REGION: Jewish group sued over 'Adventist' name
Seventh-day Adventist Church says it has trademark on the term
By TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer | ∞
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
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
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
It argues that use of the word "Adventist" by any other group
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.