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Adam L Slotnick
Question Everything

I Am Not Jewish

Definitions of Jew and Jewish. (Adam L Slotnick)

When people ask me if I am Jewish my answer is: “No, I am not Jewish. I am a Jew.” You might think this is only a subtle difference, but words have impact. Semantics and etymology matter.

Have you ever heard a Muslim say, “I am Islamic”? Of course not! Islamic is an adjective, just as Jewish is an adjective. Muslims say, “I am a Muslim” just as I say, “I am a Jew.” (Christianity is different since Christian is both a noun and an adjective.)

While the definition of Jewish does also include consideration of “Being a Jew”, the definition of Muslim is definitive: “an adherent of Islam”. Although Jew is a multilayered term since Jews are an ethnoreligious people, if we follow the function of nouns, then whether or not someone is an adherent of Judaism or a member of the Jewish people, this person is a Jew. That is, not Jewish. Put another way: we are American Jews not Jewish Americans in the same vein as there are American Muslims not Islamic Americans.

I am fairly certain that there those of you asking why this matters? That this is just semantics, maybe even silly. But there are a number of words that hold tremendous significance in the Jewish world that pertain to Jewish identity and to realities in Israel. My tagline for my Times of Israel blog is: Question Everything. This means questioning everything from the words we use to the state of Jewish education and other contemporary events affecting world Jewry.

This is the first in a series of posts exploring words that have significant meaning in the Jewish world yet appear to be misunderstood. Chief among these: The Holocaust and Antisemitism. And it’s not just semantics and etymology. Jews consider these important factors in their identity, American and Israeli Jews alike. Before we can discuss how to address HaShoah (The Holocaust) and Jew hatred (Antisemitism), first we must delve deeper into the literal roots of these words.

About the Author
Adam L Slotnick is the senior writer at The Focus Project. He writes on behalf of a coalition of major American Jewish organizations to combat Jew-hatred and the delegitimization of Israel. The views he expresses are his own. He serves on multiple Jewish National Fund-USA boards and lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
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