PATHEOS LIBRARY OF

World Faiths & Religions

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is a Jew?

The answer to this question, depends, like most things Jewish, on where you stand. There is a wide and distinct spectrum of belief that comprises Judaism, from ultra-Orthodoxy, a deeply pious God-centered, mitzvah-centered belief system that eschews anything having to do with modernity, to humanistic Judaism, a thoroughly post-modern anthropocentric, atheistic belief system based on contemporary rationalism and science. So, for the ultra-Orthodox community, a Jew is a person borne of a Jewish mother or who converts to Judaism with ultra-Orthodox supervision. Humanistic Judaism would posit that a Jew is anyone who identifies with the ways and mores of the Jewish community. There are those who say that Judaism is a religious identity, relying on a Torah-centered vision and communal prayer centering around a synagogue. Next, there are those Jews who would say that Judaism is an ethnic identity, all about shared cultural norms, foods and arts and familial connections. This is very ethno-centric as opposed to theological. There are Jews who adhere to a cultural Judaism. This is not God-centered or text-centered. Instead it is much more about focusing on the reading and the creation of secular literature from a Jewish perspective. This cultural Judaism would also include the arts. It's less about Jewish content and more about the Jewish attraction to cultural activities.
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