Nick Cannon, “True Hebrews,” and the Consequences of Jewish Delegitimization

Nick Cannon at Time 100 Gala, 2010. (Credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons)
Nick Cannon at Time 100 Gala, 2010 (Credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons)

In recent days, public personality Nick Cannon – most known for being a television host on shows such as “America’s Got Talent,” various hip hop stints, and his marriage to Mariah Carey – found himself in heated controversy for a now deleted podcast with former Public Enemy member Richard Griffin, a.k.a Professor Griff. 

In the podcast, Cannon  regurgitated a number of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and praised Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader known for demonization of Jews and homosexuals. The podcast also spoke of White people as having “no soul,” being “closer to animals,” and having to “rob, steal, rape, kill in order to survive.” For his part, Griffin himself was let go of the rap group shortly after a 1989 interview with the Washington Times in which he made statements such as “Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world” (though he had been making considerably worse anti-Semitic and homophobic statements earlier on with little fanfare). 

Professor Griff performs with Public Enemy in 2014. (Credit: kowarski – Wikipedia Commons)

The anti-Semitic tropes at play in the podcast is prevalent to a broader history of gentile erasure of Jews’ own legitimacy and its harmful, and at times lethal, consequences. Consider the following segment from the podcast: “It’s never hate speech, you can’t be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people… When we are the same people who they want to be. That’s our birthright. We are the true Hebrews.” 

To fully contemplate the ramification of this statement, which goes beyond mere appropriation, one has to recognize that what is essentially at play here is far more severe. It is an opening of the doors for attacks against the Jew as a unit, while at the same time dispossessing him from his collective identity and heritage. Hence, one can’t “really” be anti-Semitic to Jews if they aren’t Semites to begin with. The post factual convolutions resulting from this mode of thinking inevitably leads to things like Jews being called “Nazis” when they were the primary victims of the Nazis’ genocidal campaign. 

It is no wonder, then, that the very same Richard Griffin in discussion, who on his recent podcast with Cannon reflected upon the backlash he received for calling out “the Cohens and the Moskowitzes” running the music industry, said back in 2018 of his conversations with record executive Lyor Cohen (note the surname): “I told him about the history of him and his people about the Ashkenazi, the Ashke-Nazis, and when I laid it on him he couldn’t handle it…” (8:23). It should be noted that the term “Ashke-Nazi,” ironically referring to the Jewish ethnic group predominantly victimized by the Holocaust (precisely due to their non-Whiteness at that), continues as a slander in a range of anti-Semitic circles to this day. 

As the Talmud recounts in the story of Joseph, son of Yehoshua ben Levi, who regained consciousness after falling deathly ill: “ ‘Olam hafukh ra’iti,” “I have seen an upside-down world.” “ ‘Elyonim l’mata v’ta’htonim l’ma’ala,” “What is above was below and what is below was above” (Bava Bathra 10b & Pesachim 50a). 

If this were a one-off isolated incident, it would be one thing. But it isn’t. Unfortunately, the general ephemeral rootedness of the Jewish collective, as so seen fit by the whims of gentile society, has a much more expansive backdrop. 

Perhaps the earliest sourcing of this ontology can be traced to the notorious verse in the Book of Revelations (2:9), where it’s stated: “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” 

Although the original context of this verse is theological in nature rather than a denial of the ethnic/national Jewishness of Jews in the time of the New Testament, it has been utilized by anti-Semitic circles to dislodge Jews from their anchored heritage. Here we see a primordial evolution of the mindset that would subsequently provide (at least part of) the fodder for denying the Jewishness of the Jews themselves. If the Jews say they’re Jewish, are the collective body which actively preserve the traditions, language, and rituals of the Jews, and provide no reason to think otherwise (and every reason to think so), of course you can counter, “but [they] do lie.” 

Groups that have particularly latched onto this verse are the Nation of Islam and Black Hebrew Israelites (not associated with mainstream Islam or Judaism), who view modern Jews as impostors and Black Africans to be the descendants of the ancient Israelites. (As if it were anthropologically reasonable to think the most diverse continent on Earth and a population group of over 850 million people collectively descend from a small ethnoreligious group in the Levant, but I digress). 

