UNDERSTANDING JEWISH IDENTITY
Jews are an ethnoreligious group, a tribe, and a nation originating in the Land of Israel, descended from the ancient Hebrews and Israelites. This is verifiably true per 3000 years’ worth of archeology, a plethora of genetic studies, and thousands of years of historical record. Much like other Indigenous tribes worldwide, Jewish peoplehood, tribal identity, and religion/spirituality (Judaism) are inextricable from each other.
Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish People. It is comprised of the ancient beliefs, mythologies, and laws of the Jewish tribe. Believe it or not, the modern concept of “religion” is a rather new construct. In fact, Judaism predates this concept by millennia. There is no exact equivalent to the word “religion” in Hebrew. The closest terms are “dat” (“law”) and “emuna” (“belief”).
The word “Judaism” itself doesn’t come from Hebrew, either.
Instead, the term “Judaism” is actually a variation of the Greek word “Hellenismos.” “Judaism” or “Ἰουδαϊσμός” [Ioudaismos] — is how the Greeks described all of the things that encompassed Jewish culture and spirituality.
According to Biblical scholar and rabbi Shaye J. D. Cohen: “Ioudaïsmós [was not] reduced to the designation of a religion. It means rather ‘the aggregate of all those characteristics that makes Judaeans Judaean (or Jews Jewish).’”
If you are Christian or Muslim, the following slides might make you uncomfortable. But if you are committed to genuine allyship, you need to understand that untangling your unconscious antisemitic bias is not supposed to be easy.
Antisemitism is the world's oldest hatred and as such is ingrained into our thinking in implicit and explicit ways.
THE BIGGEST CULTURAL APPROPRIATION IN HUMAN HISTORY
The Tanakh — the Hebrew Bible — was written as the tribal charter for the Jewish People, consisting of our tribal mythologies, oral and written histories, laws, and genealogies.
The authors — our ancestors — never intended for the Tanakh to be used outside of its intended cultural and tribal context. We never claimed that the Tanakh was a set of moral instructions for all of humanity. For example, Jews do not believe that you have to believe in Judaism to be welcomed into the Olam HaBa, meaning the World to Come. For 3000 years, Jewish identity has been primarily a national identity, not a religious one. In this context, a nation — not to be confused with a modern nation-state — is a collective identity with shared characteristics such as language, history, ethnicity, culture, territory, and/or society.
It’s true that the first Christians were Jewish, but very quickly into the birth of Christianity, the Jews drew a line in the sand: being a Christian crossed the line from Jewish to not Jewish. It’s worth noting that in the Middle East, Christianity spread predominantly through proselytization and not by force (i.e. colonialism). This all changed when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity. The continued existence of Jews, and of Judaism by extension, challenged Christian supersessionism — the idea that Christianity “replaced” the Hebrew God’s special covenant with the Jewish people. A similar issue arose with Islam, which I will discuss in an upcoming slide.
I personally believe that much of the resistance of the world to understand Jews as Indigenous Peoples is that in doing so, they’d have to understand that the Tanakh (or “Old Testament,” as non-Jews call it), the very foundation of so many societies, was appropriated from a confederation of Indigenous tribes.
WHAT IS REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY?
Replacement theology is one of the oldest, most pervasive, and difficult to combat manifestations of antisemitism, because it’s deeply ingrained into religious doctrine.
Judaism is a tribal, ethnic, closed Indigenous religion. It’s not uncommon for Indigenous tribes to believe that they have a special covenant with their deity or deities, nor is it uncommon for Indigenous Peoples to believe that their ancestral land is a gift from the heavens/deities/God is quite universal, though of course Indigenous Peoples are not homogenous, and as such, different tribes across the world have different beliefs and different ways through with which they exercise their stewardship over their lands. The Jewish People believe that we have a special covenant with God and that we have been entrusted with the Land of Israel.
Christian Replacement Theology — also known as Christian Supersessionism or Christian Fulfillment Theology — is the idea that the Christian Church has replaced Jews as God’s covenanted people. Christian Supersessionism also asserts that the Christian Church has “succeeded” ancient Israel as God’s “true Israel.” Most historians claim that this idea originated with the apostle Paul, who believed that in rejecting Jesus, Jews had “disqualified” themselves from God’s salvation.
Justification for this view is found in Hebrews 8:3: “In speaking of 'a new covenant' [Jer. 31.31–32] he has made the first one obsolete.”
