Founded in 1919 by Wentworth Arthur Matthew, the Commandment Keepers Synagogue, was a black congregation in Harlem which kept many of the Jewish laws and also was inspired by the teachings of Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist leader.
“The Black Jews of Harlem are a minority ethnic group in New York who first appeared in the early 1900s. By 1930 there were at least four groups of Black Jews in Harlem. The most important of these groups was The Commandment Keepers Holy Church of the Living God. Commandment Keepers’ founder, Rabbi Matthew, described the natural link between people of African descent and Judaism which he claimed extended from Abraham through King Solomon of Israel and Queen Sheba of Ethiopia who founded the line of kings who ruled Ethiopia. He affirmed that the “original” Jews were black people, or at least people of non-European descent who inhabited northeastern Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Yet, the Black Jews of Harlem were typically West Indian, East African, or South American in origin.”
“In 1962 an unusually large house—10,000 square feet—was purchased by the synagogue, known as the Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth.
After decades of internal conflict and declining membership, the synagogue was sold to a developer for $1.625 million, according to court papers. That developer, who chiseled a Star of David over the pillared entrance to reveal original decorative detail, planned to convert the building into separate apartments.”
The building was subsequently bought by two gay men who have been converting it into their own home.
Now members of the almost extinct congregation are fighting the sale. One group of the congregation claims that the other was not authorized to sell the property.
Rabbi Wentworth was twice rejected by the New York Board of Rabbis when he applied for membership. The group said that the black Jews had not made a valid conversion to Judaism.
However, observers now are reconsidering. The major evidence that they indeed may be Jewish is that this tiny group has now divided into even smaller groups that are fighting each other in court.