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Who is a Jew?

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Also posted Here By Shlomo Phillips 12.29.2010 (last updated 08.22.2013)
People are/become Jewish in one of two ways: 1. According to standard Rabbinic Judaism, the largest segment of Jews by far, those who are born of Jewish mothers are Jews (and hence members of the Covenant) from conception to death and beyond. 2. Those who formally convert to Judaism through a recognized beit din or religious court become Jews upon leaving the waters of the mikvah (circumcision and other requirements must be met prior to this). All true converts enter Judaism through the House of Judah. Generally one enters through one of the recognized Rabbinic movements (see below). Both types of people are fully Jewish as affirmed at Leviticus 16:29, Zechariah 14:9, etc. as well as through the rulings of our various sages. There are caveats to consider however. Determining who is and who is not Jewish can be complicated:

According to Karaite Judaism (a small ancient non-Rabbinic sect that emerged from the Sadducees) Jewishness (membership in the Covenant) passes only through the father, not the mother. Hence they do not accept as Jewish those whose fathers are not Jewish regardless of the mother's status. For the most part Karaite converts are not accepted as Jews by Rabbinic Judaism and vice versa (however Karaites themselves are accepted as Jewish by Rabbinic Jews if their mothers are halachically Jewish as defined by the Rabbinic sect under discussion. Karaism is also of the House of Judah which is, until Messiah comes and re-establishes the Twelve Houses, the totality of People Israel. There is little association between Karaism and the rest of Judaism. Although Rabbinic Jews, according to much of Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism (see below) Jewishness passes through the mother, however those with Jewish fathers who are raised as Jews, are also accepted as fully Jewish and have no need to formally convert (but may if they desire). This in part is because these movements, generally speaking, do not view the Jews as a covenantal people. They view Judaism as a religion among many others. According to the traditional sages of Israel every Jew who has or will ever live was personally present at Mount Sinai and personally embraced his/her obligation to observe the conditions established in Torah when it was revealed. For this reason one does not actually "convert" into Judaism. Those Gentiles who feel compelled to enter the Covenant are actually returning home to their people rather

than converting from without. True conversion to Judaism then is the experience of a repentant Jewish neshama (soul) returning to the Covenant of People Israel. Technically a non-Jewish neshama can not therefore 'convert' to Judaism. Being born into a non-Jewish family does not necessarily mean one is not a Jewish soul. For various reasons souls sometimes take birth outside the Covenant Being accepted as a Jew by a beit din (religious court) is often contingent upon their determination that the person is already a member of the Covenant. They merely extend their formal acceptance of this fact. Conversion or gerut/gerus is therefore the recognition of the return of an exile, not the admittance of a Gentile into the Covenant. Many of us who remember our past lives struggle to return to the Covenant. This is often a very difficult process! Of course not everyone born of Jewish mothers (or fathers) practices the religion of Judaism (nor practices it properly). Such people are still accepted as fully Jewish due to their association with father Avraham (Abraham) and the Covenant HaShem established with his and Sarah's descendents through Isaac and his son Jacob/Israel. Jews are in the Covenant because of Avraham and Moshe not because of personal merit. Gerim Likewise gerim (converts) do not always practice the holy religion properly, however once they leave the waters of the mikvah they are Jews in every sense of the word. Concerning converts Rambam wrote: "Loving the convert who has taken refuge (lit., 'came and entered') beneath the wings of the Divine Presence [comprises] two positive obligations, one because he is included in 'fellowship' (and so is included in the obligation to love one's fellow as himself (Levit. 19:18), and two because he is a convert and the Torah said, 'You shall love the convert' (Deuteronomy 10:19). [The Torah] commanded to love the convert as it commanded to love G-d (lit., 'His Name'), as it is stated, 'And you shall love the L-rd your G-d' (Deut. 6:5). G-d Himself loves converts, as it is stated, '...and loves [the] convert'" [Source of this quote.] Once converted ones status as a Jew can never be revoked by anyone. HaShem makes people Jewish, not human courts. Despite this, excommunications are sometimes performed, especially by the Haredim (Ultra Orthodox). These excommunications should be viewed as disfellowshipment from ones particular community or sect, not from the Covenant. One who is Jewish is eternally Jewish regardless of acceptance or rejection from religious authorities. For this reason, in part, Judaism has historically discouraged conversion. The different movements have different requirements for conversion and excommunication. Before seeking admittance into the Covenant one does well to research these requirements and related issues. The differences between the Rabbinic sects are vast. Determine which fits you best, which synagogue you plan to mainly associate with, whether you plan to have children etc. (an Orthodox conversion is particularly important for those who plan to have children that may one day wish to receive a Jewish education, marry an Orthodox person, etc.). Do not rush into conversion. Decide which movement is best for you.

