabbi Samuel Hurt, Chevarim

YMedad said...