Jewishness - Religion or race?

If there is an earlier thread to this, could some please direct me to it. If not - I realize they are a religious group in one sense, but could you be an athiest jew (by race)?

I don’t know if there is an earlier thread (probably), but being a Christian who is married to a Jew, let me answer your question as to whether being Jewish is a matter of race or religion. The answer is “yes”. Let me explain.

One of the things that trips Christians up in trying to understand Judaism is that it operates from a whole different set of assumptions as to what religion is. In Christianity, being a Christian is a matter of what you believe, what supernatural experiences you’ve had (for the born-againers and the charismatics), and your thoughts (remember Jimmy Carter with lust in his heart?).

Jews on the other hand, are The Chosen People. Chosen to do what? Obey G-d. So they’re an ethnic group of people who’ve been chosen to “just do it”. Now, not all Jews keep G-d’s law, but they’re still Jews from an ethnic viewpoint. And not all who keep the law are ethnically Jews, but if they’ve converted, they are considered by Jews to be Jewish as well.

You could, of course, check the ARCHIVES, as well:

Can you be an atheist and still be Jewish?

Here is the earlier thread in which this subject was extensively discussed:

I think the short answer is YES. You can be Jewish via ancestry or by converting.

It’s both, which is confusing. When I tell people I’m Jewish, they don’t know that I’m an atheist, and when I tell people I’m an atheist, they don’t know I’m Jewish. Jewish Atheist sounds a little hokey.

Thanks. And I did try a search. I guess I don’t still fully understand how the search engine works yet. Sorry.

Jewish by birth, Atheist by choice is how I often state it, but honestly, I usually just say Atheist. For all practical purposes, being raised Jewish only means I feel that much more distanced by a Christian dominated society, especialy around Christmas time.

Now, since I was Bar-Mitzvahed, I’m sure that according to the Jewish religion/law that I’m a Jew, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. I can create the SDMB Religion right here and now and say that every person who has come to these boards is a member of this religion, but they certainly won’t consider themselves a part of the SDMB Religion, and rightly so. An organiztation such as a religion can’t forcfuly claim you as a member.

But, my heritage (on my father’s side, at least) is Jewish, and for one reason or another, Jewish is considered an ethnicity as well (I think race might be too strong a word, but that’s splitting hairs). You just need to differentiate between the religion and the people.

This is a lot like the classification “Hispanic” which nobody really knows what it means. The forms say Hispanics can be of any race… so why is it a “race”?

Been discussed (a bit heatedly) here.**


A bar mitzva is merely a celebration (and an unimportant one at that) and has no bearing on the Jewish status of anyone.

Judaism is a religion that places certain responsibilities on its adherents.

In the eyes of the Torah, all people born of the Jewish race (at least on the mother’s side) are responsible to adhere to the Jewish religion, including its beliefs. However, those who are not born Jewish may convert, thereby accepting those responsibilities upon themselves.

It is possible to be an atheist and a Jew. What that means, though, is that that person is responsible (in the eyes of the Torah) to obey the laws and follow the beliefs of Judaism, and has chosen to abrogate that responsibility.

Another “culturally Jewish” atheist here.

How can Judaism be a race when you have Jews from Eastern Europe, the Mideast, Spain, Africa? It may have been a race 2,000 years ago in that most of its adherents were from the same area of the world. But Jews have become so dispersed since then the idea of a Jewish race is as silly as that of . . . Well, I can’t even THINK of anything else equally silly.

Well, I believe the OP asked (in essence) if Judaism is a Race or a Religion. If those are the two alternatives, let’s see:
[li]You are born into Judaism[/li][li]You can join (through conversion) if you are not born in[/li][li]You can’t opt-out (Tradition holds that even those of want to “convert out” can’t.)[/li][/ul]

Doesn’t sound like a religion to me - sounds much more like a Nationality (or Race):

[li]I was born an American[/li][li]If I wasn’t, I can apply for citizenship[/li][li]I suppose I can renounce my American citizenship. Hmmm…[/li][/ul]

One of the ways I describe myself is that I’m Jewish in much the same way that Bryant Gumbel is black. I was born that way, but that’s about it. (Sorry if that offends some people. Deal with it; I’m an offensive guy)

What I mean by that is that Judaism is like herpes. Once you have it, you’ve got it for life.

