understanding Jewish identity

WHO WE ARE 

The Jewish People are a 3000+ year old ethnoreligious group, tribe, and nation originating in Ancient Israel (the region that is now Israel-Palestine). Our history dates back over 4000 years, and as such, we are one of the oldest tribes in the world.

An ethnoreligious group is an ethnic group with a common religion. The vast majority of Jewish People are “ethnic” Jews. Though people can convert to Judaism, conversion into our tribe is a long and difficult process. 

Ethnic Jews have very clear and well-studied genetic, cultural, archeological, and historical links to the region of Israel-Palestine. 

 

 

JUDAISM

Judaism is the common religion of the Jewish People. However, one doesn’t have to believe in Judaism to be Jewish. For example, atheist Jews are just as Jewish as the most observant Orthodox Jews.

Judaism is the vehicle through which the Jewish People preserved our customs, beliefs, and traditions after being forcibly exiled (i.e. ethnically cleansed) from our indigenous land (Israel-Palestine). 

Judaism, like many other indigenous and tribal belief systems around the globe, is a land-based religion. For instance, the Hebrew calendar follows the agricultural cycle of Israel-Palestine.

The Torah (“Hebrew Bible”) tells the “origin story” of the Jewish People (similar to Greek mythology, for example). 

 

 

ETHNIC SUBDIVISIONS 

Because the majority of the Jewish People were exiled from our homeland multiple times throughout history (e.g. the Assyrian captivity, Babylonian exile, Roman exile/genocide, Crusades), multiple Jewish ethnic subdivisions formed.

These subdivisions include Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Beta Israel Jews, Bene Israel Jews, Romaniote Jews, Bukharan Jews, Mountain Jews, and more. 

Each group has a variety of different cultural and religious traditions, but ultimately, we all belong to the same tribe. 

 

RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS 

Judaism is a non-proselytizing religion. That means that we do NOT seek to convert others, unlike many denominations of Christianity or Islam.

There are multiple religious schools of thought within Judaism. Some (but not all) different denominations include Orthodox Judaism, Modern Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism (note this does NOT mean politically conservative!), and Reform Judaism. 

 

 

A TEENY TINY MINORITY

Jewish People form only 0.2% of the world population. No country in the world besides Israel has a Jewish population higher than 2%. 

Yes, you read that right. 

Because we are such a tiny minority, our narrative has often been taken away from us. Please listen to Jewish People: like any other group, only we can and should define who we are, where our values lie, and what we believe in. 

 

 

ANTISEMITISM 

Unfortunately, so much of the Jewish experience has been shaped due to three millennia of antisemitism. In fact, antisemitism is nicknamed “the world’s oldest hatred.”

Antisemitism is one of the two foundational blocks of white supremacy, the other being anti-Black racism. 

Antisemitism neither started nor ended with the Holocaust, which is one of the many reasons Holocaust comparisons are really inappropriate. 

Antisemitism is also not exclusively a right-wing, Christian, or Western problem. The Jewish People were violently oppressed in the Soviet Union, and between the 1940s and 1970s nearly a million Jews were ethnically cleansed from the Middle East and North Africa. Antisemitism is also a huge problem in Central Asia and Latin America. 

 

ANTISEMITISM TODAY

Historically, antisemitism has been cyclical. During times of unrest — like now, for example — it surges. 

Antisemitism is notoriously insidious, which is why it’s so hard to catch if you don’t know what to look for. It’s important to familiarize yourself with antisemitic tropes (see my posts A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ANTISEMITIC TROPES and ANTISEMITISM: THE VIRUS THAT MUTATES) to be able to catch it. 

Though Jewish People form only 2% of the US population, we are the victims of 62% of religiously-motivated hate crimes and the victims of ~15% of ALL hate crimes (including LGBTQ, anti-Black, anti-indigenous, etc.), according to the FBI. 

Left-wing antisemitism is just as deadly and dangerous as right-wing antisemitism and continues to be a huge issue today.