Lest one think I am relegating the conspiracy of “fake Jew” sentiment to particular ethnic monopoly, consider this video from the 2019 AIPAC policy conference (disregarding for a moment the sensationalist title), where the 3:36 time stamp shows a white gentile reading the same verse, and engaging in the same “Jews aren’t really Jews, but damn them nonetheless” narrative Professor Griff dabbles with. You’ll also seldom find a Jew who hasn’t come across this lunacy on the dark corners of the Internet from every demographic background and nation.

As aforementioned, Louis Farrakhan, who heads the Nation of Islam, was the figure praised in Cannon’s podcast. His repeated acclamations of “fake Jews” and Jews being “of the church of Satan” would hardly go unnoticed to any person minimally aware of his presence and messaging.

Louis Farrakhan, current leader of the Nation of Islam. (Credit: United States Department of State)

Last year, echoes of these sentiments were shown to be able to also have lethal consequences. After months of arbitrary attacks on primarily Orthodox Jews in the New York City region, the close of the year culminated in two fatal large-scale attacks. 

On December 10, David Anderson and his girlfriend Francine Graham bursted into a kosher supermarket in the nascent Hasidic neighborhood of Jersey City, New Jersey and rounded off gunshots, killing three civilians (one who was a gentile Ecuadorian employee who died holding the door for a Jewish survivor behind him to be able to exit first) and one police officer, as well as injuring another civilian and two law enforcement. Officials later found scrambled notes in his getaway van and declared he had posted anti-Semitic comments online and was associated with the Hebrew Israelite movement

A tad over two weeks later, on December 28, a knife-wielding man went on a stabbing rampage at a Hanukkah party in the likewise Hassidic neighborhood of Monsey, in neighboring New York. Five men were injured, with one ultimately succumbing to his wounds after three months

There, too, investigators found linkage to the Hebrew Israelite movement. In a journal note they later found in his home, he questioned why people “mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide.” Again, we see the recurrent motif of the “real Semites” not being the group currently claimed under anti-Semitism, and that the “real Semites” are being genocided. (Is this referring to Africans? Or perhaps Palestinians who also can get lumped into this framework? Is there even any point trying to decode the deranged ramblings of someone who clearly suffered mental health issues as well? But the point is, this line – however bizarre – was “thrown out there” into his consciousness.) 

The suspect, Grafton E. Thomas, had also Google searched entries such as “German Jewish Temples near me”, and “Zionist Temples” in nearby cities. Undoubtedly, the same forces which undergirded his mentality about “real Semites” also incurred him to think of Jews as “German” (i.e., White, and arguably belonging to the ethnic group which oversaw their genocide). 

Never mind the “Zionist” part, which has become such a thoughtlessly hashed out term in some circles people don’t even know what to ascribe to it other than some form of self-understood synonym for “Jew” that connotes conspiracy and malice. (Louis Farrakhan similarly has made mention of “lying, murderous Zionist Jews behind 9/11”, and the disparaging connotation of the term is not uncommonly seen used in a reactionary manner among certain left wing and anti-Israel circles.) 

Moreover, he also searched for why Hitler hated the Jews as well as for prominent companies founded by American Jews, both areas which overlap with the blurred boundaries of Nazi vs. Jew and the dangers of the Jew string-pulling narratives. 

An earlier and unrelated (in terms of events, not ideology) precursor to the Nick Cannon saga was Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who posted days earlier on his Instagram story: “Hitler said, ‘because the white Jews knows that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep America’s secret the Jews will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they are… The white citizens of America will be terrified to know that all this time they’ve been mistreating and discriminating and lynching the Children of Israel.’”

Shortly thereafter, former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended DeSean from backlash, saying he is “speaking the truth” and had at first refused to apologize (though the next day offered a muddled apology). 

