THE 'JOE’:JEW DILEMMA
by Ashirah Yosefah
Jews, we know, but who are the 'Joes'? It's a complex question with a multi-faceted response. I know. I'm now a Jew, but I used to be a 'Joe'.
'Joe' is a colloquial expression used by adherents of a religious movement that identifies themselves predominantly as 'Ephraimites' or 'Josephites'.
Joseph, of course, is Yosef haTzaddik, the son of Ya'akov and Rachel, who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Mitzrayim, later being imprisoned for fifteen years for maintaining his moral purity, and then being elevated to second-in-command to Pharaoh. In this latter position, Yosef not only saved all of Mitzrayim from the ravages of a seven year famine, but he also saved the lives of his father Ya'akov and his brothers when he revealed his identity and orchestrated his family's move to Mitzrayim, where Yosef sustained them on the best lands of the country, Goshen. As he told his shocked brothers, who panicked with guilt at the revelation of Yosef's true identity:
“G-d sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but G-d ….” (Genesis 45:7-8)
'Ephraim' was Yosef's second-born son, the son who actually received the blessing of the firstborn son at the hand of his grandfather Ya'akov, a 'switching of the hands' that Ya'akov acknowledged when Yosef protested.
“'Not so, Father,' Joseph said to his father, 'for the other is the first-born; place your hand on his head.' But his father objected, saying, 'I know, my son, I know. He too shall become a people, and he too shall be great. Yet his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall be plentiful enough for nations.'” (Genesis 48:18-19)
'…plentiful enough for nations', in Hebrew is miebd-`ln (melo ha-goyim). It can mean various things: The fullness of the nations; the completeness of the nations; plentiful enough for nations. Whatever definition one prefers, the inference is clear. The descendents of Yosef's son Ephraim would have a definite relationship to or amongst the nations of the world.
This particular blessing which Ya'akov pronounced over the head of Ephraim bore a striking similarity to a promise that G-d had made to Avraham:
“As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:4-5)
Who were/are those
nations? Based on the Tanach's record of Avraham's
progeny, we know that his son Ishmael fathered the twelve Arab nations of the
son Yitzchak fathered Ya'akov, from whom G-d brought
forth the nation of
But what about the nation
descended from Ya'akov? Immediately, most people answer, “the Jews”
Jews, obviously, are the
genealogical descendents of Ya'akov through his son Yehudah, or descendents of Levi, Binyamin, and the
smattering of other tribes of Israel absorbed into their midst over the
centuries. Then, there are those who are
'Jews by choice', having converted to Judaism and become part of Klal Yisrael as sons and
daughters of Avraham and Sarah, not, as people often assume, members of Shevet Yehudah (the Tribe of
Judah). All of the above also take upon themselves the name, “
Anyone familiar with
Christianity knows that the Church has misappropriated the name “
But there is yet another
understanding of the name “
The evidence brought forth is two-fold: Tanach, especially the writings of the Prophets, and a deep-seated internal conviction that they are the Latter Days fulfillment of the prophecies of Yeshayahu, Yirmeyahu, Hoshea, Yehezqel, and others who foretold of the future return of the exiled descendents of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
The Ephraimites and Josephites (hereinafter referred to collectively as “Ephraimites”) earnestly desire to 'reconcile' with Jews as being long-lost family members. They crave an opportunity to live in Eretz Yisrael. They are trying to live in accordance with Torah and have taken on many of the traditions of Judaism. The logical question that forms in the mind of a Jew is, “So … why not convert?” The reality is that most Ephraimites do not want to convert, nor do they feel it is necessary. This is the correct answer, but not for the same reasons that most Ephraimites believe.
Conversion is not for everyone and nor should it be. It is an irreversible decision that must not be taken lightly. It is also a decision which cannot be taken if an individual holds to any form of Christian theology purporting Jesus to be G-d or Messiah, or any other religious ideology that worships a god other than Hashem alone. Many Ephraimites insist that the Halachic requirement of conversion should be waived on their behalf, and that they should be recognized as returning “Israelites” and allowed to live in the Land.
