WHAT IS A JEW?

On December 11, President Trump held a Chanukah party at the White House where he signed an executive order combatting anti-Semitism. The New York Times reported that the order defines America’s Jews as sharing a national origin. It doesn’t. So what is a Jew?

The order relates to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination based on, among other things, national origin. But the order targets not discrimination against Jews but those who call for the delegitimization or destruction of Israel. It also states that federal agencies “shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment.” Confusing.

There should be no confusion that Jews are not defined by country of national origin. Many American Jews were born overseas. Most were born in the U.S.A. So what is a Jew?

To many Christians, a Jew is an adherent of the Jewish religion. But Judaism defines only part of the Jewish world. Most American Jews maintain no synagogue affiliation yet still identify as Jews.

Jews are a people. We’re joined not only by religion but any combination of secular factors such as family descent; shared history; use—even limited—of Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino or Jewish Arabic; Israel; humor; education and attitudes; and to no small extent food.

Jews do not constitute a race. For over 2,000 years, Judaism identified anyone born of a Jewish mother as a Jew. Four decades ago, the Reform movement accorded Jewish identity to children of non-Jewish mothers but Jewish fathers if the children received a Jewish education. In either case, the “other” parent can be of any ethnicity.

Sadly, genetics have doomed non-Jews. Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws  defined a Jew as anyone with one Jewish grandparent. Many “Jewish” Holocaust victims were Catholics or Protestants. In response, Israel’s Law of Return allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent to reside in the country, although he or she may not be considered Jewish by government-sanctioned religious authorities.

More reason to abandon the racial hypothesis: Anyone may convert to Judaism. At the recent Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism, URJ president Rabbi Rick Jacobs pointed out, “Between 10 and 20 percent of North American Jews are Jews of Color.” Many are born-Jewish children and grandchildren of converts.

Anti-Semites, alas, will keep hating Jews, even if they have no idea what a Jew is, believes or stands for. Sadly, the White House again offered anti-Semites a measure of support.

When the president signed his executive order, guests included the evangelical Christian leader Robert Jeffress. An ardent supporter of Israel, Jeffress, like many evangelicals, believes that only when all Jews go to the Holy Land will Jesus return. Jews then can accept Jesus or go to hell. As Jeffress said in 2010, “You can’t be saved by being a Jew.”

I wonder how the president’s daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared and grandchildren take the news that they can’t go to heaven.

Here on earth, Jeffress’ and other pastors’ statements, made in the name of theology and thus supposedly above reproach, create an image of Jews as “less than.” As Chanukah nears, they not only fail to light a candle in the darkness, they add fuel to the fires of anti-Semitism the president claims he wants to put out.

Happy Chanukah, Marry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa—Peace!

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6 Comments


  1. Tracy
    Dec 20, 2019

    Sadly, although the intent behind the EO may have been to stifle anti-Semitism on American campuses, the practical effect will be to quash freedom of speech. As an American Jew, I am much less afraid of anti-Zionist students than I am of xenophobic Drumph supporters.

    Chappy Channukah.


    • David
      Dec 20, 2019

      Tracy, I noted that the executive order stated it would not interfere with freedom of speech, but how this will play out on campuses remains to be seen. More heat than light. Chanukah sameach!


  2. Sandy Lipkowitz
    Dec 20, 2019

    He did the same thing with the guest speakers Robert Jeffress and John Hagee at the opening of the Embassy in Jerusalem. Both strong proponents of the Second Coming of Christ and the Rapture. For that to happen, armageddon has to happen to the Jews in Israel. Trump plays to his evangelical base above and beyond all else.


    • David
      Dec 20, 2019

      Israel, yes; Jews, no. Sandy, I really do wonder how Ivanka and Jared rationalize all this. By the way, an evangelical newspaper, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, ran an editorial FOR Trump’s removal from office.


      • Bruce Abramson
        Dec 21, 2019

        If you really do wonder how Jewish Trump supporters “rationalize all this,” you might try asking one. Though if you want a coherent answer, I’d recommend a question more specific than “all this.”


        • David
          Dec 21, 2019

          I do wonder, Bruce, so please tell me specifically: How do you accept the support for Israel of evangelicals who believe you and I are going to hell? Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah.

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