Judaism is a religion as well as a culture for people who identify as Jewish. To resolve the standing debate around Jewish identity and self-identity, one must consider the existing cultural ethnic, genealogical, personal, and religious factors. Freeman believes that a Jew is anyone born of a Jewish mother or has undergone conversion as prescribed by the Halacha, the Jewish law (Freeman). These prescriptions emerged from the Biblical era and were solidly established in the Codes of Jewish Law. Up to date, Jews live under Judaism that stands as the oldest monotheistic religion. Majority of these individuals live in the United States and Israel and come from varying backgrounds. For instance, there are black, Chinese, and Indian Jews
Judaism comprises of major movements mainly Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. Israelis are largely considered secular Jews. They have also formalized Jewish culture and history in their primary school curriculum. They also strictly follow the holidays of religion/culture. Reform and Conservative movements mainly exist in the United States with an insignificant population in Israel. On the contrary, the Orthodox movement is the most dominant movement in Israel and has grown significantly in America in recent time. The Reconstructionist movement is relatively young and small compared to other movements. The different Judaism denominations interpret the Torah differently hence the variations in rituals and spiritual beliefs and practices. Interestingly, unlike in other religions, there exists a Jewish atheist (Freeman). Furthermore, a Jew does not stop being a Jew even after converting to other religions.
The Jews were initially referred to as Hebrews. The mentioned term was initially used in the Torah to describe Abraham as recorded in Genesis. The word emerged from the name Eber, an ancestor of Abraham. Other traditions stipulate that the word originated from the word “eyver” which means the other side (Weiner). This description explains Abraham’s origin from the other side of the Euphrates and the significance of Abraham’s moral and spiritual separation from other nations.
Jews are also referred to as the Children of Israel, which places them in the direct lineage of Jacob, who was also called Israel. The word Jew (in Hebrew, Yehudi) is coined from the name of one Jacob’s son, Judah, an ancestor of the tribes of Israel. Judaism is the religion of the Jews. Initially, Yehudi specifically described a member of the tribe of Judah, Benjamin Levi, and other small groups from the other tribes. After the death of King Solomon, Assyria conquered Israel and sent out all Tribes of Israel to exile apart from Judah, who preserved the heritage of Abraham. (Weiner). In common language, the word Jew establishes anyone with religious and physical descendants of Jacob, the father of Israel. It also describes all patriarchs of Abraham and his son Isaac together with their wives. Judaism is used to express their beliefs.
The Jewish law prescribes that anyone born to a Jewish mother is a Jew. It also recognizes adults who convert to Judaism. According to Reform Judaism, a child with either Jew parent is a Jew. The movement also emphasizes the need for children being raised in the Jewish way. If a child is born of a Jewish parent but is not raised in the faith, he or she is not considered a Jew. According to the Orthodox movement, the father’s religion and one’s practices are insignificant (Weiner). As long as the mother is Jewish, no affirmation or upbringing is required. Conversion under the auspices of Orthodox rabbi encompasses studying the faith and expressing commitment to following the Torah. As such, orthodox Jews do not uphold the validity of reform and conservative conversions and disregard converts as Jews.
Freeman, Tzvi. “Who Is A Jew? – Solving the Mystery of Jewish Identity”. Chabad.Org, 2019, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3854897/jewish/Who-Is-a-Jew.htm.
Weiner, Rebecca. “Who Is A Jew?” Jewishvirtuallibrary.Org, 2019, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/who-is-a-jew.