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Are Jews a "Race"?

Are Jews a "Race"?


While the Jewish people began with the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, many people have converted to become Jews over the millennia--beginning with the "mixed multitude" that came with us out of Egypt. Today there are African Jews, Japanese Jews, even Eskimo Jews. It seems difficult to call such a mixture a "race".

(Incidently, there is really no such thing as a "race." The term "race" implies to most people that there are different categories of human beings based on their genetic makeup. The fact is that there is no basis in genetics for these distinctions. For example, an African from one family may have more in common genetically with a Swede than with another African.)

What could be said is that we are a "family". A family can adopt others as their own. But there are conditions to adoption. You need to keep the family rules. In our case, those rules have to do with the mission we were given at Mount Sinai over 3300 years ago.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous Sacramento October 12, 2017

Race is physical characteristics a group of people share. Jews are not a races! Being a convert myself I don’t care if I’m called a Jew, it about g-d that is. But, I think people get the whole Jews are a race thing from “ If your mother was Jewish therefore you are by Jewish religious law” that’s spiritual inheritance. Not a physical one. Reply

Jlaw September 30, 2017

It’s fairly simple. Shem. Ham. Japheth. Three root races. What percentage do you have from these? If 100% Shem then you are a shemite (Semite). Reply

Wendy Firebird Medford, Oregon September 17, 2017

Judaism is clearly is not a race. It is a religion or like you say a set of "family rules". Jews used to be a race before admixture took place with their Egyptian spouses. Ever since that time, I think Jews are a very mixed race since they moved and traveled together all over the world and married locals along the way. But they always stick together so their genes changed very little and have shown a very consistent pattern of so called Jewish diseases. I am Jewish descendant. My maternal grandmother was born in Brooklyn NY but we do not practice Judaism. Reply

Anonymous Indiana September 12, 2017

If this was actually true, I ask you why is it that our DNA can be tested for Jewish ancestry? Reply

jerry tanenbaum September 17, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Anonymous - DNA tracing involves many things besides "race". Reply

Anonymous Glendale August 31, 2017

This really makes no sense. Although there have been converts to Judaism, there have been very relatively few and they tended to be very localized. For 3500 years Jews have been instructed to only marry Jews, and conversion is strongly discouraged. The fact that Jews are a race has been proven by genetics. Jews are more pure of a race than most others. There are distinctive and unique Jewish diseases, like Tay Sachs, which is characteristic of races. If Jews are not a race then surely Blacks are not a race. Reply

Aaron USA September 12, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

There have actually been many conversions to Judaism. At one time during the Roman Empire it was actually fashionable. To contend that the average Eastern European lineage Jew is the same as the Jews from the Torah is incorrect. Reply

jerry tanenbaum September 17, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

?? there have been lots and lots of conversions over the ages. The instruction not to marry non-Jews does not apply to converts. Because a convert is 100% a Jew just as much as any other Jew.

That has zero to do with hereditary diseases. People can pass down a disease gene across racial lines - it happens all the time. Reply

Robert Sullivans Island August 4, 2017

'Race' automatically changes with conversion? So if I convert to Judaism do I get to mark the "Jewish" under "Race" when I fill out a form which asks my race? Reply

Aaron USA September 12, 2017
in response to Robert:

The forms are just government forms and not the accepted scientific races. Not a great comparison when "Hispanic" is a made up racial term as well. A Hispanic can have 100% European lineage or be 90% "native". Reply

j September 17, 2017
in response to Robert:

If you convert you are 100% Jewish and can mark whatever forms you feel like as you see fit.

The point is that in the eyes of Judaism and the Jewish community you would be as Jewish as anyone who was born into it. Reply

James UK July 21, 2017

Clearly not a race. I could convet to Judaism. I'd then be Jewish. I can't convert to being black etc. Reply

Israel October 4, 2017
in response to James:

Black is a color... if I spend a year in a country near the equator I go from "white" to "brown"... what race am I? Exactly, because colors are not races genetic markers are. You can join the religion, you cannot join the race... and FYI you consider it a religion because of the fact the entire race exercised it, but it's a way of life we live every day... not something we do once a week which is why it's hard for someone like you to fathom the difference ... Reply

