Defining Jewish Identity

Jun 29 11:11 2008 Jacob Lumbroso Print This Article

The Bible never approaches the subject of Jewish identity quite as directly as the Mishnah and only addresses it circuitously. The patriarch of Abraham for example, the founder of Biblical faith, does not appear until the end of chapter eleven in the book of Genesis, yet others with a relationship with God are mentioned before his appearance.

The Bible does not discuss Jewish identity quite as directly as the Mishnah and only addresses it circuitously. The patriarch Abraham for example,Guest Posting the founder of Jewish faith, does not appear until chapter eleven in the book of Genesis, yet others with a relationship with God are mentioned before his appearance.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis view the people groups introduced as aboriginal peoples defined by their location in a specific land. Egyptians are those in lived in Egypt, Chaldeans, those who lived in Babylon, etc.

Abraham breaks the classic model and journeys to a land where he is not an aboriginal. Abraham and his descendants are the first non-aboriginal peoples and are defined by different set of criteria.

In contrast to other groups, they are instead a people brought into being by the establishment of a covenant. In the biblical view, the parameters of the covenant establish the definition of who is a Jew; hence the definition is a theological one. Jews are Bnai Brit, the sons of the covenant and are a chosen group.

From a theological perspective, the concept of the "chosen people of God" as the basis for Jewish identity is also an extension of the idea of a covenant people and arguably implies that this is the product of an exclusionary choice.

The term used in the Bible is the word bachar. Biblical scholars have review bachar as implying an exclusive choice as in the case of marriage. Chosen means exclusive "chosenness and holiness of a differentiating sort. Deuteronomy 7:6 reads "You are a people holy to God."

In rabbinic literature, it is not a rational choice since it is based on God's love and is not based on conditions or on merit. Nothing that the children of Israel does can abrogate the covenant. This view suggests that this relationship cannot legally end in divorce. This idea is predicated on the idea that Israel's entry into the covenant at Sinai was not voluntary.

Perhaps a better analogy is that God and Israel reflect the relationship of a father and a firstborn son. Regardless of behavior the love for the child remains. The purpose of Israel is the divine mission which helps in the process of God's economy for the world.

In later Biblical passages, the descendants of Jacob are known as the "Bnai Israel" (i.e. the children of Israel) and so the Bible remains cognizant of both a theological as well as "genetic" kinship between its members. They are members of the group of Israel which indicates class membership -a same class membership reflected in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony of today.

The dual nature of Israelite identity reflected in the Bible can also be found in the case of Jonah. Jonah is asked who he is and he responds that he is a Hebrew as well as a God fearing man. His definition is national and religious in nature and not simply a legal one. Throughout history these two ideas have existed - A national group with an extended identity of a religious nature.

Shaye Cohen views Jews (Judaeans) of antiquity as an ethnos that is an ethnic group. Jews were a specified group and were recognized as directly or indirectly connected attached to a specific territory. Jews shared a sense of a unique history and possessed one or more characteristics.

An ethnic community shares a sense of common origins, claims a common and distinctive history, possesses one or more distinctive characteristics, and feels a sense of collective uniqueness and solidarity.

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Jacob Lumbroso
Jacob Lumbroso

Jacob Lumbroso writes articles on Judaism. For more information on the Tallit or other Jewish symbols, visit http://www.judaicaquest.com

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