There's a debate about wether Jews are an ethnic group?

Read that in another thread, and well… it’s news to me. So, is there?

Cause how could someone look Jewish if it wasn’t an ethnic group?

wether whether… arrgh.

Please define “look Jewish.”

Darkish skin (as in not pasty) brown eyes, brown hair.

Oh come on. With the 6 million threads about Jews going on in Great Debate could someone tell me why none of them are about this? Is it a) the it’s a non-issue, of course it’s an ethnic group (which is what I’ve always thought) or b) it’s been done to death and everyone involved has agreed to disagree.

ethnic (eth ik) adj. Relating to or of a national, cultural, or racial group.

Webster’s Dictionary & Thesaurus
1994 Edition

So, yes I think Jewish can count as a ethnic group. True, you can’t just see someone and know they are , Jewish but once you become Jewish you belong to that ethnic group.

I think the debate stems from the fact that if I - as a lily-white girl of (mostly) French and German ancestry - were to convert to the religion of Judaism, I would then be religiously a Jew without being part of the ethnic group most people think of when they think of Jewish people. So you have “Jewish” as a religion and “Jewish” as an ethnic and cultural heritage. The two are neither mutually exclusive nor necessarily mutually inclusive.

Am I right? Am I even making any sense?

Technically, the Jews are made up of a multiple ethnic groups. There are the Ashkenazic folks, primarily of central and eastern European extraction. There are the Sephardic folks, who hail from Spanish/Mediterranian orgins. There are also Ethiopian Jews (they don’t get a cool special name, as far as I know) and “branches” in other places who claim Jewish ancestry. People from these groups have different cultures and speak different langages, and even practice Judaism in somewhat different ways. So there is no one ethnic group called the Jews.

Most Jews in the US are Ashkenazic. So generally when someone speaks of someone looking “Jewish”, they are speaking of someone with eastern European features.

I think it’s unfortunate that people often look for “looks” in order to designate someone a follower of Judaism. It seems it would be disheartening for someone to doubt that you are Jewish because you don’t look a certain way.

Hmm… nope , nope and nope, Argentinian style

It’s a complex question, but Dark Skin and brown/brown are definitely NOT part of the deal…

To nip this off at the bud -

Yes, there is such a thing as “Jewish Features”, but they’re very subtle and certainly do not appear in all Jews. Trying to define Jews as an ethnic using racial terms is more or less futile.

However, if you define “ethnic group” in terms of ancestry (not the same thing as race), history, culture, customs, language, food, religion, etc… well, then Jews are definitely an ethnic group.

Oh, and nope.

There we go. Oh, and I’m aware that many Jews don’t look like what people think of as Jewish – I get it all the time :slight_smile: “You’re Jewish? But you don’t look it!” Especially from other Jews.

Oh well, question answered, pretty much as I expected it to be (then why did I ask it? Cause I could have been wrong).

And Alessan, thanks for nipping this. There’s a reason I put it in GQ instead of GD :smiley:

Hmmmm, over 12 hours and not yet pushed into GD (or crashing and burning into the Pit). Very good.

Throughout the last 2,600 years or so the Jewish people have been able to maintain a general coherence as a group. This is a direct result of their desire to preserve their religious beliefs which is manifested in two ways:
They do not proselytize, so they are less inclined to swell their ranks with “outsiders.”
They pass their beliefs down through their families which tends to reinforce their coherence as a group.

Nevertheless, they do accept converts both directly and through intermarriage, so it is unlikely that there is a “pure” Jewish stock hiding in some corner of the world. Since the original diaspora occurred 2,600 years ago (to Mesopotamia), and subsequent diasporas extended (voluntarily) into Egypt and (forcibly) into Italy, from which they extended their range into much of Europe, they have picked up converts from among most of the ethnic groups that surround the Mediterranean along with the Germanic tribes and, later, the Slavs.

Certainly, there are families who can trace their origins back to the earliest Jewish nation (a kohen, or priest, can only receive his position from his father.) Similarly, recent genetic tests have shown a remarkably high incidence of certain markers among the Jewish people and the prevalence of some genetic diseases among some Jewish populations indicate that they are closely related.

However, the “Jewish look” mentioned in the OP probably has more to do with imposed perceptions than reality. (There is a great scene in The Fixer where the inspector Grubeshov forces Yakov to look at a poster of “criminal noses,” notes that they are mostly “Jewish,” and points to one as being Yakov’s profile–at which point Yakov looks at the poster through bleary eyes, points to another profile and says “And here’s yours.”) This statement, however,

describes any number of people surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and I do not know how it would be used to describe a “Jewish” look. (And, as I know several quite pale Jews, it certainly does not apply to them.) If there may be an “appearance” that the OP can recognize (although not articulate), it is most likely an appearance of the Russian Jewish population that provided so many immigrants to the U.S., but it is certainly not an across-the-board “Jewish” appearance.

So when we look at “the Jews” throughout most of history, we are looking at a religious group that has maintained a certain amount of genetic coherence as a byproduct of their religious beliefs, but which was quite sufficiently diverse–due to both the separations of the various diasporas and to a certain amount of “marrying-into” the group–so as to challenge the notion of them being a single ethnic group. In the last few hundred years, or so, the secularism that has arisen in Europe has been manifested in the Jewish community as well as the Christian communities. At the same time, the notion of “race” as a scientific concept was introduced. Whereas, in previous eras a person who stopped practicing Judaism simply “became” a Christian or a Muslim or whatever, through the nineteenth century they were categorized as “Jewish” regardless of their beliefs. This was most tragically manifested during the Nazi regime, of course, but the Soviets also practiced clear “ethnic” discrimination (as did “society” in Britain, the U.S., France, and elsewhere).

So, are Jews a “race,” an ethnic group, or a religion? Rabbi Hayim Donin in his book To Be A Jew gives the answer that the Jews are a “people.”

With all the various issues regarding religion, ethnic heritage, persecution, and the false notion of “race,” it is not difficult to see why there is, indeed, a debate over whether Jews are an ethnic group.

I’m a Christian married to a Jewish woman (both ethnically and religiously) of German, Scottish, and English descent, with a dash of French. Yet I’ve had Jews express surprise when I tell them I’m not Jewish (either way). Go figure.

As best as I can figure, G-d chose the Jewish ethnic group to give his Torah and the rest of the Tanakh (“Old Testament”) to, so when they believed in Him, the ethnic group became synonymous with the religion. Over time some ethnic Jews chose not to believe Jewish beliefs about G-d, either by choice or by forced conversion.

The confusion arises because people continue to assume that ethnic Jews are Jewish religiously. That’s true most of the time, but not always.

At uni we were taught that the Jews are considered a diaspora.

I looked it up at Merriam Webster which said:

More info on Jewish diaspora’s is available at Encyclopædia Britannica.

Seems to me ethnicity would apply more to what geographical region a person was decended from.