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Who is a Jew?

Who is a Jew?
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"Who is a Jew?" (Hebrew: ?Mihu Yehudi, ‫והימ‬ ‫?ידוהי‬‎) is a basic question about Jewish identity. The question has gained particular prominence in connection with several highprofile legal cases in Israel since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948. The definition of who is a Jew varies according to whether it is being considered by Jews for self-identification or by non-Jews for their own particular purposes. As Jewish identity can include characteristics of an ethnicity and of a religion, the definition of who is a Jew has varied, depending on whether a religious, sociological, or ethnic aspect was being considered. This article is concerned with Jewish self-identification issues. According to the simplest definition used by Jews for self-identification, a person is a Jew by birth, or becomes one through religious conversion. However, there are differences of opinion among the various branches


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of Judaism in the application of this definition, including: • Mixed parentage: i.e. whether a person of certain mixed Jewish and non-Jewish parentage should be considered Jewish. • Conversion: i.e. what process of religious conversion should be considered valid. • Life circumstances issues: i.e. whether a person’s actions (such as conversion to a different religion) or circumstances in their lives (such as being unaware of Jewish parentage) should affect their Jewish status.

Who is a Jew?
because the test is an objective one. The child can be considered Jewish only by a process of conversion to Judaism, and the child is also freed from any disabilities and special status to which the father may have been subject (eg being a mamzer or kohen) under Jewish law.[1] These rules, however, give rise to several issues. Firstly, to what extent is halakha binding on this issue. Secondly, is Jewish status by matrilineal descent an exclusive test. And, thirdly, what are the acceptable requirements for conversions. Since the Haskalah, these halakhic rules have been challenged.

An Israelite’s pedigree or genealogy was considered very important in biblical times, as is evidenced in references in the Hebrew Bible such as Num 1:2, 18, Ezra 2:59-63, and 8:1. All denominations of Judaism agree that a person may be a Jew either by birth or through conversion. However, they differ on what these requirements consist of. The traditional view is that a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother or who is a convert to Judaism. No other way to recognition is allowed for. However, some other denominations now also accept the child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother as Jewish when the child is raised as a Jew. Denominations also differ on their conversion processes and whether to recognize conversions performed by other Jewish denominations. The traditional view is that the mere acceptance of the principles and practices of Judaism does not make a person a Jew. But, conversely, those born Jewish do not lose that status because they cease to be observant Jews, even if they adopt the practices of another religion. In Jewish law (Halakha), to determine a person’s Jewish status (Hebrew: yuhasin) one needs to consider the status of both parents. If both parents are Jewish then their child will also be considered Jewish, and the child takes the status of the father (e.g. as a kohen). If either parent is subject to a disability (eg is a mamzer) then the child is also subject to that disability. If one of the parents is not Jewish, the rule is that the child takes the status of the mother (Kodashim 66b, Shulchan Aruch, EH 4:19). Accordingly, if the mother is Jewish, so is her child; and if she is not Jewish, neither is her child considered Jewish, regardless of the will of the parents,

Jewish by birth
The origin of the rule that a person’s Jewish status is determined in accordance with matrilineal descent is obscure. Traditional rabbis have pointed to Deuteronomy 7:3-4 and Ezra 10:3 as implicit sources,[2][3] while advocates of patrilineal descent point to Genesis 48:15-20 and Deuteronomy 10:15.[4] All branches of Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism today, maintain that the halakhic rules (ie. matrilineal descent) are valid and binding. Reform (in America) and Liberal Judaism do not accept the halakhic rules as binding, and accept a child of one Jewish parent, whether father or mother, as Jewish if the parents raise the child as a Jew and the child fosters a Jewish identity, noting "that in the Bible the line always followed the father, including the cases of Joseph and Moses, who married into non-Israelite priestly families".[5] Reform rabbis in North America have set standards by which a person with one Jewish parent is considered a Jew if there have been "appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people," such as a Jewish naming ceremony, brit milah, or a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony. Because the Reform Movement uses a guidelines approach and its standards are not considered binding, they are understood and applied in different ways by different Reform rabbis and individual Reform Jews. The principle, in general, is understood to require a Jewish upbringing. The Reform movement’s standard states that "for those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be


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added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi". This policy is commonly known as patrilineal descent, though "bilineal" would be more accurate. The Reconstructionist position, and that of Liberal Judaism in the United Kingdom, is similar to that of American Reform Judaism. There are historical Jewish communities that pre-date or dispute the matrilineal tradition. Karaite Judaism, for example, traces Jewishness by patrilineal descent, following the practice of ancient Israel. The divergence of views has become an issue because Orthodox and Conservative communities do not recognize the Jewishness of a person if only the father is Jewish, even though accepted as Jewish by a Reform or Liberal community. For the person to be accepted as Jewish by an Orthodox or Conservative community (for example, on an occasion of their bar/bat mitzvah or marriage), they may require a formal conversion (in accordance with halakhic standards). Orthodox Judaism has a predominant position in Israel. Although Orthodox and Conservative Judaism does not recognize Jewishness through patrilineal descent, "it should also be noted, however, that in the case of a child born to a Jewish father but to a non-Jewish mother, most Orthodox rabbis will relax the stringent demands normally made of would-be converts",[6] and the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement "agreed that ’sincere Jews by choice’ should be warmly welcomed into the community".[7]

