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The Black Hebrew Israelite Movement – A Brief Introduction

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What are the beliefs of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement? What connects some of Kanye West's statements about race and Judaism? Find out here.

Published Feb 19, 2024

It might be the understatement of the century to state that the advent of the Interconnected Network – the INTERNET – changed the world. In a way like no other medium prior to it, the internet has allowed for news, information, and ideas to spread without limit and discretion.  Permanently gone are the days where news travels less than lightning fast; people are being exposed to information and ideas they may not have otherwise known.

In December of 2019, CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke authored an online-only article entitled “Who are the Black Hebrew Israelites” in his coverage of what was identified as the “Jersey City Shooting.”1 The incident which took place at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey was calculated and targeted leaving four people shot dead by the perpetrators. It was later found that the perpetrator couple had links with what Burke identified as “the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.”

Approximately three years later in December of 2022, Kanye (“Ye”) West, most notably known for his music artistry and fashion designs, made mainstream news following a few controversial interviews and attention-getting Tweets. Contentiously, West expressed some familiar sounding sentiments and posted them online for all to see:

“Planned Parenthood was made by Margaret Sanger, a known eugenics [sic], with the KKK to control the Jew [sic] population. When I say Jew, I mean the 12 lost tribes of Judah, the blood of Christ, who the people known as the race Black really are. This is who our people are.”2

 “Black people are all also Jew — I classify as Jew also — so I actually can’t be an antisemite. The term is actually not factual.”3

“I’m a bit sleepy tonight, but when I wake up, I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE. The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti-Semitic because black people are actually Jew also. You guys have toyed with me and tried to blackball anyone who opposes your agenda.”4

Despite making mainstream news status, it is possible to be aware of these news stories yet remain fully in the dark as to exactly what “the Black Hebrew Israelite movement” is.  If you are a relative newcomer to the ideology, it is obscure and can be bewildering on first encounter. Adherents can express diversity in beliefs ranging from recognizable orthodox Jewish views and customs on one hand, to extreme supremacist militant views on the other—quite a range indeed.

Complicating this, while people might think the loud and public exhibitions (online and on major U.S. city street corners) represent the entire movement, there exists an equally loud presence that is not online and overly visible.  These adherents look and sound much different than the former.

Whether adherents – with their respective differences in belief and practices – are referred to as Hebrew Israelites, Black Hebrew Israelites, Israelites, African Hebrew Israelites, or Black Hebrews, one thing is clear: thanks to the internet highway the ideology has become far reaching and is GROWING.

Figure 1. Hebrew Israelite group (Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISPUPK)) on a Washington DC street corner. Credit: Yaskulka5

(For sake of consistency this article will refer to ideological adherents as “Hebrew Israelites” and to the ideology itself as “Hebrew Israelism”).

To onlookers who are only superficially familiar with Christianity and orthodox Christian doctrine, the movement may appear related, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, most (but not all) Hebrew Israelites are aversive to Christianity. Some even go as far to claim that it is “the white man’s religion” and/or a pagan one that is not even biblical.

So then, simply, and superficially, what IS Hebrew Israelism and what are some basic tenets?6

Hebrew Israelism, at its core, is an ideology that teaches if you are a descendant of individuals who arrived in the Western Hemisphere via the trans-Atlantic slave trade (TAST), you are in fact a descendent of the biblical Israelites. Kinship is found between the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-14) and the slavery experienced by people of African descent.

Quite simply, it is an ideology that addresses IDENTITY. The atrocities of the TAST stripped both dignity and identity of a whole people group. Hebrew Israelism is an ideology that seeks to restore and reclaim stolen dignity and identity by claiming: “we know who we are—we are the TRUE Israelites.”  Many proponents will also rename themselves in the effort to reflect their true “rediscovered” Hebrew identity.

To these adherents, modern day Jews (i.e., Ashkenazi, Sephardic) are viewed as identity “thieves” and “imposters.” The ideology fosters antisemitic attitudes for these advocates that have potential to be expressed in varying degrees, as seen in both news stories above.

Employing poor biblical hermeneutics, the dominant basis for this identity claim comes from Deuteronomy 28:15–68. This passage outlines the curses that would befall the children of Israel for disobedience to the Law. Individuals find their “lost” Hebrew identity by discovering and realizing that they “fit” the curses. Only by returning to deference of the Law will these curses be lifted, and the blessings of God be once again obtained.

Figure 2.  The 12 Tribes of Israel Chart. Credit: Streetphotographernyctlv.7

Particularly stressed is the King James version of Deuteronomy 28:68;

And the LORD shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you. (Deut. 28:68, KJV)

For Hebrew Israelites this is a prophetic passage in which the writer, Moses, is not simply speaking about the physical land mass of Egypt. Instead, there at Sinai, Moses is making prophetic reference to Israel’s future descendants who would be brought to the land mass of their bondage – the Americas – via cargo slave ships. In effect, this is a prophecy about the bondage/slavery of the TAST.

The latter part of this verse which reads as “no man shall buy you” is also significant. The phrase is interpreted as “no one will redeem/save you.” The Hebrew Israelites see this phrase as descriptive of the history of the barbaric TAST.

Another tenet that some Hebrew Israelites hold to is that, in varying degree, the law, statutes and commandments of the Mosaic Covenant must be followed and kept (See Exodus 19 – 24:3). In fact, a common accusation made by Hebrew Israelites towards Christians is that they are law breakers who do not really love God because they do not keep these covenant laws. Strict obedience to the Law also includes the keeping of the Feast Days. Traditional holidays and even celebratory days (i.e., Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc.) can be seen as pagan devilry and are often totally discarded.