So strong is this anti-convert sentiment among some Jews that prior to August 1, 2007 the Karaites had not admitted gerim for the past 500 years! Facing the near extinction of the sect they now accept them. Those who convert through the Karaism are not accepted as Jewish by Rabbinic authorities. Likewise, those who convert through the non-Orthodox Rabbinic movements are not accepted by the Orthodox and many who convert Orthodox are not accepted by the Haredim! Judaism is more than the religion of the House of Judah. It is the life of the whole House of Israel. It is membership in the Sacred Covenant not the observance of its mitzvoth (laws). Judaism is therefore most accurately defined as an extended family rather than as a religion. Once one is Jewish one remains for all time even if one is likened to the crazy uncle living in the basement! There are no ex-Jews nor half-Jews. One is either Jewish or one is Gentile. So we still have the question: Who is Jewish? Judaism is not a race. As discussed in the Roots of Judaism portion of this study most Jews today are Ashkenazim. They are Japhethites not Semites (in other words, they are descendents of Noah's son Japheth rather than Shem), nonetheless they are accepted as full members of the Covenant despite the claims of certain enemies of our People about the Khazar Jews and other non-Semitic Jews. The presence of non-Semitic Jews therefore goes way back and it can include you. It is important to understand that no one is Jewish because of race, ethnicity, personal righteousness nor level of Torah observance. We are Jews solely because HaShem chose us according to His Will at Mount Sinai to be of the Covenant, either through our mother or through formal gerut (conversion). No one can enter the Family without the active consent of the elders of the people and the Will of HaShem. But who among our elders has the authority to make the needed decisions and rulings? What happens if one is accepted for formal conversion by a beit din but is not actually Jewish, i.e. was not personally present at the Sacred Mount? There are so many questions. Sadly Judaism is possibly more divided today than ever before. There is no Jewish Pope and even our Chief Rabbinim sometimes have their own agendas that are not consistent with the best interests of our people. The existence of movement-based politics and extremist rulings is causing serious injury to the Jewish people and those seeking to convert. If one is accepted into the Covenant by a beit din of Israel it is a blessing to the person in every case. One who is allowed to enter the mikveh should consider him/herself fully Jewish in every sense regardless of the affiliating movement or other considerations. Such a person should leave no quarter for doubt. Those wishing association in a particular movement or synagogue will have to meet the requirements of that group of course, but conversion is awarded not from the rabbis seated on the beit din but from HaShem Himself. Doubt is destructive. Frankly it appears that for many rabbis keeping people away from HaShem is now regarded as a virtue! If one is not able to meet the hurtles of conversion don't worry. The Noahide Path is a fully authorized form of Derech HaShem (the Way of God). There is only One God and He

accepts everyone who comes to Him whether Jewish or non-Jewish. Despite this, the common and needless hurtles placed before perspective converts is a shame. Judaism is not a missionary religion but neither should it be an intentionally exclusionary one. Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noach Those Gentiles who seek to observe biblical religion according to their understandings, without undergoing formal conversion into Judaism, are known as Noahidim. God is One. Noahidim do not need to convert into Judaism to be all that HaShem's has in mind for them unless He leads them to do so. Whether or not to convert to Judaism is between the Noahide and God. IF one feels drawn to the Covenant then there will be study and other requirements as ones rabbi directs. Determining which movement to associate with is often a first step in the process. Becoming Jewish To 'become Jewish' requires meeting certain conditions and acquiring formal admittance from a beit din. One can not simply decide to 'be Jewish'. Believing what Jews believe does not make one Jewish. Observing Torah does not make one Jewish anymore than moving into someone's house uninvited makes one a member of their family. Judaism is a religion, a people, a culture, an ethnic identity and more. No single definition will suffice. The heart of Judaism however is Torah and Torah determines who is and who is not Jewish. All Jews are equally Jewish regardless of possible religious affiliations or movements. These divisions are useful as they enable Jews to connect with like-minded sisters and brothers. Unfortunately the movements can also become divisive when one places itself above its peers as the 'true path'. As with denominalism in other religions, this divisiveness happens all too often in Judaism. By the authority of halacha (Jewish law), all Jews are directed to accept all born and convert Jews as Jews regardless of their movement etc. The difficulties arise with the acceptance of converts and their children. HaShem is One and Judaism is One and yet some Jews are quite sectarian in their religious beliefs. They often justify this exclusionary spirit by charging that other Jews are not halachically as correct in their observances. This charge fails to appreciate the historic diversity of Jewish thought and practice and even the diversity among the Orthodox. This divisiveness is causing grave harm to Jews and potential converts alike. It is also fueling anti-Semitism by presenting the Jewish people as petty and self-condemning. Choosing the best movement for you Jewish denominations are generally known as movements. The principle Rabbinic Jewish Movements are as follows: Orthodox Judaism: This major movement was founded circa 1860 CE, although its founders and adherents claim its beliefs and structure date to shortly after Masada (71-73 CE). The

