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Are Jews a race?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

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


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Jewish identity is a unique concept and because it doesn't fit into standard categorizations, it is often misunderstood. We are neither a race, nor a religion, but at the same time we are a little bit of both.

Jews, or more accurately - the Children of Israel (a.k.a. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham), are indeed one family, and that is why Biblically we are known as the "children of". The Jewish People are supposed to live by the rules of Judaism, which is (akin in many ways to) a religion.

We are neither a race, nor a religion, but at the same time we are a little bit of both.
So Jew is the person, and Judaism is the religion. The religion, however, doesn't make the person, rather being a Jew obligates you to live by the laws of Judaism.

It gets more confusing because Judaism accepts converts. G-d enables anyone to join that family by virtue of authentic, divinely approved conversion. This conversion is not just a new acceptance of laws or lifestyles; rather it is what it claims to be: a conversion. It is the total converting from one identity to a new identity.

Each convert is given a new soul, one that is connected to Abraham, the father of Judaism. A convert in Judaism is considered like a newborn child. Therefore someone who only accepts the laws (religion) of Judaism (without going through the proper conversion) never becomes Jewish in the first place, and someone who goes through the proper conversion, attaining the identity, (even if he stops practicing the laws many years later) will always be a Jewish person (and always be obligated to fulfill the laws of Judaism).


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Abraham
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.
Jacob
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."
G-d
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.