While the attributed quote was never actually said by Hitler, Jackson thought it was; and within it we again see an uncanny replay of many of the priorly mentioned motifs. “White Jews” once more becomes not only an erasure of Jews’ Hebraic and Semitic character, but an otherization of them as the polar contrast of the “real Children of Israel,” and as a subcomponent of the Whiteness which has oppressed Black Americans. 

This general theme of not-insignificant pockets of Black America framing Jews as part and parcel of White America, and not unoften their very crux, has long precedent and was punctually encapsulated by James Baldwin back in 1967 in his renowned piece for the New York Times, “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” 

With DeSean’s post, we also again see the surprising philo curiosity of Hitler (considering Hitler’s racial worldview, which wasn’t exactly favorable towards Blacks), and dabbling with tropes of Jewish domination and control. The “Ashkenazis” may have just had something about them that ticked the actual Nazis off, and the “Cohens and Moskowitzes” may just be pulling the strings. So, why indeed, as Mr. Thomas’ Internet searches showcased, did Hitler hate the Jews? Did they have it coming? While I am quite convinced that the vast majority of people mentioned did not exactly fully comprehend what they were believing, the overarching and unconscious ideology permeating these phenomena are all interconnected. 

On the White/right-wing conspiratorial side of the spectrum, the above-referenced AIPAC conference protester ‘types’ also erase the lines of Jews’ proclaimed reality while still pigeonholing Jews into some sort of “other” that is a real unit, albeit an ever-shifting and disingenuous one. As an example, at a Holocaust Remembrance event last year, Nazi protesters held a sign that read “The Holocaust didn’t happen, but it should have.” 

Of course one can’t expect such Nazis to be too intelligent, as their subsequent chants of “Six million more!” would syntactically imply that six million were in fact killed (hence the “more”). Regardless, the bottom line is that in their mind they wanted to maximize carnage by denying that the Jews were genocided while also making sure we know that we would deserve it anyways. 

This sentiment has numerous decades of precedent among the American Nazi / far right circles, and the “Holocaust didn’t happen but should have” line of thought among white supremacists was pointed out by the late Christopher Hitchens in a 19991 CNBC interview with White Aryan Resistance leader John Metzger in which the former stated: “I’ve noticed this: Some people say that the Holocaust didn’t take place; others say that it did and a jolly good thing too” (9:22). In the same interview Metzfer said, “I’m not an anti-Semite, I’m anti-Jewish in many respects” (6:28).

Christopher Hitchens (19459-2011), outspoken social critic, atheist, and journalist. (Credit: ensceptico / Wikimedia Commons)

Regarding Farrakhan, it is important to note that he is hardly a fringe figure, though his prominence in the African American community is primarily due to his decades of genuine outreach, programs, and empowerment for the Black community rather than his bigotry. Still, once a platform is normalized, so is the baggage that comes along with it. Farrakhan to this day has thousands of  followers, and had his influential clout visible when he, for instance, attended Aretha Franklin’s funeral seated in the front row near Rev. Al Sharpton and President Bill Clinton (though it should be noted he was conspicuously absent from a speaking slot). 

He also was photographed with President Barack Obama back in 2005, then still a junior Senator from Chicago. Askia Muhammad, the photographer who took the photo, said he was immediately pressured by the Black Congressional Caucus to not release the photo because it could have curtailed Obama’s future political, and potentially presidential, prospects. Muhammad, who worked as Farrakhan’s photographer at the time, also claims that at some point a few Nation of Islam staffers were present in Obama’s senatorial campaign and assisted him on the South Side of Chicago. 

I think most reasonable observers, myself included, would not accuse Obama of actually supporting the toxic aspects of Farrakhan’s platform, instead seeing that he recognized him as a de facto leader in the Black community and was likely attempting to be politically astute. But the point remains that this is the sort of sway Farrakhan as a figure had, and continues to in large part. Indeed, DeSean Jackson had been gushing about how “Farrakhan spoke facts this morning… You have to listen to his message,” earlier in his Instagram story prior to sharing an attributed Hitler quote about (fake) White Jews. 

