Asking Who is a Jew is Asking Who We Are (So Come, Tell Us!) – Jewish Journal

Posted By on July 28, 2021

Who is a Jew? Since the Jewish people did not start their long journey just yesterday, this is seemingly a question that should have been answered a long time ago. In fact, the Jews have been around for several thousand years without even asking who they are. So why now? Why is it suddenly not clear who is a Jew?

This is a complex question. We will try to answer it briefly, for a reason that will make itself clear in a few paragraphs.

Join in and tell us: Who is a Jew?

Once upon a time, Jews had a common faith and a common lifestyle that defined them. Today, there is no longer such thing. Following are a few examples. Not every Jew believes in God, and even if they do, not every Jew draws identical practical conclusions from their faith. We do not have a common belief. Another example: What do we eat? It used to be clear that Jews eat certain things, and avoid others. Today they eat falafel and Chinese food, cholent and shrimp, pepperoni and cheese among many others. Some eat kosher, most others dont. Or maybe they do sometimes, but not always. Or perhaps they do only on Passoverif they even celebrate Passover (most do, but quite a few dont). And another example: What Jews do in the morning (put on Tefillin), and in the evening (say the Shema), and on Saturday (stay close to a home and a shul) used to be clear. Can we agree that this is no longer the case?

In shortthe common denominator that allows Jews to be defined as a distinct group is unclear. What differentiates the group of Jews from the many groups of non-Jews is not apparent. You may ask: Why is the search for such understanding essential? We have an answer: If we do not know whos Jewish, then we do not know who we are.

And who will decide? There is no agreement on who the Jews are, and there is no agreement on who decides who the Jews are. Should the rabbis decide? The Israeli Knesset? Heads of Jewish organizations? Intellectuals? We want to suggest that you and we decide. Or at least attempt to decide. Or at least attempt to have a civil discussion about this question.

Who do you think is Jewish?

Who is a Jew by your definitions?

Some of you may say: It is not even important for us to know. Some of you may say: This is a question that we find offensive. Some of you may say: What the rabbis decide is the only answer. Or you may say: What the Jewish Agency decides is the final word. Or you may say: Jews in Israel and Jews in America need different rules for who is a Jew. Thats fine. This is what we want to know. The Jewish people are a big enterprise and we are the shareholders. All Jews (you, me, we) are the shareholders. Each stock may not be worth much, but it is worth something. If you have a share in the Jewish people, you have the right to vote with the Jewish people. You may be with the majority, or with the minority. You may think that a common ground can be found. Or maybe its impossible to find common ground. Either way, you own the stock, so why not use it to participate and express an opinion?

The implication of our proposal is ambitious and complex. In fact, what we assume is the following: A Jewish person is who you think is a Jewish person.

Of course, this is not about a specific single you, but rather about a plural you: the multi-generational and multi-voiced you. The Jews decide who they consider to be a member of their tribe and people, who shares their culture and values, and who doesnt. Thus, the venture we are launching here (details below) is designed to allow all of us to participate in this conversation, to let us vote with our stock, express a position, and compare it to the positions of others.

We are not looking for a quarrel. We are not looking to set a boundary. We are looking for a conversationfor a joint clarification of a question of deep meaning about our collective identity.

We are looking for a conversationfor a joint clarification of a question of deep meaning about our collective identity.

If you are Jewishor interested in the Jewish peoplethe question Who is a Jew? is also the question Who are you?

So come and tell us who you are.

To join in and share you views with us please click here.

The Who is a Jew? project is a research venture launched by, an Israeli research and data-journalism website.

The statistical work of is supervised by Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, a co-owner of the website (together with Shmuel Rosner and Noah Slepkov).

The Hebrew version of the project is a collaboration of and Kan News, the news division of Israels public TV channel. Experts of The Jewish People Policy Institute contribute advice and insight.

The collected data will be shared with the public in a series of published analyses and reports. Come back to visit The Jewish Journal to learn more about our findings in the coming weeks.

Shmuel Rosner is an Israeli columnist, editor, and researcher. He is the editor of the research and data-journalism website, and is the political editor of the Jewish Journal.

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Asking Who is a Jew is Asking Who We Are (So Come, Tell Us!) - Jewish Journal

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