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Is Judaism a race or religion?


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Rabbi Shlomo Chein: Welcome. I'll be with you in a moment...what's on your mind?

Taryn: Are Jews of the Jewish faith really a unique race? For many centuries there was intermarriage and conversion. How sure are you of your blood line?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: we don't consider ourselves a race whatsoever

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: Jews are a People, and Judaism is the religion of that People

Taryn: I'm from a split family father Spainsh & mother Jewish. I'm now taking a comparative religion class. I'm trying to sort this all out. I asked my question, because intermarriage seems to be a big deal. Is it?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: it is.

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: when we say Judaism is not a race, that means we aren't all one type of people in skin color or place of origin etc. In other words, superficially we are not all the same

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: On the other hand we are not just indiviuals who follow a certain religion, because even non religious Jews are still Jewish

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: what we are is a "People". That is our essence. Jew. And each Jew is obligated to fulfill the religion of Judaism, but whether he does or doesn't that can't take away from him being a Jew by essence

Taryn: So intermarriage is not a race thing. Then if either spouse converts to Judaism, then would the marriage be valid?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: In order for one to have that Essence as Jew they need to either be born to a Jewish mother, or convert properly into the Jewish people, and then they attain a new soul, and a new essence

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: therefore intermarriage is a big thing in Judaism, because 1) if one is born to a Jewish father but not Jewish mother, they are not Jewish, and 2) more importantly, since we are talking about an Essence, it is not possible for two different Essences (jew and non Jew) to have the ultimate union a marriage could and should provide

Taryn: So if two non jews convert and marry they are Jewish and of the chosen people?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: if they convert properly, that is absolutely correct

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: the same would be with one non jew who converts, who marries a jew by birth

Taryn: Would they have all rights or are there limitations? Could a convert become a rabbi?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: they would be a Jew like any other Jew. Every Jew has certain restrictions based on tribal affiliation, and so would a convert. They can be a Rabbi. Some great rabbis in the Talmud were either converts, or the children of Converts

Taryn: My Jewish professor mentioned that there would be limitations for converts. You mentioned there could be certain restrictions. What would they be? Can a convert marry a Rabbi?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: a convert can marry a rabbi. A Kohen cannot marry a convert, and a convert cannot be a king

Taryn: I separated from my family at a young age and was in an environment that was not conducive to much thought about faith. I have not practiced Christianity or Judaism. My mother was a Jew and practiced the Judaism. Since I have not, them I guess I’m not a Jewish???? Would I have to convert?

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: No. Since your mother is Jewish, so are you!

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: You just need to learn about your rich heritage so can begin taking advantage of it :-)

Taryn: I will! It is still a bit confusing. Since I know virtually nothing about Judaism it’s hard for me to understand that I’m Jewish. I appreciate your answers. I still have many questions, but unfortunately I have to go. If it is ok, I’ll be back with more questions.

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: it would be our pleasure

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: also, where do you live?

Taryn: I live just outside of xxxxxx. I’m sorry to say that I have tried contacting a couple of congregations, by email and phone and nobody has ever responded.

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: try the closest Chabad center. Look for them on, and tell the rabbi I sent you from

Taryn: Thank you, I will. Take care

Rabbi Shlomo Chein: all the best

All names, places, and identifying information have been changed or deleted in order to protect the privacy of the questioners. In order to preserve authenticity, the chat sessions have been posted with a minimum of editing. Please excuse typographical errors, missing punctuation, and/or grammatical mistakes which naturally occur in the course of informal chat sessions.


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Generally: How one knows if one is Jewish.

Posted by: Anonymous, Santa Ana, CA on Feb 21, 2006

I am trying to understand Rabbi Shlomo Chein's discussion about Jewish people. If I understand correctly, Rabbi is saying that Jewish people are not a race. If true, what makes a person "Jewish by birth" as he calls it?

Secondly, how does one find out if some, or any, of one's ancestors were Jewish? Hope that does not sound like a silly question. But I am very curious about that. Respectfully and thank you.

Editor's Comment

1. "When we say Judaism is not a race that means we aren't all one type of people in skin color or place of origin etc. In other words, superficially we are not all the same." See also "Who are the Jews?"

2. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any organization which assists people with such requests.

comment to earlier comment

Posted by: Anonymous, Australia on Mar 03, 2008

You can find out if you are of Jewish heritage by doing some research into your family history. Talk to the people in your family, mainly grandparents as they probably will know more about their backgrounds then younger generations. If they are no longer alive, talk to other older generations. Be creative.

If your family is originally from Europe, there were some countries (like Holland) which had people's religion entered in their passports or identity cards before WWII (that was a cultural thing at the time). Those details of that time will still be held at a country's historical database.

If all of this doesn't bring anything up, maybe consider converting as you are obviously interested in being Jewish :). Not that I'm advocating for conversions though, it's hard work! My grandmother was Jewish (on mother's side), however, my family kept denying it. I opted for a conversion as I really wanted to be Jewish. Best decision I have ever made.


Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew?
Best of AskMoses » Jewish Identity

Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.