Rabbinic Judaism finds this position deeply offensive. In short: the Tanakh (“Hebrew Bible”) was not only appropriated from us, but now many Christian groups hold that they have “replaced” us.
TAHRIF, OR ISLAMIC SUPERSESSIONISM
In a similar vein, Islam teaches that it is the final, most authentic iteration of Abrahamic monotheism, thus superseding both Judaism and Christianity. Some Muslims believe that the earlier scriptures — beginning with the Torah — have been corrupted. This concept is known as tahrif.
In the earliest days of Islam, Muhammad proselytized to the Jewish tribes of the Arabian Peninsula by emphasizing Islam’s Biblical foundations. Most Jews rejected and resented Muhammad’s interpretation, even going so far as accusing him of appropriating historical Biblical figures in the Quran.
Over time, as Muhammad failed to convert most Jews, he grew increasingly hostile to Arabia’s Jewish population, accusing them of “intentionally concealing [the Tanakh’s] true meaning or of entirely misunderstanding it.”
Muslims traditionally believe, for example, that prophets such as Moses were messengers of Islam. The Quran makes statements such as, “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian; he was a Muslim, wholly devoted to God” (Surah 3 Ali 'Imran, Ayat 67-67).
The initial conflict between Muhammad’s army and the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula — a conflict that was both religious and political in nature — is reflected to this day in Hamas’s founding document. It reverberates today in pro-Palestine protests around the world, when they chant “Khaybar, khaybar ya Yahud, Jaish Muhammad, sa Yahud,” translating to “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning,” making direct reference to the Battle of Khaybar in which Muhammad defeated the Jews.
WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANTI-ZIONISM?
Anti-Zionism, at its core, is not inherently supersessionist. Anti-Zionism is opposition to Zionism, or Jewish self-determination in the ancestral Jewish homeland. What is supersessionist is a common justification for anti-Zionism: the denial of Jewish history in the Land of Israel and/or the appropriation of Jewish history as Palestinian.
Up until 1948, there was little question that Jews came from the Land of Israel — and that Arab culture and identity had been imported from Arabia. For example, in 1899, Yusuf al-Khalidi, the Arab mayor of Jerusalem, wrote to Theodor Herzl, the father of the modern political Zionist movement: “Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.”
In 1925, the Islamic Waqf in charge of Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif) wrote in its tourist guidebooks that the fact that Solomon’s Temple was located at Temple Mount was “beyond dispute.” In 1948, following Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Waqf quietly revised its guidebooks to erase all references to the Jewish Temple. Again, this was done with the intent of negating Jewish ties to the land.
Even the current Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, has claimed that there was never a Jewish Temple but that there had been a mosque on Temple Mount since “the creation of the world.”
Websites such as Decolonize Palestine and renowned books such as “Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History” by Nur Masalha claim Jewish history as part of Palestinian heritage. But Jews are a closed ethnoreligion and tribe; our practices, culture, and history are not open to everyone else.
"JESUS WAS PALESTINIAN" AS A CASE STUDY
Every year, as Christmas season rolls around, left-wing social media tells us the same story: apparently, Jesus was Palestinian. This is absolutely historically incorrect.
Even more interesting: the people that claim Jesus as “Palestinian” never seem to claim the Jews that supposedly killed him. For 2000 years, Jews have been massacred for the libels that we (1) killed Jesus, and (2) are collectively responsible for his death.
In other words: these people take all the credit for Jesus but none of the persecution that comes along with actually being Jewish. That’s cultural appropriation in a nutshell.
WHY DO THEY DO THIS?
The overwhelming majority of history of Israel and the Palestinian Territories is Jewish and Samaritan history.
Palestinian identity, independent from a greater pan-Arab identity, is a very, very recent construct. The first Arab to identify as Palestinian was Khalil Beidas in 1898. Palestinian nationalism dates back to the 1920s, when Haj Amin Al-Husseini split off from other pan-Arab nationalists due to personal conflict. And Palestinian as a national ethos dates back to 1964.
Some Palestinians are genetic descendants of Jews and Samaritans, who were Arabized through a settler-colonial process known as Arabization. But Arab culture, identity, and the predominantly-practiced religion in the Palestinian Territories, Islam, are an imperial import to the land. To deny that Jews have Indigenous roots to the land, they claim the land’s Indigenous history as originally theirs.
Jewish history and culture is treated as universal, as though it belongs to everyone but to us. But it's not universal — it's ours, and we will not allow anyone to take it from us, not after our ancestors have struggled for 3000 years in the face of the worst adversity to preserve it.
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