Though Nick Cannon has since apologized (notably after he was fired by ViacomCBS, as he was staying firm before then), his initial viewpoints were not aired without their defenders. Shortly after the Cannon controversy blew up, NBA star Dwayne Wade tweeted, “We are with you!” followed by an upraised fist and “Keep leading!”. Though he has since deleted the tweet followed by a clarification of his original intentions, one would be hard pressed to not think he meant exactly what intuition would point to. 

Another notable figure who came to Cannon’s defense was Charlamagne Tha God, co-host of The Breakfast Club, one of the most popular radio shows in the African American community that has recently attracted the likes of Joe Biden. In a segment, he said Cannon was fired because “Jews have the power.” 

The rapper Ice Cube is yet another person in the public eye who has of late been disseminating talking points straight from the Hebrew Israelite playbook, albeit even more brazenly. Ice Cube had already been attracting attention for his cryptic tweets depicting anti-Semitic conspiracies for weeks, leading some to believe his account may have been hacked. (He has clarified it hasn’t.) 

Ice Cube has also repeated claims of all the problematic tropes previously noted: Jews as being fake appropriators, Black people being the true Israelites, and Jewish shadow control. Like Professor Griff on his podcast with Cannon, Ice Cube not only similarly groups Jews into some amorphous “other” who are anything but what they say, he also supports “the Honorable” Louis Farrakhan as well, calling his message a reckoning of truth which people don’t want to hear. 

It is not just popular figures who must be discussed, but also everyday members of society who get influenced and emboldened from such sentiments being amplified by the former. Consider the Twitter responses to tweets such as this by Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt condemning Charlamagne’s statements, laden with people claiming Cannon was right and/or had nothing to apologize for. Likewise one can assess the responses on the Twitter thread of Nick Cannon’s apology (whether crafted by him or his PR team), which is full of the same sort of blanket rejection at the need for him to apologize in the first place, or even outright disappointment that he did.  

It is also important to note that the image of the Jew as a rootless internationalist, as well as belonging to Whiteness, may have diverging ontologies but invariably ends up being bad news for Jews. 

The globalist Jew is one characterized as one based on lacking a peoplehood and hence supporting ideologies and systems which harmonize/equilibrize human society under some shadow hegemony. Such a framework depicts Jews as variations of Communists, Bolsheviks, Rothschilds, global bankers, Illuminati, etc. This shadow string-pulling, nation-destroying trope was pushed by early Third Reich propaganda, manifested within the US itself with publication of The International Jew under industrial tycoon Henry Ford’s company, and continues until this day with the Alt Right’s notion of Jewish internal plotting to demographically diversify and undermine White nations. It was also directly prevalent to the grievances behind last year’s White supremacist Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue shootings. 

Memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. (Credit: Dmitry Brant via Wikipedia Commons)

In essence, it is the persecuted wandering Jew in exile spun on its face and distorted into an oppressor dynamic (again, “I have seen an upside-down world”). This sort of rendering also continues until this day in a range of conspiratorial circles that somehow spans the spectrum from the far right to groups like the Hebrew Israelites and Nation of Islam. 

The “White Jew”, too, has harmful implications, and it too overlaps with different manifestations of anti-Semitism. In the context of Hebrew Israelites/Nation of Islam, this means conjoining Jews with Whiteness and its power structures (real or perceived), which casts Jews as collaborators or indeed head agents of Black woes (be that inequality, subjects of Jewish bosses and landlords, or even slavery itself). 

It also pits two historically marginalized communities against each other when they should be, and indeed were and are, staunch allies in the fight for rights and equality. Likewise, it associates an identity to Jews which even in the egalitarian American context has historically included things like immigration and college acceptance quotas, repatriation of refugee ships to Nazi Europe, and modern marches of white nationalists who chant “Jews will not replace us!”, implying both a self-perceived delineation between Whites and Jews, and that Jews are replacing White America with the very same people of color who not unoften latch whiteness onto Jews.