Many (not all) Hebrew Israelites reject affiliation not only with Christianity, but with religion itself. Instead, it is commonly asserted that what is lived out is an identity and not a religion.  This rejection, however, requires some ignorance of the very concept of religion. The collective characteristics of belief in a deity (the Most High), loyalty to a code of ethics/behavior (the Law), fidelity to a religious text (the Bible), the keeping of religious observances and rituals (Feast Days, prayer, etc.), and belief in an afterlife denote: religion.  Contrary to what many (not all) Hebrew Israelites believe, they indeed follow a religion.

Finally, in relation to Jesus, many (not all) Hebrew Israelites make dogmatic claims about him. In harmony with the attention they give to ethnicity and skin color for themselves, they claim that Jesus is a black man.

The central biblical passage used to affirm this position is:

His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. (Rev. 1:14, 15, KJV) 

Hebrew Israelites make the assertion that this verse describes the physical appearance of Jesus. According to them, a Jesus who has “woolly hair” and “brass-colored feet” is black. However, on syntactical inspection, their rendering of this verse is problematic at best. This verse clearly emphasizes hair COLOR, not hair TEXTURE. “His head and his hairs were white like wool” simply does not and cannot equate to “woolly hair.”  In addition, the conclusion that this verse communicates that Jesus was black requires that the first three words of the verse be totally ignored:

“HIS HEAD AND…”

If a texture of “woolly” is being applied to the hair of Jesus in this verse, the word “and” necessitates that texture is also being applied to the actual head of Jesus. Furthermore, if this is a physical description … the head of Jesus was white.

This is a problem of astronomical proportions for the “black Jesus” hypothesis.

Figure 3. Hebrew Israelite member (Israel United in Christ (IUIC). Credit: Donald Trung Quoc Don.8

Plainly stated, the passage (verses 9 – 20) refers to the glorified Jesus, not the phenotype of Jesus. It is hard to imagine that the eye color of Jesus was orange and red with possible flecks of yellow. Also, if his voice audibly had the sound of many waters, Jesus ought to have healed his own voice.

The Jesus of history was a middle Eastern looking and ethnically Jewish man. So just as it is an ahistorical assertion to claim he was a European looking white man (despite the many depictions we see of the same), it is equally ahistorical (and only accomplished by reading your desired views into the text) to claim that this scripture proves he was a black man.

Finally, an additional dogmatic claim of some (not all) Hebrew Israelites is that he was not the son of God; he was the natural born son of Mary and Joseph. Subsequently, the deity of Jesus is denied and fully rejected. This is an issue which would present major salvific problems to people in need of a Divine Savior.

Figure 4. The cross, a symbol which points to the Risen Saviour. Credit: Gallen35.9

In summary, Hebrew Israelism seeks to provide an answer to one of life’s most foundational questions, “Who am I?” The response to that question is the starting point of the ideology: I am a part of the 12 Tribes of Israel; I am an Israelite.

As a worldview, all things rest on this claim. Deuteronomy 28 serves as a “curse qualifier” resulting in successful entrants acquiring a type of Hebrew Israelite Identity Badge that reads “I Fit the Curses.”

Unfortunately, this type of identity badge ownership is not backed by [correctly interpreted] Scripture.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13, 14, ESV).

The Christian worldview is fundamentally different. For the Christian, all things rest not on personal identity, but on the person of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Being cursed (or “fitting curses”) is the very thing Jesus came to cure.

THIS news – that there exists a CURE – is the news that ought to spread.

Without limit and without discretion.

DNew

DNew

D.A. Newman is a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend who loves the Lord. She holds an Honors degree in Biological Science which, ironically, was the impetus to her discovery of Christian Apologetics; deepening her faith in God and confidence in the Christian worldview. She is also a blog writer, conference speaker, and contributor/editor to the book: Street Level Apologetics: Passion for the City, Clarity for the People. In addition to moderating for many Urban Apologetics online content creators, you can also find her in these online spaces refuting the erroneous claims of Hebrew Israelism and Kemetic Spirituality.

Social media: DNewIsHere (FB, Twitter, IG)

References:

Cover image: From ISRAEL LAMB [Photograph], by Tyler Merbler, 2016, Flickr(https://www.flickr.com/photos/37527185@N05/29682155630). CC BY 2.0. Image cropped.

1 https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/11/us/hebrew-black-israelites-jersey-city/index.html

2 https://www.vice.com/en/article/3ad77y/kanye-west-tucker-carlson-leaked-footage-antisemitism-fake-children

3 https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/news/kanye-west-called-chris-cuomo-083132944.html

4 https://www.npr.org/2022/10/09/1127732183/kanye-west-instagram-twitter

5 Yaskulka, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. Caption added to image. 

6 Please note the ideology is not monolithic and that different groups/individuals can hold differing beliefs.  Making absolute statements should be avoided.

7 Attributed to: Streetphotographernyctlv, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. Caption added to image. 

8 Donald Trung Quoc Don (Chữ Hán: 徵國單) – Wikimedia Commons – © CC BY-SA 4.0 International. Original publication : –Donald Trung 『徵國單』 (No Fake News ) (WikiProject Numismatics ) (Articles ) 12:12, 14 May 2022 (UTC), CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. Caption added to image. 

9 Gallen35, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. Caption added to image.

2 thoughts on “The Black Hebrew Israelite Movement – A Brief Introduction”

  1. We are thankful for your voice. This was a very well-written article. I look forward to reading more of your work.

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