Their evidence creates a
dilemma for Jews. It is not evidence
that would be admissible in even the most lenient court of law, or Beit Din (
Let's consider the 'evidence' …
Jews are familiar with the
prophecies of the Lost Tribes. In recent
decades, Rabbi Eliyahu Avichayil has located and confirmed tribal communities
in Burma, Afghanistan and other Eastern locations that he believes to be
descendents of the Lost Ten Tribes based upon the tangible evidence of Jewish
traditions that have been maintained throughout the centuries of exile, albeit
distorted with the passage of time: The
lighting of Shabbat candles, the keeping of Pesach, observing the Torah laws of
Kashrut, festivals that bear striking resemblance to
the Jewish holidays, legends that parallel Jewish midrashim,
and more. These people groups include
the Bnei Menasheh and the Pashtuns of Afganistan. For those who accept their new-found, yet
ancestral, identity, conversion programs have been provided and, once
conversion is complete, they are assisted in making aliyah to
the Anousim, the assimilated descendents of Jews who
were forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition. Around the
world today, hundreds of thousands of Anousim are
re-discovering, or finally speaking out, about their Jewish ancestry. Again, in many cases, Jewish traditions,
particularly relating to Shabbat, were kept to some degree by family members,
though hidden from the public eye. Although
there are ongoing debates regarding the propriety of the requirement, returning
Anousim are required to convert. They have simply been away from the practice
of Judaism for too long to comfortably adapt to or be absorbed into Jewish
life, especially in
In each of the above cases, the 'evidence' of Jewishness was and is tangible and practical, clearly identifiable upon examination. Can the prophecies relating to a Latter Days discovery and return be applied to the Bnei Menasheh, the Pashtuns, the Ethiopian Jews and the Anousim? Yes, they can, without any distortion of the text.
In addition to Rabbi Avichayil's research, there have been other Jewish
researchers who have published books on the modern day identity and locations
of the Lost Ten Tribes, most notably Yair Davidiy of the Brit Am Association in
Now let's examine the evidence of the Ephraimite claims to physical descendancy from the Lost Tribes of Israel.
First, let's examine the Tanach basis for Ephraimite claims.
Sinai to Solomon, the nation of
time, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, comprised of ten tribes, became known by
the nickname, “Ephraim” because the Tribe of Ephraim was so strong in their
midst. King Jeroboam quickly led his
people away from Torah obedience into idolatry and mixed worship. They began worshipping both Hashem and the
idols of the nations. Jeroboam even
built two golden calves, one in Beit El and one in
Dan. With successive kings, the
situation became worse. G-d sent
prophets to warn them to repent or they would be 'divorced' from their Covenant
and exiled from the Land. Yehezqel, for one, warned both
"Lie also on
your left side, and lay the iniquity of the House of
Northern Kingdom of Israel was originally to have been exiled for 390 years. Had they had repented, we assume they would
have returned at the appointed time, just as the Kingdom of Judah did at the
end of their Babylonian exile, but this was not the case. Assyrian invaded, the
Ephraimite movement claims that the descendents of the Northern Kingdom of
Israel are not lost; rather, their exile was extended due to a lack of
repentance. In Vayyiqra
26, the Torah tells us that if Hashem disciplines
The book of Hoshea figures prominently in Ephraimite doctrines. Hoshea was told to marry a prostitute with whom he would have three children. These children were to be named Yezreel, Lo Ruchama and Lo Ami. The children, as with the son of Yeshayahu foretold in Isaiah 7, were to be signs to the people that Hashem would fulfill His Word.
Yezreel would signify that the
Ruchama means “without compassion”. Hoshea warned that
G-d would no longer have compassion on the House of Israel (
Ammi means “not My
people”. The tribes of the Northern
Kingdom would be, in effect, disowned by G-d and no longer considered part of
Am Yisrael, the people of
Hoshea 2:1-3, the Prophet gives forth an amazing
promise of a future time when the Northern Kingdom shall be restored as part of
“The number of the people of
Ephraimites link this promise to two of Yehezqel's prophecies: The resurrection of the valley of dry bones (Yehezqel 37:1-14), and the “two-sticks” prophecy of Yehezqel 37:15-28, wherein the stick of Joseph, in the hand of Ephraim, is placed upon the stick of Judah and the two sticks become one in the Hand of G-d … “a single nation in the land, on the hills of Israel” … “Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.” (Yehezqel 37:22).
more verses from Tanach could be brought down to
illustrate the Scriptural basis that Ephraimites cling to in defence of their
assumed identity as returning biological Israelites; however, the above history
and verses provide the basic framework.