Who is a Jew?
that converts make this commitment, Orthodox Judaism does not accept as valid conversions performed by those non-Orthodox denominations. Conservative Judaism takes a more lenient approach in application of the halakhic rules than Modern Orthodox Judaism. Its approach to the validity of conversions is based on whether the conversion procedure followed rabbinic norms, rather than the reliability of those performing it or the nature of the obligations the convert undertook. Accordingly, it may accept the validity of some Reform and Reconstructionist conversions, but only if they include immersion in a ritual bath (mikvah), appearance before a rabbinical court (beit din) and, for men, circumcision (brit milah) or a symbolic circumcision for those already circumcised (hatafat dam brit). The requirements of Reform Judaism for conversions often vary from traditional ones. The denomination states that "people considering conversion are expected to study Jewish theology, rituals, history, culture and customs, and to begin incorporating Jewish practices into their lives. The length and format of the course of study will vary from rabbi to rabbi and community to community, though most now require a course in basic Judaism and individual study with a rabbi, as well as attendance at services and participation in home practice and synagogue life." Reform also note that "Reform, Reconstructionist and under certain circumstances, Conservative rabbis recognize the validity of conversions performed by rabbis of all branches of Judaism. Many Orthodox rabbis, however, do not recognize non-Orthodox conversions".[8] Although an infant conversion might be accepted in some circumstances (such as in the case of adopted children or children whose parents convert), children who convert would typically be asked if they want to remain Jewish after reaching religious adulthood - which is 12 years of age for a girl and 13 for a boy. This standard is applied by Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, which accept halakha as binding.[9][10] Karaite Judaism does not accept Rabbinic Judaism and has different requirements for conversion. Traditionally non-proselytizing, Karaite Judaism’s long standing abstention from conversions was recently lifted. On 1 August 2007, the Karaites reportedly converted their first new members in 500 years. At a ceremony in their Northern California

Converts to Judaism
All mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts, with all denominations accepting converts converted by their denominations. The rules vary between denominations. For Rabbinical Judaism, the laws of conversion are based on codes of law and texts, including discussions in the Talmud, through the Shulkhan Arukh, and subsequent interpretations that are held as authoritative by Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism. Orthodox Judaism recognises only those conversions in which a convert accepts and undertakes to observe halakha as interpreted by the teachings of Orthodox Judaism. Because some non-Orthodox rabbis and some non-Orthodox denominations do not require


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synagogue, ten adults and four minors swore fealty to Judaism after completing a year of study. This conversion comes 15 years after the Karaite Council of Sages reversed its centuries-old ban on accepting converts.[11]

Who is a Jew?
undergo a full formal conversion depends on the community and their individual circumstances. For example, a male who has had a brit milah, who has a general understanding of Judaism, but who has been raised in a secular home might not be required to undergo ritual conversion. However, a male who has not had a brit milah, a male or female who has converted to or been brought up in another religion, or an individual raised in a completely secular home without any Jewish education, in most communities, may be required to undergo a full ritual conversion. For full participation in the community (for example, to marry with the participation of a rabbi), they may be required to display sincerity, such as a declaration of commitment to Judaism.[17] Another example of the issues involved is the case of converts to Judaism who cease to practice Judaism (whether or not they still regard themselves as Jewish), do not accept or follow Halakha, or now adhere to another religion. Technically, such a person remains Jewish, like all Jews, provided that the original conversion is valid. However, in some recent cases, Haredi rabbinical authorities, as well as the current Religious Zionist Israeli Chief Rabbinate, have taken the view that a given convert’s lapse from Orthodox Jewish observance is evidence that he or she cannot, even at the time of the conversion, have had the full intention to observe the commandments, and that the conversion must therefore have been invalid.

Jews who have practiced another faith
In general, Orthodox Judaism considers a person born of a Jewish mother to be Jewish, even if they convert to another religion.[12] Reform Judaism views Jews who convert to another faith as non-Jews in all respects. For example "...anyone who claims that Jesus is their savior is no longer a Jew..." [Contemporary American Reform Responsa, #68][13].[14][15] Historically, a Jew who has been declared to be a heretic (Hebrew: Minim ‫ םינימ‬or notzrim ‫ )םירצונ‬may have had a cherem (similar to excommunication) placed on him or her; but the practice of communal and religious exclusion does not affect their Jewish status.[16] (See, for example, the case of Spinoza, a seventeenth century philosopher.) Judaism also views as Jewish those who involuntarily convert from Judaism to another religion (Hebrew: anusim (‫ ,)םיסונא‬meaning "forced ones"); and their matrilineal descendants are likewise considered to be Jewish. Judaism has a category for those who are Jewish but who do not practice or who do not accept the tenets of Judaism, whether or not they have converted to another religion. The traditional view regarding these individuals, known as Meshumadim (Hebrew: ‫ ,)םידמושמ‬is that they are Jewish; however, there is much debate in the rabbinic literature regarding their status vis-a-vis the application of Jewish law and their participation in Jewish ritual;[16] but not to their status as Jews. A Jew who leaves Judaism is free to return to the faith at any time. In general, no formal ceremony or declaration is required to return to Jewish practices. All movements of Judaism welcome the return to Judaism of those who have left, or been raised in another faith. When returning to Judaism, these individuals would be expected to abandon their previous practices and adopt Jewish customs. The same rules in principle apply to the matrilineal descendants of such persons, though some rabbinical authorities may require stricter proof of Jewish descent than others. Whether such persons are required to

Religious definitions
Traditional Rabbinic Halakhic perspective
According to the traditional Rabbinic view, which is maintained by all branches of Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism today, only Halakha ("Jewish law") can define who is or is not a Jew when a question of Jewish identity, lineage, or parentage arises about any person seeking to define themselves or claim that they are Jewish. As a result, mere belief in the principles of Judaism does not make one a Jew. Similarly, non-adherence by a Jew to the Jewish principles of faith, or even formal conversion to another faith, does not make one lose one’s Jewish status. Thus the immediate


