This article was written jointly by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks
As far as we are concerned, there is a difference between the two. They are not always one and the same.
A Jew, according to the Oxford definition is “A member of the people and cultural community whose traditional religion is Judaism and who trace their origins through the ancient Hebrew people of Israel to Abraham.”
We are not going to enter a debate here on who is a Jew. This definition merely addresses what a Jew is.
That same source defines Jewish as :” Of or relating to the Jews or their culture or religion.”
What begs to be concluded from these two definitions is that in order to be Jewish, one needs to be a Jew first. To be born a Jew or to become a Jew, one is automatically admitted into the Covenant that G-d entered with Avraham.
The Abrahamic Covenant is an unconditional Covenant. G-d made promises to Avraham in Bresheet (Genesis) 15:18-21. That Covenant which requires nothing of Avraham deals mainly with the dimension of the Land that G-d promised to him and his descendants. The rite itself as described in Bresheet 12:1-3 reinforces the notion that it is an unconditional one as it is G-d alone who passes between the pieces of animals after causing Avraham to fall into a deep sleep. The sign of this Covenant is the Brit Mila, the ceremony of circumcision (Bresheet 17:9-14). All males in the Avrahmic line were to be circumcised so that they bear a lifelong mark of it upon their flesh. Any descendant of Avraham who is denied or refuses circumcision was naturally declared and destined to be outside of G-d’s Covenant. Entering the Avrahamic Covenant is one of the conditions of being a Jew.
There is another Covenant that every Jew enters either upon birth or when becoming one. It is one that has shaped Am Yisrael and our Jewish people into who we are today. It is the Mosaic one, the one we entered with G-d at Mount Sinai. Unlike the Avrahamic Covenant, this one is a conditional one.
A Law school professor might call it a “contract of adhesion” in which the terms are presented as non-negotiable and to be accepted by the people. G-d presented His law to Am Yisrael at Mount Sinai as described in Shemot (Exodus) 19:5. Their response was acceptance, saying, “נעשה ונשמע " We shall do and we shall hear!” (Shemot 19:8).
The Mosaic Covenant sets Am Yisrael and the Jewish People apart from other nations. It is in understanding the responsibilities and values that are inherent to the Covenant at Mount Sinai, being motivated by them, identifying with them and acting consistent with them, that turns the Jew into Jewish.
It is important to note here, that though some of the values such as social justice and moral code dictated to Am Yisrael, at Mount Sinai are universal, Judaism itself is not universal. It belongs to Jews and Am Yisrael only.
Now, we would bet people reading this so far expect the next paragraph to include an endorsement that Jews become more religious. No, that is not the intent of this essay. Nor is the intent to define who is a Jew or what Judaism is beyond the statements above.
Instead, the idea is to alert Jews to a problem. There are those Jews who have excluded themselves from the Jewish People representing themselves as Jews, when often they are not under normative and historical Jewish definitions. These Jews represent their motivations as Jewish when they are not. These Jews claim their values as Jewish when they are not.
This not a new phenomenon. Only the titles have changed. Throughout history, when Jews have been a minority or under foreign rule, there have been those Jews who saw it in their best interest to join with the powers that be and the group they ruled. They did it, and too often, to prove their allegiance (sometimes required, sometimes not) to their new “friends” by opposing the interests of the Jewish People, by actively negating – or reinterpreting – their connection to the Jewish people.
For instance, in Iberia, between 1200 and 1500, some Jews converted to Christianity so as not to be persecuted. When the Inquisition came in 1492 (1496 in Portugal), many of these converts became the most anti-Semitic people in Christian Spain. Torquemada, the first grand inquisitor, is one example.
In the late 19th Century and early 20th, many Jews in Europe, in an effort avoid being subject to exclusion and persecution, converted to Catholicism, seeking safety and security in a change of ideology, dumping their Judaism for what appeared to them to be “universalism.” Other Jews joined political movements, socialism, communism, trading Judaism for these universalist movements, as if to hide and seek safety in a universal ideology.
Today, we see some Jews acting similarly, but with a bit of a change. It is no longer necessary to hide that one is a Jew. Thus, instead of denying that they are Jews and in order to fit in, they reinterpret what Judaism is and turn it into universal secularism. This way, they create the fiction which allows them remain Jewish under the claim that the ethics of Judaism are indistinguishable from the latest liberal universal definition of secularism. In short, they leave Judaism and Jewish concerns and interests behind to become the Jew who is a believer in whatever the latest fashionable approach to secularism is. Liberalism and all its clichés of the day has become their religion, though they falsely label it Jewish.
So how is this modern manifestation different from the former Jews who were anti-Semites in post 1492 Spain, for example ? Not at all. So, for instance, when we see a “Jewish Voice for Peace” sidind with those who call for the destruction of Yisrael and the murder of Jews, we need to understand what they are. When we see an organization like B’Zelem in Medinat Yisrael (Israel) make an effort to damage Yisrael’s security and give aid and comfort to those that wish it destroyed, because they worry about what Europe thinks, we’ve seen it before.
We have all seen these online debates in which some far left wing Jew that claims to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist is called a Kapo by those who oppose him. Not only is that kind of characterization unfair and inaccurate, but it is perhaps not strong enough. “Kapos” became Kapos, because they were trying to survive often when the alternative was death. Those who claim the title “Jew” today, but who ally themselves with anti-Semites, who support murderers of Jews, did not take that position for their own safety or that of their families, but for other reasons that are not nearly as noble. We believe that they are worse than Kapos by any measure.
Frankly, the Jewish nation does not need people who choose to endanger the Jewish people in favor of some left-wing universalist clichés. The Jewish People does not need those who want to solve their psychological and sociological problems by damaging the future for the rest of us. The last thing the Jewish People needs is the kind of Jew who laughs at Jewish heritage and dismisses it in some misguided effort to be liked by gentiles.
In the Passover Hagaddah, there is the allegory of the 4 sons. One of them asks, “what does all this mean to you” as if excluding himself from Judaism, its Heritage, history and its ethical and moral standards. It is those misguided Jews, we believe, that the Hagaddah addresses.
So what should the Jewish people do about these “Jews in Name Only” ?
The first step is to understand what we started this essay with --- that a Jew can choose to be Jewish or not. We, Jews, first and foremost, need to understand that merely being a descendant of the Avrahamic Covenant does not automatically make one a party to the one made at Sinai.
Wishing our Jewish brothers and sisters a happy and blessed Pesach.