Can you be jewish without being jewish?

Now in my limited knowledge of things jewish, I am of the understanding that being jewish is a religion and a race. So what I am wondering can you be of the jewish race and be christian or muslim?
Of course you can be whatever race and be of the jewish faith.

Yes, if a Jewish person converts to Christianity or Islam, then they are Christian or Muslim.

There are millions of people walking this earth who are of Jewish ancestry but practice a different religion - or none at all.

It depends on what viewpoint you’re going from. My understanding is that many Orthodox Jews believe that you may convert to Christianity, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re a Jew. If your mother was a Jew, then you are a Jew.

Jewish law states:

If a person is born to a Jewish Mother he/she is a Jew

If a person is converted to Judaism he/she is a Jew by conversion. If the person is a woman her children will be considered to be Jews by birth.

If a person does not practice Judaism he is still a Jew.

If a person converts to another faith the cease to be a Jew and if it is a woman her children will not be Jews.

Non-religious Jews still consider themselves Jewish. This Identity was strengthened by the Holocaust since Anti-Semites don’t really care if you practice your religion or are a convert or anything else.

Many Non-practicing Jews or Christian converts of Jewish ancestry were quite surprised to be told by the Nazis that they were still Jewish, an issue addressed in
this film.

Define “race.”

Don’t troll, Jomo. We all know exactly what the OP is talking about, even if ‘race’ isn’t the appropriate term. (Being Jewish is an ethnicity, like being Irish or Japanese or whatever have you.)

I’ve never really believed that. I can see being Semitic as a race (then again, so are Arabs). But what I don’t get is how the line between religion and race gets blurred for Jews.

IMO, Judaism is a religion. You have to practice it (or at least identify yourself as such) to be a Jew. You might come from a long line of Jews, but if you convert to Islam, then what? If a black person converts to Judaism, are they still not ethnically African?

No one strictly binds Christianity with being Caucasian. People can separate Buddhism from being Asian. But somewhow, Judaism (a religion) became a race.

My irritation at this comes from having a last name that people insist on believing is “Jewish.” People make that mistake with a lot of German names, because of the large number of German Jewish immigrants in the mid 20th century. And yes, there are plenty of people named “Schwartz” who are Jewish. Common enough, apparently, that I need to be reminded on a weekly basis by some ignorant SOB that I “must be Jewish.”

It really agitates me to hear the phrase “Jewish name.” I believe there is no such thing. You can certainly have a Hebrew name, but that doesn’t make you Jewish. You can have a German or Eastern European name, but that doesn’t make you a Jew either.

A person named “Anthony Bertolli” might very well be a Jew. Which is an interesting example, because people will say to him “you have an Italian last name,” not “you have a Catholic last name.”

Judaism is a person’s religion. Caucasian, Native American, or Chinese is their race. Israeli, German, Polish, or even Vietnamese is their nationality. They are all separate characteristics of a person, and ought not to get tangled up with each other.

This question is comprehensively addressed in C K Deter Haven’s staff report, Can you be an atheist and still be Jewish?

Well, far be it from me to contradict a Staff Report. I said it was an opinion, anyway.

But I’m still sticking by my rejection of the idea of German-sounding names as Jewish.

The Orthodox Jewish answer:

Being Jewish defines (in our beliefs) certain responsibilities in the eyes of G-d. The fact that a person does not fulfill them (i.e., believe in or practice Judaism) does not negate the fact that he/she is obligated (i.e., Jewish).

It is always proper, indeed mandatory, to correct the mistaken notion that Jews are a “race.” Even if uttered innocently the term is impossible to disassociate from the bigots who think of “The Jews” as a unitary whole that secretly control the world and drink the blood of Christian babies. If the OP had referred to “African niggers” you would be jumping all over him. If you are not doing the same for “jewish race” you need to get an attitude check.

I also have to point out that many formerly believing Jews no longer consider themselves Jewish. Their opinion is that Judaism is a religion and that when one stops believing in it, one is no longer a member of that religion. Any other alternative allows outside forces to define one’s personal beliefs. In this way, Dex’s column is simply incorrect.

Real life is always more complicated than this, true. I know of many disbelievers who were once Jewish - and also some who were once Catholic - who find it difficult to throw off an identity that was ingrained into them as children and reinforced by the wider society’s beliefs and notions.

But I think the bottom line is this: if you can convert into Judaism, then it is a religion and you can convert out of it as well.

I think I’ve got to apologize to Jomo Mojo; upon re-reading this thread I can see that his question about the meaning of “Jewish race” is appropriate :smack:

I guess that I’ve seen too many good discussions get dumped into Great Debates because some jerk turned them into an argument about racism :mad:

And Jomo raises a good point. If being Jewish is a race (under any common meaning of the word), then it is transmitted biologically and it just plain ain’t. If it is an ethnicity (and I accept that with some reservation), then it is a kind of acculturation and is transmitted by the family, but might not be, should the family choose not to. Finally, it is certainly a religion and in that case is transmitted according to the rules of the religion subject to some interpretation by different rabbis.

Which leads me to wonder how the reconstructionists, who are trying to be gender-blind, deal with the question of the religion being transmitted by the mother only.

In response to the claim that there is no “Jewish ethnicity”: Suppose I meet a man named David Goldstein, who grew up eating potato pancakes and bagels with lox, and whose grandparents spoke Yiddish. What ethnicity is he? And if you can’t define an ethicity by language, typical names, and traditional cuisine, then how can you define an ethnicity?

As for the distinction between “Jew by ancestry” and “Jew by belief”, consider the following case: A woman is raised in a Jewish family by Jewish parents, but falls out of practice. She has a daughter, who is not raised in any particular religion, and that daughter also has children. Then, one of that last generation has a spiritual experience and decides to be Jewish. According to Jewish law, that grandchild does not need to convert in order to practice Judaism, since he or she is already a Jew. By contrast, someone without Jewish ancestry would need to convert to become a Jew, and would in fact be discouraged from doing so.