What is Jewishness?


Being Jewish has lately been positively re-evaluated. But is that beneficial? Are misconceptions fundamentally corrected? The rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in the world shows a different picture. What are those misconceptions and what is Jewishness? What is written about it in the Bible?

Jewish literally means belonging to the tribe of Judah, but more generally it means (willingness) to observe Jewish culture and/or religion. A consequence of this definition is that ‘Jewish’ is seldom used correctly. For example, in Jewish religion its followers are assumed to belong to one of the 12 tribes of Israel. But in such narrow definition Jewish actually means belonging to the people of Israel.

Compare: People living in The Netherlands are wrongly called ‘people from Holland’. This is wrong since Holland is only just a province of The Netherlands. Also, these people are named Dutch, whilst that word stems from Deutsch. But that is how Germans call themselves. But this, of course, doesn’t apply to the people living in The Netherlands.

Probable origin
The name ‘Jew’ is first mentioned in the Bible in the book Jeremiah (34:9). That is an indication that the name probable originated during Israel’s first exile. The name ‘Jehoedie’ was used for or by the captives Babylonians took from the kingdom Jehoedah (Judah). This name however is rather discriminatory[1] towards the other tribes of Israel.

Spiritual inheritance
Jewish represents above all a belonging to a people. So, it is primarily interpreted as being dependent on physical descendancy. But it also represents language, inheritance, culture, history and sometimes also religion[2]. All these things combined represent Jewishness[3].

In Biblical sense everyone born and raised in that people is an Israelite[4]. There are Biblical regulations[5] that exclude Israelites from making covenants, like marriages, with outsiders. However, from early on mixed marriages occurred. Children from such marriages can cause a problem in the sense of maintaining the Jewishness of Israel as a people. According to the Bible it was only the father that passed over Jewishness[6].

Israel experienced two banishments. In the current, second banishment Israel is scattered over the earth. Therefore, the rabbis have decided some centuries ago that Jewishness is passed over by the mother. This would give the highest certainty about descendancy[7].

The Jewish people originated from a branch of the Abraham’s family, namely his son Isaac, or more specific from his grandson Jacob. Since, both Abraham and Isaac were patriarchs of a multitude of peoples, but represented only one religion. Namely the one Adam and his descendancy had. Isaac and Jacob have continued that spiritual inheritance of Abraham. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were called Hebrews.

The something remarkable happened. God gave Jacob a new name. He called him Israel (He that struggles with God). This new name eventually became more prominent than the nickname Hebrew.

How is Israel defined?
Only just after the exodus from Egypt, when the children of Jacob had become a great multitude, God made them officially a people with the name Israel. He did that by inviting them to enter the Covenant He presented to them[8]. After that, God returned to the promise of Land He made to Abraham.

Once the Israelites had taken control over that promised Land and had set up a central sanctuary, their Hebrew background became less relevant[9]. Also, their background as Israelites changed from a religious people towards a religious nation[10]. Israel represented the people of God on earth, because God Himself dwelled in their midst. In this sense what is of Israel represents a more advanced[11] way of honoring and serving God (Gn 2:15) determined by the conditions of His Covenant[12].

What is the Jewish religion?
It’s only logical that over the course of ages Israel began to add unto and change their original Covenantal religion. For example, Israel wanted to have a king and a Temple made of stone like the other nations. But they also made covenants with nations and realms, although this was forbidden. They even got involved with those whom God regarded His enemies.

This led to a development in which side issues began to dominate primary issues of the Covenant. Exactly the dangerous development God had repeatedly warned them about. This cumulated until God dismantled Israel as a nation and ended their religious function. God forced them to live amongst the nations. The ones they so eagerly wanted to copy.

Whilst Israel dwelt among the nations they copied more and more of their fundamental pagan ideas and cultural elements and build that into their religion[13]. In this way a religion and culture developed which is a mixture of Biblical and pagan elements, without however going against the core of the will of God[14].

Characteristics of Jewishness
These characteristics distinguish themselves in elements of being a people (cultural identity) and of a religion (spiritual identity). Jewishness is mainly determined by being a people and just only a small part is purely about religion[15].

