Jewish identity

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.

Jews who are atheists 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.

Maurycy Gottlieb - Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur
Ashkenazi Jews praying in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, showing traditional Jewish clothing and practice, including tallit, the Torah, and head coverings. (1878 painting by Maurice Gottlieb)


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

  1. Jewish peoplehood, an ethnic identity composed of several subdivisions that evolved in the Diaspora.
  2. Jewish religion, observance of spiritual and ritual tenets of Judaism.
  3. Jewish culture, celebration of traditions, secular and religious alike.

A cultural/ancestral concept

Jewish identity can be cultural, religious, and/or through ancestry. 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, (and still are, though to a far lesser extent than throughout its history in the case of Christianity).[2] 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.

In contemporary sociology

Jewish identity began to gain the attention of Jewish sociologists in the United States with the publication of Marshall Sklare's "Lakeville studies".[3] Among other topics explored in the studies was Sklare's notion of a "good Jew".[4] 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.;[5] policy decisions (in areas such as funding, programming, etc.) have been shaped in part due to studies on Jewish identity.

Antisemitism and Jewish identity

According to the social-psychologist Simon Herman, antisemitism plays a part in shaping Jewish identity.[6] 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.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity. Yale University Press, 1997.
  2. ^ Galatians 6:11, Romans 16:22, Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17
  3. ^ Sklare, Marshall, Joseph Greenblum, and Benjamin Bernard Ringer. The Lakeville Studies. Under the Dir. of Marshall Sklare. Basic books, 1967.
  4. ^ Sklare, Marshall. "The Image of the Good Jew in Lakeville." Observing America’s Jews. Brandeis University Press, 1993.
  5. ^ Sheskin, Ira M. "Comparisons between local Jewish community studies and the 2000–01 National Jewish Population Survey." Contemporary Jewry 25, no. 1 (2005): 158-192.
  6. ^ Herman, Simon N. Jewish identity: A social psychological perspective. Transaction Pub, (1989): 51.
  7. ^ Love, Hate, and Jewish Identity Archived 14 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine, by Jonathan Sacks. First Things, November 1997.

External links

Arnold Dashefsky

Arnold Dashefsky, born in 1942, is a professor at the University of Connecticut who has written several books on the topics relating to Jewish ethnicity, culture, ideologies, among others.

Dashefsky is currently director of the North American Jewish Data Bank.One of Dashefsky's key theses is that Jewish identity is taken for granted in populations, such as Israel where Jews make up a majority of the population. Furthermore, he has asserted that the number of Jews in the United States is roughly the same as the number of Jews in Israel. Hence, he feels that Jewish identity should be no less strong in either nation.

Birthright Israel

Taglit-Birthright Israel (Hebrew: תגלית‎), also known as Birthright Israel or simply Birthright, is a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage, aged 18–32.Taglit is the Hebrew word for discovery. During their trip, participants, most of whom are visiting Israel for the first time, are encouraged to discover new meaning in their personal Jewish identity and connection to Jewish history and culture.Since trips began in the winter of 1999, more than 600,000 young people from 67 countries have participated in the program. About 80% of participants are from the United States and Canada. The number of participants has not grown beyond 40,000 a year due to budgetary constraints.

Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon (Hebrew: גלעד עצמון; born 9 June 1963) is a British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist and writer, originally from Israel.Atzmon's album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called "surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz." His albums, of which he has recorded 15 as of 2016, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a "devoted political artist."Atzmon has written novels, journalistic pieces for such publications as CounterPunch, Uruknet, The Palestine Telegraph, and polemical works on Jewish identity. His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on Holocaust denial and Jewish history, have led to allegations of antisemitism and racism from both Zionists and some leading anti-Zionists.

Haviv Rettig Gur

Haviv Rettig Gur (Hebrew: חביב רטיג גור‎) (b. April 4, 1981) is an Israeli journalist who serves as the political correspondent and analyst for The Times of Israel.

