Who is a Jew

By Gideon

Have you ever wondered why some Jews look European while others look Middle Eastern, African, Indian, Persian, etc.? How come that in a nation that lived in closed communities for centuries and put such emphasis on marrying within the faith, Jewish people look more like their non-Jewish neighbors than what we perceive to be the look of the original Jews who lived in the Middle East?

Rabbi Sharyn Henry in an article in the Jewish Chronicle gives the following explanation:  “The historical home of the Jews lies at the geographic crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe. As a result, Jews have always been an amalgam of many peoples and that Jewish origin includes a multitude of languages, nations, tribes and skin colors. The story of the Jewish people is filled with interracial and intercultural mixing: Joseph married an Egyptian-African. Moses married Zipporah, an Ethiopian. A “mixed multitude” left Egypt with the Hebrews. Solomon and David each took wives from Africa. Later, when Jews spread across the globe we established communities in countries as far-flung as Jamaica, Brazil, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Uganda, India and China, as well as in many countries in Europe. In our own time the Jewish community has changed through adoption, conversion and intermarriage. In a blog post entitled “Not all Jews look like Barbra Streisand,” one African-American Jewish woman noted, “… many Jews look like me.” [http://thejewishchronicle.net/view/full_story/17462540/article-All-Jews-don%E2%80%99t-look-like-Barbra-Streisand-Yitro–Exodus-18-1-20-23–]

I accept this explanation. In fact, I once heard that during the early days of the Diaspora it was quite common for Jewish men to marry non-Jewish women. I can’t confirm it, but if this was the case, then it is easy to understand how over several generations, Jewish communities adopted the look of the hosting country and the question why not all Jews have dark eyes is answered.

According to an article published in aish.com, Jews in the Diaspora maintained their identity at the genetic level: “Despite their long-term residence in different countries and isolation from one another, most Jewish populations were not significantly different from one another at the genetic level. The results support the hypothesis that the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population, and suggest that most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora.” (M.F. Hammer, Proc. Nat’l Academy of Science, May 9, 2000) [http://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48937817.html]

Based on the above, if there was some level of intermarriage throughout history, and if despite that, Jewish people were able to maintain their racial identity, one might think that the answer to the question of who is a Jew should be left for the individual to decide based on his religion preference and religious practices. However, the reality is that it isn’t left to the individual. The issue is so complex that I couldn’t begin to sort it out even if I tried. I listed below several links to articles that do just that. Hopefully they’ll make sense to you. If they don’t, you are not alone; Jewish rabbis and Israeli law makers have been struggling with this issue since the State of Israel was born, an event that created for the first time in a long time, an advantage to be a Jew  (in the State of Israel), a status which provided special privileges for new comers.

There is a good movie which demonstrates how complicated the issue is. The movie is called The Other Son. Below is a short description of the movie.

“As he prepares to join the Israeli army for his national service, Joseph discovers he is not his parents’ biological son, but that he was inadvertently switched at birth with Yassin, the son of a Palestinian family from the West Bank. This revelation turns the lives of these two families upside-down, forcing them to reassess their respective identities, their values and their beliefs. [http://cohenmedia.net/the-other-son/synopsis/]

It is not a political movie and you can enjoy it regardless of your opinion on the subject. My family represents the entire political and ideological spectrum on this issue. Yet, we all enjoyed watching it. I highly recommend the movie.


About conversion to Judaism and who is a Jew controversy