Moreover, it makes objective statistics, such as Jews’ likelihood to be victims of hate crimes more than practically any other group (including nearly 3x Blacks), negligible in the public consciousness because Jews’ status as a vulnerable minority gets erased by exclusively colorist and socioeconomic understandings of out-grouping. 

In yet another manifestation of the “White Jews” categorization, Jews are viewed as not originating in the land of Judea from which their very nomenclature derives. Hence they are “really” people belonging to the numerous European nations whose have historically excluded, expelled, marginalized, pogromed, and genocided them. Alternatively, they may belong to mythical ethnogenesises such as the Khazars, a conspiracy theory which has been conclusively debunked

Regardless, they need to get out of Palestine and go back to “where they came from” (wherever that is). Yet when in Europe, as my Vienese-born father attested growing up 10 years after the war to Holocaust survivor parents, they were told by local gentiles to “go back to Palestine!” Like so many of the other aforementioned cases: damn if you do, damn if you don’t. 

I don’t believe in categorical cancel culture as a general principle – at least in the sense of rushing to it as the first line of action. The American ethos was built upon freedom of speech, thought, and debate. Obviously there’s a fine line between engaging in reasonably rooted controversial thought and outright Alex Jones-esque conspiracies, but even the latter must have its falsehood rejected by presenting the evidence. 

To not do so would be to clear the runways for people who accuse censorship of those who are, as Nick Cannon acclaimed on his podcast, “speaking facts.” And if the highlighted Twitter threads above are of any indication, there is no shortage of such people when it comes to this topic.

So, let’s look at the facts. 

To start, let’s just ascertain that modern Jews are not impostors. Genetic studies have repeatedly shown that Ashkenazim, Sefardim, and Mizrahim – the three clusters of Jewish groups who account for the overwhelming majority of modern Jews – share great similarities, and are typically more related to each other than to the gentiles of their societies. Moreover, these Jews are closely related to the ancient and contemporary populations of the Near East. Further studies have also confirmed general Jewish veracity in self-proclaimed identities such as Cohen priesthood, a status that can only be passed down father to son without interruption, which is so distinct it can show up in versions of modern DNA tests.

Next, we have to refute both the idea that Jews are people with merely a different religion otherwise indistinguishable from their diasporic neighbors, as well as the notion of Jewishness being something relegated to color or any other “essentialist” marker. These sound like opposing concepts, but become reconciled when we clarify what Jewishness is and always has been: a nation, even if one regulated by a religious dimension. 

Most nations have a rooted ethnic identity and origin, but also throughout the ages naturalize and/or mix with other groups in a continuous organic fashion. Jews have a fundamental national and tribal character represented by the Abrahamic covenant, the seed of Israel via the twelve tribes, and habitation of the Land of Israel. This tribal origin and distinction is evident in the strong Near East marker of major Jewish groups today.

At the same time, the indigenous mechanism of this nation has always allowed for “gerrim” (lit: “foreigners”) to join the Jewish people, which is the national terminology for converts. This is why diaspora Jews have all essentially picked up noticeable admixtures from their surrounding neighbors despite remaining a continuous and intact unit. As the Talmudic sage Rabbi Elazar said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the Nations save in order that proselytes be added to them” (Pesachim 87b).

Hence, when Hebrew Israelites associate genuine Jewishness with something like a skin color, they negate the concept of the Jewish Nation as a unit not confined to any specific phenotype in its very essence. 

William Hamilton painting of Ruth, ancestress of the Davidic dynasty and famed proselyte, gleaning in the fields of Boaz. (Source: National Trust via Wikimedia Commons)

Someone like an Ashkenazi Jew is not invalidated by his fair complexion nor his Europeanized surname – legacies of two millennia residing among the lands/peoples of the Roman Empire and its remnants – anymore than a Native American in Oklahoma is invalidated by his Anglicized name or his (considerably higher) admixture with outgroup peoples. 