Objectively, one can understand how Ephraimites can identify with this
framework and the prophecies of promise.
No one will dispute that the descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes could
well be in just about any and every nation of the world. Thousands of years have passed; people have
intermarried and traveled. There is no
reckoning as to how far the seed of the
The challenge faced by Ephraimites is that their evidence is not conclusive. Interpretation of prophetic passages in Tanach is exactly that: Open to interpretation. Rabbis have been guarding and studying Tanach throughout the ages, together with the Oral Torah and the thousands of Jewish sources. The Orthodox interpretations of these prophecies vary amongst themselves, but there is a general cohesiveness to their frame of reference. With respect to Ephraimite interpretations of the same prophecies, a key factor arises. As non-Jews, Ephraimites have not had the benefit of being immersed in Torah study and observance throughout their lives, nor in the all-important knowledge of Jewish history that must under gird interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Ephraimites are not able to honestly interpret these prophetic passages without the benefit of the resources and knowledge available to the Rabbis. This is not to say that all their interpretations are necessarily faulty; but it does suggest a lack of depth and a limited context.
There is a prevailing resistance to conversion amongst most Ephraimites. This, too, raises immediate questions in the heart and mind of Jews. If you are truly part of our people, why do you resist becoming part of us? Conversion has been the Halachic standard for centuries, why should you be exempt? What is objectionable about relearning the foundations of Judaism? Do you not wish to live in community with our people? Are you hiding religious doctrines that are contrary to monotheistic faith in One G-d? These are but a few of the things that cross the Jewish mind. This is part of the reason why acceptance for conversion is so strict.
The returning Jewish soul will stop at nothing to reunite with its people, its source. Being a Jew is difficult. It is not for everyone, nor does it need to be, nor should it be. Torah provides an alternative for those who feel drawn to align themselves with the Jewish people and the Torah.
There is a flipside to the Ephraimite evidence that is compelling in its intensity, but unconvincing to Jews. This is the powerful internal conviction Ephraimites have that they are flesh and blood descendents of the Lost Ten Tribes, combined with their insatiable thirst for Torah. The sacrifices many Ephraimites have made in order to assume a level of Torah obedience are astounding to most Jews and deeply inspiring. Ephraimite passion for Torah is impressive, and often shames Jews regarding our own internal flame, but emotions and mental aspirations are not considered tangible proof. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just 'are'. They have the power to transform or destroy a person and can easily take on a life of their own. They can sway one's judgment and impede an impartial assessment of the facts at hand. Jews need facts and tangible proof. Ephraimites offer inspiring conviction, interesting Scriptural interpretations, but insufficient evidence. This presents a dilemma.
seek recognition by, and reconciliation with, Jews. They want to be acknowledged as '
Jews are now bombarded by a tidal wave of non-Jews who are dressing like Jews and trying to act like Jews. It gets a bit unnerving … who is and who is not? Furthermore, if you are not, then why are you imitating me? Some say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery; to others, it smacks of identity theft. It is interesting to note that the Torah warns against flattery.
Jews have given their lives and endured great persecution to guard and preserve the Torah. Torah-observance has always meant being distinctly identifiable apart from the nations of the world. Now the 'nations' want to take on Torah. Jews are aware that we are called to be Light to the nations; but after two millennia of persecution for adherence to Torah, one can understand Jews being hesitant.
into the nations has long been one of the greatest dangers facing Judaism; now
reverse assimilation seems to be a fad.