Orthodox Jewish Union began as a reaction to the 19th century Humanism that was spreading among the Jewish people (known as Haskalah: Enlightenment) at that time. Orthodox rabbinim seek to codify what orthodox (small o) Jews should believe and do according to their standards. In Israel this minority Jewish movement wields the greatest authority in all areas of society. While the Orthodox wield less authority in other countries, their fundamentalist rulings and laws remain vitally important everywhere. Many Orthodox regulations are based on Talmudic rulings and have no direct biblical basis (which does not nullify them). Orthodox Jews believe that Judaism and its application must be progressive under the strict determinations of each generation's rabbinic elders and authorities. For this reason the present Orthodox rabbinate wield more Halachic authority than even the Shulchan Aruch (i.e. Yosef Karo's 1563 Code of Jewish Law). This works fine when the present generation is righteous, inclusive, and knowledgable. When this is not the case their rulings can actually harm the Jewish people and their mission of global Tikun. This movement includes groups like the Orthodox Union, the Chassidim (such as Chabad, the Breslovers), Dati Leumi: National Religious, and other groups. Orthodox Judaism only accepts its own converts as being authentically Jewish. Even then not all Orthodox Jews accept conversions though other Orthodox groups! Consolidating all conversions through the office of the Jerusalem chief rabbinate is making Orthodox conversion extremely difficult, costly and time intensive. It is also preventing many sincere people from returning Home to Judaism. For the reason the majority of converts enter through the non-Orthodox movements. As a result Judaism is becoming ever more fragmented. Most Haredim converts (those who convert into Ultra Orthodox Judaism) have to undergo several conversions over a period of a decade or longer before finally being accepted as Jews. The vast majority of converts to Judaism therefore are not accepted as authentically Jewish by the Orthodox Movement. Conversion through the Orthodox Movement is by far the most difficult, time intensive and expensive way to convert. There are however significant advantages to it. When considering conversion this is something to think about. According to the Council of Jewish Federations 10% of American Jews identify as Orthodox, including 22% of those who belong to a synagogue. In Israel it is estimated that no more than 30% are Orthodox. Conservative Judaism (also known as Masorti Judaism outside the United States and Canada): A mixture of traditional and modern ideas, this movement leans toward tradition while embracing current realities. It is generally Torah observant by spirit but typically less dogmatic to the letter than the Orthodox. This movement began as a balance between the Orthodox and Reform movements (see below) in 1913. Overall the Conservative Movement is in my opinion the most historically grounded of the Jewish movements as it blends the 'letter' and 'spirit' of the Torah in a way that upholds Jewish Tradition and values as well as honoring the personal freedom and dignity HaShem has bestowed upon us. The current Conservative movement is largely embracing the move towards the unification of the non-Orthodox sects. Many, not all, synagogues that define themselves as 'independent' are in reality Conservative.

The NJPS found that 26% of American Jews identify themselves as Conservative, including 33% of those who belong to a synagogue. There are approximately 750 Conservative synagogues in the world today. Reform Judaism: Developed through the liberal, non-observant wing of Judaism that embraced Haskalah ('the Enlightenment'). Founded circa 1900 in reaction to the then emerging Orthodox Movement, which it tended to view as backward and superstitious. The Reform Movement hoped to modernized Judaism and provide a home for Jews living in contemporary society. The founders of the Reform Movement did not agree with Haskalah completely nor with the attempt to strictly redefine Judaism according to Orthodox Halakhah. They sought to establish a Judaism that embraces personal freedom in a way that is meaningful for modern Jews yet that is consistent with traditional Jewish ethics and morality and rejecting of what they considered the superstitions of past ages (divine authorship of Torah, the Covenant, ritual practices like wearing kippot and tzitzit and so on). The Reform offers a mixture of traditional and modern ideas while leaning towards the modern. Current Reform synagogues vary greatly between being somewhat Torah observant communities and almost completely secular. It typically regards itself as harmonious with the "spirit of Torah" while 'transcending the letter of Torah'. Some Reform Jews view HaShem more as a concept of goodness than as an individual Being and would be comfortable with the Star Wars idea of the Force, while others share the essential Torah perspectives of God. Likewise some Reform Jews regard the Torah more as a book of history than as divine revelation, while others view it as the eternal God-breathed Word of HaShem. The real difference is that among the Reform such diverse views are generally accepted as valid while they would be regarded as heretical by the Orthodox. The current Reform movement is largely embracing the move towards the unification of the nonOrthodox sects. There are approximately 900 Reform synagogues in the United States and Canada. There are more elsewhere. Reconstructionist Judaism: Reconstructionist Judaism is a diverse progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life that integrates a deep respect for traditional Judaism with the insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life. It is a diverse movement with both impressive strengths and disturbing weaknesses in my opinion. Many Reconstructionist Jews view God more as a Omnipresent Force or Collective Consciousness than as an individual God in the historic Jewish sense. Others view Him in a more traditional, biblical light. Torah is considered very important to most, but again there is debate about why and to what degree it is applicable and inspired. Some consider Torah divine revelation while others see it as an example of significant human wisdom and tradition. Like many in the Reform Movement, many Reconstructionist Jews have what is best described as a universalist view of religion and God, while again others stress the uniqueness of the Covenant and the Jewish people. More than among the Reform movement, many do not believe in a personified deity who is active in history, nor that any God chose the Jewish people as the Elect. Much varies with the

