Shavuot brings out the Jew – Cleveland Jewish News

Posted By on June 1, 2020

What is a Jew? That is a question that has baffled thinkers over the course of the centuries.

Some claim a Jew is a member of the Jewish religion. But is Judaism really a religion? A religion is defined as a faith. A Muslim who does not believe in Mohammed cannot be a Muslim, and a Christian who does not believe in the tenets of Christianity is not called a Christian.

According to Jewish law, however, any person born to a Jewish mother is considered Jewish, regardless of faith or practice. A Jew who practices Hinduism is still called a Jew. It seems, then, that being Jewish cannot be confined to membership in a certain religion.

Some say Judaism is a race. What is a race? It is defined as people sharing common physical characteristics. Does Judaism fit that criterion? It is impossible to convert into a race; color and characteristics cannot be transferred. Judaism, however, accepts converts from all races. There are Jews of all colors and races, and no color is considered to be more Jewish than any other. Judaism is not a race.

Others claim that Judaism is a nationality. But what is a nation? A group of people who are united by a common geographic area and culture. Here too, Judaism does not seem to fit the bill. Jews have lived in countries across the globe for thousands of years. Even Israel cannot be said to unite all Jews, since Judaism was born before they entered the land, and it has survived for almost 2,000 years after they were expelled from the land.

Culturally too, Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews share very different cultures and lifestyles. Various Chasidic groups, as well as German and Yemenite Jewish communities, also share quite different lifestyles yet they are all considered brothers and sisters to one another.

So, what is a Jew?

There does not seem to be any definition that can fit neatly in a little box. All we know is that a Jew is a Jew. They are defined by the Torah as being a Jew: A person being born to a Jewish mother or having been properly converted to Judaism. Without Torah, there could be no such entity as a Jew.

Shavuot is the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, 3,332 years ago. But, it is not merely a celebration marking an historical occasion. It is the day we celebrate our very identity as Jews. Let us take pride in recognizing our uniqueness as G-ds Chosen People.

Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum is the co-founder and director of the Jewish Learning Connection, a Jewish outreach organization offering educational classes and study opportunities throughout Northeast Ohio.

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Shavuot brings out the Jew - Cleveland Jewish News

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