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descendants of all female Jews (even apostates) are still considered to be Jews, as are those of all her female descendants. Even those descendants who are not aware they are Jews, or practice a faith other than Judaism, are technically still Jews, as long as they come from an unbroken female line of descent. As a corollary, the children of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother are not considered to be Jews by Orthodoxy or Conservatism unless they formally convert, even if raised practicing Judaism. Those not born to a Jewish mother may become accepted as Jews by the Orthodox and Conservative movements through a formal process of conversion to Judaism in order to become "true converts" (Geirei tzedek in Hebrew), and they are then accepted as Jews by the movement doing the conversion. In addition, Halakha requires that the new convert commits himself to observance of its tenets; this is called Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot, "Acceptance [of the] Yoke [of the] Commandments". Orthodox rabbis dox.[18][19][20] as

Who is a Jew?
reliably Ortho-

Karaite Judaism
Unlike the denominations of Rabbinical Judaism, Karaite Judaism includes only the Tanakh in its canon (i.e. Talmud / Oral Law are not included). Karaite Judaism relies on the Written Torah to indicate that Jewishness is passed through the paternal line, not the maternal line, as they hold was the practice of ancient Israel (though a minority hold that both parents need to be Jewish). Karaite Jews are eligible for Aliyah under the Law of Return. The eligibility of non-Jewish converts to Karaite Judaism to come to Israel under the Law of Return has not yet been addressed in the Israeli courts.

The controversy
The traditional Jewish definition of a Jew is "someone born to a Jewish mother or who has converted to Judaism." The Orthodox or Conservative requirement for a valid conversion is that the candidate for conversion understand the obligations of being a Jew, show commitment to fulfilling these obligations, (for a male) to undergo Brit milah (ritual circumcision) or one of its exceptions, perform immersion in a mikvah, and satisfy the scrutiny of a Beit din, or rabbinical court. The beit din act not only as judges but as witnesses in the course of conversion, and it follows that its members must be suitable and qualified for these purposes. Progressive denominations have a more relaxed conversion process. In the US, an official Reform resolution in 1893 abolished circumcision as a rule for converts,[21] and Reform does not require converts to have tevilah (ritual immersion). A "prospective convert declares, orally and in writing, in the presence of a rabbi and no less than two lay leaders of the congregation and community, acceptance of the Jewish faith and the intention to live in accordance with its mitzvot.[22]

Haredi and Modern Orthodox Judaism
Both Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism accept a similar set of rules regarding Jewish status based on classical rabbinic Judaism, including both matrilineal descent and requirements that conversions be performed by Orthodox rabbis and that converts promise to strictly observe elements of traditional Judaism such as Shabbat and Niddah. However, their application of these rules have been different, and the difference has been increasing in recent years. Modern Orthodox authorities have been more inclined to rule in favor of Jewish status and to accept non-Orthodox Jews’ word in doubtful cases involving people claiming to be Jews, while Haredi authorities have in recent years tended to presume non-Jewish status and require more stringent rules and standards of evidence in order for Jewish status to be proven, and have tended to distrust the evidence of Jews who are not personally Orthodox. Haredi rabbis have tended to look at a convert’s current personal observance and to regard deficiencies or lack of Orthodoxy in current observance as evidence that the convert never intended to validly convert. In addition, the contemporary situation is further complicated by the fact that some Haredi rabbis no longer regard some Modern

Four basic disputes
The controversy of "who is a Jew" concerns four basic disputes: 1. The North American Reform and British Liberal movements have changed some of the traditional requirements for a Jewish


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identity in two ways: (1) Children born of just one Jewish parent — regardless of whether the father or mother is Jewish — can claim a Jewish identity. A child of only one Jewish parent who does not claim this identity has, in the eyes of the Reform movement, forfeited his/her Jewish identity. By contrast, the traditional view is that any child born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, whether or not he/she is raised Jewish, or even whether the mother considers herself Jewish. As an example, the grandchildren of Madeleine Albright (who was raised Catholic and was unaware of her Jewish heritage) would all be Jews according to halakha (traditional Jewish law), since their mother’s traceable female ancestors were all Jewish and all three of her children were female. (2) The requirement of brit milah has been relaxed, as has the requirement of ritual immersion. (While the Conservative movement permits conversion without circumcision in some cases, notably hemophiliacs, most Orthodox Jews do not, except in cases specifically exempted by the Talmud, such as one who has had three brothers die as a result of circumcision.) 2. Orthodoxy asserts that non-Orthodox rabbis are not qualified to form a beit din.[23] This has led to the fact that nonOrthodox conversions are generally not accepted in Orthodox communities. Since Orthodox Judaism maintains the traditional standards for conversion — in which the commitment to observe Halakha is required — non-Orthodox conversions are generally not accepted in Orthodox communities because the non-Orthodox movements perform conversions in which the new convert does not undertake to observe Halakha as understood by Orthodox Judaism. 3. A third controversy concerns persons (whether born Jews or converts to Judaism) who have converted to another religion. The traditional view is such persons remain Jewish.[24][25] However, Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism regard such people as non-Jewish, and they do not count as Jewish for the purposes of the Israeli citizenship laws. 4. A fourth controversy stems from the manner in which the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has been handling marriage and

