I have noticed of late that there seems to be a lot of confusion around TSR regarding the definition of ‘Jewish.’ Many people still think that being Jewish is simply a matter of religious observance or religious inheritance from the mother. The truth is that it is much more complex.Firstly, ask yourself, if it was just a matter of religion, then surely all the Holocaust victims would have just converted to Christianity. The Jews are an ethnic group – an ethnicity. Just like Africans, Caucasians, South Asians, Kurds, Aboriginals &c. In fact, there are many different ethnic groups associated with Judaism – the most common of which are the Ashkenazi Jews.
The Ashkenazi Jews originate from a distinct group of Jews settling in the Roman Empire and originating from Ancient Israel. Ashkenazi Jews are a distinct, homogenous ethnic group who, due show distinct ethnic markers not found in the general population of Europe. The Sephardic Jews are another European Jewish sub-group who settled in Spain, although they are less well known.
They share these distinct ethnic markers regardless of where they were located in Europe. Like Sephardic and Mizrhazi Jews (less common), they branched off from the ‘original’ Jews of Ancient Israel around 2500 years ago when they settled in the Roman Empire. They originated from the Middle East (Ancient Israel). When I tell people I am half-Jewish (father’s side) they respond with statements such as “you can’t be half a religion” and “you are only Jewish from your mother’s side”. In a religious sense, they are correct: you cannot really adhere to half a religion. Also, by Talmudic law, having an automatic label of Jewish religion is passed on from the mother’s side. However, from the perspective of genes and ethnicity, half of my ancestry consists of previously isolated and largely homogenous Jewish communities originally from the Middle East, while the other half is of the general British population.
I took an Ancestry.co.uk DNA test, and whaddayaknow, around half of my ancestry was classed as ‘European Jewish’.The term ‘secular Jew’ means that one is ethnically and perhaps culturally Jewish, but does not practice Judaism (practicing Jew). Of course, one can also be defined as Jewish if they convert and adopt the religious and cultural customs associated with the Jewish people.Hopefully this clears things up. Predictably, there may be some Neo Nazi/Fascist/Anti-Semitic responses, but hey ho, this is the internet.
And if anyone’s interested: I do not particularly support Israel, I am not circumcised, my family do not own any banks or media institutions, I am not a revolutionary Communist, I am not a greedy Capitalist, I do not have a big nose, I am not part of The Conspiracy, and I am British by nationality, cultural values an in part by ethnicity.
So if someone was a black african, but believed in and observed every part of judaism, would you call them a jew?
were the original jews Egyptian? because Moses was Egyptian right?
The short answer is that Jews are an ethnoreligious group.
The long answer is that ethnicity is a fairly fluid concept, which is intersubjective and depends on the value attributed to it by various people and institutions. They can diverge, change and merge over time as a result of events. Initially religious divisions can become ethnic ones. For example, in Germany whether you're Catholic or Protestant is a purely private matter, and conversion is easy. In Northern Ireland, 'Catholic' and 'Protestant' don't really refer to religious observance but rather to community background.
While Judaism was to some extent a proselytising religion in the past, for a long time now it's been very rare, with conversion only really used for the non-Jewish spouses of Jews, or for those of Jewish heritage who identify themselves as Jews but are not halachichally Jewish. So it became, de facto, a religion on passed down kinship lines. When the rise of nationalism came about, and the issues of who was authentically a member of the 'nation' became a major political issue, there arose a dispute on the status of Jews relative to the 'nation' - were they ethnic Englishmen/Frenchmen/Germans/etc who merely happened to practice a minority religion; or were they a separate people who merely happened to reside in the same country as the aforementioned groups?
I think it's more of an American thing just to class someone as Jewish because of their family inheritance, like it's an ethnicity or race. I like to think that us Brits don't have strange perceptions of things like our transatlantic cousins and see Judaism as what it is - a religion, that you either chose to follow (in which case, you're Jewish) or not (in which case, you're not Jewish).
Do you think there should be distinctions made between ethnic and religious Jews?
Do you believe ethnic Jews to be superior or purer than merely religious Jews?