Jewish, Israeli and Hebrew, which is which?

I am not sure if I understand the difference between these words. For example, if someone is a Romanian or a Bulgarian, than that’s clear, if you are a Turkish person living in Bulgaria (largest minority group there), then you are not Bulgarian, you are Turkish, but just a Bulgarian citizen.

However, what about Israel? I’ve always thought that Jews is strictly a word for religion, same way that Christian is just for religion, so a Mongolian, Brazilian, Eskimo or a Czech can all be equally Christians. But Wikipedia kinda makes it seem like a Jew is both a religious and ethnic group at the same time, like if for example Bulgarians had their own religion, however there are also black Jews and I think that anyone can become a Jew if they want to nowadays, in which case Jews aren’t strictly a ethnicity, at least not all of them?

Then there’s the word Israeli and it would make sense to call Israeli Jews simply “Israeli”, but instead an Arab can also be called that way, it would be much better if it was as follows: Israeli - ethnic group , Jew - religion member - Resident of Israel or maybe Israelite - anyone living inside Israel, including minorities.

For comparison, in Russia Russians are called Russkie and residents of Russia are called Rossiyane, so it’s always clear if you are talking about a Russian ethnic group member or a citizen of Russia, who can be of any other ethnic group as well, Chechen, Tatar,etc.

Wiki version:

Today (2018) Israel is a state, Judaism a religion, and Hebrew a language.

An Israeli is any citizen of Israel, no matter the religion or race.

A Jew is someone that identifies as Jewish, religiously, culturally, or both.

Hebrew is a language.

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You have to remember that Judaism is old, perhaps the oldest continuously-practiced religion in the world. It arose long before Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, which are all “philosophical” religions largely based on belief and faith. When Judaism was formed, each tribe had its own gods, and if you were born into a tribe, those were the gods you worshiped. As a result, Jews still consider family, heritage and religion inseparable. Jews think of themselves as a people (in Hebrew “Am”, rhymes with “bomb”), a group that shares a history, a certain degree of DNA, and a faith. In other words, Judaism is the religion of the Jews. You can be a Jew if you don’t believe, but you can’t be a Jew if you believe in some other religion - because in Late Bronze Age terms, that would be adopting the customs of a different tribe.

Of course, that’s just a simplification. It’s really much more complicated than that.

As for other terms: “Israelites” (“Bnei Yisrael”) is the ancient term for the group of YHWH-worshiping tribes that included the Jews (the tribe of Judah). Officially, the other tribes were destroyed or dispersed; in practice, many of them were simply subsumed into the more dominant Jews. “Hebrews” is either the larger culture from which the Israelites arose, or is simply another words for “Israelites” - I’m not sure - and later became the name of the language they spoke (part of the Northwestern Semetic language group).

“Israel” is the original name of the Israelites’ country. It later split into “Israel” in the north and “Judah” in the south; the northern country of Israel was eventually wiped out, and Judah continued to exist, eventually under the Latin name “Judea”, until the Romans changed it to “Palestina” following a 2nd-Century rebellion. When Israel was established in 1948, its founders briefly considered naming it “Judea”, but ultimately decided upon the older and more resonant name of Israel.

“Israeli”, in theory, refers to all citizens of the State of Israel. However, in practice, most non-Jewish (overwhelmingly Arab) citizens refuse to define themselves as such, instead preferring the terms “Israeli Arabs” or “Palestinians”; for various reasons, many Israeli Jews also refuse to refer to them as Israelis. Thus, in most non-official contexts, “Israeli” usually means Jewish citizens of Israel.

And of course, there are also Israelis who are Christians, or other religions like Buddhist or Hindu, or who have no religion at all. Though there, there usually isn’t the political pressure to call them anything but just “Israeli”.

One other thing that you might like to know is that by the time of Jesus, Hebrew was no longer the native language of the inhabitants of the area where Jesus lived. (It was part of the eastern half of the Roman Empire at that point. That specific part of the Empire is usually referred to as Palestine by historians. More specifically, the part where Jesus lived is usually referred to as Judea. More specifically yet, the part where he lived is usually referred to as Galilee.) Jesus did not speak Hebrew as his native language. He spoke Aramaic. Thus, the specific dialect he spoke is usually referred to as Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, although even more specifically it’s the Galilean dialect. The language Aramaic still exists, although of course it’s greatly changed from two thousand years ago. The language spoken for administrative purposes in the eastern half of the Roman Empire at that time was not Latin, but Greek. The specific dialect of Greek spoken in the eastern half of the Empire was Koine Greek, and Jesus presumably also knew some of it. He also probably knew some Hebrew, although it was just a ceremonial religious language then and not the native language of anyone:

Just a nitpick, but perhaps your example contributes to your confusion: if you are a Turkish person living in and a citizen of Bulgaria you are ethnically a Turk not a Bulgar but you are Bulgarian.

The original Bulgars were Turks. The name Bulgar is itself a Turkish word. How weird is that?

Just to confuse things further (on the Turk issue) the Turks migrated into the area now called Turkey in the relatively recent past (about a thousand years ago).

I think that’s hardly confusing to most (non-Native-American) Americans

Hebrew was once used as a synonym for Jew or Jewish, often as part of “the Hebrew race.” That was before Israel as a nation, of course, as well as before people pretty much stopped using “race” as a synonym for ethnicity or nationality or people.