Who is a Jew?
conversion decisions in recent years. Conversions and marriages within Israel are legally controlled by the Orthodox Israeli Chief Rabbinate; therefore, a person not proven to be a Jew to the Rabbinate’s satisfaction is not legally permitted to marry a Jew in Israel today. Although the Rabbinate has always refused to accept non-Orthodox conversions, until recent years it was more willing to accept the Jewish parentage of applicants based on personal testimony, and the validity of conversions based on the testimony of Orthodox Rabbis. However, in recent years the rabbinate, whose rabbis historically had a more Modern Orthodox orientation, has increasingly been filled by the more stringent Haredi camp. It has increasingly been inclined to presume that applicants are not Jewish until proven otherwise, and require more stringent standards of proof than in the past. It has implemented a policy of refusing to accept the testimony of non-Orthodox Jews in matters of Jewish status, on grounds that such testimony is not reliable. It also has been increasingly skeptical of the reliability of Orthodox rabbis ordained by institutions not subject to its accreditation, particularly in matters of conversion. Accordingly, non-Orthodox Jews born to Jewish parents, and some Jews converted by Orthodox rabbis, have been increasingly unable to prove their Jewishness to the Rabbinate’s satisfaction, because they are unable to find an Orthodox rabbi who is both acceptable to the Rabbinate, and familiar with and willing to vouch for the Jewishness of their maternal lineage or the validity of their conversion.[26][27][28] There have been several attempts to convene representatives of the three major movements to formulate a practical solution to this issue. To date, these have failed, though all parties concede the importance of the issue is greater than any sense of rivalry among them.

In Israel
The definition of "who is a Jew" has become an important issue in Israeli politics.


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Who is a Jew?
deals with those who have a right of immigration to Israel. In the early 1950s, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate originally objected to the immigration of Karaite Jews to Israel, and unsuccessfully tried to obstruct it. Today, Rabbi David Chayim Chelouche, the chief rabbi of Netayana is quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying: "A Karaite is a Jew. We accept them as Jews and every one of them who wishes to come back [to mainstream Judaism] we accept back. There was once a question about whether Karaites needed to undergo a token circumcision in order to switch to rabbinic Judaism, but the rabbinate agrees that today that is not necessary." [May 22, 2007, "Laying down the (Oral) law by Joshua Freeman"]

Law of Return
See also: Law of Return Following the independence of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the Law of Return was enacted to give any "Jew" the right to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen. However, due to an inability on the lawmakers to agree, the Law did not define who was a Jew, relying instead on the issue to resolve itself over time. As a result, the Law relied in form on the traditional halakhic definition. But the absence of a definition of who is a Jew, for the purpose of the Law, has resulted in the divergent views of the various streams of Judaism competing for recognition. Besides the generally accepted halakhic definition of who is a Jew, the Law extended the categories of person who are entitled to immigration and citizenship to the children and grandchildren of Jews, regardless of their present religious affiliation, and their spouses.[29] Also, converts to Judaism whose conversion was performed outside of the State of Israel, regardless of who performed it, were entitled to immigration under the Law. Once again, issues arose as to whether a conversion performed outside of Israel was valid. The variation of the definition in the Law and the definition used by various branches of Judaism has resulted in practical difficulties for many people. It has been estimated that in the past twenty years about 300,000 avowed non-Jews and even practicing Christians have entered Israel from the former Soviet Union on the basis of being a grandchild of a Jew or by being married to a Jew.[30] However, there was an exception in the case of a person who had formally converted to another religion. Such a person, no matter what their halakhic position, was not entitled to immigration under the Law. Current Israeli definitions specifically exclude Jews who have openly and knowingly converted to a faith other than Judaism, including Messianic Judaism. This definition is not the same as that in traditional Jewish law; in some respects it is deliberately wider, so as to include those non-Jewish relatives of Jews who may have been perceived to be Jewish, and thus faced anti-Semitism. The Law of Return does not, of itself, define the Jewish status of a person; it only

Israeli laws governing marriage and divorce
See also: Marriage in Israel In relation to marriage, divorce, and burial, which are under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Interior Ministry, the halakhic definition of who is a Jew is applied. When there is any doubt, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate generally determines the issue. In terms of social relations, most secular Jews view their Jewish identity as a matter of culture, heritage, nationality, or ethnicity.[31] Ancestral aspects can be explained by the many Jews who view themselves as atheist and are defined by matrilineal descent[32][33] or a Cohen (Kohen) or Levi, which is connected by ancestry.[34] The question of “who is a Jew” is a question that is under debate.[35] Issues related to ancestral or ethnic Jews are dealt with by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate[36][37].[38][39] Orthodox halachic rules apply to converts who want to marry in Israel. Under these rules, a conversion to Judaism must strictly follow halachic standards to be recognised as valid. The rabbinate even scrutinizes Orthodox conversions, with some who have converted by orthodox authorities outside of Israel not being permitted to marry in Israel. For example, an American man who underwent an Orthodox conversion in Metairie, Louisiana, was denied an official marriage in Israel on the grounds that his conversion may not have been legitimate and that the Orthodox rabbi who converted him in Louisiana is not recognized in Israel.[39][40]


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If one’s ancestral line of Jewishness is in doubt, then a proper conversion would be required in order to be allowed to marry in the Orthodox community, or in Israel, where such rules govern all marriages.

Who is a Jew?
termination of the person’s Jewish status. Legally, the converts were no longer regarded as Jews. During the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, however, Jews were forced to convert, but thereafter were regarded by many people, though not in a legal form, as New Christians, distinguishing them as separate from the Old Christians of nonJewish lineage. Since legal, political, religious and social pressure pushed many people to untrue conversions (public behaviour as Christians while retaining Jewish practices privately, a kind of crypto-Judaism, also see Marrano and Anusim), they were still treated with suspicion, a stigma sometimes carried for several generations by their identifiable descendants.