Also, most Ephraimites have come from a Christian background. This presents its own problems. The Christian Church has spearheaded most of
the anti-Semitism of the past 2000 years and it has been responsible for the
death of millions of Jews. Many covert
attempts have been made, and continue to be made, to woo Jews and win our
trust, then slowly begin the intravenous-like administration of Christian
doctrines. Despite their outward
'rejection' of Christianity, the majority of Ephraimites identify themselves as
"Messianic Israelites” and believe that Jesus (Yeshua)
is either G-d, Messiah, or both. To a Jew, it is a glaring contradiction in
terms to claim rejection of Christianity and hold to these beliefs. This makes Ephraimite appeals for
reconciliation, recognition and inclusion amongst the people of
There is also a third factor that drives a wedge into Joe-Jew dialogue. Christianity has long cultivated an inherent attitude of assumed spiritual superiority. The exclusive nature of the Christian religion dictates that anyone that does not agree with their doctrines or interpretation of Scripture is necessarily in error. This has translated over the centuries into spiritual pride that comes across with an underlying air of arrogance … especially to Jews. Most Ephraimites do not realize that they communicate this. They have done a good deal of repentance to come as far as they have in the evolution of their spiritual identity. To knowingly exude an attitude of spiritual arrogance to Jews would be crushing to many Ephraimites, but it is a reality. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that when one thinks that one knows G-d, that is when they are actually furthest away from Him. He also taught that all sincere study of Torah must begin with the realization that we truly know nothing; then, we are able to receive instruction and revelation.
So what is to be done with the Joe-Jew dilemma? Time will certainly reveal all things. In the meantime, we should guard against assumptions and against making conclusive statements about matters that only G-d knows of a certainty and which only Moshiach will reveal.
Ephraimites are sincere in their desire to be taught Torah and to have Rabbis answer their many questions. There are increasing numbers of Rabbis who are willing to do so, but Ephraimites need to curb their impatience for recognition and begin at the Halachic starting point. Rabbis are, after all, bound by Torah and its accompanying Halacha. The only Halachically acceptable premise from which Rabbis can begin to instruct non-Jews is from that of the Seven Universal Laws for all mankind; otherwise known as the Noahide Commandments. These commandments are contained in the Torah and are equally binding upon Jews. They are the foundation of any sincere relationship with the Creator of the Universe. Contrary to the disparaging comments made about these Laws within Ephraimite circles, they are not insignificant. Proper obedience to these Laws gradually leads a non-Jew into a lifestyle that grows with time to become nearly identical to that of a Torah-observant Jew, with the exception of certain commandments G-d specifies as being for Jews only, and some of these being only for Cohanim and Levites. The Torah demands our respect. It is Holy; therefore, the Rabbis can only share its wisdom with those whom they are certain have fear of Heaven, are keeping the Seven Universal Laws, and who display awe for the greatness and power of the Torah which they seek to learn.
When we go to school, we do not begin at university level. Ephraimites claim that they are painfully aware of their estrangement from Torah for thousands of years. They cannot expect to begin learning about Torah at advanced levels. To do so is to build a structure on a faulty foundation; in time, the structure of knowledge they have built will come tumbling down. Believe me, it is painful when this happens.
Many Ephraimites are now stuck between two religions, Christianity and Judaism. They are at a loss for community and traditions. Once comfortably encased in congregations with traditions and practices, they have been thrust out into a spiritual no-man's land of weighing volumes of conflicting doctrines, finding evidence of the falsehoods they have inherited, and trying to define who, in fact, they are. They feel drawn to Torah and yearn to align themselves with Jews; but this does not mean that they should convert. Still, many have converted. For those sincere in their conversion, it is the most wonderful transformation of one's life and it comes accompanied by the biggest responsibility one can ever accept.
The process of conversion is inherently fraught with challenges and troubles, all being tests, both Divine and human, of your sincerity and determination. Conversion has but one price tag: Everything you have and everything you are. I do not regret a single moment, a single sacrifice. I have "come home" , but this is not necessary for the majority of Ephraimites. What is necessary is a setting aside of spiritual pride and assumptions and a willingness to go back to the beginning, to consider the true and full implication and application of the Seven Universal Laws. Only then can dialogue with Jews truly begin.
The Ephraimite movement tore itself out of the Christian church and, in its quest for Torah knowledge, thrust itself into depths and levels of Judaism that it was, and is, woefully unable to handle without first building a Torah-true foundation on the Seven Universal Laws. It is time to shore-up the foundation before the building crumbles. In time, with study and sincere application of the Noahide commandments (and their far-reaching Torah implications), a tremendous freedom will be gained and all questions of spiritual identity and whether to convert or not to convert will ultimately be resolved. If there is any one thing that can be done to resolve the Joe-Jew dilemma and to initiate sincere dialogue, willingness on the part of Ephraimites to first consider the Seven Universal Laws holds the key.