Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

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 .
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous Basel February 7, 2017

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

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 new zealand June 27, 2016

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

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

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

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 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

Gina H October 30, 2014

In reply to "Jim", who posted a concern about entering our "race" on thing such as applications .. I personally always put "OTHER"!! I do not consider myself or my children as anything but Jewish. I admit it is a tough call a times; so many opinions, so many choices, so many views. Reply

Anonymous Mexico City April 22, 2014

I like your observation but wish to state another point of view. That being that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are just stories written by humans and there is no evidence to prove they existed. Religion and race was created by humans and I encourage everybody to learn about scientific history. Many humans and institutions are still tribal. People should not be made to feel separated racially. If I was told my great grandmother was "Jewish" that is limited information and does not prove her racial background beyond that. Is there such thing as 100 percent Jewish or is that just a label to be used by racists and other groups who wish to label people? Homo sapiens is one species that probably came from Africa, where they evolved from other humanoids. Skin colour lightened in the older climates, but all humans are of the same species, thus they can reproduce with each other. Furthermore, I am proud of my primate cousins. Reply

Anonymous Atlanta, GA February 11, 2014

Rabbi Tzivi, with all due respect you should consider putting down the PC multicultural kool-aid. An African will not have more genetically in common with a Swede than with another African. That's complete, gratuitous fiction and you have a legitimate basis for a grievance with whoever told you that this was a credible assertion for you to reproduce. The most basic fundamentals of population genetics denote the sheer fallacy of that assertion. Have a look at the major human population clusters and have a brief look at what "cluster analysis" consists of. Reply

Doyle February 8, 2014

There are certain genetics that makes us Irish or German or African. Abraham Isaac and Jacob was Jewish or Arabic at best. Hagar and Abraham is the inception of the separation between the Jewish people and the Arabic people. Abraham is on both sides of the equation. They was not European nor African. Sammy Davis Jr was a convert but not of Jewish descent Reply

Me December 27, 2013

Man that don't prove nothing. My grandma's jewish but she don't live her life for synagogue. It's a race. Reply

Jim Amerika December 24, 2013

So when you register your "race" on SAT's, jobs, DMV, etc., do Jewish people register as White/Caucasian, Other, or What? Reply

Wendy Cunningham Southern Oregon August 13, 2013

Hello to matrilineal Jews &patrilineal Jews
I was born raised & raised in Los Angeles. I grew up already have known about my mother's Spanish heritage. My grandfather (Papa)'s 1st language was Spanish. Ironically,he was born in Phillipines Islands (near Manilla). His father's father was from Valencia, Spain & had blood family ties in Barcelona. In 1980, my papa's wife died from breast cancer so he wrote about 3 or 4 pages long about his Spanish Castillian family history. He mentioned our relation to noble Spanish family & plus the Garcia family. When I was very small, I noticed the semite nose that my mother inherited from her father. I never met my mother's birth mother who disappeared when my mother was 2. My mother's brother said he met his birth mother only once who had a small non-semite nose. 10 years ago, my research findings revealed my mother's mother was 1/2 Italian. For years, Jews asked if my mom is Jewish cuz she looked it. We heard about history of secret Jews in Spain. Reply

Anonymous Syracuse, Ny November 1, 2012

Nathaniel I don't see how you can qualify a certain nose as being proof of being Jewish. I sure you will find your nose is due to a mixed racial factory friend . I think it'll be hard to find the original phenotype. Reply

Steven Silz-Carson Colorado Springs, CO September 21, 2012

Arab peoples are "semites," if we are in favor of tagging groups with names. Reply