All jokes aside, though, there are traditions and a heritage that, if you’ve grown up with them, you can’t shake. I’ve rejected the religious aspect of Judaism, because I just can’t believe it, but that’s a topic for many different threads.
I now consider myself a Pagan with Wiccan tendencies, but no matter what I do, my personality has been shaped by my upbringing. I will be a jew 'til I die. Those who know me IRL will tell you that I am stereotypically neurotic, whiny and judaically manneristic (Andros? Are you there? Back me up, bud!)

Genetically, too, Jews are separate from the goyim. For instance, my mother is of the tribe Levi, which, once it gets diluted with non-Jewish blood, EVEN IF the other tradidtions are maintained, is no longer Levi. It becomes the more homogeneous Tribe of Yisrael.
So I know for a stone-cold fact that on my mother’s side, we’ve been Jews since tribes were introduced into the culture.

(Cool! I changed my sig just before getting this thread. Kind of appropriate, ain’t it?)


Well, even the various different nationalities that modern Jews belong to believe they’re all (except for converts, and even current descendants of converts are likely to have married into the born-Jews by now) descended from a single man, Jacob, some 3500 years ago. That may not be enough for you to consider them all a single race, but it definitely complies with some definition of the term.

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Well, even the various different nationalities that modern Jews belong to believe they’re all (except for converts, and even current descendants of converts are likely to have married into the born-Jews by now) descended from a single man, Jacob, some 3500 years ago.”

—Is this historical fact? I’m not being a bitch (well, not TOO much), I just don’t know much about religion. My family comes from Eastern Europe, and my ex-brother-in-law’s from Spain, and we’re both Jewish. How are we genetically related? Even if it’s true about Jacob, would one common ancestor 3,500 years ago be enough to create a “race?”

Historical Fact? Well, let’s not get into the old “Bible: History or Allegory?” debate right now.

However, there are scientific proofs, using DNA analysis–the same type that was recently used to determine if Sally Hennings’s (I think that was her name) decendents were also decended from Thomas Jefferson–which have determined genetic links from Ashkenazic to Sephardic Jews as being closer than an Ashkenazic Jew to a non-Jew from the same region.


At the furthest, related by ancestry from Jacob…although probably much closer.

Well, I guess that depends on the definition of “race.” But no doubt common ancestry is at least a part of that definition.

Chaim Mattis Keller

IzzyR: Bar-Mitzvah’s have pratical significance. Until a boy/girl has had one, they are not viewed as adults by the religion. For something like Yitzker (horrible phonetic spelling, service for remembering the deceased), 10 men (or women if you’re Reform or possibley Conservative) must be present to procede. If there aren’t enough, it doesn’t happen. A 13 year old boy who hasn’t been Bar-Mitzvahed doesn’t count for that 10, but a 13 year old boy who has been Bar-Mitzvahed does.

Eve: I know what you’re saying, but there are enough Jews that are of similar ancestry to justify calling it an ethnicity. It’s not across the board, but it’s good enough.

blessedwolf: Well, not necessarily. People are/have been known to just declare themselves Levi, or assume they are. So unless you can trace back your family tree some 5,700 years (I think the Jewish calendar is at least near that centruy), there’s no way to know for sure.

I can’t believe I got here first.


The above is patently false.

A Jewish boy achieves “manhood” at the age of 13 years. This is true. But, that status is inferred upon him authomatically; no ceremony is required.

The Bar Mitzvah ceremony is a celebration of this milestone. Traditional Bar Mitzvah celebrations are a time for the Bar Mitzvah-boy to perform some of the rituals he has not been allowed or required to do before reaching age 13. For example, many young men read from the Torah on their Bar Mitzvah - this is something usually done only by a Jewish “Man.” The same applies to being called up to the Torah to recite a blessing and to leading the synagogue services.