Jewish identity – Wikipedia

Posted By on January 25, 2024

Jewish identity is the objective or subjective state of perceiving oneself as a Jew and as relating to being Jewish.[1] Under a broader definition, Jewish identity does not depend on whether a person is regarded as a Jew by others, or by an external set of religious, or legal, or sociological norms. Jewish identity does not need to imply religious orthodoxy. Accordingly, Jewish identity can be cultural in nature. Jewish identity can involve ties to the Jewish community. Orthodox Judaism bases Jewishness on matrilineal descent. According to Jewish law (halacha), all those born of a Jewish mother are considered Jewish, regardless of personal beliefs or level of observance of Jewish law. Progressive Judaism and Haymanot Judaism in general base Jewishness on having at least one Jewish parent, while Karaite Judaism bases Jewishness only on paternal lineage. These differences between the major Jewish movements are the source of the disagreement and debate about who is a Jew.

Jews who are atheists or Jews who follow other religions (Christianity etc) may have a Jewish identity. While the absolute majority of people with this identity are of Jewish ethnicity, people of a mixed Jewish and non-Jewish background or gentiles of Jewish ancestry may still have a sense of Jewish self-identity.

Jewish identity can be described as consisting of three interconnected parts:

In classical antiquity, the Jewish people were constantly identified by Greek, Roman, and Jewish authors as an ethnos, one of the several ethne living in the Greco-Roman world.[3][4] Van Maaren utilizes the six attributes that co-ethnics share, as identified by Hutchinson and Smith, to show why ancient Jews may be considered an ethnic group in modern terminology.[3] Those include:

In his works from the late Second Temple period, Philo of Alexandria made comments that reflected the features of Jewish identity in the diaspora. At the time Philo lived, Jews had been present in the Diaspora, particularly in Alexandria, for a very long time. Because his fellow nationals had lived there for many generations, he appears to have thought of Alexandria as his city. In an effort to explain the status of the Jews in words that Greek readers would understand, Philo depicted them as immigrants who laid the groundwork for "colonies" (Greek: apoikiai), with Jerusalem serving as their "mother-city" (metropolis). According to Kasher, Alexandria in this circumstance could only be regarded as a homeland in the political sense because it was the site of the establishment of a Jewish "colony," structured as a distinct ethnic union with a recognized political and legal status (politeuma), with Jerusalem being the colony's mother-city.[5]

Jewish identity underwent a significant shift in the centuries that followed the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The initial conception of the Jews as an ethnos, albeit one with a distinctive religious culture, gradually shifted to that of a religious community that also identified as a nation.[4]

In the aftermath of the First JewishRoman War, the Fiscus Judaicus was imposed on all Jews in the Roman Empire, replacing the annual half-shekel tribute that Jews paid to the Temple in Jerusalem. It appears that the Romans chose to use Jewish religious behavior rather than Jewish ancestry to determine tax liability, and this Roman interference in Jewish tax-collection may had prompted this transformation in Jewish identity.[4]

In the following centuries, the Christianization in the Roman Empire sped up this transformation. Ethnic identity had no meaning in Christian thought. Additionally, Christians also believed that the Jews were important solely (or primarily) because their religious practices had served as a foundation for the development of the new covenant.[4]

Jewish identity can be cultural, religious, or through ancestry.[6] There are religious, cultural, and ancestral components to Jewish identity due to its fundamental non-proselytizing nature, as opposed to Christian or Muslim identity which are both "universal" religions in that they ascribe to the notion that their faith is meant to be spread throughout all of humanity, regardless of nationality.[7] However, Jewish identity is firmly intertwined with Jewish ancestry dating back to the historical Kingdom of Israel, which was largely depopulated by the Roman Empire c. first century CE, leading to what is known as today as the Jewish Diaspora.

Jewish identity began to gain the attention of Jewish sociologists in the United States with the publication of Marshall Sklare's "Lakeville studies".[8] Among other topics explored in the studies was Sklare's notion of a "good Jew".[9] The "good Jew" was essentially an idealized form of Jewish identity as expressed by the Lakeville respondents. Today, sociological measurements of Jewish identity have become the concern of the Jewish Federations who have sponsored numerous community studies across the U.S.;[10] policy decisions (in areas such as funding, programming, etc.) have been shaped in part due to studies on Jewish identity.

According to the social-psychologist Simon Herman, antisemitism plays a part in shaping Jewish identity.[11] This view is echoed by religious leaders such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who writes that modern Jewish communities and the modern Jewish identity are deeply influenced by antisemitism.[12]

Right-wing antisemitism, for example, is typically a branch of white supremacy: it traditionally conceives of Jews as a distinct race with intrinsic, undesirable qualities that must be exterminated from the population. Left-wing antisemitism, by contrast, frequently views Jews as members of the white race, an idea that is a precursor to the criticism of Zionism as a racist ideology, as well as the exclusion of Jews from goals of intersectionality.[13]

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Jewish identity - Wikipedia

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