Lemba Jewish Rights: A case for Religious Freedom

The Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist opined in his famous dictum that no matter how much law can equate the African American with the Caucasian, ‘it’s very unlikely that white Americans will ever accept African Americans regardless of the amount of law legislated.’ He was mistaken on two accounts; the first is that he imagined white Americans to be too much like him and the second is that no man can really predict the resultant culture when law is passed. As far as I know history proved him wrong and Obama was elected as President in 2008. My point is that the manner of racial prejudice tends, to be historically exaggerated, the gaps between black and white stems from misunderstandings that arise from ignorance, economic and historic facts; as well as systemic structural expectations – one race lies and another tells the truth for example. That said, a starting point is perhaps a neutrally accepted fact upon which interpretation can then be made.

The discourse between African Jews and White / European Jews (mainly Ashkenazi) is essentially about a fact – are you Jews? The African is not allowed to submit scientific facts to bolster his claims to being Jewish, instead he is at the mercy of the Chief Rabbinate who relies on the teachings of Rabbis. There is a problem here because even in the court of laws scientific evidence plays a role. We are reminded of what justice is in Detronomy and the manner through which decisions are to be made:

You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your [a]towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not [b]be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

– Deuteronomy 16: 18-20.

As the above instructs, our Israel should be an example to the whole world, not an example on how to hide and undermine scientific facts and pervert justice.

When we refuse to acknowledge historic facts, science and archeology we arrive at unjust decisions for those we perceive as the “other.” These are decisions we nominally do not want for ourselves! When we assume that an African claims to be Jewish because he seeks to migrate to Israel to receive unemployment benefits, we make an assumption that African Jews are financially poor. In South Africa, for example the Lembas are among the most prosperous and successful members of their respective fields, this includes, but is not limited to; education, medicine, law, theology, politics and movie making.

In addition, and as the late Chabad Lubaviche Rebee has shown by example, and with great humility and love – not all Jews want or should migrate to Israel. This is true for most South African Lembas as well; South Africans in general, unless it is for the United States and the United kingdom, seldom leave their beloved homeland.

In the course of this book, I will show that indeed African Jews do exist and the resistant to their right to practice Judaism stems from ignorance of this fact. They should neither be made to jump hoops to attain acceptance but instead need to be accepted and helped in learning the Torah and practicing their religion; to convert does not maketh a Jew, if the heart and mind are not aligned. Such was the case historically when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, many practiced Judaism in secrecy. Thus forced conversions historically are problematic.The African Jew’s conversion to any sect of the Ashkenazim must not be forced but voluntarily done – if the African Jew feels a need to belong to that particular sect as a natural growth to their inalienable right as a Jew, ab initio.

I will address the matrilineal debate on who is a Jew later in chapter one. But briefly, this stems from an ill conceived notion that a Jewish mother can only produce a Jewish child or knows of her Jewish child, whether in the Torah, Mishnah or other learned writings this idea first took root will be further examined.

According to the Torah, the Jew is a descendant of the Hebrew Israelite; by descent or Abrahamic faith; those who came out of Egypt, and is taken from the name Judah – he is an Israelite, this is accepted by every one. The other type of Jew is the Levi, and from that is the high Priest, the Kohanim. The issue is that for some reason who is a Jew unlike who is a Christian seems to be sealed and politically charged. The Jewishness of an individual is no longer an individual journey between the person and God, his spiritual history and the attending Rabbi but is now the active voice of the Chief Rabbinate (both Sephardic and Ashkenazi): this needs to change, perhaps more weight has to be placed on DNA and archaeological facts as opposed to politics.

Where the gates diverge is where Rabbis interpreted Jewishness as a matrilineal concept for the original Hebrew Israelite. Was this an acknowledgement of the link with the original Hebrew Israelite being lost and the establishment of parameters for the new practitioners of Judaism who wanted, for good reason, to protect the new Israelite congregation under God? And yet this was against the backdrop that the Kohanim or the high priest was ordained through the patrilineal line.

If indeed there was such a huge need for a matrilineal inheritance the Torah would have stated as such since all the Law and laws are presently stated in it. Perhaps, the more pointed question is why there is a human need to add to the Torah and as such create tensions and divisions not stated in the Torah and more pointedly as given to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) ( peace be upon his name): the first Rabbi.