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Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Yesssss. He's OURS!
Judaism is considered to be both a religion and a nation/culture. More than 13 million people are now identified as Jews, with roughly six million living in the United States and five million in Israel.** Jews come in all shapes, sizes and nationalities. For example, there are black Jews from Ethiopia, Chinese Jews from Shanghai and Indian Jews from India. Practices and beliefs among Jews range from those who call themselves Jews but have nothing more to do with the religion or culture to rigidly Orthodox who strictly observe ancient Jewish precepts.
Today, Judaism is comprised of four major movements, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist. Reform is by far the largest today, but it has relatively few adherents in Israel where most Jews are either Orthodox (a minority) or do not affiliate with a particular movement. Most Israelis are often described as "secular," but most still observe Jewish holidays (many of which are national holidays in Israel) and are very knowledgeable about their history and culture (which is taught in public school). The Conservative movement is also very strong in the United States, but has yet to make significant inroads in Israel. Reconstructionism is the smallest, and newest movement and has virtually no presence in Israel. The Orthodox movement has grown in recent years in the United States and remains the strongest movement in Israel. The Orthodox, more so than the other movements, are also divided among different sects, such as Satmar and Chabad.
The Jewish movements have different interpretations of the Torah, which lead to different rituals, spiritual practices and beliefs. The diversity of beliefs and practices has led to different definitions of "Who is a Jew." This question is not just philosophical, it has political and legal ramifications. In Israel, questions of Jewishness have implications for immigration, conversion, marriage, divorce and the allocation of government money.
Origins of the Words "Jew" and "Judaism" The original name for the people we now call Jews was Hebrews. The word "Hebrew" (in Hebrew, "Ivri") is first used in the Torah to describe Abraham (Gen. 14:13). The word is apparently derived from the name Eber, one of Abraham's ancestors. Another tradition teaches that the word comes from the word "eyver," which means "the other side," referring to the fact that Abraham came from the other side of the Euphrates, or referring to the fact Abraham was separated from the other nations morally and spiritually.
Another name used for the people is Children of Israel or Israelites, which refers to the fact that the people are descendants of Jacob, who was also called Israel.
The word "Jew" (in Hebrew, "Yehudi") is derived from the name Judah, which was the name of one of Jacob's twelve sons. Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. Likewise, the word Judaism literally means "Judah-ism," that is, the religion of the Yehudim.
Originally, the term Yehudi referred specifically to members of the tribe of Judah, as distinguished from the other tribes of Israel. However, after the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel (I Kings 12; II Chronicles 10). After that time, the word Yehudi could properly be used to describe anyone from the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, as well as scattered settlements from other tribes. The most obvious biblical example of this usage is in Esther 2:5, where Mordecai is referred to as both a Yehudi and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
In the 6th century B.C.E., the kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria and the ten tribes were exiled from the land (II Kings 17), leaving only the tribes in the kingdom of Judah remaining to carry on Abraham's heritage. These people of the kingdom of Judah were generally known to themselves and to other nations as Yehudim (Jews), and that name continues to be used today.
In common speech, the word "Jew" is used to refer to all of the physical and spiritual descendants of Jacob/Israel, as well as to the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and their wives, and the word "Judaism" is used to refer to their beliefs. Technically, this usage is inaccurate, just as it is technically inaccurate to use the word "Indian" to refer to the original inhabitants of the Americas. However, this technically inaccurate usage is common both within the Jewish community and outside of it, and is therefore used throughout this site.

I have heard people get extremely upset at being called *Yehudi*. Why then, is JEW any different? In fact, it is worse and its use by our own selves is a sad recognition that we would sell our birthright, diminishing ourselves as no other force on earth can possibly do. The history of this word connotes nothing but heartbreak and horror for us. This historic weight that breaks our back and bends our will is anathema to who we really are. Isn't it time we regain the pride we gave away so willingly to fit into a wondrous world we have built far beyond what our small numbers would suggest? We have, throughout our entire history, done more to lead people to humanity than any other culture under heaven, yet those who have done nothing but steal from us are revered as being somehow superior. Not in this life, or any other, has there been a more capable, more educated, more productive, more intellectually oriented, more beneficient, and yes, conservative in values even when those jews, small j, claim our coattails as if they somehow deserve them after they have betrayed us. As a People, we learned more common sense in the days of the Old Testament than most people have even learned yet. Development of amazing technologies and medical breakthroughs are introduced via Hebrews almost every day of the week, but the world which we serve offers no thanks, no respect, and little, if any, recognition of our talents except to hate us more. And yet it doesn't stop us. G-d put us here for exactly this. The taught now teach. If the world at large will not call us by our rightful and proper name, then we should NOT answer. Period.