Israeli definition of nationality
The Jewish status of a person in Israel is considered a matter of "nationality". In the registering of "nationality" on Israeli Teudat Zehut ("identity card"), which is controlled by the Ministry of the Interior, a person had to meet the traditional halakhic definition to be registered as a "Jew". However, in a small number of cases the Supreme Court of Israel has ordered the Interior Ministry to register as Jews individuals who did not meet that definition. Until recently, Israeli identity cards had an indication of nationality, and the field was left empty for those who immigrated not solely on the basis of being Jewish (ie. as a child, grandchild or spouse of a Jew only) to indicate that the person may not be a Jew. Also, many Israeli citizens who are not recognised by the Rabbinate as Jewish (or have not provided sufficient proof of this) have been issued with Israeli identity cards that do not include their Hebrew calendar birth date.

The Nazi régime instituted laws discriminating against Jews and thus needed a working definition of who is a Jew. In Germany itself, the Nuremberg Laws classified people as Jews if they descended from three or four Jewish grandparents. A person with one or two Jewish grandparents was a Mischling, a crossbreed, of "mixed blood". One could not become a non-Jew in the eyes of the government by becoming nonpracticing, marrying outside the religion, or converting to Christianity. (Conversely, only people with all four of their grandparents of "German blood" were classified as German citizens.) In German-occupied France an ordinance defined a Jew as an individual who belonged to the Jewish religion or who had more than two Jewish grandparents.[41] The Vichy régime, a Nazi puppet state in southern France, defined a Jew as an individual with three grandparents of the Jewish race or with two grandparents of that race if his/her spouse were Jewish. Richard Weisberg points out that this was a potentially broader classification than the one used in Occupied France, for example, a half-Jew not practising Judaism could not be a Jew under the Nazi dictate, but would be deemed one under the Vichy act if he/she had married a Jew.[41] Similarly, Neo-Nazi and modern antiSemitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan[42] often trace the ancestry of individuals to seek the existence of so-called "Jewish blood".

Other definitions
There have been other attempts to determine Jewish identity beside the traditional Jewish approaches. These range from genetic population studies (see Y-chromosomal Aaron) to controversial evolutionary perspectives including those espoused by Kevin B. MacDonald and Yuri Slezkine.

Anti-Semitic definitions
The question "who is a Jew?" is also sometimes of importance to non-Jews. It has had exceptional significance historically when considered by anti-Jewish groups for the purpose of targeting Jews for persecution or discrimination. The definition can impact on whether a person may have a certain job, live in certain locations, receive a free education, live or continue to live in the country, be imprisoned or even officially murdered.

The Inquisition
During the time of the Inquisition, conversion to Roman Catholicism did not result in total


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Who is a Jew?
others (both inside and outside the ethnic group) as belonging to that group. Returning again to the example of Madeleine Albright, during her Catholic childhood her being in some sense Jewish was presumably irrelevant. It was only after she was nominated to be Secretary of State that she, and the public, discovered her Jewish ancestry. Ido Abram claims that there are five aspects to contemporary Jewish identity: 1. Religion, culture, and tradition. 2. The tie with Israel and Zionism. 3. Dealings with anti-Semitism, including issues of persecution and survival. 4. Personal history and life-experience. 5. Relationship with non-Jewish culture and people.[47][48] The relative importance of these factors may vary enormously from place to place. For example, a typical Dutch Jew might describe his or her Jewish identity simply as "I was born Jewish," while a Jew in Romania, where levels of anti-Semitism are higher, might say, "I consider any form of denying as a proof of cowardice."[49]

In the United States, because of intermarriage, the population of "half-Jews" is beginning to rival that of Jews with two Jewish parents. Self-identified "half-Jews" consider the term a familial category, which reflects multiple heritages and possible Jewish cultural or spiritual practices. [43][44][45] Other similar terms that have been used include: "partJewish" and "partial-Jews". The term "Gershom", "Gershomi" or "Beta Gershom" has also been used as an alternative to "half-Jewish" and "part-Jewish" in connection with descendants of intermarriage, Gershom being the son of Moses and his Midianite wife Zipporah.[46] The term typically has no direct religious meaning, as terms like Jewish Christian do, and instead merely describes mixedethnic parentage. More culturally involved Jews may reject the use of the term "half-Jewish" because of its unintended allusions to racial antisemitism and limpieza de sangre.

Secular philosophy
Jean-Paul Sartre, who was not Jewish, suggested in Anti-Semite and Jew (1948) that Jewish identity "is neither national nor international, neither religious nor ethnic, nor political: it is a quasi-historical community." While Jews as individuals may be in danger from the anti-Semite who sees only "Jews" and not "people", Sartre argues that the Jewish experience of anti-Semitism preserves — even creates — the sense of Jewish community. In his most extreme statement of this view he wrote, "It is the anti-Semite who creates the Jew." Conversely, that sense of specific Jewish community may be threatened by the democrat who sees only "the person" and not "the Jew". Hannah Arendt repeatedly asserted a principle of claiming Jewish identity in the face of anti-Semitism. "If one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man, or whatever"; "A man attacked as a Jew cannot defend himself as an Englishman or a Frenchman. The world can only conclude from this that he is simply not defending himself at all."

