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Jewish Identity

A collection of key essays on the topic

Who are the Jews? What does it mean to be a Jew? Is there a difference between Judaism and Jewishness? Is it a religion, a family, a tribe, a nationality or something entirely different?

What Does Israel Mean?
The homeland of the Jews (also called Israelites) is Israel, which means literally, “One who struggles with G‑d.”
Is It OK to Hide Being Jewish?
There comes a time when a Jew has to state openly and proudly who they are.
What Is Judaism?
What is Judaism? Who is it for? What are the basic Jewish beliefs, texts, and sacred places?
What Is a Jew?
Solving the Mystery of Jewish Identity
A Jew is anyone who was born of a Jewish mother, or has undergone conversion to Judaism according to halachah (Jewish law).
Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?
Maternal Descent In Judaism
The Code of Jewish Law states that a child of a Jewish mother is Jewish, regardless of the father’s lineage.
To a Child of a Jewish Father
My mother was Protestant and my father was an atheist Jew. My family survived the holocaust in Europe with great struggle. Am I Jewish or am I a gentile?
How Do I Know If I Am a Jew?
How are we to determine who is Jewish, and what are we to do with the information once we have it?
Can a DNA Test Determine Jewish Status?
Tribal affiliation follows the direct paternal line, while the question of Jewishness follows the maternal line. Does this mean that genetic testing is a valid way of ascertaining whether one is Jewish or a kohen?
Why Be Jewish?
Assimilation is when non-Jews love us so much they want to marry us. Anti-Semitism is when non-Jews hate us so much they want to kill us. Why can't we, for once, think about what we think of ourselves?
Is the Child Automatically Jewish?
What happens when a Jewish family adopts a non-Jewish child? And how does conversion fit into the picture?
What Is a Jew?
Sages and mystics explore the primordial "mind" of G-d to ask: Is it the Torah that makes the Jew a Jew, or is it the Jew who makes the Torah a Torah?
Who Are the Israelites?
For all practical purposes, Israelite is synonymous with Jew or Hebrew.
My Dad's Jewish, Why Should I Convert?
Isn’t it a little unfair that all my life I was more Jewish than my friends, was even subjected to anti-Semitism, and after all that I’m told I need to convert?
Why Do Jews Always Get Noticed?
That's like a room of two thousand people, with one puny guy sitting in the corner whom everyone wants to talk to (or pick on)!
Are the Jews the Chosen People?
I have long been uncomfortable with the concept of the "Chosen People". To suggest that as Jews we are somehow closer to G-d than all other nations smacks of arrogance, elitism, and racial prejudice.
Should I Convert to Judaism?
Is Judaism For Everybody?
My mother was a fairly devout Italian Catholic and my father an Anglican skeptic who never went to church. I was always so confused. Then I discovered Judaism, and I love it! What's my next step?
How to Convert to Judaism
What to Expect at a Conversion
I’m planning to convert to Judaism. This has been something I’ve been considering and mulling over for years, and I’ve made my decision. What should I expect? What will the process look like?
Why Is Conversion to Judaism So Hard?
Once we start understanding Judaism in its own language, all the questions dissolve. Not “religion,” but “brit”—meaning covenant. Not “convert,” but “ger”—a naturalized immigrant.
Will My Grandchildren Be Jewish?
I have yet to meet a Jew who doesn't proudly claim, "My grandfather was a rabbi." It seems that three generations ago everyone was a rabbi!
How Can Grandma Make Me Jewish If I Don’t Believe In Anything?
How one-quarter can make a whole Jew
I Just Discovered I'm Jewish!
What do I do now?
Funny thing, nobody is ever shocked by the discovery that their mother is Inuit. What’s so different about being Jewish?
Why Do We Believe?
I know that there are many logical proofs for the truth of Judaism. But at the end of the day, how do you know that yours is the right way? What makes you so sure?
Why Is There Antisemitism?
Anti-Semites make all sorts of contradictory statements about why they hate Jews. At their core, those who hate others actually hate themselves.
How Does One Quit Judaism?
I'm an atheist. I married a non-Jew and have no wish to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. My question is: can I consider myself non-Jewish, or do I need some sort of form or dispensation to be officially no longer Jewish?
Jewish Soul in a Non-Jewish Body?
My family has no Jewish roots whatsoever. Can you offer any explanation as to why I am drawn to Judaism in this way?
Who Are the Hebrews?
What does the word "Hebrew" mean? And how did that become the name of the first Jews?
What is the Meaning of the Name
Abraham, commonly referred to as "The First Jew," epitomized "Jewishness" many centuries before the term came into common use
Are Jews a
…or maybe a nation? Or just a DNA cluster?
Today there are African Jews, Japanese Jews, even Inuit Jews. It seems difficult to call such a mixture a "race."
Isn't It Racist To Believe That Jews Are Special?
Isn’t it racist to believe you’re special because you’re Jewish? How is that any different from the Nazi belief in the “superiority” of the Aryan race, for example?
Why Do Jews Exclude Other People?
My fiancé's parents told me that for a Jew to marry a non-Jew is worse than the Holocaust! I don't get it. Am I really that terrible?
Does Intermarriage Work?
I am Baptist and my boyfriend is Jewish. Can we still make it work? I am trying to learn about Judaism
Why Not Make It Easier to Convert?