Holocaust tourism

The Holocaust tourism is a term used by the media in relation to round-trip travel to destinations connected with the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust in World War II, including visits to sites of Jewish martyrology such as former Nazi death camps and concentration camps turned into state museums. It belongs to a category of the so-called 'roots tourism' usually across parts of Central Europe, or more generally, the Western-style dark tourism to sites of death and disaster.The term Holocaust, first used in the late 1950s, was derived from the Greek word holokauston meaning a completely burnt offering to God. It has come to symbolize the systematic extermination of approximately six million European Jews by Nazi Germany in occupied territories from 1933 to 1945. The term can also be applied to mean the estimated five to seven million non-Jewish victims who were murdered by the Nazis in the same time period.

Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות הומניסטית Yahadut Humanistit) is a Jewish movement that offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It defines Judaism as the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people and encourages humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and lifecycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional literature. Its philosophical foundation includes the following ideas:

A Jew is someone who identifies with the history, culture, and future of the Jewish people;

Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people, and religion is only one part of that culture;

Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment;

People possess the power and responsibility to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority;

Ethics and morality should serve human needs, and choices should be based upon consideration of the consequences of actions rather than pre-ordained rules or commandments;

Jewish history, like all history, is a human saga, a testament to the significance of human power and human responsibility. Biblical and other traditional texts are the products of human activity and are best understood through archaeology and other scientific analysis.

The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.


Jewcy is an online magazine of Jewish pop culture and offbeat news. The site was launched on November 15, 2006. The Guardian has described Jewcy as "a cultural icon" and "at the forefront of a reinvention of Jewish identity by young US Jews". The New York Times has described Jewcy as part of "the Jewish Hipster movement".In October 2009, the not-for-profit JDub Records announced that it had adopted Jewcy, making it a new project of the seven-year-old organization. Lilit Marcus served as editor-in-chief until February 2010, when Jason Diamond took over the position. In 2011, Tablet Magazine acquired Jewcy, and the former has been Jewcy's "big sister" site ever since.

Its current editor is Gabriela Geselowitz.

Jewish assimilation

Jewish assimilation (Hebrew: התבוללות, Hitbolelut) refers to the gradual cultural assimilation and social integration of Jews in their surrounding culture as well as the ideological program promoting conformity as a potential solution to historic Jewish marginalization in the age of emancipation.


Judaism (originally from Hebrew יהודה, Yehudah, "Judah"; via Latin and Greek) is the religion of the Jewish people. It is an ancient, monotheistic, Abrahamic religion with the Torah as its foundational text. It encompasses the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. Judaism encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. Historically, this assertion was challenged by various groups such as the Sadducees and Hellenistic Judaism during the Second Temple period; the Karaites and Sabbateans during the early and later medieval period; and among segments of the modern non-Orthodox denominations. Modern branches of Judaism such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic. Today, the largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism), Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism. Major sources of difference between these groups are their approaches to Jewish law, the authority of the Rabbinic tradition, and the significance of the State of Israel. Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Torah and Jewish law are divine in origin, eternal and unalterable, and that they should be strictly followed. Conservative and Reform Judaism are more liberal, with Conservative Judaism generally promoting a more traditionalist interpretation of Judaism's requirements than Reform Judaism. A typical Reform position is that Jewish law should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than as a set of restrictions and obligations whose observance is required of all Jews. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the rabbis and scholars who interpret them.The history of Judaism spans more than 3,000 years. Judaism has its roots as an organized religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age. Judaism is considered one of the oldest monotheistic religions. The Hebrews and Israelites were already referred to as "Jews" in later books of the Tanakh such as the Book of Esther, with the term Jews replacing the title "Children of Israel". Judaism's texts, traditions and values strongly influenced later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i Faith. Many aspects of Judaism have also directly or indirectly influenced secular Western ethics and civil law. Hebraism was just as important a factor in the ancient era development of Western civilization as Hellenism, and Judaism, as the background of Christianity, has considerably shaped Western ideals and morality since Early Christianity.Jews are an ethnoreligious group including those born Jewish, in addition to converts to Judaism. In 2015, the world Jewish population was estimated at about 14.3 million, or roughly 0.2% of the total world population. About 43% of all Jews reside in Israel and another 43% reside in the United States and Canada, with most of the remainder living in Europe, and other minority groups spread throughout Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

