By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Recent headlines about Michael Elkohen (originally Michael Elk) who is masquerading as a Rabbi, Mohel, Kohain, Mesader Kiddushin, and Sofer have been creating shockwaves in the Torah community. Are there more such people? There may be yet another one.
The individual under discussion is someone who goes by the name of Shelomo Alfassa. My investigations have led me to the following conclusion. The man known as Shelomo Alfassa is, according to my investigations, a fraud.
He is a gentile who is a well-trained Christian missionary who has hidden and ensconced himself in the Sefardic Jewish community.
His real name is Scott L. Marks. His mother’s maiden name was Amber Jean Barnes. She originally came from North Carolina. The family lived in Southern California, Denver, and Ovieto Florida. It was in Florida where Scott Marks attended Bible college.
There was a couple who lived in Miami with the surname of Alfassa. They were holocaust survivors. However, they had no children. Scott Marks claimed he was their grandson. People who knew him then also knew that he was lying. He hung around Temple Moses.
After Bible college, Scott Marks founded an organization called “International Society for Sephardic Progress.” He founded it with a pastor by the name of “Peyton Bass.”
Evidence toward this can be seen on a video that was since removed. The following was its former location.
Images of Scott Marks and Shelomo Alfassa are identical.
Scott Marks/Alfassa then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a programmer for Hatzolah there. He then moved to New York to work for Sephardic House. After that he moved to Israel and legally changed his name to “Shelomo Alfassa.”
Subsequently, he moved back to the United States and initially moved to Orlando, Florida. He then moved to Brooklyn, New York.
He has a website, alfassa.com, where attempts to demonstrate his legitimacy in the Jewish community and where he traces his “lineage.”
Marks/Alfassa claims to also be a scholar. He once penned an article against Schlissel Challah filled with misrepresentations and falsehoods. I wrote an article questioning his very dubious sources which was published previously in the Five Towns Jewish Times. Marks/Alfassa’s article had actually fooled some significant Rabbis in the article. What follows are quotes from that article.
Alfassa writes that “at least one old Irish source tells how at times when a town was under attack, the men said, “let our women-folk be instructed in the art of baking cakes containing keys.” This is Alfassa’s lead reference, but looking up his reference (O’Brien, Flann. The Best of Myles. Normal, IL; Dalkey Archive Press, 1968. Page 393) reveals that it is not really an old Irish source. Rather it is a quote from the fiction works found a collection of Irish newspaper columns that date back four decades before the publication of the book. In other words, there is no correlation between this 20th century literary statement and a custom that dates back to Eastern Europe centuries earlier.
Let’s now look at the second reference that Alfassa brings. He writes citing a book written by James George Frazer, entitled The Golden Bough. London: Macmillan and Co., “Another account mentions a key in a loaf: “In other parts of Esthonia [sic], again, the Christmas Boar [cake], as it is called, is baked of the first rye cut at harvest; it has a conical shape and a cross is impressed on it with a pig’s bone or a key, or three dints are made in it with a buckle or a piece of charcoal. It stands with a light beside it on the table all through the festival season.”
The fact is, however, this source does not mention a key in a loaf at all. It mentions a cake with a cross on top of it. How was the shape of the cross made? Either with a bone of a pig or with a cross shaped key…
Alfassa further tells us in a footnote, “Small breads with the sign of the cross have been found as far back as 79 CE in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum (see The New York Times March 31, 1912). This was when Christianity emerged in Roman Judea as a Jewish religious sect which gradually spread out of Jerusalem.
This footnote as well is extremely misleading. The city of Herculaneum located in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius was destroyed on August 4th, in the year 79 CE. At the time it was an entirely pagan city where they worshipped Hercules, and were assuredly not Christian. There was no influence on Judaism here, nor a connection to Christianity as Alfassa implies because the entire city was buried in volcanic ash, and they were not influenced by Christianity. The connection to Schlissel Challah here is completely non-existent. More likely is the fact that the “plus sign” was actually an icon before the identification of the cross with Christianity. Also connecting the shaping of a plus sign with the Schlissel Challah in this instance is quite spurious.
Alfass further attempts to connect the practice with the idea of placing figurines in cupcakes. He writes, “Similar, there are modern non-Jewish customs, such as in Mexico, where a ‘baby Jesus’ figurine is baked into cupcakes; often, the child who finds it wins a prize. This is also practiced in the U.S. state of Louisiana beginning at Mardi Gras and practiced for 30 days after. There, a ‘baby Jesus’ toys baked into a whole cake, and whoever finds the baby in their piece has to buy the next day’s cake. In Spain, there is a tradition of placing a small Jesus doll inside a cake and whoever finds it must take it to the nearest church..”
The connection that the author makes between this and Schlissel Challah is perplexing. There is no geographic connection. There is no timeline connection. The only similarity is the placing of an item in something else. Both the items are different and the product that they are put in are different. At best, one can say that this is scholarship that lacks rigor.
From his website he writes of his “Family History.” One gets the feeling of “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” – a line from the play by William Shakespeare.
His website states about himself:
Shelomo Alfassa is from a family of Ladino speaking Spanish Jews from Ottoman Turkey and the island of Rhodes. His family roots are among the musta’arabi traditions from Al-Andalus (Jews from pre-Christian Spain) as well as North Africa. The traditional minhag of his family was one based on roots in Andalusian Judaism and steeped in the Geonic tradition; this is a tradition based upon rationality, respect and intellectualism, as practiced by those such as Maimonides.
Professional Bio for his Work with Sephardic History
Shelomo Alfassa is an international Sephardic advocate. His is the past Director of Special Projects for the American Sephardi Federation…
Mr. Alfassa is a consultant to the Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Culture Research Center in Istanbul and was the former Executive Director of the International Sephardic Leadership Council in New York. He served as former Director of Research and Development for Sephardic House in New York City and for four years he served as a vice-president of the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture. He was a staff consultant to both the Sephardic Educational Center and the Shehebar Sephardic Center (Midrash Sefaradi) in Jerusalem. He is a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
This author suggests to research everything that he writes or says for accuracy. Rely on nothing. Also see the following Youtube.
The author can be reached at [email protected]