Ethnic and cultural definitions
"Ethnic Jew" (also known as an "assimilated Jew," see cultural assimilation) is a term generally used to describe a person of Jewish parentage and background who does not necessarily actively practice Judaism but still identifies with Judaism and/or other Jews culturally and fraternally. The term "ethnic Jew" does not specifically exclude practicing Jews, but they are usually simply referred to as "Jews" without the qualifying adjective "ethnic". See: Ethnic group. The term can refer to people of diverse beliefs and backgrounds due to the complex concepts of what makes a person "Jewish". Since "ethnic Jew" is often used to distinguish non-practicing from practicing ("religious") Jews, a more precise term might be "Cultural Jew". The term sometimes can refer exclusively to Jews who, for whatever reasons, do not practice the religion of Judaism, or who are so casual in their connection to that religion as to be effectively not Jews in the religious sense of adherent to Judaism. Typically, ethnic Jews are cognizant of their Jewish background, and may feel strong cultural (even if

Sociology and anthropology
As with any other ethnic identity, Jewish identity is, in some degree a matter of claiming that identity and/or being perceived by


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not religious) ties to Jewish traditions and to the Jewish people or nation. Like people of any other ethnicity, non-religious ethnic Jews often assimilate into a surrounding non-Jewish culture, but, especially in areas where there is a strong local Jewish culture, they may remain largely part of that culture, even to the point, for example, of participating in many Jewish holiday traditions, or of retaining a diet that stays close to the kosher laws. "Ethnic Jews" include atheists, agnostics, non-denominational deists, Jews with only casual connections to Jewish denominations or converts to other religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. Many ethnic Jews reject the traditional Halakhic view of Jewish identity being based on matrilineal descent, and consider someone Jewish if either parent is Jewish. Religious Jews from any of the main Jewish denominations reach out to ethnic Jews, and ask them to rediscover Judaism. In the case of some Hasidic denominations (eg. Chabad-Lubavitch) this outreach extends to active proselytizing. Israeli immigration laws will accept an application for Israeli citizenship if there is proven documentation that any grandparent—not just the maternal grandmother—was Jewish. This does not mean that person is an "ethnic Jew", but Israeli immigration will accept that person because he or she has an ethnically Jewish connection, and because this same degree of connection was sufficient to be persecuted as a Jew by the Nazis. See Jewish ethnic divisions. The traditional European definition of Jewishness (although it was not uniform across Europe) differs markedly from the definition used by the American progressive movement. In the former USSR, "Jew" was a nationality or ethnicity de jure all the way to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, laws defining Jewishness are considered unwelcome and unethical almost anywhere in the world, but de facto the situation remains. The European definition is traditional in many respects, and reflects not only how the Europeans saw Jews, but also how Jews saw themselves. It has been argued that for the Israeli Law of Return draws on external definitions of Jewishness (such as the Nazi and Soviet definitions), rather than traditional halakhic criteria. Members of most secular societies accept a person as a Jew if they say that they are,

Who is a Jew?
unless there is reason to believe that the person is misrepresenting themselves for some reason. Some members of Reform Judaism have also adopted this viewpoint.

Israelite claims
See also: Israelite Besides Jews themselves, there are various groups that have claimed descent from the biblical Israelites. The question nowadays arises in relation to Israel’s Law of Return, with various groups seeking to migrate there. Some of the claims have been accepted, some are under consideration, while others have been rejected by Israel’s rabbinate. These groups have been cut off from mainstream Judaism since before the common era, so that most of the developments in Judaism since their separation, including Rabbinic Judaism, would be seen as innovations to them. As a result, their claims to "Jewishness" must be tested on different bases to those that would normally be applied.

Cochin Jews (Indian Jews)
See also: Cochin Jews Some sources say that the earliest Jews of Cochin, India were those who settled in the Malabar coast during the times of King Solomon of Israel, and after the Kingdom of Israel split into two.[50] Today most of Cochin’s Jews have emigrated (principally to Israel).

Bene Israel
See also: Bene Israel The Bene Israel claim to be descended from Jews who escaped persecution in Galilee in the 2nd century B.C.E. The Bene Israel resemble the non-Jewish Maratha people in appearance and customs, which indicates some intermarriage between Jews and Indians. The Bene Israel, however, maintained the practices of Jewish dietary laws, circumcision and observation of Sabbath as a day of rest. In 1964 the Israeli Rabbinate declared that the Bene Israel are "full Jews in every respect." The Bene Israel claim a lineage to the Kohanim, the Israelite priestly class, which claims descent from Aaron, the brother of Moses. In 2002, a DNA test confirmed that


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the Bene Israel share the same heredity as the Kohanim.[51][52]

Who is a Jew?
the last rabbi with knowledge of Hebrew died, leaving no successor. The community was for all intents and purposes religiously extinct by the late Qing Dynasty due to antiforeign persecutions brought on by the Taiping Rebellion. There are a small number of Chinese people today who consider themselves to be descendants of these Jews.[53] To date, there is only one scholar, Zhou Xu, who doubts the Kaifeng community’s Jewishness and claims them to have been a western construct.[54]

Beta Israel
The Beta Israel or Falasha is a group formerly living in Ethiopia that has a tradition of descent from the lost tribe of Dan. They have a long history of practicing such Jewish traditions as kashrut, Sabbath and Passover, and for this reason their claim of Jewishness was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Israeli government, in 1975. They emigrated to Israel en masse during the 1980s and 1990s, as Jews, under the Law of Return. Some who claim to be Beta Israel still live in Ethiopia.

The Lemba
The Lemba, a Bantu-speaking group of people from southern Africa, consider themselves Jewish. The Lemba follow a patrilineal Jewish tradition. Genetic testing has shown that the Lemba also carry genetic links to other world Jewish communities. See also: Jews and Judaism in Africa

Bnei Menashe
The Bnei Menashe is a group in India claiming to be descendants of the half-tribe of Menashe. Members who have studied Hebrew and who observe the Sabbath and other Jewish laws received in 2005 the support of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel in arranging formal conversion to Judaism. Some have converted and emigrated to Israel under the Law of Return.

