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LostInParadise's avatar

What does it mean to be a Jew?

Asked by LostInParadise (28188points) August 22nd, 2010

I am Jewish by ancestry but not by belief. I call myself Jewish, but I understand that this identification is dependent on the religious beliefs of others. I do tend to stick to the dietary laws out of a lingering sense of guilt. I can’t eat shrimp or ham without all kinds of alarms going off in my head.

At one time the definition of Jewishness was easy. Before Islam and Christianity, Jews were the ones who believed in one god. It may be argued over whether there have been other such religions, but in most places where Jews lived they were the only ones to accept a single god.

Even after Christianity and Islam, Jews could distinguish themselves for a time by the elaborate set of laws and rituals spelled out in the first five books of the Bible.

The problem is that most of those who now call themselves Jewish no longer follow these laws. They may occasionally attend a Sabbath service and go to temple on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and light candles on Chanukah, but what does this mean? How different are these “observant” Jews from me? Are they not identifying with those in the past who took the laws and rituals seriously?

I address this question in particular to those here who are Jewish, but I leave it open to others to give their opinions as well.

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8 Answers

Austinlad's avatar

Being a Jew means far more than observing the Jewish religion. It’s what I was taught and it’s what I’ve believed all my life.

Mephistopheles's avatar

I consider Judaism to be more of a tribal identity than a religion. I have no interest in its ritual or spiritual aspects, but take great pride in Jewish culture and achievements.

Remember that Jews are an ethno-religious group defined not just by religion but by language, history, culture and a vague common ancestry. It’s not a contradiction to be an atheist or secular Jew.

answerjill's avatar

I sort of think of it like being a member of a family. You are a part of it whether you identify with it or not!

Frenchfry's avatar

My family on my Father’s side is Jewish. My father was jewish, my mother not. She had to convert to marry. I am like you. I am not. I can make a wonderful pot of matza ball soup . My father when he passed he was buried in the jewish cementary and I was given a candle to light on certain times. I learn about it more and more . I am very fascinated it with it.

LostInParadise's avatar

To all of you, If the religion disappeared, would there still be a Jewish identity?

answerjill's avatar

@lostinparadise I think that there would be, but I find a great deal of value in the religious aspects of Judaism, so that possibility makes me sad.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

Jewish people believe in one God, as you have said. We also hope for the coming of the Messiah one day, but as opposed to Christianity, we don’t think Jesus was that Messiah.

Personally, I believe Jesus was a radical rabbi who pissed off the establishment one too many times.

As others have said, there is also the shared culture and history to define Jews as a both a religious and ethnic group.

Aster's avatar

I thought the Q meant: “what do Jews believe and how do they celebrate?”

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