Maghrebi Jews

Maghrebi Jews (Hebrew: מַגּרֶבִּים Maghrebim or מַאגרֶבִּים) or North African Jews (יהודי צפון אפריקה Yehudei Tzfon Africa) are Jews who had traditionally lived in the Maghreb region of North Africa (al-Maghrib, Arabic for "the west") under Arab rule during the Middle Ages. Established Jewish communities had existed in North Africa long before the arrival of Sephardi Jews, expelled from Portugal and Spain. Due to proximity, the term 'Maghrebi Jews' (Moroccan Jews, Algerian Jews, Tunisian Jews, and Libyan Jews) often refers to Egyptian Jews as well. These Jews, those from North Africa, constitute the second largest Jewish diaspora group.The Jews lived in multiple communities in North Africa for over 2,000 years, with the oldest Jewish communities were present during Roman times and possibly as early as within Punic colonies of the Ancient Carthage period. Maghrebi Jews largely mixed with the newly arrived Sephardic Jews, beginning from the 13th century until the 16th century, eventually being overwhelmed by Sephardim and embracing the Sephardic Jewish identity in most cases.

The mixed Maghrebi-Sephardic Jewish communities collapsed in the mid-20th century as part of the Jewish exodus from Arab countries, moving mostly to Israel and France and merging into the Israeli Jewish and French Jewish communities. Today, descendants of Maghrebi-Sephardic Jews in Israel have largely embraced the renovated Israeli Jewish identity and in many cases intermix with Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jewish communities there. Some of the Maghrebi-Sephardic Jews (literally Western Jews) also consider themselves as part of Mizrahi Jewish community (literally Eastern, or Babylonian Jews), even though there is no direct link between the two communities. They have similar histories of Arabic-speaking background and a parallel exodus from Arab and Muslim countries: the Mizrahim left nations of the Middle East, and the Maghrebi-Sephardics left nations of North Africa in the mid-20th century.

Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism is a modern syncretic religious movement that combines Christianity—most importantly, the belief that Jesus is the Messiah—with elements of Judaism and Jewish tradition. Its current form emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and "God the Son" (one person of the Trinity), and that the Tanakh and New Testament are the authoritative scriptures. Salvation in Messianic Judaism is achieved only through acceptance of Jesus as one's savior, and Jewish laws or customs which are followed do not contribute to salvation. Belief in the messiahship of Jesus, his power to save, and his divinity are considered by Jewish authorities to be the defining distinctions between Christianity and Judaism. Other Christian groups usually accept Messianic Judaism as a form of Christianity.Many adherents of Messianic Judaism are ethnically Jewish and argue that the movement is a sect of Judaism. Many refer to themselves in Hebrew as maaminim (believers), not converts, and yehudim (Jews), not notzrim (Christians). Jewish organizations and the Supreme Court of Israel have rejected this claim in cases related to the Law of Return, and instead consider Messianic Judaism to be a form of Christianity.From 2003 to 2007, the movement grew from 150 Messianic houses of worship in the United States to as many as 438, with over 100 in Israel and more worldwide; congregations are often affiliated with larger Messianic organizations or alliances. As of 2012, population estimates for the United States were between 175,000 and 250,000 members, between 10,000 and 20,000 members for Israel, and an estimated total worldwide membership of 350,000.


Moreshet (Hebrew: מוֹרֶשֶׁת, lit. Heritage) is a community settlement in northern Israel whose members adhere to a religious Jewish identity. Located in the Lower Galilee between Karmiel and Shefa-'Amr, it falls under the jurisdiction of Misgav Regional Council. In 2017 it had a population of 1,438.