I often hear rabbis complain that the Jewish people are shrinking due to intermarriage and assimilation. But you are the major obstacle to Judaism growing! If you would make conversion a bit easier, many more non-Jews would join us...
Why Do Rabbis Discourage Conversions?
My Jewish friends are mostly indifferent or even hostile towards their own religion, while I love Judaism and strongly desire to become a Jew. Then this rabbi tells me that “Judaism is not for you”?!
Why Does Judaism Make No Sense?
In praise of tribal rituals
Keeping kosher is not a reasonable act, and neither is Shabbat, or the prohibition against mixing wool and linen. These are neither rational nor religious acts—at least not in the modern understanding of “religious” . . .
Is a Self-Hating Jew Still a Jew?
He may be the son of a survivor, but can we say once and for all that he is not Jewish?
Couldn't the Jews and Greeks Get Along?
The Jews and Greeks could have learned so much from each other! Instead, the extremists of both sides hit the battlefield
Orthodox Judaism and Unorthodox Jews
What's really wrong with orthodoxy?
I like Shabbat. I like Torah, especially the Kabbalah stuff and Chassidic stories. I feel a strong attachment to the Jewish people. But I'm a non-conformist at heart -- I just can't see myself following all those regulations
What's this
I have always felt that the essence of spirituality is that, underneath it all, we are all one. Isn't it absurd to characterize a soul as "Jewish"? Why put souls in boxes?
Can a Jew believe in Jesus?
I was accosted at the beach today by a guy from Jews for Jesus. He offered me a New Testament in Yiddish and said that many Jews have been "saved" by accepting Jesus as the messiah.
Is Judaism the Truth?
As a rabbi, I assume you believe that Judaism is THE truth. If so, how do you explain the fact that there are so many other religions, and only a tiny minority of the world's population believes as you do?
Is Diversity Good for the Jews?
Can you see a time when all Jews will follow the same customs?
Judaism or Lennonism?
I don’t want my children to be small-minded or fundamentalist, so I haven’t given them a Jewish education. They have been brought up without any religion; they are free to choose whatever beliefs they like.
Why Are So Many Comedians Jewish?
In all seriousness, laughing has been an important part of Judaism since biblical times. But what is the source of the Jewish sense of humor in our times? Is it nature or nurture?
My Judaism Is Not Inspiring!
What do you say to people like me who simply are not inspired by Judaism?
What’s So Important About Belief in G‑d?
I pay my taxes, I am friendly to people around me, and I am charitable to those less fortunate. Doesn’t that make me a good person?
5 Reasons to Spend a Semester in Yeshiva
My Chabad rabbi has been bugging me to take off one semester to study in a yeshiva “some time before graduate school.” It’s still not clear to me what this yeshiva place is all about, and definitely not clear why I should take off in the middle of my studies to go there.
Should We Give Up on a Segment of Jews?
Should communal funds and effort should be focused primarily on one group of Jews and give up on the others. Do you agree that we should give up on an entire group of Jews?
Basketball or Judaism?
My teenage son plays basketball very well. He plans join the team at an excellent college and hopefully go professional. I am finding it difficult that my son is focused solely on his basketball future. Everything else is secondary to the sport, including his Judaism. So what do I do?
Was Abraham Jewish?
On the identity of the pre-Sinai Hebrews
G‑d did not choose Abraham. It was his inherent superiority, and the fact that he was ready to give everything up for the sake of G‑d, that compelled G‑d to choose him.
Why Do Jews Still Insist on Speaking Yiddish?
Why are Jewish people living in the United States speaking German? Can’t they speak in English, or at least Hebrew?
The Shtetl Jew: Relic or Role Model?
If Tevye’s Judaism is anything to go by, don’t you think it’s time for an updated version?
Is Buddhism Kosher?
Interestingly, as much as we have taken from alien cultures in the course of our thousands of years in exile, these cultures were even more affected than we were
What's Your Excuse for Not Attending Synagogue?
At almost every function I attend, a wedding, kid's birthday party or communal gathering, someone comes up to me and says, "Rabbi, do you know why I don't go to synagogue...."
Why Are Jews So Ethnocentric?
The survival of the hairy-nosed wombat and the Jews
The problem with rabbis is you always talk about the Jewish future, Jewish continuity, Jews marrying Jews. What about the rest of humanity?
My Son’s Overnight Trip Is on a Jewish Holiday
My nine-year-old son is the only Jewish child in his school. He has been disappointed numerous times because of the scheduling of fun and exciting events on major Jewish holidays. This has happened again this year. His school's overnight fieldtrip is scheduled on a Jewish holiday.
Jewish Fundamentalism?
Are there Jewish fundamentalists, the way that there are those folks in Christianity and Islam? What would the core beliefs of a "Jewish fundamentalist" be?
A Fresh Perspective on “Chosenness”
Isn't it a bit parochial and exclusionary to calim that we are the "chosen" people?
Did Maimonides Accept Contemporary Converts as Jewish?
What are the steps that are designed for entering the faith? Can they be done without the temple standing in Jerusalem? And what is the lesson for everyone?
When Is a Jew No Longer Jewish?
A Jew is a Jew, always.
Can There Be Judaism Without Torah?
Other than Torah observance, what can we teach the next generation to inspire them to stay Jewish?
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