Gary ditmore Saint Joseph May 3, 2017

You did not answer the question obviously Reply

Shmuel Wahli New Haven April 17, 2017

Are Jews a Race? This is quite interesting as recently I took a DNA test at which came back with European Jewish race marker indicated. The genetic line was traced from Persia to the British Isles, Portugal and Spain, locations of transmigration of Jews. Further, my son and I have genetic reductase markers C677T which is a Haplotype found in white Israeli males (Jews and Arabs) Japanese and Ghanaian Africans. These are referred to in the article as being in the Family. The 677T allele was, remarkably, associated with one haplotype, G-T-A-C, in white Israelis and Japanese homozygotes. So could it be that within us Jews of Israeli whites, Japanese and Aftricans that the pulse of our heritage is a race? Reply

Anonymous Basel February 7, 2017

Not a race. The wide range of variation between Jewish populations in their physical characteristics and the diversity of the gene frequencies of their blood groups render any unified racial classification for them a contradiction in terms. For although modern racial theory admits some degree of polymorphism or variation within a racial group, it does not permit distinctly different groups, measured by its own criteria of race, to be identified as one. To do so would make the biological purposes of racial classification futile and the whole procedure arbitrary and meaningless. Unfortunately, this subject is rarely wholly divorced from non-biological considerations, and despite the evidence efforts continue to be made to somehow segregate the Jews as a distinct racial entity. Reply

Mike Aijlman Arizona November 2, 2016

Jews are a race My son went to to verify what was already known to our family. The results after the DNA was submitted, was that we come from sub group J-2, Jews who trace our origin to Morocco
& Spain. We are the seed of Avraham, Yitzak & Yacov. To deny that people can discover their ethnic heritage when science proves that we can, is ridiculous. Japanese Jews? Eskimo Jews? That's fine. If one finds faith in our God, I applaud him. But ethnically they are going to remain Japanese or Eskimos. Reply

Anonymous October 12, 2017
in response to Mike Aijlman :

I do a lot of reading of this issue, and by my research I found it’s not a race. Many scholars came to the same conclusion. Plus you can’t deny the famous conversion that happened on the Torah...root. The whole thing of Jews are a race goes to Jewish pride. That’s all. Plus in 1980 the US classified Jews as a race due to descrimination. That angered majority of Jews. Plus, is a Muslim a race? If we use that logic than Jews would be a race. But Muslims are not a race to because you can convert to Islam and you will be called Muslim. I think you get the whole race ting because: Jewish law states if your mother is a Jew so are you. But that is spiritual inheritance. Not a racial one. Reply

Anonymous new zealand June 27, 2016

What an interesting subject - Jew (lives by the laws of JHVH) an Israeli is a descendant of the house of Abraham It has always been assumed that a Jew was a descendant of Abraham and today I have discovered that a Jew is more about faith than ancestral roots. 3300 years ago JHVH gave his people 'The house of Israel, The children of Israel and the congregation of the children of Israel. A Gift Exodus 20 (note) JHVH spoke these words the written words came later, through Moses. Reply

Anonymous March 21, 2016

So, what is that mission that was given 3300 years ago? Reply

Stella Maris London April 5, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

To leave Ego-land (symbolized by Egypt and the Pharaoh) and move into the Promised Land of a Higher Spirit where we are all one. Reply

Anonymous February 29, 2016

I feel like we're no different than native american tribes really. Jews were a group of tribes originally which had their own religion. Other races mixed with the tribes. That's why there are so many people of different races who are also Jews. Reply

Tzvi Freeman January 24, 2016

For Lee I would rephrase the question: "Is a Jew who thinks he is secular and not holy, believes he is an atheist when he's really a believer—is such a Jew still a Jew?"

And once phrased that way, the question answers itself. Reply

Lee Israel January 18, 2016

Is a secular israeli who is an atheist considered a Jew Reply

jerry tanenbaum phila May 8, 2015

Just saw this article, and appreciate the Rabbi's succinct and accurate point of Jewishness as a "family" and not as a "race."

Nevertheless, so very many posters here insisting on focusing on race and genetics despite the absolute truth of the falsity of such ideas.

It shows how rooted we are as humans in these concepts of race - even when faced with completely contrary facts. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI February 6, 2015

Jews are NOT a race! Dislexic Dave from London, UK, I'm not wrong! Different people have different opinions on things, and religious beliefs don't discriminate against anyone!

You're a very misguided person to think that I would say something like that! Reply

Wendy C. Oregon December 29, 2014

yes, there is american Indian Jews in NM yes, there is a family from Navajo tribe that converted to Judaism in New Mexico a few years ago. That husband was even president of Jewish organization. you can google that family. they still keep Navajo traditions. Reply

billie December 28, 2014

is there such a thing as an American Indian Jew?? Reply

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