"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christian Jews?

The Role of Ancestry in Traditional Judaism  -- pg. 198 of The Jewish Cultural Tapestry: International Jewish Folk Traditions by Steven M. Lowenstein

Judaism has traditionally been much more than just a religious faith. It has been a national or ethnic religion; the concepts of religion and peoplehood are so intertwined in traditional Judaism that one cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. Jews conceived of themselves as the descendants of the biblical patriarchs.  Their prayers constantly repeat phrases like "our God and God of our fathers,"  "who has done miracles for our ancestors," and "who has taken us out of Egypt" -- all of them implying physical descent from the ancient Israelites. Even when early Christianity rejected Judaism and claimed to have superseded it, it still referred to the Jews and "Israel of the flesh" (and to itself as "Israel of the spirit").

Modern Zionism, too, is based in part on the assumption that modern Jewry is the physical descendant of ancient Jewry.  The establishment of the State of Israel is therefore a reestablishment. The Jews are not "settling"; they are "returning" to their ancient homeland. For the religious among them, Israel is the land that God promised to their ancestors and is now giving to them.

Yet traditional Jewish views have never totally relied on physical ancestry.  The legal definition of a Jew, according to tradition, was the child of a Jewish mother or a convert to Judaism.  Either background would entitle one to be considered fully Jewish. The consensus of the rabbis was that a convert had the right to refer to God's having "done miracles for our ancestors."  A convert was considered the descendant of Abraham and Sarah, the first Israelites.  Descent could be symbolic as well as physical.

My Thoughts:

I've been thinking of the implications of these words off and on since I read them the other day.  In the past I have heard of "Jews for Jesus" or "Messianic Jews"...basically those who are Jewish by birth yet, unlike the majority, accepted Jesus as their Messiah.   Some Jewish groups say there is no such thing. Jewishness is so attached to the religion of Judaism that if you follow Jesus or convert to Islam, I get the impression that you are no longer considered a Jew to them.  Yet I read the Bible and for me a Jew is one who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So is Jewishness a physical line which one cannot break no matter which religion he follows?  Or does one have to follow Judaism and your ancestry is null and void if you don't?  Following the religion-over-physical-descent argument -- what about the thousands of Jews who aren't religious at all? A number of Israelis consider themselves atheists and in fact many of the Zionist leaders of the 1900s mocked the Old Testament "fables"!  To them it was only useful in rallying the Jewish populations under the cry of "Didn't God promise us this land? Well, let's go claim it!" (Apparently, it mattered little to them that God also told them to treat the strangers living in their land as brothers as they remembered they, too, were once strangers in Egypt.)  If you are not religious, is your Jewishness then suspect along with those Jews who follow Jesus or Muhammad?

Can one be like Peter, Paul and John and consider themselves Jewish, physical descendants of Abraham, and followers of Jesus Christ?  According to the traditional definition of Jewishness, you can!  As long as your mother was a Jew, you are Jewish no matter the religion you follow.  Still I know of some who consider "Jewish Christian" to be wrong.  To them it's two faiths (like a Muslim Christian or Hindu Muslim) and can one person have two faiths? But if we consider Jewishness as an ethnicity or nationality like Arabs or Chinese or Germans or British then yes, Jewish Christian makes perfect sense.

Also how different is it for Jewishness to be passed by mothers instead of fathers?  I am curious now what other nationalities are this way. I hear way too much of the "I am X because my father is." Doesn't matter if the mother is something else entirely, but what the father is seems to dominate. I hear of Saudi Arabian women for example who are not able to pass along citizenship to their own children while Saudi men's offspring are automatically Saudi. I know they are not the only ones.

The part about descent being symbolic as well as physical and then the talk of Christianity before that made me wonder: if you grew up Christian or are one now - what do you understand concerning the promises of God to Abraham and this being physical, symbolic, spiritual or what (if anything)?

Do you think a strong case can be made for the Jews merely coming back to their ancient homeland in regard to the Israeli state today or do you argue that they had no right to this land because God took it away from them and dispersed them into foreign lands because of their sinful ways? Or maybe you have other thoughts to share about this topic.  Please do.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned in this post.


Lat said...

I have this confusion with the ethnicity and religion of the Jews too.
It's very closely tied like you said.Like being Indian means belonging to Hinduism but that was in the past.Race and religion seemed to have separated the close association and Indians have a wide variety of religious beliefs now.

Maybe it'll take a much longer for Jews to accept along these lines as they need to use this race and religion card to achieve their objective now as 'rightful' inheritors of the holy land.

Suroor said...

There is a lot of culture in religion. I know what you mean.

Your title, I thought was referring to the first Christians who were Jewish in their practice.

Susanne said...

Yes,a lot of culture in religion and some say a lot of religion in culture so where do the two separate? That's the weird problem I have with Jewishness such as I talked about in this post. If you don't worship God according to Judaism, do you then break any physical bonds you have by being descendants of Abe, Isaac and Jacob?

Lat, I didn't realize Indians and Hinduism were tied up in a similar way in the past. I realized recently that I know very little about India despite it being such an important country for centuries!

As for your final paragraph, at least the author of this book - a Jewish man- wrote what I copied about traditional definitions of Jewishness. It doesn't mean you have to follow Judaism. Actually I read an article just yesterday that said Israel's religion is Zionism..it's what the State of Israel makes of it in spite of God and Scriptures. So it's a secular state with a secular religion basically. I find this dangerous in a way....we make our own religion and if that means we discriminate and hate others, it's OK.

Suroor, sorry to mislead you by the title. I wasn't sure what to call it. :)

Amber said...

It's one of those things where you're never going to get one solid answer. Are you Jewish if your mother was Jewish but you don't practice Judaism? Are you Jewish no matter what your race if you practice? And is there a level of practice or orthodoxy that makes one Jewish or not?

You'll get different answers from anyone you ask. So who knows.

I know that when I looked at Judaism one of the things that turned me off fairly quickly was the focus on it as a race more than a religion. I can change my faith but I can't change my genetics and why would I want to be a part of a religion where converts are looked down on and never really belong? Sure, I know that's not everyone's perspective but I saw it enough.

Susanne said...

Amber, that makes sense why it would turn you off. I wouldn't like to feel I'm a second-rate Jew because I wasn't a direct descendant of Jacob. (I wonder if people in other religions ever feel this way. Like one is a better Muslim if he is a direct descendant of Muhammad or because she is Arab and Islam came from the Arabs.)

So the "what is a Jew" seems quite the confusing question.I should ask on Facebook and see what people say! Ha!

Thanks for your feedback!