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REGION: Jewish group sued over 'Adventist' name

Seventh-day Adventist Church says it has trademark on the term

By TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer | Sunday, December 21, 2008 7:49 PM PST

rabbibenhayilyellen.jpgRabbi Ben-Hayil Yellen and his wife, Heidi, run a small religious group called The Federation of Jewish Adventist Society. (Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle - Staff Photographer)

VALLEY CENTER ---- What's the first thing that pops to mind upon hearing the word "Adventist"?

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, probably.

Leaders of the international Christian church with 15 million followers have a trademark on the word in the United States.

They say no one else can use it, not even a small Jewish society in North County.

The church filed a lawsuit Nov. 24 against The Federation of Jewish Adventist Society to force the Valley Center group to stop using the word in its name.

The Maryland-based leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church alleges trademark infringement and unfair competition in the suit, filed in San Diego federal court.

It argues that use of the word "Adventist" by any other group creates confusion.

But the Federation's leader, Rabbi Ben-Hayil Yellen, said the suit violates his religious rights.

The Jewish group has hired an attorney, but he said they don't have the money to fight a suit he called "unjust."

At his rural North County home on Wednesday, Yellen said that the Hebrew meaning of the word "Adventist" is central to his group's spiritual beliefs.

Yellen and his wife, Heidi, said that the word, when spoken with a different pronunciation, "AD-vent-ist," is an old Hebrew term referring to an earthen pot.

The Christian group's name is often pronounced "ad-VENT-ist."

And they believe that a specific vessel with Moses' signature on it is tied to the second coming of the Old Testament prophet Elijah and to the scriptural writings of Moses.

The couple said they teach that Elijah will be a direct descendant of King David, a biblical figure, and will carry the stone pot with him as proof of his identity.

"No matter what happens, our religious identity is with the word 'Adventist' ---- and we cannot just give it away," said Yellen, adding that he is a direct descendant of King David.

The suit is "taking away our religious freedom to identify ourselves with the prophet Moses," Heidi Yellen said.

A spokesman for the North American operations of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church directed questions to attorney Nancy Dix, who said the lawsuit was filed to avoid confusion.

"It's really, in essence, an effort by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to protect its name and prevent confusion with another entity," Dix said Wednesday.

She said even the inclusion of the word Jewish in the name of the group doesn't negate any possible public confusion with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Dix said church leaders sent letters to the Jewish federation, asking it to cease using "Adventist."

The lawsuit, she said, was a last resort.

Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines the word "Adventist" as "a member of a Christian sect based on Adventism."

And Adventism, the dictionary states, is "the belief that the Second Coming of Christ will occur soon."

It will be up to the Seventh-day church to prove trademark infringement, said David Steinberg, who teaches a course on law and religion at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

"The general bias is in favor of free speech and free use of terms of language," Steinberg said after reading the complaint. "And if someone is going to take the word 'Adventist' out of circulation, they really need to have a good reason, and they have to prove that people are being misled or confused by the use of the word.

"Would someone who read the name 'The Federation of Jewish Adventist Society' be confused and think this was a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? That is what the court will have to figure out."

The Yellens won't say how many members they have, but acknowledge their following is small.

The couple's home is the base for their group's operations, and the living room resembles a small church, with about 20 chairs lined up facing an altar.

Dix said it's the use of the word "Adventist" that matters, not the size of the church using it.

"I think it's about trying to protect the church's name and potential implication and inference that this organization is somehow affiliated with or sponsored by the (Seventh-day) church," Dix said.

Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 740-5442 or