Jewish culture
• Circumcision[16]
• Special food customs[17] and dishes
• Jewish holidays[18] and commemorations[19]
• Social care for Jews
• Aims at restoration and building up the Jews people[20]
• Special terminology[21], clothing[22], symbols[23], marks[24] and Jewish education
• Synagogue[25]

Jewish religion
• God is alone, but multi-faceted
• Upholding the observance of the Sinaic Covenant[26] by way of their own regulations (called Jewish law)[27]
o Special clothing[28]
o Special living units[29]
o Jewish religious festivities and commemorations[30]
o Synagogue as central place of prayer, customs and study
• Ethnocentric and particularistic[31]
• Israel is the chosen people of God[32], which He gave their own Land
• Only the coming Messiah is able to give the true restoration of Israel as a nation[33]

Non-Jewish people have a whole range of descriptions for Jewishness, which are almost always based on misconceptions and biased up unto unashamed hate of Jews (anti-Semitism). The best-known descriptions are: money swindlers, baggers, deceivers, thieves, crooked and filthy people, villains, selfish, decadent and money wolves. In political sense: seekers to suppress through the (financial) world by secret schemes. In religious sense: trespassers of God’s commands, enemies (or competitors) of Christians, secret and occult satan worshippers by performing harlotry and cannibalistic rituals.

However, as soon as more serious accusations are made against Jews, like that they supposedly are a threat to the livelihood of non-Jews, then it becomes dangerous for Jews. A famous accusation is that Jews kidnap outsiders, especially their young children, and use them for occult rituals at which blood of the victim is used. Another accusation is that Jew use wine of the Eucharist for these rituals. Jews are accused to have murdered the Lord Jesus, of being cursed by God, blind and def for the true word of God and are supposedly spiritually unclean. It is presumed they learn perverse antichristian teachings.

It is remarkable that most of what outsiders assume about Jews is explicitly forbidden to them by their Jewish law which even the majority of non-religious tend to follow. Although, the latter often lead a predominant assimilated life amongst non-Jews. If Jews are found who committed the crimes they are accused of, then they do that in the same measure as non-Jews. It thus seems that non-Jews accuse Jews of things they often do themselves or do them to their fellow non-Jews. The fact remains that in religious sense wholly observant Jews live closer to and are more consistent with the Bible then most Christians[34].

Spiritual dimensions
That Jews and Jewishness still continues to prevail cannot only be explained from human willpower[35]. During the murder of millions of Jews in the years before and during the Second World War[36] that willpower has failed[37]. Also, all nations deserted the Jews in that period. The deeper background of both the persecution of the Jews and their survival has spiritual dimensions[38].

Most people have wrongly understood Jewishness. Even by Jews. Since, the most fundamental meaning of it – to worship[39] and serve God (Gn 29:35; 49:8) – only partly is addressed in it (Rm 9:31)[40]. Jewishness clearly became completely different[41] and that makes the term Jewishness rather dubious. It should be understood as synonym for Israelite[42] (belonging to the people[43] of Israel[44]). That means it is both referring to the bond of people (shared descendancy, culture and history), but also to their religion.

Although Christian faith is based on the same Israelite religion, Christianity doesn’t represent a bond of people[45]. This distinguishes Jewishness for being a Christian[46]. Jews and Christian do have a common bond (shared Bible culture, Bible history from creation of the world until the coming of the Lord Jesus) and even a historical bond of people (the people of God in that period of time). According to what is written in the Bible, Jews and Christians will become one people of God in the end of days. But each will continue to have its own national distinctiveness[47]. Christianity is also locally/nationally determined[49].

Only when these differences and thus Jewishness is accepted as being determined by God, wanted by God (in all eternity) and are not seen as a threat but as a blessing, then someone can claim to be a true believer[50]. But as long as misconceptions and hatred towards Jewishness (purposely) remain no one can deny that God is not enraged about humanity.