It’s at best musty and shouldn’t be used that way today.

Thank you for that excellent lesson, **Alessan **. That is more than this card carrying (but non-practicing )Jew has managed to learn in half a century :slight_smile:

No, Bulgar* doesn’t exist as a word, only Bulgarian does, at least I’ve never heard “Bulgar” and I live next to Bulgaria and I see them mentioned in English at least once every few days. On the other hand there is Serb or Croat and Serbian and Croatian, although they’re pretty much exclusively used for Serbs/Croats, no Serb from Croatia calls himself a Croatian and no Croats living in Serbia call themselves Serbians.

*There was once a really old ethnic group called “Volga Bulgars”, living around modern day Ukraine I think, but they don’t exist anymore, they’ve assimilated into other ethnic groups and modern Bulgarians aren’t related to them, but that’s the only “Bulgars” there are.

All in all, back to the original topic, I guess that the best way is to call them simply Israelis, since anyone can become a Jew, but no one can become a Israeli ethnic group member, that term currently sometimes gets used on Arabs as well, but that’s apparently the closest word there is.

The word “Bulgar” exists and denotes an historical group and their language, just as the word “Hebrew” does. And anyone can become an Israeli by moving to Israel.

It can be. Assuming people read any history, they’re going to come across historical figures like Herodotus, Paul the Apostle, and Santa Claus who all lived in what is now Turkey but were not Turks.

Probably not the whole story. The Bulgars( likely a tribal confederacy, quite possibly including some non-Turkic elements as well )were a group that formed one of those ephemeral steppe empires. After being broken by the rival Khazars, they seem to have split into sections. One loose faction stayed in southeastern Russia and became the Volga/Kama Bulgars. The other migrated into Byzantine Moesia, were they dominated and incorporated( and were eventually internally assimilated by )a large group of Slavic tribes.

The whole process is obscure and details scarce, but a small percentage of the ancestors of the modern Bulgarians were probably more or less the same ethnic folks as the Volga Bulgars, which is where they got the name. Just of a different splinter political/tribal faction.

Similarly there has been speculation that the the word Serb is Indo-Iranian in origin and that they had gone through a similar process of internal assimilation somewhere in the murky past.

The one place you’ll encounter it is one of the books of the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Your phrasing is confusing. Certainly that may be the origins in English, but “one place,” no.

I mean, the only place you’ll encounter usage of “the Hebrews” to mean a people is in the title of that book.

This is correct.

One can be of Jewish descent/ethnicity - but practice another religion. For example, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s parents were originally Jewish both by descent and religion, but converted to Catholicism. Madeleine was raised Catholic, making her ethnically Jewish but religiously Catholic.

On the other hand, yes, it is certainly possible to convert to Judaism (although usually not made too easy) so anyone of any background can, in theory, join the “tribe” after which they are considered just as Jewish as someone who can trace their lineage back to when the Second Temple was still standing. Such a person could be ethnically anything but would be religiously Jewish. Such as Connie Chung, who married a Jewish man (Maury Povich).

Yes, there are black Jews. There have been black Jews for thousands of years, mostly in Ethiopia. Most of them have moved to Israel at this point.

As a bit of trivia - the executive director of my local Jewish Federation here in Indiana is of Ethiopian descent, so she’s a “black Jew”. This surprises people sometimes.

An Israeli is a citizen of Israel. There, is that so difficult? There is no requirement to be Jewish to become an Israeli citizen. If you want to get picky, there were people in the territory we call “Israel” before the Jews showed up, and there have always been non-Jewish people even when that area was explicitly a Jewish kingdom. There’s a bunch of stuff in Jewish law and custom that concerns dealing with the gentiles living among Jews and vice versa, and it goes way, way back to Biblical times.

Sorry it’s confusing, but here’s how it shakes out:

Jew - could be either an ethnic or a religious description.

Religious Jew - someone who practices the Jewish religion

Practicing Jew - pretty much the same as “religious Jew”

Ethnic Jew - someone of Jewish descent who likely is NOT practicing the Jewish religion. Might have converted to another religion, might not have.

Secular Jew - similar to “ethnic Jew” but more likely to not be practicing any other religion either.

Israeli - a citizen of Israel. Likely to be Jewish (in one sense or another) just like someone from France is likely to of white European descent and at least nominally Christian, but could be of any ethnicity and/or religion.

Hebrew - the Jewish liturgical language and, more recently, brought back from the land of dead languages to become the national language of modern Israel.

Aramaic - the every day language Jews in the Middle East spoke after Hebrew fell out of fashion (it’s related, somewhat as a language like Italian or Spanish is related to the Latin of the Roman Empire).

Ladino - the every day language of Jews in Spain and other Sephardic Jews (that’s a subdivision of the group “Jew”, essentially Western Europe although some of them wound up in South America and other places). It’s derived not from Hebrew but from Spanish (but with Hebrew influence and using the Hebrew alphabet)

Yiddish - the every day language of Eastern European Jews. Again, not from Hebrew (although still influenced by it and using Hebrew script) but rather largely German.

Which may be more information that you really needed or wanted. I’m sure any errors will be corrected by others as needed.

  • Broomstick, ethnic Jew but NeoPagan by religion.