Who, or what is a is a Jew?

Wed, February 18, 2004

Sir, could you please help me understand?

 1. It is my understanding, from Biblical sources (Gen. 10:3, and also in I Chron. 1: 6), that most Jews (about 90% of all Jews) who call themselves Ashkenazi Jews, are descendants of Ashkenaz, who was a son of Gomer, who was a son of Japheth, who was a son of Noah. Therefore, the Ashkenazi Jews cannot be Semites, since their descendancy is not from Noah's son Shem, but instead, is of Noah's son Japheth. The Ashkenazi Jew, must be a Japhethite, but cannot be a Semite. Please do not tell me, that the Hebrew word "Ashkenaz" means Germany in Hebrew, because I know that it does not.

 2. It is also my understanding, from Biblical sources (2 Kings 17:24), that the Sephardim Jew (about 5% of all Jews), are descendants of Assyria, having migrated into Samaria, the land that was vacated by the Northern Kingdom of Israel, after Biblical Israelites capture and deportation by Assyria about 750-721 BC. (2 Kings 17:5-7).  The Samaritians were an amalgamated people (2 Kings 17:24-41) with mixed blood of many races, also not of Shem. Therefore they are also not of Semitic descendancy. The Sephardim migrated, into Spain after the distraction of Jerusalem by Rome beginning about 70 AD. Please do not tell me that the word "Sephardim" means Spain in Hebrew, because I know that it does not.

 3. It is also my understanding, that the Zionist Jew (a mixture of all Jews), is one who believes he is a descendant of the Biblical Pharisees, who were of Edom-Esau descendancy, having entered Palestine after the Israelites were deported. That Pharisaism became Babylonian Talmudism, which became Rabbinism, which is a fabricated form of  Judaism, that is a loose interpretation of Old Testament Laws by Zionist teachers.

 I understand that the following is a correct definition of a Jew....

 Jew, an individual who is a member of the Jewish People

 The Question of "Who is a Jew?" has arisen with particular urgency today, especially in the Modern State of Israel. This is because of intense pressure from the Movements of Reform and Conservative Jewry, who feel that they have been excluded or, more precisely, that Conversions performed by their Rabbis have not been recognized by Israeli authorities. Another major factor is the immigration of hundreds of thousands of individuals from the former Soviet Union, many of whom claim that they are Jews and who were in fact persecuted in their homeland because of that identification, but who may not, according to the Halachic definition (a definition according to Jewish Law given following), be Jewish.  

 According to strict Halachah, the answer to the question is clear. A Jew is someone who either ... is a child of a Jewish mother or is a Convert to Judaism who, after a period of serious and verified study of the Principles of the Faith and the Laws of Judaism, has done the following:  

 Accepted upon Himself or Herself the "Yolk of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Yolk of G-d's Commandments," Immersed Him or Herself in a Ritual Pool of Water known as a "Mikveh," symbolizing Rebirth. If a male, has undergone the Process of "Brit Milah," Circumcision.

 If this is the case, why would Jews have any guilt feeling, over a movie like "The Passion" by Mel Gibson, if most Jews alive today, do not have any racial connection to the historical Israelites of the Bible, who actually killed the Messiah Yahshua,  (some call Jesus)?  

 If my understandings of the Bible and History are not correct, would you please provide me the historical resources (preferably from the Bible) to correct me?


 John (Yochannan) William


Friday, February 20, 2004

Dear John,

Jews do not have any "guilt feeling" about Mel Gibson's movie; many are concerned about its depiction of Jews and its presentation of the story of the crucifixion because for 2000 years these have been two of the most important factors in the flourishing of antisemitism in countries with significant Christian populations.  We are concerned that those who harbor antisemitic feelings or beliefs will be vindicated and bolstered by the film and will be more likely to act out on those beliefs or feelings.  And those who are already acting out by attacking Jews in communities throughout Europe and elsewhere will be even more brash in their efforts to target Jews and Jewish institutions.

As to your understanding of the basis for contemporary Jewish identification and genealogy, I do not have time to address each point, but need to say that the Bible cannot be used as a reliable source for genealogy and personal history.  I, for example, can trace my lineage back about ten generations to Germany, but beyond that, who knows.  Where they came from and who they were is virtually irrelevant to my Jewish identity.  I am a Jew because of what I believe and what I do, not because of where my ancestors were from.  I think that most Jews would affirm this point.

A Zionist is one who supports Israel, regardless of his or her ancestry or current identification.

Virtually all contemporary forms of Judaism derive from Rabbinic Judaism, which is not at all a fabricated form of Judaism, but represents the authentic development of Judaism following the destruction of the Second Temple.

The question of "Who is a Jew?" is really not an important question in the greater scheme of things.  It does get some attention, especially in Israel vis-a-vis the Russian immigrants and has drawn more concern when the Israeli government tries to change its rules for recognizing Jews, but overall is not really that important.

Bruce Kadden
Temple Beth El
Salinas, Ca

Post Note: In 1988, at its Second Biennial Conference in Brussels, the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews declared: ". . . a Jew is a person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew and who identifies with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people." (In other words, anyone can become a "Jew." Descent or race means nothing).

Assembly of Yahweh, Cascade, thanks Rabbi Bruce Kadden for his informative response to our question.

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