Oregon Jewish Museum

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education is the largest museum dedicated to the documented and visual history of the Jewish people of Oregon, United States. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation, research, and exhibition of art, archival materials, and artifacts of the Jews and Judaism in Oregon.The museum's archival collection contains records of its various community-based and traveling exhibitions, cultural programs and events, and educational outreach about Jewish identity, culture, and assimilation.

Project Genesis (organization)

Project Genesis is an Orthodox Jewish outreach organization based in Baltimore, Maryland and created by Rabbi Yaakov Menken in 1993 to further the goals of the Baal teshuva movement.

Project Genesis promotes further Jewish education as represented in Jewish sources. It believes that this is the best way to restore self-respect, self-confidence, and an interest in Jewish continuity, among modern Jewish collegiates and unaffiliated Jews worldwide. It works to establish a strong Jewish identity, expand Jewish knowledge, and encourage its participants to become more involved with Judaism and the Jewish community.

Reconstructionist Judaism

Reconstructionist Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות רקונסטרוקציוניסטית‎, translit. yahadút rekonstruktsyonistit or יהדות מתחדשת‎ yahadút mitkhadéshet) is a modern Jewish movement that views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization and is based on the conceptions developed by Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983). The movement originated as a semi-organized stream within Conservative Judaism and developed from the late 1920s to 1940s, before it seceded in 1955 and established a rabbinical college in 1967.There is substantial theological diversity within the movement. Halakha, the collective body of Jewish Law, is not considered binding, but is treated as a valuable cultural remnant that should be upheld unless there is reason for the contrary. The movement also emphasizes positive views toward modernity, and has an approach to Jewish custom which aims toward communal decision-making through a process of education and distillation of values from traditional Jewish sources.

Self-hating Jew

Self-hating Jew or self-loathing Jew is a pejorative term used for a Jew who is alleged to hold antisemitic views. Although similar accusations of being uncomfortable with one's Jewishness were already being made by groups of Jews against one another before Zionism existed as a movement, the concept gained widespread currency after Theodor Lessing's 1930 book Der Jüdische Selbsthass ("Jewish Self-hatred"), which tried to explain the prevalence of Jewish intellectuals inciting antisemitism with their views toward Judaism. The term became "something of a key term of opprobrium in and beyond Cold War-era debates about Zionism".

Shalom Hartman Institute

Shalom Hartman Institute is a Jewish research and education institute based in Jerusalem, Israel, that offers pluralistic Jewish thought and education to scholars, rabbis, educators, and Jewish community leaders in Israel and North America. The Institute's goal is to is to strengthen Jewish peoplehood, identity and pluralism and ensure that Judaism is a compelling force for good in the 21st century.

UJA-Federation of New York

UJA-Federation of New York, (United Jewish Appeal - Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, Inc.) is the largest local philanthropy in the world. Headquartered in New York City, the organization raises and allocates funds annually to fulfill a mission to “care for people in need, inspire a passion for Jewish life and learning, and strengthen Jewish communities in New York, in Israel, and around the world.” UJA-Federation provides funding to support a network of nearly 100 health, human-service, educational, and community-building agencies and dozens of grantees in New York, Israel, and 70 other countries. These community-based organizations offer a multitude of services to combat poverty, help the elderly age with dignity, promote Jewish identity and renewal, strengthen connections between the Jewish people worldwide, care for people with disabilities and special needs, and stand in support of the people of Israel.

Who is a Jew?

"Who is a Jew?" (Hebrew: מיהו יהודי pronounced [ˈmihu jehuˈdi]) is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based on ideas about Jewish personhood, which have cultural, ethnic, religious, political, genealogical, and personal dimensions. Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism follow Jewish law (Halakha), deeming a person to be Jewish if their mother is Jewish or they underwent a halakhic conversion. Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism accept both matrilineal and patrilineal descent. Karaite Judaism predominantly follows patrilineal descent.

Jewish identity is also commonly defined through ethnicity. Opinion polls have suggested that the majority of Jews see being Jewish as predominantly a matter of ancestry and culture, rather than religion.

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