This is a report on a recently held workshop about the phenomenon of non- Jews affiliating with Israel and with the Jewish people, and on how some of the observations and conclusions reached may affect the future of the Restoration Movement.
In recent years the Jewish world has been forced to face unprecedented interest of many groups and individuals from many different backgrounds expressing a desire to either become Jewish, or to “return” to their Jewishness, or to be aligned to Judaism in some other way. A number of these parties are already converts to Judaism, while others are looking to pursue that path, hailing from a totally “foreign stock” or from the “seed of Israel” (to use rabbinic terminology), even though until conversion they cannot be recognized as bona fide Jews. Then there are those who are creating their own version of Judaism, which is not officially recognized by the mainline Jewish bodies (and its members are therefore not eligible for immigration, Aliyah, to
The latter’s form of Jewishness is termed “alternative Judaism.” Israel
There are many and varied explanations to this awakening; descendants of hidden Jews who were subject to the Inquisition’s forced conversions or to other forms of persecution, descendants of Nazis and their collaborators who have deep feelings of guilt, individuals in the now alienated and spirit-less western societies who are looking for identity and group belonging, Messianic aspirations on the part of some (primarily Christians) etc. In addition, there is a plethora of groups in Africa and Asia, being largely disadvantaged and hence propelled by a need to be liberated from an inferior social and/or economic status, who for centuries have been creating their own narrative (of their association to Israel). Incidentally, this explanation for the latter’s perception of themselves is proposed by the Academia, whereas there may be an altogether different explanation/s for their choices. In years past missionaries were at times (unintentionally) the agents for this type of identity switch, and thus in many cases this phenomenon is defined as a “Christian construct.” Historically, different groups have affiliated themselves with
or with the Jews ever since
the very first dispersions of the Israelites. For a brief overview of this
phenomenon check?out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groups_claiming_affiliation_with_Israelites Israel
Yet in spite of this phenomenon not being new (as is evidenced even in the New Covenant books), what is happening and coming to light in our day and age, mainly because of limitless communication possibilities and travel, seems to be of much greater proportions than ever before.
On November 4th of this year the Van Leer Institute of Jerusalem, described as “an intellectual center for the interdisciplinary study and discussion of issues related to philosophy, society, culture and education,” hosted a research study workshop titled: “Converts, Returnees, and Adherents: New Ways of Joining the Jewish People.” This topic certainly has some relevance to and a bearing upon the reemerging body of Beit Yoseph/Ephraim, who are making their way back to their ancient roots and “ethnicity.” Granted, the members of the “stick of Yoseph in the
hand of Ephraim and all the
tribes of Israel his companions” are not claiming or aspiring to integrate or
assimilate within the Jewish Nation and/or religion, but yet should take an
interest in other groups who have aspired to do so, or are viewing themselves
as being “Jewish,” albeit of the ‘non conventional’ sort. Of special interest
is the response and reaction of ‘mainline’ Jews and Israelis to this
The following is the introduction to the workshop that was posted on the Van Leer Institute’s site: “In recent decades we have witnessed a new global phenomenon: Tens of thousands of individuals have chosen to become part of the Jewish people, most of them not through religious conversion of any kind. Some children of intermarried families in the United States are adopting the Jewish way of life of their families; in Eastern Europe, individuals of Jewish descent are returning to the roots they have hidden since World War II; in Asia there are groups that see themselves as the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes and are seeking a path to Judaism; in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, thousands now openly express the formerly hidden traditions of families that were forced to convert to Catholicism (anusim); in Israel, immigrants who are not halakhic Jews are becoming part of Jewish society and gradually becoming Israeli Jews. This phenomenon marks a fascinating change in the history of the Jewish people. For thousands of years people who were not Jews had no interest in becoming part of the Jewish people, whereas since the end of the twentieth century the trend toward joining has increased. The aim of this research workshop is to examine the phenomenon in both global and local contexts.” End of quote.
Since this phenomenon has been so prevalent and is obviously not viewed as spiritually inspired, the current surfacing of the “Ephraimites/Israelites” will most likely be examined solely through sociological or anthropological lenses, and be relegated to a mere marginal “would-be” or “wanna-be” religious group, one out of many, whose alleged affiliation to the lost tribes is likely to be dismissed, for example by words such as were expressed by the most renowned expert on the topic of judaisation (as it is called) and groups’ affiliations with Israel, when referring to a certain group’s claims to be of the “ten lost tribes”: “nonsense.”
The head of the Van Leer Institute, Prof. Gavriel Motzkin, who opened up the workshop made some very remarkable statements in regards to the groups discussed, saying that “we could be on the eve of major changes in Jewish life, and a change in dialectics of the Jewish story,” adding that, “the new Jews upset our story of the Diaspora and Israel,” as they do not fit the traditional narrative. Those who are joining the Jewish people are affecting “a change in the fixed paradigms.” Prof. Motzkin was not the only one with a broader view on the topic. Some of the other, secular, speakers expressed similar positive approaches as far as the possible inclusion of “affiliates” into Jewish/Israeli society.
But even though such an approach may be paving the way to the eventual acceptance of members of the Restoration Movement, yet as cited above, the scholarly analyses may take a less favorable position toward a group such as the Ephraimites/Israelites and their demand to become a recognizable and viable people group with ‘rights to self determination’ and repatriation in the Land of Israel. Aside from the discussions at the workshops, generally in
the “ten lost tribes” issue
is often viewed, especially in secular circles, as part of folklore. In fact,
some years ago the renowned Diaspora Museum of Tel Aviv put on an exhibition on
the “myth of the ten lost tribes.” As far as the religious speakers in the
workshop were concerned, any connection to what they would term as
“Christianity” (that is faith in Messiah Yeshua) bars any real connection to
and with the people of “Judah,” while the more secular scholars would most likely
require a “scientific” (cultural, historical, ethnic, sociological, perhaps DNA
testing) connection in order to give legitimacy to such a group. Israel
So where does all of this put the current Ephraim-Sons of Israel/Joseph movement, a movement whose members have no common culture or even a shared recent history? One major difference between this movement and all the other past and present groups on the one hand, and random individuals on the other, is its non affiliation with any particular and given ethnicity, but instead being a globally wide-spread spontaneous occurrence, while its adherents are usually in group settings (unlike the persons who are finding their way to Judaism individually for any number of reasons).
Secondly, the restored sons of Israel will certainly not have YHVH “on their side” if they try to reassert their identity without a renewed heart. We would all agree that if these “sons” are to be back in their inheritance, only establishing the “
” will do. This, of course, at
this point in time is not a communicable topic that can be presented to any of
the worldly factors to whom we may want to introduce ourselves. What’s more, as
already mentioned, without “worldly” cultural and historical commonality it would
be even more difficult to convince anyone that such a body of people has any
legitimacy, and will therefore be perceived as some kind of “religious
fanaticism.” But these obstacles should not deter us, although we are stepping
on a suspended bridge, or even a tight robe, between the natural world view and
its processes (which should not be ignored), and a genuine Yah-led spiritual
restoration. Only by His guidance and wisdom will we be able to cross this
bridge without stumbling! Kingdom of Elohim
In light of the above short survey, it appears that this move of the Spirit, which hardly fits comfortably into any of the other affiliations described, could potentially face much opposition and animosity, and may not receive ready acceptability. The one “ally” that this movement does have is the Elohim of Israel, if we truly bind ourselves to His ways, Word, and also to each other! Differences of opinions and plurality He can handle easily, but not internal animosity and divisiveness. In order to move on we must present a strong united front of faith, hope and love, and readiness to act as He leads.