Other claims
Other claims of lost tribe status or other Jewish origin, however, have not yet been accepted. • A tribe of Siberian Asian origin based in Central Russia connects their claims of Jewish rather than pantheistic practices with the Khazars. The latter, an invading tribe from either Mongolia or Kazakhstan that conquered and ruled Russia in the 12th century, is said to have adopted Judaism instead of Christianity or Islam, by their leaders’ preference. • A tribe in western Myanmar (Burma) near the Indian and Bangladeshi borders has sought genetic research to vindicate that their ancestors were Syrian and Iranian Jews. Judaism has not become a major theological force in Southeast Asia, although some introduced religions such as Hinduism and Islam, which converted several tribal groups, have existed in Indochina (Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) for hundreds or thousands of years. • A small Hispanic Jewish group in New Mexico has claimed to be the oldest group of practicing Jews in North America, dating back to the first settlers of Jewish descent that left Mexico in 1550 to flee the Spanish Inquisition. As they adapted local Native American Pueblo customs

The Juhurim
The Juhurim, a Tat-speaking group of people from the North-Eastern Caucasus, who have been living in that area since at least 722 BCE, and consider themselves Jewish by patrilineal descent. There has been recent speculation about their identity but recent DNA tests have shown that the Juhurim’s DNA is consistent with the majority of the world’s Jewish populations which have been shown to be genetically related to one another.

The Kaifeng Jews
For more details on this topic, see History of the Jews in China. The Kaifeng Jews, a Hanyu-speaking group from Henan Province, China, were first discovered in 1605 by the religious scholar Matteo Ricci. Modern researchers believe these Jews were descended from Persian merchants who settled in China during the early Song Dynasty. They prospered during the Ming Dynasty as Confucian civil servants, soldiers, and merchants, but they quickly assimilated and lost much of their Jewish heritage. By the beginning of the 19th century,


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over the centuries, they could fit the description of "Native American Jews".

Who is a Jew?

Notes and references
[1] The Principles of Jewish Law, Ed. Menachem Elon, p. 429m ISBN 0-7065-1415-7. [2] "Question 10.11: What is the origin of Matrilineal Descent?", Shamash, accessed March 16, 2006. [3] " What is the source of the law that a child is Jewish only if its mother is Jewish?", Torah.org, accessed March 16, 2006. [4] Fighting for Patrilineal Descent, Jewish Justice, (accessed September 2, 2008) [5] Patrilineal Descent, Jewish Virtual Library, (accessed September 2, 2008) [6] Telushkin, J. Patrilineal Descent, Jewish Virtual Library [7] Katz, L. Who is a Jew?, about.com:Judaism - accessed July 14, 2008 [8] BECOMING A JEW: QUESTIONS & ANSWERS, Union for Reform Judaism, (accessed September 8, 2008) [9] Robinson, George. Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. ISBN 0-671-03480-4, pgs 229-232. [10] What is Conservative Judaism? [11] Karaites hold first conversion in 500 years. 2 August 2007, JTA Breaking News. [12] Katz, Lisa. "Who is a Jew?". Judaism. About.com. http://judaism.about.com/od/ whoisajew/a/whoisjewdescent.htm. Retrieved on 2008-07-17. [13] "Question 18.3.4: Reform’s Position On...What is unacceptable practice?". FAQs.org. 2008-07-17. http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/ 10-Reform/section-15.html. Retrieved on 2008-07-17. [14] Voll, Fritz. "What about Christian Jews or Jewish Christians?". Jewish-Christian Relations. International Council of Christians and Jews. http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=961. Retrieved on 2008-07-17. [15] Federow, Stuart (2003). "Jews believe that "Jews for Jesus," "Messianic Jews," and "Hebrew Christians" are no longer Jews, even if they were once Jews". What Jews Believe.org.

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/ explanation09.html. Retrieved on 2008-07-17. [16] ^ Lichtenstein, Aharon (March 2004). Leaves of Faith: Selected Essays of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein. KTAV Publishing House, Inc.. ISBN 0881256684. http://books.google.com/ books?id=_QshqTu9nGIC&pg=PA369&lpg=PA369&d Retrieved on 2008-07-17. [17] Zelizer, Gerald L. (1995-06-14). "The Return of Second Generation Apostates" (PDF). YD (The Rabbinical Assembly) 268 (12): 146–50. http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/ teshuvot/docs/19912000/ zelizer_apostates.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-07-17. [18] "As Rabbinate Stiffens Rules, Orthodox Rites Face Scrutiny". Forward. 2006-06-02. http://www.forward.com/ articles/as-rabbinate-stiffens-rulesorthodox-rites-face-s/. [19] "Israel’s Chief Rabbis Reject Call By Non-Orthodox on Conversion". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/ gst/ fullpage.html?res=9C01E4DA163CF933A25751C0A9 [20] Gersom Gorenberg, How do you prove you’re a Jew? New York Times’, March 2, 2008 [21] Meyer, Michael "Berit Mila within the History of the Reform Movement" in Barth, Lewis (1990) Berit Mila in the Reform Context. New York: Berit Milah Board of reform Judaism [22] Tenets of Reform Judaism, Jewish Virtual Library [23] Gersom Gorenberg, How do you prove you’re a Jew? New York Times’, March 2, 2008 [24] Efforts to convert Jews draw fire from interdenominational group [25] Jewish People [26] "As Rabbinate Stiffens Rules, Orthodox Rites Face Scrutiny". Forward. 2006-06-02. http://www.forward.com/ articles/as-rabbinate-stiffens-rulesorthodox-rites-face-s/. [27] "Israel’s Chief Rabbis Reject Call By Non-Orthodox on Conversion". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/ gst/ fullpage.html?res=9C01E4DA163CF933A25751C0A9


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Who is a Jew?

