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Torah and Tepees: Comanche Friend of the Jews

Part III of III

On a late December night in 2013, I was surfing the Internet when I happened onto a website created by a Dr. David A. Yeagley, a great-great-grandson of Comanche Chief Bad Eagle. Yeagley was a former professor of humanities, psychology, literature, music and philosophy. He espoused quite conservative political views on the site, but it was not his political and Native American activism that caught my eye. Among the many features contained on the site were Yeagley’s take on matters spiritual and musical. Yeagley had obtained academic degrees from Oberlin College in music, Yale Divinity School in religion and Emory College in liberal arts. What struck me as unusual was that the website contained a series of serious articles written by Yeagley over the years on Jewish subjects, including dissertations on Tractate Berachot of Talmud Bavli. Titles included “Midnight in the Talmud,” “Talmud in the Night” and “Talmud, Time, and Temptation.” The most impressive of all was an article by Yeagley entitled “Neusner, Mishnah, and the Talmud: When to Recite the Shema” which he published on May 11, 2013. This article included a picture of R. Adin Steinsalz, whom Yeagley apparently met at Yale. It was quite a surprise to find a Comanche Indian, albeit a highly educated one, studying Jewish texts. On top of this, further research showed that Yeagley’s interest in Jewish scholarship and issues extended much deeper. It turned out that in addition to his essays listed above, Yeagley undertook a serious initiative to bring Chumash lessons, or “shiurim” as he called them, to a broad audience on YouTube. He recorded 90 five-minute “shiurim” over several months in 2012 in which he studied individual verses from Bereishit. His introductory video is quite enlightening and includes his explanation of why the descendant of a famed Indian chief would undertake such an endeavor:

“I think it’s important for everyone to realize, the goyim, the gentiles to realize, the Torah came out of the Jewish mind, its shape is Jewish. I believe that it is supernatural…that the instrument through which scripture came is the Jewish mind. I think that is very important…I believe the Torah was divinely inspired…The fact that it was communicated through the Jewish nation gave [the Torah] a uniquely Jewish flavor and character… These [YouTube] lessons…are comprehensible by anyone with or without formal training and might hold interest for those who have training; whether it’s at the level of Aleph, Bet or Gimmel I cannot say… The lessons are not meant to offend anyone, especially Jewish people. Hopefully [they] might find an interest in how a half-breed Indian views Jewish things…”

Asked why he had such a close affinity for Jews and Jewish issues, Yeagley responded that the first time he actually met a Jew was at Yale in the late 1970s. The ability to meet flesh and blood descendants of Abraham, Moshe and David, after years of his studying the Bible, was a life-changing event. Whatever the source of Yeagley’s philo-Semitism, it permeated his life’s work. Aside from his religious scholarship, Yeagley composed several classical music pieces on the Shoah and other Jewish themes, and his blog is full of articles in support of Israel and its policies. As I reviewed these various topics I, of course, was looking for possible “ulterior motivation” behind Yeagley’s overtly pro-Jewish views, such as messianic messages and a hidden conversion agenda, and I couldn’t find any. In fact, as a sign of possible “higher” approval for Yeagley’s Torah-teaching endeavors, his introductory video is immediately followed on YouTube by an inspiring video lecture of Rabbi Zev Leff in Johannesburg which is aptly entitled: “Torah Learning is Everything.”

Finally, based on how anti-Semitic bloggers regularly attacked him on the Internet, you can rest assured David Yeagley was a true friend of the Jews, maybe the best Comanche friend our people have had since…well…since Chief Bad Eagle!

Dr. Yeagley lost his lengthy battle with cancer on March 11,2014, at the age of 63. His website at www.badeagle.com contains many items of interest to the Jewish community and those interested in the details of the life of this extraordinary American writer, activist and composer can find them there. It’s a site well-worth visiting.

By Joseph Rotenberg

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