Is Michelle Obama’s Cousin A Real Jew?

Here‘s a podcast featuring Rabbi Funnye speaking about his congregation.

From Radar:

FUNNYE, YOU DON’T LOOK JEWISH Oh, come on, you would have gone the exact same way with this one

Have you heard? Michelle Obama has a cousin who is a rabbi in Chicago. According to the AP, Rabbi Capers Funnye is Michelle’s first cousin once removed and the leader of a predominantly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side. This is important because Barack Obama scares Jews and some think Funnye might help them come around to supporting him. But others doubt Funnye’s Chosen-ness. An email that recently landed our inbox says that several Rabbis in Chicago question whether Funnye and his congregation are really members of the tribe.

Like most emails that land in our inbox, it seems to be unfounded.

"Within the Jewish community, there is a whole debate about what people define as legitimate Jewish expression," says Michael Balinsky, executive VP of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, of which Funnye is a member. "But I think if you were to ask people if they think [Funnye’s synagogue] is legitimate, most Jews in the community would say yes."

The argument is essentially about the Jewish denomination Funnye subscribes to. The Forward can explain it much better, so we’ll let them:

Although Funnye’s congregation describes itself as Ethiopian Hebrew, it is not connected to the Ethiopian Jews, commonly called the Beta Israel, who have immigrated to Israel en masse in recent decades. It is also separate from the Black Hebrews in the Israeli city of Dimona, and from the Hebrew Israelite black supremacist group, whose incendiary street harangues have become familiar spectacles in a number of American cities.

Funnye converted to Judaism and was ordained as a rabbi under the supervision of black Israelite rabbis. He then went through another conversion, supervised by Orthodox and Conservative rabbis.

According to the website of his temple, Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, Funnye and his congregation subscribe to the teachings of Rabbi Wentworth A. Matthew. So this argument is pretty much about what some Jews consider to be real Judaism and what they don’t. To some, Funnye will be a real Jew, and to others he’ll be an impostor. But the real question here is, why isn’t he campaigning in Florida with Ed Koch?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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