Black Jews

In Jerusalem one day last week a young Jew named Aryeh Kotcher concealed something in his garments, got past a cordon of police without it being noticed, joined throngs of Jews praying at the ancient Wailing Wall. During a moment of silence, Aryeh Kotcher whipped out his shofar or ram’s horn, let out a loud toot before police bore down and arrested him. Public shofar-blowing in Jerusalem is forbidden by law, for it infuriates Arabs, incites to riot.* But Jew Kotcher was happy because it was Yom Kippur, and his ritual blast on the horn had signalized, for Jews in Jerusalem as well as for Jews the world over, the end of Judaism’s most solemn ten-day period of penitence.

With Rosh Hashonah last fortnight began the Jewish new year, according to the Jewish calendar the 5,698th since the Creation. For Orthodox Jews Yom Kippur, the last 24 hours of the ten-day observance, was a Day of Atonement, the only one of the year on which Mosaic law prescribes abstention from food and drink. Not comparable to any Christian celebration, Yom Kippur meant prostrations for the devout, an effort at self-purification based upon the concept that God was casting up for the year his accounts of the sins and the good work of His children. In Jewish synagogs at sundown, Yom Kippur ended with sermons and prayers by robed rabbis, and the blowing of the shofar by the most pious members of each congregation. Yom Kippur over, Jews looked forward to celebrating this week the Hebrew analog to Thanksgiving?the eight-day harvest festival, Succoth, in which good Jews build booths near their homes, deck them with fruits and produce, in memory of the days when Palestinians lived in open huts during their wanderings in the wilderness of Sinai.

Among the 2,000,000 Manhattanites who observed high holy days during the past fortnight were some 600 black Jews in Harlem. Of these a few are converts but most are Negroes of Semitic origin from Africa?chiefly Ethiopia, whose Coptic Church bears some Hebrew ritual traits. Harlem’s only black Jewish synagog is run by a bearded Negro named Moshe Ben Moshe Ben Yehuda, who was born in Lagos, West Africa, but took the U. S. name of Wentworth Arthur Matthew. Rabbi Matthew is a D. D. from the University of Berlin, has studied in Palestine’s Tel Aviv and at the Pittsburgh Bible Institute. He believes that black Jews are descended from Jacob, white from Esau, twin sons of Isaac, and that he in particular is of the Tribe of Judah since he bears racial markings mentioned in the Bible?a gap between his upper front teeth, big toes that overlap his foretoes. Although only 600 Harlemites go to Rabbi Matthew’s synagog, he believes the Harlem Jewish community numbers some 3,500, basing his figures on hospital records of circumcised Negroes. Currently another Jewish Negro synagog is being built near Westbury. L. I., by the Moorish Palestine Talmud Torah. on land donated by Aaron Jacob.

* Originally the shofar was used to summon the Jews not only to festivals, but to battle

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