Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan: Black Jewish Historian Of His Peopleby Rabbi Sholomo B. Levyhttp://www.blackjews.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Dr-Yosef-Ben-Jochannan-327x389.jpg
The Israelite community mourns the passing of our beloved elder Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan (1918-2015). He was born in Ethiopia and raised in the village of Gondar according to the customs of the African Jews in that region who are known as Beta Israel. His father was a member of this community and he was named after his grandfather Jochannan. In fact, his name is Hebrew and means Joseph the son of Jonathan. He received a Bar Mitzvah and during his adolescence moved to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico before immigrating to the United States. His magnum opus, We The Black Jews, was the first major historical work written by us, about us, and primarily for us. As such, Dr. Ben, as he was affectionately known, was our scholar and our champion. Long before his reputation commanded attention on the international stage, he was embraced by Chief Rabbi W.A. Matthew, leader of the Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Harlem. As a Jew of Ethiopian birth, Dr. Ben dedicated the second volume of We The Black Jews to Rabbi Matthew. He was a frequent visitor to many Black synagogues. In 1977, Dr. Ben accepted an honorary faculty position with the Israelite Rabbinical Academy at Beth Shalom Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Brooklyn, New York. In that photograph you see him flanked by most of the Black rabbis in New York City including Chief Rabbi Levi Ben Levy and his dear friend from Ethiopia, Rabbi Hailu Paris, who was the leader of Mt. Horeb Congregation in the Bronx. (see photo above) Dr. Ben maintain a close relationship with the Black Jewish community throughout his life.
Dr. Ben’s work expanded to explore the Egyptian origins of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. When asked about this shift in academic focus, Dr. Ben explained that he was attempting to put our identity as Black Jews into its proper historical context as a people and religion that literally came out of Africa. He demonstrated that the Torah and archaeological evidence both supported the claim that All the Hebrews who settled the biblical land of Israel—including Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and Joshua—were born in African and raised in Egypt. Zipporah, the wife of Moses, was born in Ethiopia, like Dr. Ben. As Black Jews we have always been comfortable with acknowledging our ancient and modern connections with Africa. The greatest criticism and opposition that Dr. Ben faced came from those who attempted to deny this connection and to remake Judaism into a White European creation. It is important to remember—as Dr Ben so frequently emphasized—“Judaism is not a race.” He expressed a pride in the fact that the first Jews would be considered Black if they lived in our radicalized world. Dr. Ben never asserted that all Jews are Black—in fact on many occasions and in much of his writings he refers to Jewish communities all over the world.
In latter years, Dr. Ben startled many of his supporters when he began to distinguish his ancestry as a Jew with his skepticism about the existence of God. At one point, he reached the conclusion in his own mind that “God is not a reality.” We do not know whether this view grew out of the frustration of fighting religious battles for so many decades or from an academic position that demands logic according to human understanding and does not allow for faith, mystery, or the divine. What we do know is that through all of his transitions he remained a man with a keen intellect and a loving heart.
As millions of Jews around the world prepare to celebrate the Passover, a commemoration of our Exodus from Egypt, we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Ben who meticulously and courageously made two irrefutable points: Egypt is in Africa and African people are Black. Therefore, we who call our Jews must trace our ancestry back to these Black Africans.http://www.blackjews.org/dr-yosef-ben-jochannan-black-jewish-historian/]