Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Return of Abir

Funny, I thought I had finished with this silly issue a while ago. But intrepid Abir advocate Ehav Ever won't let it go. He's back, and he's got "proof." Proof of what, exactly? I'll let him tell it:
Looks like the Aluf Abir Yehoshua Sofer is Yemenite after all and there is a history for Abir.
Ehav provides a Youtube link showing Sofer interviewing an old man, Mori Awadh bin Sleiman. He repeatedly acknowledges that Sofer's patrilineal line was Yemenite, and affirms a family connection between them. It also has various clips of bearded Middle Eastern men (presumably Yemenite Jews) dancing. I guess this is supposed to prove Abir's authentic dance-house heritage.

Here's the big problem, Ehav. Since 2007 you've been particularly offended at my claim (based on my admittedly limited information) that Sofer was Ashkenazi, not Yemenite. (I freely admit that my skepticism about Sofer's heritage based on skin color was unfair and reflective of my lack of knowledge about the topic.) However I have nothing invested in disproving Sofer's Yemenite-ness. It doesn't matter whether he's the Chief Rabbi of Sa'aana or a descendant of Confucius. The central issue has always been whether Abir-- and all the associated mythology Sofer and his followers constructed and perpetuated about it-- was true. I'll stipulate that Sofer is Yemenite on his father's side. It still doesn't address the bigger questions.

Let's recap some of the sticking points:

- The ever-changing family ties. When I first heard about Abir back in 2006, what little online information was available was inconsistent and confusing.  Most notable was Sofer simultaneously pushing his grandfather's Yemenite roots and then talking about him serving in the Russian army while on a pilgrimage to Uman.and subsequently learning wrestling and jujitsu. Elsewhere he mentioned being descended from Nachman of Breslov's brother. When I questioned this, you said Sofer's grandmother was Ukrainian. So why was the Yemenite grandfather in Uman? Did he marry into a Breslov family and then become a Yemenite Breslover? I'm not saying this couldn't be true, I'm saying I'm very confused, and a big part of it is because Sofer has connected Abir so closely with his family history and then released that history in an extremely fragmentary way.

In other interviews, Sofer has claimed that his Yemenite ancestors' name was Sofer. He has identified his uncles as having the surname Sofer, and apparently his grandfather Brihim bin-Hassan also went by the name Nachman Sofer (which wasn't clarified until relatively recently, BTW. I was still thinking that Brihim and Nachman were two separate grandfathers). So here's a question: why was Sofer born Nigel Winston? I don't particularly care about the answer, and I doubt Sofer is outright lying about his last name. But it's another example of something fishy coming up. Here's another question: if he was trained and raised knowing his destiny was to bring Abir back to the yearning Jewish masses, why did he waste several years of his life trying to be a proto-Matisyahu ska rapper? Sofer is like Madonna; he has reinvented himself and retconned his and Abir's origin stories so many times it's impossible to keep it all straight.

- Dreaming too big, changing the stories, and not keeping them straight. Sofer has made the simultaneous claims that A- Abir is an ancient authentic Jewish practice going back to Biblical times; B- all Jews in antiquity knew and practiced Abir, and C-  while this knowledge was widely lost among most Jews in modern times (which is why no one had heard of it before 2001), the isolated and exotic Habbani managed to keep the secret alive through traditional dances. Frankly, there's so much on this ball of yarn it's hard to even unpack it, but the biggest problem is that his stories sound way too good to be true.

I can buy the Habbani being tough bastards. I can accept that they may have been good with their fists. Maybe they even had a martial art system. But it's pretty hard to believe that ten Habbani Jews killed 1,000 attackers bare-handed. I'm sorry, but that's a fairy tale. Same thing for Sofer's claim about how old Abir is. I can accept Abir being a Habbani tradition. Maybe it's even quite old. But to claim that King David knew Abir? To say that it's knowledge that's been passed down unbroken from Abraham is like having a restaurant and claiming your lentil stew was the exact recipe Jacob used to steal Esau's birthright. Also, Sofer now claims Abraham learned Abir from Terah! First of all, this seems to complicate the concept of it being a "Jewish martial art" as it would make it ripped off from the pagan Babylonians. It certainly doesn't seem like it would count as "Torah study," as Sofer has said. But wait, if Abir came from the Babylonians, how can it based on the ancient Hebrew alphabet? How can it have super-secret mystical Kabbalah connections?

All this stuff makes me think that Sofer is selling something, which, coincidentally, he is.

Now let's talk about your video: I notice that in the video Sofer seems to nudge the older gentleman pretty hard towards trying to confirm some of his Abir stories. Yet the farthest Mr. Bin Sleiman seems willing to go is to say that their clan could "fight without weapons" and that Sofer's ancestors were "very mighty" and that Arabs feared them. At one point he tells an anectdote about Sofer's grandfather putting sand in a bag and using it as a blackjack on people who tried to mess with him. That's cool and all, but it's not the same thing as saying that the Habbani were a bunch of Jewish ninjas. By my count, he only even said Abir twice-- once when referring to warriors in a story of Jewish conquest of Yemen, and once when talking about Sofer's grandfather who used it as part of his nickname.

It's odd that given his long association with the family, Bin Sleiman never actually says anything that confirms Sofer's wilder stories. The most Sofer gets out of him is that his family were tough guys that didn't take crap from gentiles. (BTW, I was very intrigued by Sofer's comment that his grandfather "was a bodyguard for Sultans and in Uman." A, I notice that Bin Sleiman says nothing to confirm this, and B, again, I'm confused why the Yemenite grandfather was in Uman.) Also, in Sofer's story his relatives have now gone from guarding a single king, Abdullah, to multiple Sultans. This increase in bodyguard work seems to correspond to the Wikipedia page, which now says that the Sofers guarded Lawrence of Arabia. Yes, all these things could be true (in which case someone should really write a book about this amazing, stupendous fantabulous family), but at a certain point, you begin testing the limits of believability and leading people to assume you're just making stuff up.

