21 November 2011
All in the Family
I first heard about Rabbi Capers Funnye during the last presidential race, when it came out that the current First Lady, Michelle Obama's cousin was a rabbi of a large synagogue in Chicago.
But in reading a recent interview that Rabbi Funnye did with the Israeli newpaper, Haaretz, I now realize that he is not some curiosity or obscure answer to a trivia question, but an important voice in religious and ethnic affairs.
I urge you to read the interview. It is short, but filled with "ah-ha" moments.
His description of discovering an African tribe that has the practice of blowing a shofar in the same way Jews do during our Autumn holidays was one that opened a whole line thought on my part.
Much has been made that Jesus had wooly hair. No one knows exactly what he looked like, but the point is that we could expect that he would have had skin and hair similar to today's "Arab Jews," the Jews of Iran, Iraq, etc. They're pretty dark.
We think that today there is a lot of mixing of peoples, but with all the conquering, etc. in the past, there was plenty of genetic diversity happening. Why do so many Jews of European heritage have dark, curly hair? Why do some Jews have African medical conditions like keloidal scars and sickle-cell anemia? Even if you don't buy that all the Jews dispersed during the diaspora as far as Poland, for instance, surely, travellers from Palestine would seek out Jewish communities both out of convenience and because the would often not be welcome elsewhere. Some hanky-panky would naturally take place.
It's ridiculous of European Jews to think of themselves as the "real" Jews, while insisting that African Jews "convert" to their style of Judaism. Who's to say that African king blowing a ram's horn is not more directly descended from kings of Judea and Samaria than your stereotypical American Jew?
I like Rabbi Funnye's concept of "reverting" to Judaism. I have a friend in my congregation, a woman originally for Argentina who converted, in part, because she felt very strongly that she could trace her Judaism to the Spanish Inquisition. She too would have, strictly speaking, "reverted" rather than "converted."
I feel that Judaism is something that one feels in one's soul, not something that others can impose on you (or take away for that matter). You can't "look" like a Yiddishe Nashuma (a Jewish soul).
In short, these so-called Jewish liberals should be a little less racist when it comes to their own.