Moreover he is validated not by his close relationship to other populations of Jews or ancient predecessors in the Levant, but by being so recognized by the internal Jewish legal system which self defines the mechanisms of the Jewish corpus. Likewise, a gentile who enjoins the Jewish nation is as Jewish as his brethren in spite lacking ethnic bonds, just as an ethnic Turkish citizen of Holland is fully part of the Dutch nation while an ethnically and linguistically related Afrikaner in South African isn’t. 

This is why even if it were granted as true that the ancient Israelites were “black” (noting the difference between darker skin tones endemic to parts of the Middle East/North Africa and what Jew erasure rhetoric typically implies it means), it would be completely irrelevant to who is an authentic Jew; after all, there are many thousands of Black Jews today.

But it also so happens to be that there is compelling reason to think that the ancient Israelites did not by and large appear like the way Hebrew Israelites and the Nation of Islam suggests if one examines the evidence. This is important to note not because of anything meaningful in and of itself (trust me, I dislike having to even touch this topic with a ten foot pole), but because there’s growing sentiment on this topic directly correlated to casting skepticism on most contemporary Jews having continuity from the ancient Near East. 

As aforementioned, genetic testing of ancient populations – be it the Egyptians, Canaanites, or Phoenicians – generally show strong continuity with modern populations in the region, who are for the most part not Black. (Ironically, with populations like Egypt, modern counterparts show more subsaharan Africa admixtures than their ancient predecessors.) It’s also intuitively reasonable, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, to presume as a default that modern populations are overall related to their ancient forebears with small to moderate influxes of other populations. In the case of Egypt specifically, there was an ancient short-lived Black Nubian kingdom that conquered the 25th Dynasty, but it was not from the Egyptian heartland; rather, it was relegated to the southern peripherals whose territory (modern day Lower Egypt and Sudan, where their descendants live until this day) fluctuated between Egypt and the (Nubian) Kingdom of Kush.

Replica of an 11th Dynasty model of Nubian archers from a tomb in Asyut, the original being housed in the Cairo Museum. (Source: Aidan McRae Thomson – via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s also no Scriptural basis for Israelites being Black, though Hebrew Israelites and the Nation of Islam often claim there is. Consider some cases. 

One is the description of Moses marrying “a Cushite” (often translated as “an Ethiopian”, though it has also been associated with Kingdom of Kush along Lower Egypt and modern Sudan), as recorded in Numbers 12:1. In any case, such a description clearly would refer to a national background of someone who is what would be classified as Black by contemporary metrics (notwithstanding East/North Africa would still obviously be distinct from West Africa where the Trans-Atlantic slave trade primarily operated).

While Rabbinic commentators on this chapter mostly believe this woman was his earlier mentioned wife Zipporah (a woman from Midian, believed to possibly be east of the Gulf of Aqaba), whose reference to being from Cush is explained as having to do with various symbolic messages, even the more literal explanation would simply be that he did indeed marry a woman from Cush but that the text is implying this union to have been self understood by the Israelites as one of courting a national foreigner. In this sense it is clearly indicating a woman from Cush as equally non Israelite as one from Mitzraim (Egypt), Midian, or Paddan-Aram (Mesopotamia), despite Israelites occasionally marrying and merging with all these neighboring populaces over the years. 

Another is the story of the Queen of Sheba, believed by many to be from what is modern Ethiopia (though it should be noted is also debated by modern scholars as having been southern Arabia), who is described in I Kings 10 as visiting Solomon seeking his wisdom and bearing lofty gifts. 

The only issue is that everything about this chapter indicates this queen as an affluent foreign diplomat drawn to Jerusalem and Solomon’s reputation (reflecting his fame “spreading to all the surrounding nations” per 1 Kings 4:31), not as being representative of internal Israelite identity. The chapter even mentions that after this exchange, she “turned and went to her land, her and her servants” (1 Kings 10:13). 

Illuminated manuscript of Queen Sheba by German military engineer Conrad Kyeser in his manual “Bellifortis”, circa 15th Century. Ethiopian monarchs and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claimed Divine sanction to the throne through descent of Sheba, and one legend of the origins of Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewry) stems from her bringing Israelite tradition back from Jerusalem.

