What or Who is a Jew?

My pastor mentioned something tonight that caused me to ask the above question.  I have searched and cannot find a definitive answser. However, my research shows that most Jews consider a Jew to be someone who:

  • Is a descendant physically or spiritually of Jacob
  • Has a Jewish mother
  • Has officially converted to Judaism
  • Is an Israelite

But this brings up another question. On the JewFaq.org site, under the heading “Who is a Jew?” I found the following statement:

“It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents who has not undergone the formal process of conversion but who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the most liberal movements of Judaism, and a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox. In this sense, Judaism is more like a nationality than like other religions, and being Jewish is like a citizenship.”

Now, if being a Jew has nothing to do with what one believes, then how can someone who is a Jew one day, become a non-Jew the next day by believing that Christ is the Messiah?  Can someone please answer this for me?

8 thoughts on “What or Who is a Jew?”

  1. Actually, it does. The very first sentence says:
    “It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. ”

    My question still stands. If what you do and what you BELIEVE has nothing to do with being a Jew, then how can a Jew who accepts Christ be considered a non-Jew.

  2. Ok, let’s start from square one: where does it talk about a Jew who believes in Christ in your quote? Or are you talking about or referring to another piece of information or a prior post of yours? Is your use of believing in Christ a specific detail, or are you using it as an example of belief? Or is it the Messiah aspect that has you caught up on this?

    Because let’s take that opening quote you just used and instead of using ‘believe’ as a general term, we substitute ‘believe in Christ’ and we substitute ‘you’ with ‘Jew.’

    It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with a Jew believe(ing) in Christ or a Jew going to Church.”

    So a Jew who accepts Christ is still a Jew. A Jew who accepts Allah is still a Jew. A Jew who accepts Ganseh is still a Jew.

    Now, if you are questioning the viability of such a claim, that is another issue. But if you are asking if Jewish tradition believes that no matter what a Jew believes or does, they are still a Jew, the answer is in the affirmative.

    Perhaps I am not understanding your question clearly? Please explain if there is something lacking in this analysis.

  3. You answered my question when you said; “So a Jew who accepts Christ is still a Jew.” And I do agree with that.
    However, there are many who say that one cannot be a Christian and a Jew at the same time.

    Why is it then that many Jews call someone who is a Jewish Christian an apostate or non-Jew? These same folks will accept a Jewish atheist with no problem.

  4. I’d like to you see your source for this ‘many who say…’

    And I am still confused as to how you are using the quote in your blog to talk about this. How does your question relate to the quote?

  5. As for my source: I founded and managed the religion forum on AOL for about 15 years. I was castigated by the members of the Judaism forum because I wanted to include Messianic Jews in that area. There common response was that Messianic Jews were not Jews but were Christians and should not be allowed to participate in the “Jewish” area.

    And therein lies the link between the quote and the question.

    The quote says that it does not matter what a Jew believes s/he is still a Jew. How is that confusing? If it doesn’t matter what Jew believes then a Jew who accepts Christ as the Jewish Messiah is still a Jew.

    And you apparently agree with this as I do, correct?

  6. Ok: now we’re getting closer to the heart of the situation.

    So, you were castigated by Jews who said that Messianic Jews could not be included in the Jewish religion forum?

    It seems that you have interpreted this to mean that Messianic Jews are not considered Jews by the larger Jewish community.

    I have not read the AOL forum from 15 years ago:) but I wonder, since you were in the religion forum, not the culture forum (if there was one), what is the possibility that the castigation was that Jews do not consider Messianic Jews to be practicing Jewish religion (Judaism)? (a misnomer in and of itself, but that is for a different discussion) In other words, they are still Jews, but they don’t practice Jewish religion. This is, again, a distinction that your quoted passage is making.

    While this can get into tricky territory, the intent is to point out the difference between the cultural/ethnic identity referred to as a Jew vs. the spiritual practice of that cultural/ethnic group which is usually referred to as Judaism. Messianic Jews, while perhaps ethnically and culturally Jews, do not practice a form of spiritual tradition that is considered within the framework of Judaism, ‘even by the most liberal movements of Judaism.’

    In that vein, some Orthodox Jews do not consider Reform Judaism to be be a valid expression of Jewish spiritual tradition as well.

    I would rather leave my personal opinions out of the discussion of “Who Is A Jew,” so, I am not saying I ‘agree’ or ‘disagree.’ I am only trying to clarify what I am hearing on your perspective of what Jewish tradition says.

  7. You bring up some good points. And yes, I understand the difference between cultural/ethnic Jews and those practicing Judaism. (as best a non-Jew can). Most of these members were of the former group. (based on statements they made).

    When I founded the area, it was for the discussion of ‘religion.’ My religion teaches that all have the freedom of conscience to believe what they wish so created areas for each religious group which naturally included Judaism.

    Unfortunately, this group discussed very little about the religion/practice of Judaism. That section of their forum lay dormant. I repeatedly asked them to stay on the topic of Judaism, they responded with statements saying that you don’t have to be religious to be a Jew and explaining that Jews were Jews whether they were religious or not.

    When I decided to create an area for the Messianic Jews (they had become a very active group within the general discussion area) I put it under the general “Judaism” area. That was when the problems started. I posited that MJs were Jews who practiced Judaism but felt that Christ was the promised Messiah.

    They claimed that MJs were no-longer Jews and didn’t belong in their area. This went against everything they had been telling me previously. And raised the question; “Does one’s belief determine his/her “Jewishness?”

    And needless to say, this group is only a very small sampling of Jewish thought but it is the only ‘large’ group of Jews that I have had this discussion with.

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