Cultural appropriation is the adoption of culture or parts of a culture (such as dress, practices, etc.) without the consent of the members from said culture.
To understand why cultural appropriation is damaging, we must examine it through the lens of colonization and recognize the power dynamics at play when a dominant group in society takes elements from a less privileged group, especially when said group is oppressed by the more dominant group.
Cultural appropriation differs from cultural exchange, where two or more cultures consensually exchange elements of their culture with each other.
It also differs from assimilation, when marginalized people or groups adopt elements from the more dominant society in order to survive.
Kabbalah is the ancient, sacred practice of the mystical interpretation of the Torah. Kabbalah is so ancient that its origins are believed to pre-date world religions, though the practice reached its peak within Judaism in 12th and 13th century Spain and France, and once again in 16th century Ottoman Palestine.
Kabbalah is considered so sacred and complex that Jewish tradition dictates that one should not begin to study it until turning 40.
However, in recent times, Kabbalah has been appropriated by numerous non-Jewish celebrities — such as Madonna and Ariana Grande — and the white spiritual and New Age communities. This is hurtful and offensive to Jews because Kabbalah is considered a sacred and closed practice.
What’s even worse is that many non-Jewish celebrities that appropriate Kabbalah are completely silent when it comes to combatting antisemitism. Even worse, some perpetuate it. For example, Madonna recently posted an antisemitic trope to her Instagram.
The Holocaust was one of the most devastating genocides in Jewish (and world) history, an atrocity from which the worldwide Jewish population has yet to recover (prior to 1939, there were about 17 million Jews worldwide. Today, the total Jewish population hovers around 14.5 million).
1/3 of Holocaust survivors in both the United States and Israel live in poverty. The descendants of Holocaust survivors still grapple with severe intergenerational trauma. Both prior and after the Holocaust, the non-Jewish world at large did nothing at all to help world Jewry when we needed it the most. In fact, after the Holocaust, we saw massive ethnic cleansings and genocidal plans in the Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa (which persist to this day), and China (also present to this day), among others.
And yet, for some reason, the Holocaust is used in both progressive and conservative spaces as a barometer for injustice. Every current issue is compared to the Holocaust. Triggering images of the Holocaust are spread all over the internet to prove points and further political agendas. At many progressive marches, we see people carrying “Israeli” flags with a swastika replacing the Star of David.
While non-Jews do nothing to protect Jews from oppression and persecution, they parade our trauma all over the place. It’s incredibly disrespectful and cruel.
Please read my post READ THIS BEFORE YOU COMPARE ANYTHING TO THE HOLOCAUST for more.
The Jewish diaspora is the oldest diaspora in the world. We were forcibly enslaved and taken from our sacred land by a series of colonizers and imperialists, including the Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders, and more. Like other tribes around the globe, the Jewish People feel a deep sense of connection to their land. This connection is reflected in prayers, traditions, and a calendar that is nearly 4000 years old (in the Jewish calendar year, we are entering the year 5781).
Ever since we were colonized and displaced, the Jewish People have yearned to return to our land (it’s also important to mention that many never left). At various points during history, in fact, Jews sought to return to Israel/Palestine. For example, many Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition returned to their homeland.
Zionism is the movement for self-determination in our ancestral/indigenous land. Self-determination is considered a basic tenet of international law. Zionists exist on all ends of the political spectrum — from left to right. 83% of Zionist Jews in the United States also support Palestinian self-determination — myself included. 95% of Jews worldwide identify as Zionists.
However, “Zionism” has been appropriated and tarnished by the non-Jewish world, muddling its definition. The Soviets were the first to enact “anti-Zionist” propaganda campaigns, as antisemitism was considered taboo after the Holocaust.
In 1975, the UN passed an antisemitic resolution that stated “Zionism is racism” at the urging of the Soviet Union and the Arab League (notable that at the time, a massive ethnic cleansing of Jews was taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, the very countries that form the Arab League, and Jews in the Soviet Union were among the most systemically oppressed in the world). In 1991, the resolution was revoked.
I recommend you read my posts WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LEFT-WING ANTISEMITISM and 9 TIMES JEWS HAVE BEEN MURDERED UNDER THE GUISE OF ANTI-ZIONISM.
Christian Zionism is also a violent appropriation of Zionism. I recommend you read my post WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER USE THE TERM “JUDEO-CHRISTIAN” for more.
Believe it or not, the word “Judaism” is not mentioned even once in the Torah. That’s because prior to getting exiled from our land, the Jewish People were not a “religion” — we are a tribe, nation, and ethnic group. However, after the diaspora, Judaism became the vehicle through which we were able to hold on to our tribal beliefs, traditions, customs, and practices.
The fact that we were able to maintain our peoplehood and traditions through 2000 years of colonization, violence, and diaspora is astounding.
Judaism is a non-proselytizing religion (that is, we do NOT seek to convert others), and while most Jews are ethnic Jews, conversion is not a matter of changing your belief system, but rather, a process of admission into our tribe.
For 2000 years, we have been oppressed, our language, beliefs, and practices forbidden, our people slaughtered and forced to convert to Christianity or Islam at the sword. And yet, in recent decades, various sects of Christianity in the West have taken to appropriating our culture, our holidays, our language, and our practices — the very things that have gotten us murdered in the past and to this day.
Sacred Jewish tribal practices and traditions are for Jews.
HAMSA AND NAZAR (EVIL EYE)
The hamsa and Nazar (evil eye) are protective amulets used throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and some countries in southeastern Europe. While the hamsa and nazar are not exclusively Jewish symbols — they are used by various indigenous groups throughout these regions — they do hold deep spiritual and cultural significance to said groups.
There are numerous references to the “evil eye” and “protective hand” in ancient Jewish texts, such as the Torah. While the hamsa predates Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, historians believe Jews were the first to use it in amulet form. Its usage predates our expulsion from Judea, although it’s more commonly used among Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. However, some evidence suggests that Ashkenazi Jews of priestly descent (Kohanim) used the symbol in the early stages of the diaspora.
Due to trade, conquests, and wars, the hamsa spread throughout the region, becoming deeply significant to a myriad of indigenous cultures. Today, however, white spiritualists, the New Age movement, and even big corporations have appropriated the symbol (you can probably find the hamsa printed all over t-shirts at Target).
Ethnic Jews are Jews. Patrilineal Jews are Jews. Converts are Jews.
(Non-ethnic) Messianic “Jews” and “Jews” for Jesus are not Jews. Not only do these groups appropriate our name and our culture, but they also specifically target Jews (particularly “vulnerable” Jews, such as young immigrants with no Jewish community affiliation) for conversion into their sects. This is extremely violent and predatory behavior, considering how hard Jews have fought to maintain our traditions, identity, and belief system in the diaspora.
Another example of the appropriation of our name is the term “Judeo-Christian.” Please see my post WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER USE THE TERM JUDEO-CHRISTIAN for more.