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Who are the Jews?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein


Library » Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A Couple 

Once upon a pagan world there lived a single monotheistic couple: Abraham and Sara.1

People say belief in G-d is old fashioned, but truth be told, back in the day not only was belief in G-d unfashionable; it was completely unheard of. Abraham and Sara were mavericks going against the mainstream, pioneers exploring new possibilities, and lovers in love with an unheard of G-d.

This love for G-d was considered illegal at the time. Their values went against the common trends and norms. Their life was often at risk.2 But their commitment to G-d took precedence over their concern for public opinion, and their sincerity was stronger than their concern for personal safety. They believed in something un-believable, something unpopular, and they wouldn’t hide this belief; they brought this unbelievable idea to the general population.3

A Family

G-d was touched. The relationship was mutual. G-d loved them too.

This was no romantic novel. This was true love. This was a love that seemed would never end.

And it didn’t. G-d blessed Abraham and Sara, who were childless at the time, with a child who would begin a family of children that would grow as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the beach.4 These children would keep the love affair for eternity.

The mission of one couple to introduce G-d to the world, to bring all of creation to its Creator... was now being carried out methodically by their 3 million descendants.
A Tribe 

Little Isaac was born.5 He carried on his parents’ legacy and passed it along to his son Jacob.6 Jacob had twelve sons of his own.7 He also had a new G-d given name, Israel.8 Israel’s children had children and the family was growing; the love affair continued.9

In a short 400 years G-d’s blessing had materialized into a family of some 3 million people.10 Abraham and Sara must have been proud. G-d was ecstatic. He was ready to take this relationship to the next level.

He proposed.11 The children of Israel accepted.12 They were married at the foot of a mountain.13

The relationship now had documented commitments engraved in stone. The relationship was permanent. The relationship could not be terminated.14

A People

The mission of one couple to introduce G-d to the world, to bring all of creation to its Creator, and to turn a jungle into the garden it was meant to be, was now being carried out methodically by their 3 million descendants.

The mission became a lifestyle.15 The unspoken love became a written scroll.16 The people became a People.17

The millions of children of Israel were now the one Children of Israel.18  

For decades, centuries, and millennia, the descendants of Abraham and Sara, the Children of Israel, carried on. The mission never became easy, but it constantly progressed. Their message was fashionable at times, unfashionable at others. New fashions were created that wished to make the original message old fashion. But the descendants, like their original ancestors, were not intimidated by popular opinion, control or power. They did not fear persecution, and they weren’t seduced by common trends.

They remained committed to G-d and the mission.

Throughout time there were bumps in the road. The relationship faced challenges from within, and was under tremendous pressure from without. But truth is eternal, and the relationship endured.

The people, the relationship, and the mission, still exist to this very day.

You might know these people as the Jews. But now you know the rest of the story.


  • 1. The story of Abraham and Sara is in Genesis chapters 12-25. See also Ezekiel 33:24 "Abraham was one". See also Maimonidies laws of Idol Worship chapter 1.
  • 2. See Midrash Genesis Rabba 38:13. See also Maimonidies laws of Idol Worship 1:13
  • 3. See Genesis 21:33 for example. See also Talmud tractate Sotah 10a/b and Maimonidies laws of Idol Worship 1:12-14
  • 4. Genesis 15:5
  • 5. The story of Isaac is in Genesis chapters 21-28
  • 6. The story of Jacob is in Genesis 25-50
  • 7. The story of Jacob's children (12 sons and 1 daughter) is in Genesis 29-50
  • 8. Genesis 32:29 and 35:10
  • 9. Abraham's monotheistic tradition continued. See Maimonidies laws of Idop Worship 1:14-16
  • 10. From the birth of Isaac until the Exodus from Egypt was 400 years (see Rashi on Genesis15:13). At the time of the Exodus there were over 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60, not including women, children, men outside that age group, or Levites (see Numbers chapter 1).
  • 11. Exodus 19:3-6
  • 12. Exodus 19:8
  • 13. Otherwise known as The Sinai Story (the innaugaration of the Jewish people as a Holy Nation and the giving of the Torah). See Exodus chapters 19-20
  • 14. Genesis 17:7. See also Deuteronomy chapters 29-30
  • 15. Judaism.
  • 16. The Torah.
  • 17. Known as "The Children of Israel", "The Israelites", "The Jews", and "The People of the Book".
  • 18. Over the years many have joined this family through a G-d given gift: "conversion". By means of proper conversion one receives a new soul belonging to the family of Abraham, and s/he too becomes a descendant of Abraham and Sara.


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First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.