What is your essential canon?
Our essential and only canon is the Torah and the rest of the Tanach or Hebrew Bible, sacred to Jews across the world. The Torah is also known in the English-speaking world as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses.
Why do you identify as Israelites instead of using the term Jews?
We identify as Israelites, members of Am Yisrael whose ancestors received the written law, or Torah, from God at Mount Sinai. We understand that terms Am Yisrael and Jews both refer to the twelve original tribes of Israel and their descendants whose central canon is the Torah.
Our movement within Am Yisrael was founded in 1919 in Harlem, New York by Rabbi Wentworth A. Matthew. It is closely aligned with the Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews and is under the auspices of the Israelite Board of Rabbis. At the time of our movement’s founding “Israelite” was a common term used in the English-speaking world to describe any Jew. Accordingly, when the founders of our movement called themselves and their children “Israelites”, they were identifying themselves as being aligned with Torah observant people, or Jews, around the world.
During the last century the use of the term “Israelite” fell by the wayside in the English-speaking world and was replaced with the greater usage of the term “Jew”. Our continuing use of the term “Israelite” emphasizes our connection to our ancestors while honoring the founders of our movement, even as it connects with other communities within Am Yisrael who identify themselves as Jews.
What is the difference between members of B’nai Adath and others who claim to be “Israelites” ?
Many other Africans and African Americans believe themselves to be descended from ancient Israelites and so claim the term Israelite for themselves. We express no opinion as to whether or not they should use that term as their use of the term does not affect our use of it or our identity. Some of those other groups believe in the divinity of Jesus as the Messiah, King or Moshiach of the Jewish people. We do not.
We pray solely, individually and collectively, directly to the one God, The Most High who revealed himself to Moses at Mount Sinai. Unlike others who may self-identify as Israelites, we believe (as did Maimonides) that we are still waiting for the coming of the Eliyahu the Prophet and the Moshiach. Malachi 3.23 – 24
We recognize that some people who have called themselves “Black Hebrew Israelites” and who are NOT members of our congregation or movement have expressed racist, anti-Semitic and other hateful sentiments. We completely condemn and disavow all such sentiments, statements and actions.
We believe ourselves to be members of Am Yisrael, part of and aligned with the worldwide Jewish community who believe in the exclusive divinity of The Most High as revealed in the Torah and Tanakh and understood by a multitude of generations who study, learn, discuss, debate, engage and struggle directly with the Divine. We consider ourselves to be simply another community within Am Yisrael like the Beta Israel, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Yemeni, Romanoite and other communities.
So if Israelite is a term that refers to Jews, how is your heritage, beliefs and practices different from those of people who we are more familiar with who self-identify as Jews?
Neither the religious beliefs nor the ethnic heritage of people who identify themselves within Am Yisrael or as Jews are completely uniform. Religiously, people may think of themselves as “Orthodox”, “Conservative”, “Reform” and “Reconstructionist” or as living within another stream of Judaism. Many also believe the oral law expressed in the Talmud and Mishnah are central and essential to their understanding of their faith. Ethnically, Jews of Eastern European heritage are referred to as Ashkenazi, Jews who were exiled from the Spanish peninsula are referred to as Sephardi and Jews whose recent ancestors lived in Egypt and other Arab countries may be referred to as Mizrahi, and that is only the tip of the iceberg of identity within Am Yisrael.
For us, we trace our ancestry to those who entered the diaspora in Africa before the destruction of the Temple and the development of the Talmud and Mishnah. We respect and value the insights to Torah expressed in these texts by our fellow members of Am Yisrael and have incorporated some of them into our practice and liturgy. However, we place less centrality upon the Talmud and Mishnah than the centrality we perceive is placed upon them by other Jews.
Rather than wholly adopt the terms and practices of others within Am Yisrael, we refer to ourselves as Israelites and to our religious practice as being “Torah observant”.
How are you different from Christians or Muslims?
We respect and are friends with Christians and Muslims and welcome them to learn more about us. But we are not Christian or Muslim. We do not accept either the New Testament or the Koran as our canon.
As do Jews throughout the world, we pray to the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, we believe in the collective revelation of The Most High to his people Israel at Mount Sinai and our canon is the Torah.
Why do you sometimes refer to God as “The Most High” or TMH?
Quite simply because one of the most common names for God in the Torah, El Elyon, translates to English as “The Most High” which we abbreviate as TMH.
When and where are services held?
Unfortunately, after the fire that devastated our synagogue on November 14th, 2017, B’nai Adath does not have a building where we can safely and regularly gather as a single congregation.
We occasionally find space to celebrate Shabbat together as a congregation. Since the fire, have been frequently welcomed to worship with sister congregations who are also members of the Israelite Board of Rabbis, such as Beth Shalom in Brooklyn, New York and Congregation Beth El in Pennsylvania. We’re in the process of trying to find a temporary space.
Meanwhile, when we meet throughout the month, meeting dates and locations are posted to our calendar. Please join us.