Who is a Jew? (removed from thread on Jewish heads of state)

Well, I recognize the right of communities to draw boundaries and decide who is in or out.

If someone insisted on telling me that according to Flying Spaghetti Monster law I am a Pastafarian and need to start wearing a colander, and didn’t drop the subject the first time they were asked to, yes, I would consider that boorish and offensive. But I wouldn’t consider the fact that the FSM church has rules defining who is and isn’t one of them to be inherently offensive.

Likewise, I would never try to convince anyone that they are a Jew if they don’t want to define themselves as such. Perhaps more accurately, I would never try to convince anyone who, by some definition, is objectively a Jew that they should personally consider that definition meaningful. But I don’t think it’s reasonable for them to be offended by my personal opinions on the matter, as long as I keep them to myself.

I’ve seen a claim that Islam similarly doesn’t recognize a “right to opt out” (and that Barack Obama is therefore considered a Muslim under Islamic law, even though from his perspective he is a practicing Christian).

And the Mormons have pulled some weird and offensive tricks.

Thus in 1994, Jews were outraged when it became known that members of LDS were posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims and other Jewish dead. Many followers of Judaism find the practice highly offensive, something akin to the forced baptism of Jews practiced for centuries in Europe during the Middle Ages. Some see the practice as an implicit bias, an act of intolerance.

Am I imagining things, or did someone once post a story about two Japanese who had a kid who spoke Japanese, looked Japanese, and had Japanese citizenship, but because she spent X formative childhood years living and going to school in France, some people told her to her face they did not consider her a true Japanese?

Expound please.

Religion and tribal memberships are precisely being members of a club.

I cannot be Catholic without meeting the standards set by that club for being a member, be that baptism, belief, whatever. My unilaterally saying so don’t mean shit.

And a group of Mormons unilaterally declaring me one of them means as little.

How much and what sort of overlap depends on context of course.

Here is a thread I started almost 12 years ago about an Orthodox group that wasn’t sure I was Jewish (or perhaps Jewish enough for them), and what I might have done about it.

Doesn’t sound familiar. That’s just an example of people being stupid and bigoted, though. The entity that has the authority to decide who is and isn’t Japanese is the Japanese government, so in this case the girl clearly was Japanese.

And we certainly have that in American Jewish culture as well; people who think the only “authentic” Jews are those born into Jewish families of Eastern European descent.

Yeah, I roll my eyes at posthumous Mormon “baptisms” of non-Mormons, but I can’t work myself up to anywhere near “outraged” about it. It’s really not “akin to” forced baptism of living people.

Maybe I should say it’s the same thing, just from a different direction:

A group shouldn’t get to claim a person, and a person shouldn’t get to claim a group. Perhaps it has to be mutual.

Yuk. I don’t want to resurrect the zombie, but that prayer leader’s behavior (assuming he was in fact talking about you) was wrong by any standard. If you weren’t Jewish (by the Orthodox definition), and he somehow knew that, it would have been appropriate. I think what probably happened is that he heard gossip to the effect that you were a gentile or non-Orthodox convert, believed said gossip, and publicly embarrassed you based on that false belief. And Judaism takes gossipmongering and false accusations much more seriously than it does saying the prayers wrong.

It is very unlikely that anyone heard any gossip about me, since I was a virtual unknown in that group. I think that, not knowing me, he didn’t want to assume I was and risk being wrong or ask and possibly embarrass me. So he just got someone he knew met his standards.

As it happens, I haven’t been in any similar situations since then.

I have no doubt that there are people who maintain strict Jewish practice, at least publicly, while not believing in G-d. However, there are some commandments that even if practiced, cannot possibly be fulfilled properly (per Orthodox Judaism) if one maintains atheist belief. How can one be fulfilling the commandment of saying Shema - the Torah portion declaration of G-d’s unity and the acceptance of his rulership - if while saying the words, he is actually believing that the entity of which it speaks does not exist? How can one be fulfilling the commandment of the Grace After Meals - thanking G-d for the bounty that one has eaten - if while saying the words he does not think he is thanking anyone? How can one be fulfilling the commandment of telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt - which the Torah says specifically is to acknowledge that G-d freed us - if while saying the words he is thinking that we were freed by some mundane means, or maybe even that the Egyptian bondage was a myth in the first place?

While there is debate in the Talmud about whether one fulfills commandments by performing the actions even when not having the proper intent, where the commandment is some expression of sentiment, the expression without the sentiment cannot possibly be a proper fulfillment.

Yes, it was me that said that. And I explained above some examples of Jewish practice (at least among the Orthodox) that proper fulfillment would seem impossible while maintaining an atheist viewpoint. Nonetheless, the notion that performing the commandments (even those I listed as impossible to properly fulfill as an atheist) can draw a person back to belief is still valid. It simply means that while performing the commandments in such a manner, they are not truly being performed properly, but they may still serve a longer-term purpose.

In one word: Tradition.

And would you say that these people are not Jews? Are not Orthodox Jews? Or that they are Orthodox Jews who are not properly fulfilling some of the commandments?

According to (at least some) traditionally accepted Orthodox rules, someone who publically violates the Sabbath (by Orthodox standards) is Jewish but does not count towards a minyan. So that guy might have been basing himself on more knowledge about you than you thought, but trying to spare you embarrassment to the extent possible.

I don’t understand. What makes you think he knew I violated the sabbath?

Assuming you’re correct that he couldn’t have heard any gossip, it would have been wrong to infer that from your casual dress; plenty of fully Orthodox Jews wear “normal” Western clothes.

I don’t have a lot of experience praying with the Orthodox, but the times that I have done so, even when my dress clearly marked me as Not One Of Them, nobody questioned my right to be there. So I don’t know exactly what the story was with your guy, but I can say that it’s, happily, unusual.

I said he “might have been …”. Specifically, I would not be surprised if he quietly asked whoever it was who knew/invited you. But perhaps not.

The point here is that you and others have been assuming that the guy was making an incorrect assumption about you (which therefore couldn’t be based on any actual knowledge). It’s more likely that he was making a correct assumption about you, and quite possibly had some factual basis.

Likely the third (but which of us do not lapse in some way?), possibly the second, though that would probably depend very much on their own mental approach to the religious belief, which I would not be so presumptuous as to claim to know.

Since this is a thread about “who is a Jew”, then I think you and I are roughly in agreement. I don’t think those people would be offended to know that you feel they are not properly fulfilling some of the laws.