individual. As with most Jews, specific beliefs are down played. Some of the confusion in both the Reform and Reconstructionist communities in my opinion stems from a lack of Orthodox understanding of Kabbalah and Jewish mystical tradition. This is a topic for another times however. This movement seeks to offer Jews (and non-Jews equally) a connection to Jewish culture without appearing "too religious" in traditional terms. The current Reconstructionist Movement is largely embracing the move towards the unification of the non-Orthodox movement. Only about 2% of Jews in America identify as Reconstructionist however many of the "independent" groups are essentially Reconstructionist. It seems likely that at least one significant split will occur within this small movement due to its theological diversity. There are less than 100 Reconstructionist synagogues world-wide. This movement may be ideal for nontraditional independent minded people who are open to a wide array of Torah and non-Jewish New Age interpretations, and for those who are wary of authoritative dictates about faith and practice that come down from the Orthodox rabbinim. Independent Judaism: This is a growing 'non-movement' outside of Israel. It is house/synagogue (local congregation) driven and varies in its level of Torah observance, interpretation, etc. depending on local perspectives. This non-movement is drawing many previously non-practicing Jews back into the fold as well as many ex-Orthodox who are weary or wary of rabbinic dictates. These loosely connected house/synagogues are largely embracing the move towards the unification of the non-Orthodox movement. Among these one will find tremendous diversity. Depending on the rabbinic qualifications of the leaders converts through this non-movement will be accepted by some as Jews and rejected by others (always including the Orthodox). Check with the synagogue authorities about this before beginning the conversion process if you are interested in acceptance beyond the local synagogue "Those who say they are Jews but are not" -- So-called Messianic Judaism (Revelation 2:9, 3:9): This term is used so broadly that it lacks any concrete definition. There is no established Messianic Movement within nor without Judaism nor is there any authority nor agreement about what the term even means. In none of its forms does Judaism, neither Rabbinic nor Karaite, accept the essential claims/beliefs of Messianic Judaism (so-called). All forms of Judaism reject the belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Thus far the Messianic prophecies have not been fulfilled by anyone, hence the Messiah has not yet come. For more on this see my study What the Messiah must accomplish. Those who wish to practice the religion of the historic Y'shua of Nazareth should study and embrace his religion: Judaism. Many people today, both Jews and non-Jews, are seeking to understand the Torah based reforms of the historic Y'shua. The vast majority of these groups overlay Nicene Christian doctrines onto an imaginary Jewish framework thus making their use of the term Messianic meaningless. The Tanach is quite clear on what the Messiah will accomplish. As presented in the New Testament writings themselves, Y'shua, in some cases, accomplished the exact opposite. As early as the late first century CE some heretics were claiming to be Jews but their beliefs were Nicolaitan (Universalism) and anti-Torah as John the Revelator warned at Revelation 2:9 and 3:9. By

definition 'Messianic Jews' would be Jewish, not Christian and yet groups like "Jews for Jesus" invariably espouse the essential anti-Torah beliefs of the Nicean Creed and other Christian declarations.

Who then is a Jew?

One is a Jew if: 1. One is born of a Jewish mother. 2. One formally converts through a Jewish beit din (religious court). Those who are considering conversion have many things to consider: o Why do you want to convert? Conversion is not necessary for most people. o Do you understand and accept that conversion will impact every area of your life? o Are you prepared to embrace a Torah observant life as you grow in your understanding and emunah? o Which Movement best fits your desired practice of Judaism? o Do you have a Jewish support system in place? o Are you really prepared to join an extended family that is so despised by so many? o Are you really prepared to become part of the Suffering Servant of HaShem? o Are you truly prepared to say: "Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. So may the Lord do to me and so may He continue, if anything but death separate me and you." -- Ruth 1:16, 17

Do you understand the nature and purpose of the Eternal Covenant? Do you understand the requirements and blessings it brings to those who enter it? This is the subject of part one: