Stumped On Jewish Roots

“In this bright future, you can’t forget your past.” 
– Bob Marley

With the rise of technology that allows scientists to compare the DNA of different groups of people, many people have been on a mission to find out more and more about themselves based on their genetics. With the Jewish people, this has a certain spiritual significance as they try and reunite what has been dispersed since the Babylonian diaspora, the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, or even the Holocaust of World War II. Though many have been trying to trace their Jewish roots back to Europe or the Middle East, many Americans are starting their quest right in their own backyards by investigating the Native American tribes for which they are official members and the way of life of their not-so ancient ancestors. 


Not even taking DNA into consideration, archaeological evidence and traditions of these tribes has been pointing their origins back to a Hebrew religious tradition for generations. The famous historian of the 1700’s, James Adair, remarked in his book “Out of The Flame” of many similarities between the traditions of the Cherokees and the Hebrews including: 
  • Similar marital proceedings and laws against adultery
  • The worship of one god named “Ya’ho’wah” 
  • Laws pertaining to ritual purity
  • An East-facing temple that contained continually burning flame
  • Similar holidays, such as a day for the atonement of wrong doing and a week-long festival celebrating the harvest
  • A tradition of carrying a sacred ark into battle by a Cherokee holy man
Such archaeological evidence has also linked Hebrews from the time of King Solomon to the Americas. These findings have included various renderings of the 10 commandments inscribed into rocks and cave walls using an ancient paleo-Hebrew style of lettering. One of these such writings is in Los Lunas, New Mexico outside of a cave. 

Outside of the physical and historical evidence comes from DNA research of certain groups of people. Israeli scientists have conducted studies of a genetic trait occurring in a group of Native Americans in Colorado. This genetic mutation once only found to have impacted those descended from the Jews expelled from Spain over 600 years ago and an incremental percentage of Iraqi Jews has been found in this group of Native Americans. 

As a registered Cherokee and of Am Yisrael as well, I must admit that these findings are exciting in proving that the 12 Tribes of Israel were dispersed all over the world, just like the Hebrew Scriptures say; but other than being a piece of fascinating history, it doesn’t have immense spiritual weight for me. While it is true that I am only a documented 1/64th Cherokee, it goes beyond that. 

While I was in Israel, I was had the pleasure of spending much of my time with accomplished Torah scholars and very famous rabbis. Fascinated by my story of coming to Torah after being raised as a Christian Lutheran hundreds of miles from any Jewish community, many of them urged me to research my genealogy saying “Though you are are of gentile blood, you have a very Jewish heart. Research your family lineage and I bet you’ll find a Jewish root in there somewhere.” Three years later, I still haven’t and I don’t really feel the need to. I’ll tell you why: 

Being Am Yisrael can a form of nationality, but I believe it begins in the heart. Ruth was not of Jewish blood, yet was born with a Hebrew soul. It wasn’t that she became Jewish just so she could remain close with her dead husband’s mother (which I do believe is the only story of an intermarried woman getting along with her Jewish mother-in-law), but because she felt that there was something greater in store for her besides just returning to Moab. By following after her heart, she is now esteemed as the most famous Jewish convert and the great-grandmother of King David. 

Conclusion
Feel free to research your family lineage, but don’t let that stand between you and a covenant with the God of Israel. While you might find Jewish roots in your family tree, the same could possibly be said this guy: 

Shalom. 
– Ken

Just a Simple Hebrew Okie

As I try and help shed some light on the spiritual wisdom found in the Torah to the masses, I have a confession to make to all of you: I’m kind of an idiot. While I’ve studied Torah and have read multiple volumes of different holy books, much of my perspective comes from being a perpetual student who is constantly learning; but the more I learn, the more I find out how little I know.
Some of you might be disappointed to find out that I’m no Torah genius, but rather a simple Okie Hebrew who studies the Torah for the simple nuggets of wisdom and truth. Actually, if any of my Torah observance seems more rigid than the popular interpretation, it’s usually because of my own ignorance in the reason why certain mitzvot (commandments) exist. My aim is not to wow people with my intellect; a task which I think I would continually fail to be successful at performing. My aim is to be able to provide just a dash of peculiar perspective on the Hebrew Scriptures, those who have been inspired by them, and what relevance the Hebrew Scriptures have with our modern society.  
I find it’s important to celebrate how little I know and use it as a constant motivation to never stop learning. 
“When you’re through learning, you’re through.” 
– Will Rogers
World Famous Okie Philosopher
If you have any topics that you’d like to see discussed on this blog or that you’d like this simple Okie Hebrew to address, feel free to submit them to me and I’ll do my best to address them.

A Kosher Tattoo?

There was a post on Facebook today being spread around by some friends that sparked a little bit of conservation between a fellow Karaite brother and myself. First off, here is the picture: 

While I agree that getting a tattoo about the abominable nature of homosexual bedroom behavior is hilarious because tattoos themselves are forbidden by the same book of the Bible, the discussion that my dear Karaite brother brought up was of the issue of the complete prohibition of tattoos. Does the Torah ban all tattoos or markings on the flesh outright or are their certain scenarios when tattoos are permissible? Before I address this specific dilemma, let’s back up a bit and attempt to put things into context here a little bit. After all, context is everything; right?


The book of ויקרא (“va-yi-kraw”), or in English, Leviticus, is mainly known to be a book of specific instruction. Though the entire Torah can be called a book of instructions, some instructions from other books of the Torah are commands learned by studying the character traits of some of the main tzadikim (righteous ones) of the Torah. Leviticus, however, is very concise and to the point. There are a lot of “don’t do this”, “do do this” (yes, I wrote “do do”) and the like. Leviticus 19 pretty much reads like a grocery list. 

  • Obey your parents
  • Keep the Sabbath 
  • Don’t make idols
  • Offer sacrifices where they are accepted
  • You may eat sacrifices, but leftovers to the third day are to be burned
  • Leave the corners of your field for the poor
  • Don’t steal from each other
  • Don’t lie from each other
  • Pay your workers aptly 
  • Treat the disabled nicely….
I was paraphrasing, but you get the picture. 

Now, some of these commands can filed together while others are fairly random in their order (well, I’m sure they’re not random; it’s just that I certainly don’t know the method to the seeming-madness). Some of these commands, such as not mixing your herds, your seeds, or your clothing (verse 19) flow very nicely together and stay on track. Others, like the command to only offer a sacrifice where it is accepted, not leaving any of it for more than three days directly followed by leaving the corners of your field unharvested for the poor to come a glean from (verses 5-9) don’t seem to go together as much. 

There has become a method of lumping together the meaning for doing commands. Sometimes, this works. Other times, this method can get a little hairy. Here’s the verse we’re discussing in this post: 

ושרט לנפש לא תתנו בבשרכם וכתבת קעקע לא תתנו בכם אני יהוה
“You shall not put any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves; I am the LORD” 
-Leviticus 19:28

Let us attempt to gain some context by reading some of the verses before and after this to see if we can tell exactly why God is instructing Israel to not cut themselves for the dead or put tattoos on themselves. 

Here are the verses directly before and after this verse:
“You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” – Leviticus 19:27
“Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.”  – Leviticus 19:29

Even if one was to expand beyond this sphere, the verse before 27 is relating to agriculture in the Holy Land and the verse after 29 is about putting trust in fortune tellers.

The most popular interpretation makes marring one’s beard, shaving one’s temples, cutting one’s flesh, and getting tattoos permissible as long as it is not as a form of idolatrous worship or in mourning over the loss of the dead. In actuality, all of these practices that are not simply common sense (not mistreating the disabled, being charitable to the poor, etc.) were widely practiced in other cultures; especially by those who were inhabiting the Holy Land before Israel showed up on the scene. Men shaved th
eir beards and displayed tribal affiliation with tattooed markings and designs shaved into the sides of their heads. Prostitution, “the world’s oldest profession”, was widely practiced and many men sold their daughters into the business. It was the natural thing. What was God getting at by making these commands? 

Israel was to be different. Though a beard might not make anyone necessarily better, in a clean-shaven society, it definitely makes one different. All of these commands were so that Israel would be different. “Holy” does not “better”, but merely “set apart” and Israel was called to be a set-apart nation.  

As for tattooing; the term in the Torah does not specifically refer to the procedure of injecting ink under the skin, but is referring to any markings on the skin and is not directly tied to the act of mourning the way that making cuts in the skin is in verse 27. The ESV version does a decent job of expressing the Hebrew’s specifications on the making cuts in the flesh for the dead, as the literal Hebrew would read like this: 

Cuts the dead nor make your body marks, marks nor make. I am the LORD.” 

The two “marks” are two different words. One being “u’ketobet” more of the verb sense of making the mark the way “marking” would be in English. The other is “ka’aka” being more of the noun side of a “mark.” I would need to do more research on this, but it does seem close to “kara”, as in “Karaim” which means “readers of Hebrew Scriptures.” This is the Hebrew term for the Karaites; those who not believe in the divine nature of any extra-Biblical works.

Also, notice in the verse where it clarifies that it is cuts for the dead, as a mourning ritual, that are forbidden, but the prohibition against tattoos remains broad. I personally believe this is to allow for certain medical procedures or instances when the cutting of the flesh is actually beneficial; such as in surgical procedures or in draining harmful materials from the body. 

The beauty of Karaite Judaism is that disagreements are actually celebrated because we believe we are free to interpret the Scriptures for ourselves. While I don’t fully agree with my Karaite brother who says that tattoos are fine unless they are in mourning or are part of worshiping an idol, we embrace our ability to disagree. 

Conclusion: 
Don’t get me wrong; I think tattoos neat. Some of the most fantastic works of art I’ve seen are tattoos and when someone shows me their tattoo, I can appreciate the artistry and the hard work that went into its design and creation. Still, I am a Hebrew and getting tattoos is not a part of my spiritual culture. When God called Israel out to be a “holy nation”, that does not necessarily mean a “better nation.” Rather, this means that we are a “set-apart nation.” 
I could have written a post using anti-tattooing cliches like “tattoos are like graffiti on the temple” and the like, but really, I can honestly say the only reason I don’t have tattoos is because the Torah commands me not to. We can rationalize away the commands of Torah and say that “those commands against eating pigs was to protect against trichinosis, but modern-day pork is clean”, but the command still remains and Torah is forever no matter which way we attempt to worm our way out.   

Shalom. 
-Ken

Making Blessings While Blessing Make You

Call me old fashioned, but one thing that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside is when I actually see people in restaurants stop and “say grace” before they eat. It means that these people actually make it a point to stop and thank God for the food they are about to eat no matter who might be watching. I used to work with a Jehovah’s Witness guy who would hardly so much as look at his food before saying a silent prayer. My wife and I try to do so; usually being more successful in our home than when we’re out, but it’s something I’d definitely like to work on. Some questions some might have about this practice are:


1. Is “saying grace” found in the Bible? 
2. What exactly is taking place while doing this? 


I’ll attempt to answer these questions in one explanation that might wind back and forth a little. 


While saying grace before a meal is nowhere to be found in the Bible, the concept definitely in the Torah. The only thing different about it is the order in which most do it. 

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את־יהוה אלהיך על־הארץ הטבה אשר נתן־לך


“And when shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:10

Yes, most people bless God out of order, but the heart remains. Rabbinic Jews traditionally allot a time of prayer to bless God immediately preceding a meal while most cultures bless Him when everyone is assembled because different people might come and go. It can also be difficult to figure out exactly when a meal is officially over.

Where most commandments in the Torah are extremely concise and to the point with little additional explanation, there is some very good explanation that follows this passage:

“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-14

Wow. That totally sounds like something you’d see in the commentary section of Chumash by Rashi; but no, that’s the explanation of it given in Torah. Even thousands of years since then, I don’t know if anyone could have put it better if they tried. Still, what is going on here with this communication? 



Just for the record, the command is not to “bless the food.” This concept of blessing food is a relatively new. It was created through a misunderstanding because, while we say a blessing “over” food, we are not blessing the food, but rather blessing God; the Source of all things. 

Though my wife and I are not Rabbinic Jews, rather leaning towards Karaite Jewish interpretation, we do say a Hebrew blessing over our food that Rabbinic Jews traditionally say over bread. Many modern Karaite Jews use these same blessings and many appear in Karaite liturgy. Practicing Orthodox Jews have different blessings for different types of food, but we find that this single blessing best encapsulates the essence of blessing God for all food (after all, its not really about what kind of food you’re eating, but rather that there is food at all).

The blessing goes like this: 
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ

Barukh atta Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, ha’motzi lekhem meen ha’aretz.
Blessed are You, LORD or God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.

The only other blessing over a different kind of food we recite is when we ceremoniously drink wine on Shabbat or during other holidays. That blessing goes like this:

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן

Barukh atta Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, bo’rey p’ri hagafen.
Blessed are You, LORD or God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.”

Though some Orthodox Jews might object to us using the blessing for bread before eating a steak, we figure that whatever fed the cow so it could grow large enough to be slaughtered and eaten more than likely came from the earth (that is, unless we start harvesting grains on the moon…which might be a ways off). We use the term “bread” to symbolize food the way the Avinu Prayer says “give us this day our daily bread.” 

Long explanation short: It works for us, which is the most important thing. Finding a prayer, blessing, or whatever expression that you want that best blesses God is all that matters when giving thanks to God for what He provides. It can be spur of the moment or it can be previously composed; as long as it is truly from your heart each and every time you say it, that is the most important aspect of a blessing. 

I hope this blesses you so that you may more easily bless God. 

Shalom. 
-Ken




I Don't Eat Kosher. I Eat Food.

While I was in college, I held many part-time jobs that allowed me to come in contact with many people I normally would not have come in contact with. While I was working at a printer cartridge re-manufacturing store, around the same time I was really shifting away from Christian thought and more into a Hebraic perspective of the Scriptures, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation one day with a certain customer who really shined new light on eating kosher. Interestingly enough, this man was a Christian. By Christian, I mean he probably believed that his salvation came from Jesus, but other than that, I bet this guy had been kicked out of a couple churches just by the way he spoke. 


At this point in my conversion, I did not consider myself B’nai Yisrael, but rather since I kept many of the tenants of the Torah, I considered myself a “weird Christian.” That was the best way I knew how to explain it to anyone who asked by I was wearing blue-accented fringes and didn’t cut my beard. 

I think the customer was waiting on some of his printer cartridges to be refilled and he asked me about my fringes and beard. I explained to him where I was, spiritually, and didn’t really know what to expect in reply. He gave me an approving “hmmp” with “will ya look at that?” happy frown and raised slightly surprised raised eyebrows. 

“Well, ya know, Jesus kept kosher. So did all the disciples; even after Jesus’ resurrection. No, I betcha money even Paul never touched a ham sandwich. The Bible plainly says eating certain things is forbidden and there’s no getting around it.”

His reply surprised me. All the other Christians I knew had quoted the classic “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?” line from Matthew 17; which goes on to say “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” as well as “…to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” What most Christians will claim is Jesus’ way of abolishing the laws of eating kosher in the Torah (which doesn’t make sense because the rest of the Bible says that if anyone comes claiming to be Messiah, but teaches against the Torah, cannot not possibly Messiah) is actually a teaching against speaking evil and also enforcing man-made laws as though they are in the Torah. Though washing one’s hands before eating might be a good idea, the command to wash one’s hands before eating bread isn’t found anywhere in the Torah. 

The customer didn’t quote that famous Matthew 17 verse, instead he started to speak about Torah by quoting verses from Leviticus 11. According to the Torah, Israel is forbidden to eat: 
  • Mammals that don’t both have a cloven hoof AND chew their cud 
  • Fish that don’t have both scales and fins 
  • Birds of prey
  • Winged insects that go on all four besides those that have jointed legs above the feet for hopping
  • Any reptiles or amphibians 
  • Pretty much any animals that eat other animals
This man did not bring the usual argument about these creatures being disgusting or cursed or anything. He made it even more simple than that:

“These animals were not designed to be food. Animals that die in the wilderness are eaten by scavengers; wild pigs, vultures, wolves, some tinier than you can see, and the like. When fish die, they fall to the lake bottom or ocean floor and are eaten by bottom-feeders like crabs, lobsters, and catfish. You wouldn’t try and eat the garbage truck, would you? I wouldn’t eat these creatures any sooner than I’d eat my own shoe. It’s not because I consider my shoe to be cursed, but simply because I need my shoe. God designed these creatures to take care of the earth by keeping it clean.” 

