Term Paper: Who Is a Jew?

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¶ … Jew?

A discussion always takes place whether between Jew and Jew or Jew and non-Jew about whether Judaism is a religion, culture or both. Most people see it as both, although in the strictest sense it is only a religious tradition. Someone's Jewish ancestors can be from nearly anywhere in the world including India, Africa, China, South America, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Similarly, practices and beliefs among Jews range from those who call themselves Jews but have not practiced the religion to rigidly Orthodox who strictly observe ancient Jewish laws.

From a religious standpoint, there are the major sects of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, with further divisions beneath. Culturally, there also is Humanistic Judaism, embracing a human-centered philosophy with a celebration of Jewish culture and identity.

According to strict Orthodox law, a child born to a Jewish mother is automatically a Jew. There is nothing more that has to be done besides this. The father's religion is not considered. The written law "Torah" or the five books of Moses (Old Testament) (Deut. 7:3-4) reads: "Thy daughter thou shalt not give to his son, nor shalt thou take his daughter to thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods." Instead, to the more recent Reform Judaism, a child who is born to either a Jewish mother or a Jewish father is automatically a Jew.

It is this belief that matrilineal descent is not a biblical principle. In the earliest times, many Jewish men married non-Jews and their children's status was determined by the father's religion. It was during the Roman occupation that this philosophy changed.

Scholars also disagree on the reason behind this change including: in response to intermarriage, the frequent cases of Jewish women bearing children after being raped by non-Jews, borrowed from Roman law. Brown University Professor Shaye Cohen points out: "Numerous Israelite heroes and kings married a Canaanite, Joseph an Egyptian, Moses a Midianite and an Ethiopian, David a Philistine, and Solomon women of every description. By her marriage with an Israelite man a foreign woman joined the clan, people and religion of her husband." In pre-exilic times no one argued that such marriages were null and void, foreign women must "convert" to Judaism or offspring of the marriage were not Israelite if women did not convert. Today, even the idea of conversion differs depending on sect. The degree of study, the procedures to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Who Is a Jew?.  (2006, December 2).  Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/jew/7430123

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"Who Is a Jew?."  Essaytown.com.  December 2, 2006.  Accessed November 22, 2019.