[28] Gersom Gorenberg, How do you prove [40] Meyers, Nechemia (1997-07-12). "Are you’re a Jew? New York Times’, March 2, Israel’s Marriage Laws ‘Archaic and 2008 Irrelevant’?". Jewish News Weekly. [29] Law of Return, paragraph 4A. This http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/ provision does not extend to the spouse module/displaystory/story_id/6943/ of an Israeli Jew (a non-Israeli person edition_id/131/format/html/ who married an Israeli Jew). displaystory.html. Retrieved on [30] Jonathan Rosenblum, "Our New Mixed 2008-07-17. Multitude", Jacob Richman Home Page, [41] ^ Daniel C. Kramer, "Review of Vichy accessed March 16, 2006. Law and the Holocaust in France by [31] Rich, Tracey R.. "What Is Judaism?". Rishard H. Weisberg", Law & Politics Judaism 101. http://www.jewfaq.org/ Book Review, Vol. 7 No. 2 (February judaism.htm. Retrieved on 2008-07-17. 1997) pp. 41-45 (accessed October 18, [32] Katz, Lisa. "Who is a Jew?". Judaism. 2008) About.com. http://judaism.about.com/od/ [42] John Safran, "Can a Jew Join the KKK?", whoisajew/a/whoisjewdescent.htm. John Safran vs God (accessed October Retrieved on 2008-07-17. 18, 2008) [33] "Judaism in Israel". Judaism. About.com. [43] Half-Jewish.net http://atheism.about.com/library/world/ [44] half-jewish.org/who_is_born_a_jew.shtml AJ/bl_IsraelJudaism.html. Retrieved on [45] Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst, The Half2008-07-17. Jewish Book: A Celebration, New York: [34] "The Tribe". The Cohen-Levi Family Villard Books, 2000. Heritage. http://www.cohen-levi.org. [46] Beta Gershom Retrieved on 2008-07-17. [47] "What does it mean to be Jewish", Jewish [35] Weiner, Rebecca. "Who is a Jew?". Jewish Historical Museum, accessed March 16, Virtual Library. 2006. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ [48] Monica Săvulescu Voudouris and Camil jsource/Judaism/whojew1.html. Retrieved Fuchs, Jewish identity after the Second on 2008-07-17. World War, Editura Hasefer, Bucharest, [36] "Amar: Bnei Menashe are Descendants 1999, p. 16. ISBN 973-9235-73-5 of Ancient Israelites". Haaretz. [49] Monica Săvulescu Voudouris and Camil 2005-01-04. http://www.haaretz.com/ Fuchs (1999), p. 56. hasen/pages/ [50] Katz 2000; Koder 1973; Thomas ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=559669&contrassID=1&subContrassID=5&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y. Puthiakunnel 1973; David de Beth Hillel, Retrieved on 2008-07-17. 1832; Lord, James Henry 1977. [37] Freund, Michael (2006-10-03). "Right [51] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/ On: A Miracle of Biblical Proportions". cms.dll/articleshow?artid=16588182 The Jerusalem Post. [52] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/ http://www.jpost.com/servlet/ query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=Abstr Satellite?cid=1159193360806&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter. [53] Xu, Xin. The Jews of Kaifeng, China: Retrieved on 2008-07-17. History, Culture, and Religion. Jersey [38] "Chief Rabbi Says Indian Community City, NJ: KTAV Pub. House, 2003. Descended From Israelites". Jewish [54] Xun Zhou, "The Kaifeng Jew Hoax: Virtual Library. 2006-07-20. Constructing the ’Chinese Jews’", in eds. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ Ivan Davidson Kalmar & Derek Penslar, jsource/Judaism/bneimenashe.html. Orientalism and The Jews, pp. 68-80. Retrieved on 2008-07-17. Brandeis University Press (USA), 2004 [39] ^ Tigay, Chanan (2006-05-26). "Israel’s (ISBN 1584654112) Chief Rabbinate Rejects some Diaspora • Kertzer, Morris (1996). What is a Jew?. Orthodox Conversions". New Jersey New York: Touchstone. ISBN Jewish Standard. 0-684-84298-X. http://www.jstandard.com/articles/1101/ • Siedman, Lauren. What Makes Someone a 1/Israel%92s-Chief-Rabbinate-rejectsJew?. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights some-diaspora-Orthodox-conversions. Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58023-321-X. Retrieved on 2008-07-17.


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Who is a Jew?
• Orthodox and Non-Orthodox Judaism: How to Square the Circle by JCPA • Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman: Israel cannot be arbiter of conversions to Judaism by Shalom Hartman Institute • Matrilineal descent Conservative view • The "Who Is a Jew?" Controversy by the U.S. Library of Congress • Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman: The challenge and crisis of conversion in Israel by Shalom Hartman Institute • Who is a Jew? from www.beingjewish.com • "How Do You Prove You’re a Jew?" Gershom Gorenberg, New York Times, March 2, 2008 • "Rabbinical Court Puts Thousands Of Converts in Legal Limbo" Ruling Reopens Fractious Debate Over ‘Who is a Jew?’", Nathan Jeffay, The Forward, May 8, 2008 • "Israel considers question: ‘Who is a Jew?’ - Issue heads to higher court after rabbis annul some 40,000 conversions" (November 2008)

See also
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • Jew Jewish identity Jewish population Jewish intermarriage Jews for Judaism Basic Laws of Israel Halakha Knesset Law of Return Matrilineality Patrilineality Politics of Israel Ashkenazi Jews Sephardi Jews

External links
• Reform view of who is a Jew by the Union for Reform Judaism • Who is a Jew by Jewish Virtual Library

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