Next, various verses from Song of Songs are quoted. 

One is from 1:5, which says, “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.” 

There are several things which are misplaced in this superficial reading. 

To start, it assumes that “black” in biblical terminology is synonymous with “Black African”, which is not necessarily the case (indeed, the terms “Cushite” and “sh’horah” – referring to a geographic marker in Africa and dark color, respectively – are not used in Scripture interchangeably). No serious historian, archaeologist, or anthropologist would deny that there were dark skinned people in ancient Israel. 

Moreover, it ignores the very next verse which says, “Do not gaze upon me [disdainfully] for I am swarthy, for the sun has tanned/scorched me…” (1:6). The narrator here is implying both that particularly dark skin would’ve been something so as to stand out in ancient Israelite society, and that the narrator became notably darker specifically due to being out under the sun (rather than a pre-existing phenotype). In ancient societies, one’s socioeconomic stature in society would’ve been reflected from their swarthiness or lack thereof which would’ve indicated if one had to conduct manual labor outside. 

Next, Song of Songs 5:11 is at times quoted, which says: “His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are curled, [they are] black as a raven.”

Apparently, “Taltalim”, the Hebrew word for “curls,” somehow definitionally indicates Black African description. In truth, the word simply denotes curls and/or waves of sorts and is commonly used in modern Hebrew to this day. Jews of all major denominations contain members with curly hair (I unfortunately cannot count myself among this blessed camp). The noted term “Jewfro” did not come from nowhere, after all. In this music video, a number of modern Lebanese individuals are highlighted who have what one could consider “taltalim”. 

Jewish man rocks his natural curls. This is relatively common in the Levant until this day. (Credit: Sggoolsb, via Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, we have explicit reference for what the typical Israelite/Judean looked like around the turn of the common era. Rabbi Ishmael, a Mishnaic sage who was born in the late 1st Century A.D., asserts: “The children of Israel… are like boxwood, neither black nor white but of an intermediate shade.” The same Mishnah also contrasts the Israelite’s skin complexion with the pale skin of the “German” (i.e., Northern European) on one end of the spectrum, and the “Ethiopian” (i.e., Black African) on the other end. 

While this doesn’t definitively describe  Israelites from the Mosaic age, it brings us about 2,000 years closer and closes the gap considerably. Moreover, it definitely dispels the “Black Jesus” narrative typically endorsed by the same school of revisionism, considering Jesus lived around the same time.

In closing, what is necessary for Jewish understanding and relationships with our brothers and sisters from all different walks of life is to enter the conversation understanding basic truths and premises. These relate to the abundantly corroborated reality that modern Jews are inheritors of their ancient forebears and did not appropriate their own self-proclaimed identity. Operating under any other pretense is to not actually undo the root of one’s wrong, and opens up the potential for the sort of aforementioned rewrites of Jews into harmful caricatures. 

Nick Cannon likely does not have actual malice in his heart, and everything else I’ve ever seen from him – from his discussions on his former marriage with Mariah Carey to his reflections of his notorious rap beef with Eminem, both conducted with interview/producer DJ Vlad who is Jewish – seems to suggest that. I felt the same way from what I’ve witnessed during his cordial hosting career on America’s Got Talent, including ones I recall until this day such as with Orthodox Jewish contender Edon Pinchot back in 2012. I also believe his (and hope others’) apologies are sincere and are rooted in wanting to learn and evolve. And we should never turn that opportunity for self reflection down. 

As Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi tells his son after his aforementioned dream of an upturned world: “ ‘Olam barur ra’ita,” “You have seen a clear world.”

Only by undoing the confounding matrix of a post factual society, and sifting the wheat from the chaff, can we begin to approach understandings of what we discuss without talking past each other. 

It is my hope that by systematically documenting the harmful implications of Jewish national erasure, as well as examining the data corroborating Jewish identity, this can be done. 


About the Author
A Brooklyn native, Daniel Edelstein is a Jewish issues writer, prospective law student, and Brooklyn College graduate, where he majored in political science.
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