[1] Actually it represents a replacement theory. Assuming that the kingdom Judah replaced the kingdom of Israel. Especially in a religious sense.
[2] When a Jew discards the Jewish religion completely, then that person still remains a Jew.
[3] The suffix ‘-ness’ stands for the entire field to which Jewish applies. Since this field is so wide and covers all areas of human life. It is incomparable to Christianity which is limited to a religion.
[4] Entry to Israel, other than by marriage, is discouraged and since the New Covenant it has also become unnecessary.
[5] There exists an old religious rule not to engage in mingling with the peoples of Canaan (Gn 24:3).
[6] The father gave permission for a marriage, which often also meant converting to Judaism.
[7] This is a compromise, which is unfavorable in several ways. For example, in many countries it is determined by law that only the father is the owner of his property and thus only he can pass over inheritance.
[8] At the mountain of God, Horeb, in the Sinai dessert.
[9] The central sanctuary still was a Tent and their way of life was still rooted in a nomadic existence.
[10] With all the national conditions and rights connected with it. These were also determined by the conditions of the Covenant.
[11] Compared with the Hebrew way of honoring and serving God.
[12] This definition also applies to the New Covenant, but with the difference that being an Israelite was no longer limited to Israel. Thus, it gained a more generic meaning.
[13] They borrowed especially from the more advanced civilizations, like that of Egypt, Persia and Greece (Hellenism).
[14] Jewishness (including the Jewish religion) deviates from the Bible and is also in conflict with it; it is a product of living in exiles.
[15] Jewishness is often seen in terms of Judaism (religion). This confusion has its origin in the fact that them being a people is full of elements which come from Judaism. Most Jews (over 95%) are however not very religiously observant.
[16] Although this was originally a religious command given to Hebrews (non-Jews; Gn 17:10).
[17] Most striking is avoiding eating specific foodstuffs, blood and separating meat from dairy products.
[18] Most importantly is the weekly Sjabbat.
[19] Partly commanded in the Bible and partly national feasts and commemorations.
[20] As, for example, done through Zionism.
[21] Yiddish, Hebrew or Aramaic terminology.
[22] Like the kippah.
[23] Like the ‘Star of David’.
[24] Like the mezuzah on the doorposts.
[25] Next to being a house of prayer it is also a cultural center with Jewish facilities.
[26] By keeping mitswot (good deeds). Religion determines the daily life.
[27] Religious regulations, handed over from generation to generation, are constantly adjusted, enlarged and refined, but remain grounded in the Old Testament.
[28] Mostly clothing’s of mourning (black and white) with fringes and head covering.
[29] Due to rules of sanctity, religious Jews prefer to live close to each other.
[30] Like the commemoration (day of fasting) of the destruction of the Temple.
[31] Aimed at conservation of the people bond and avoiding assimilation. The Jewish religion is excluding outsiders based of their presumed election by God.
[32] In this Land every Jew has its own place.
[33] In which the central service of worship shall be restored.
[34] Jewish accusations that Christians blaspheme God (by ignoring to observe His commandments), for example by eating pork, taking blood transfusion and worshipping demigods, like statues or icons of all kinds of ‘saints’, even today prove not unfounded.
[35] Both from Jews, their helpers and also their enemies.
[36] It has to be clear that this must have enraged the wrath of God.
[37] Again, both from Jews, their helpers, but also their enemies.
[38] The unfulfilled and partly fulfilled prophecies of God will all fully come true.
[39] The Hebrew root of Jewishness is jadah, which means praising God or confessing faith in Him by raising the hands.
[40] The charge of Israel was to let humanity know that God exists and what His will for them is.
[41] The misconceptions of the non-Jews are sometimes based on the truth.
[42] This has nothing to do with Israeli (citizen of the State of Israel), since that can apply next to Jews also to Arabs, Muslims, Christians or secular people.
[43] That is something different then Israel as nation, that existed since its establishment under Joshua.
[44] That Israelites struggle with God, which is the literal meaning of the word Israel, becomes clear from history.
[45] This bond of the people of God only exists from His viewpoint. The Church is a man-made institution, not a people.
[46] That makes it rather difficult to be a Christian as an Israelite.
[47] To Israel God gave special promises, instructions and privileges.
[48] So also a separate Jewish identity.
[49] Even within the supposedly worldwide Roman-catholic church. For example, the Church has a rule stating that the law of the land and local culture is dominant.
[50] This doesn’t mean that Jews have no message towards non-Jews. Likewise, it doesn’t mean that non-Jews may not correct them with a message (missionary work).