What Are the Jews?

Although the Nazis branded Jews an inferior race, Jews are not exactly a race. After all, one can convert to Judaism and one cannot convert to be of a different race. Yet they have some characteristics in common. Hmm.

On the other hand, Jews aren’t exactly a religion. One isn’t born into a religion, and if tomorrow, I suddenly decided I didn’t believe anything taught by Judaism at all, I would still be a Jew. Again, hmm.

On the third hand, there are Jews of every skin color and from all corners of the world, so no single sweeping statement seems to work. Except…

Jews are a religious family. You can join family. You don’t leave your family by disliking it or disagreeing with it, but you can leave it by joining another family. That is historically how Judaism has worked. Theoretically one remains a Jew, but in practice a Jew who has chosen another religion is written out of the communal compact.

A religious family. That works. Not a category familiar in America, but nonetheless, that is what we are. Now, let’s eat.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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