A similar thing happens in the next clip: the other old guy says that he remembers attending dances as a child and tells his friend that "these Abir techniques were in our dances." Sofer goes on to mime out the Abir moves. Bin Sleiman looks at him and smiles politely. No confirmation, no agreement.

Sorry Ehav, but this is hardly a smoking gun. One guy is convinced by Sofer's pitch. Good for him. The fact that Sofer's martial arts use similar moves to Yemenite dances does not prove that the dances were secret methods of communicating Abir moves. If anything, it shows that Sofer or his family may have borrowed some of their ideas from Yemenite dances.

Ehav, I understand my half-assed "expose" three years ago touched a raw nerve. And it's cute that you still care so much. But it's not about whether Sofer is Yemenite. It's about whether he's full of crap.


conservative apikoris said...

"I can accept Abir being a Habbani tradition. Maybe it's even quite old. But to claim that King David knew Abir? To say that it's knowledge that's been passed down unbroken from Abraham is like having a restaurant and claiming your lentil stew was the exact recipe Jacob used to steal Esau's birthright. "

Well, it's no sillier than believing that the Babylonian Talmud, or the Shulchan Aruch represents the corpus of Law handed down by God to the Israelis from Mt. Sinai.

B.BarNavi said...

Oh, that silly CA.

A treat for you, because it's just awesome:


(Incidentally, you contradicted your earlier claim that Sofer was an Ashkenazi from NY. Looking at his bio, I can probably say that he never stepped foot in the States.)

BTW, listed to Ehav. If you can ignore his Abir-pimping and his settler ideology, you'll find a lot of gold regarding Sephardic history, West African Jewry, and combating racism in the Jewish community.

Friar Yid said...

Thanks for the comment, B.BarNavi.

Incidentally, you contradicted your earlier claim that Sofer was an Ashkenazi from NY

Yes, I thought I was pretty clear that, given my near-total ignorance about Yemenite Jewry and lack of access to a DNA lab, this is not the best thing for me to use as a cornerstone for my Abir-is-silly campaign. Fortunately, Abir's grand claims remain just as questionable whether Sofer is a Yemenite Jew or a Mexican Snapping Turtle.

Looking at his bio, I can probably say that he never stepped foot in the States.

Look again. All Sofer's bios say he grew up in L.A. (possibly spending some years in Jamaica). Last I checked the place still hadn't declared itself a separate country yet. (No doubt there is paperwork in progress.)

Ehav's videos do show a hefty amount of knowledge, but I'm still struggling with ignoring the more brain-melting bits. I'll give another couple of his vids a look, though.

Thanks for the link. I will check it out.

Ehav Ever said...

Greetings Friar Yid,

I am not sure why you believe that I am offended by your comments about Abir. I have no problem what so ever about skepticism about Abir, or anything else for that matter. As I wrote before I don't even know you and I have never argued with you about Abir, or anything else for that matter. People who have discussed Abir with me, whether they are skeptics are or not, know that I have no problem with skepticism on the issue. I actually encourage it.

You say that since 2007 I have been offended by your story on Abir. The reality is that is not true. I hadn't even thought about your article between 2007 until I happened across it a few weeks ago after I edited the video with Mori Awadh Bin Sleiman z"l.

My reason for posting the video is because it is valid concerning your post, which my focus was on the ancestry issue and that amongst Habbanim there is a mesorah for Abir. It isn't important about time frame, it is simply another side of the story. I happened across your post and I decided to provide a link on a video I had recently edited. Your issues with the video are also not an issue for me since there is nothing wrong with having skepticism.


Ehav Ever

Friar Yid said...


Thanks for your writing and clearing up your intentions. (Given that we started off our conversation in 2007 trading insults, I assumed there might still be some hard feelings.)

Please feel free to drop me a line with any more Abir stuff as you find it. I'm sure I'll remain skeptical, but there's nothing wrong with keeping an open mind.


Ehav Ever said...


Actually, I think you have me mixed up with someone else. I have never traded insults with you. I do not go around insulting people, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. So I am not sure where you are getting this idea that you and I have argued before back in 2007. As I mentioned before I don't even know you.


Ehav Ever

Friar Yid said...

Ehav- I took a second look and realized you are right. Please accept my apologies.


Ehav Ever said...


No problem.


Ehav Ever

Anonymous said...

Ehav Ever?! That's a nice fake name Yehoshua Soffer or should I call you Juses Soffer.
Dude, you know for a fact that your dad is not Yeman, and your mom is only.
You were born in jamica, why I habani Jew
Will come to Israel in the 1950 (all of them BTW) and will fly to Jamica after 4 years?
The simple true is that you are an unsuccessful singer that had 1 or 2 songs that were successful in some way, and then you wanted to do a "comeback" so you come with this "hors shit" story about Abir etc...
So my point is:
"Go get a life YOU full of shit!"

Friar Yid said...

Anon- Ehav is a real guy who has been blogging for a white and making lots of youtube vids under his real name. I of course have no way of knowing whether the commentator here is the "real" Ehav, but I choose to believe he is until given reason to conclude otherwise.

Regarding your Sofer comments- do you have a source for Sofer's patrilineal heritage? I'd love to know more.