It was very bizarre that this Christian was bringing a very Jewish perspective to eating clean foods, but he was absolutely right. These animals are not necessarily non-kosher food, but they simply weren’t meant to be food anymore than my shoe is meant to be food. 

When I look at a big piece of ham, I don’t really think “Oh, disgusting! That’s sick!” After my chat with that guy one day at work, I see a big sizzling sneaker on a plate and that bacon hidden in the salad is more like little pieces of rubber. 

So, I’m not really against eating non-kosher, but more about eating what the Torah considers to be food.  

"I'm Shutting Down Applebee's, So Don't Be A Dingus."


If you were to ask someone who doesn’t keep Shabbat when Shabbat starts, even if they were knowledgeable of other cultures, they’d probably tell you that it starts Friday night at sundown. While this seems fairly feasible, if you were to ask someone who keeps Shabbat when Shabbat starts for them, they’d probably tell you that it starts Friday afternoon, Friday morning, or even possibly Thursday or Wednesday. I know it sounds really odd, but Shabbat wouldn’t be Shabbat without being prepared. In order to properly prepare for Shabbat, the Torah commands preparedness: 

והיה ביום הששי והכינו את אשר־יביאו והיה משנה על אשר־ילקטו יום ׀ יום
“On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in , it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” – Exodus 16:5

After God have Israelites the Sabbath and then was nice enough to give the manna in the desert, He didn’t necessarily have to say “Oh, and by the way, I’m locking up Hardees this Saturday so please don’t be a dill weed and try to hit it up. Make a run to the Manna Grocery Store and load up before the sun goes down Friday night.” But guess what? To ensure that we couldn’t screw it up, He did anyways. We should feel blessed to have a God that puts up with us; even when we’re complete morons.

Everything God teaches His people goes beyond the immediate understanding and applies to numerous aspects of life. As God had Israel prepare for Shabbat, for the High Holy Days, and as they approach Him in prayer and worship, we are also taught to prepare ourselves for whatever life has in store for us.

Shalom. 
– Ken

Gay Marriage: Chill Out, People

Ok, this is my chance to be political and religious without being political or religious. I hope you enjoy.


Right now, the Christian right is claiming that the institution of marriage is under attack through many state’s attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. They are claiming that homosexuals should not be able to be married because it is a perversion and goes against the will of Almighty God. 


To that, I only have this to say: WELCOME TO AMERICA!

Being a religious person who devoted to the Torah, many people expect that I will simply come down on the side of the religious wing nuts and scream against same-sex marriage; that homosexuality is what is killing this Christian nation. 


Well, I got news for you; I ain’t no Christian. 


The Torah was given as a guide to Israel on how to serve God and how to get along with your fellow man. I do not believe that the Bible was intended as a means of cramming the will of God down the throats of every person that crosses your path. It was given to those who are in covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If someone doesn’t want to be in covenant with that God, I have no problem with that. That is their path and I believe people should have the right to do whatever they feel as long as aren’t bringing harm to anyone else or bringing injustice into the world.  


Why people have decided that a piece of government legislation that doesn’t even have anything to do with them is worth fighting against is beyond me. Two guys getting married or two women getting married is not going to change my relationship with the Creator. Why should people let it change their’s? Marriage has not always been a legal issue in the United States and I don’t think it should be any longer. I am a supporter of zero legally recognized marriages and anyone who wants to be legally bound to another for whatever reason should be able to be without the title of “married” on any government paper work. If you want to be married, that should be between you and God and not you and the government.

Now, I’m not wanting to bash Christians. I have many God-fearing Christian friends who feel the same way I do about the whole gay marriage topic. However, for those who feel the need to go out of their way to bark in everyone’s face about how homosexuality is an abomination, need I remind them that the same book of the Bible that says homosexuality is an abomination also says the same about eating shrimp and lobster. So, unless you’re eating kosher, please do us all a favor and shut up. To join this particular fight, check out www.godhatesshrimp.com for more info. 




Do not be mistaken; I am not pro same-sex marriage and would not attend a gay wedding if I were invited because it goes my personal spiritual legislation – the Torah. However, I would not protest one if it were to take place. 


Shalom. 
– Ken