On Jewish identity in our time and in general


Academics - 2014

"Suddenly a man gets up in the morning and feels that he is a people, and starts walking"

Michael Avraham

If there are kibbutzim that do not know what Yom Kippur is, do not know what Shabbat is and do not know what hope is. Rabbits and pigs are bred. Do they have a relationship with their father?… Array? Array is a sacred thing? They have cut themselves off from all our past and are asking for a new Torah. If there is no Shabbat and no Yom Kippur, then in what is he a Jew?

            (Rabbi Shach's Speech of the Rabbits, Yad Eliyahu, 1990)

This article was written right in the days when more negotiations are exploding between us and the Palestinians, but this time the identity questions that led to it are much closer to the surface. The main reason for the explosion for Israel was the demand to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state. This demand is met, among other things, by the arguments of Palestinian and other elements, who require us first of all to define what and who is a Jew in our eyes before we demand it of others. In this context, some present us as descendants of the Khazars, thus undermining the historical authenticity of the Jewish narrative, that is, that we are indeed the natural continuation of the ancient Jews who lived here in the Land of Israel. On the other hand, the Palestinians also present a historical (somewhat delusional) national identity as the basis for their arguments. I found a particularly amusing example in Eldad Beck's article, which describes a conversation between Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians on behalf of the Israeli government, and Saib Erekat, who is in charge of negotiations on the Palestinian side:[1]

The members of the large Israeli delegation to the security conference in Munich were stunned last night, when a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat, slapped Livni that he and his family were Canaanites and lived in Jericho 3,000 years (!?) Before arriving in the city of Israel led by Joshua Ben Nun. During a discussion on the Middle East peace process in which the two participated, Erekat began talking about the different historical narratives of both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, and argued that the Palestinians and his representative are actually descendants of the Canaanites and therefore have more rights to Palestinian land than Jews. Livni replied that Israel and the Palestinians should not ask which narrative is more just, but how to build a future. "I do not look at the peace arrangement in a romantic way. Cynicism is no less dangerous than naivety. "Israel wants peace because it is in its interest."

Beyond the practical argument, there is a sense that Livni is trying to avoid this embarrassing discussion because she thinks national identity is essentially a kind of narrative, and therefore a discussion about it is irrelevant. There is no right or wrong here, for as is customary today to think any nation constitutes its own identity and no one else is allowed to do so for it. Many will say that even in Jewish identity there are holes that are filled by different narratives (although the dosage is very different from the Palestinian example). The claims of Golda, Ben-Zion Netanyahu and many others, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian, sound very outdated and archaic today. Not because of any historical findings, but because people and nationality are concepts that are defined only de facto.

The questions of identity, historical and cultural, refuse to let go of us. They stand tall and attack us again and again. It seems that almost nowhere in the world are questions of national identity preoccupying people as existentially as among the Jews, and of course in Israel as well. Arguments can perhaps be found as to whether or not you are authentic Belgian, but mainly as a tool for beating opponents, or as part of the romance of a national-nationalist movement. It's hard to even imagine a group or person struggling existentially with the question of being Belgian, or Libyan, real and authentic.

If we take as an example our personal identity, none of us is undecided as to whether I am a real Michael Abraham, and in what am I actually Michael Abraham? What is the definition of Michael Abraham, and do I answer it? Personal identity is self-evident and does not need definitions. The same is true with regard to family identity. Every person who belongs to the Abrahamic family is just like that, and that's it. Questions about criteria and definitions in these contexts seem to be angled. I get the impression that in most nations this is also the case with regard to national identity. She's just there, and that's it. So what is it about her, in Jewish identity, that keeps bothering us so existentially? Is it at all possible to have a constructive and intelligent discussion on this subject?

In this article I will try to describe the methodological problems involved in the discussion of Jewish identity, and present a common sense analysis and a priori analytical on the other hand, of the issue and its meanings. I will therefore not go into details and nuances so as not to lose the big picture, and allow myself to use generalizations that seem reasonable to me without the need for specific sources, Torah or general thought. My need for topicality, and in particular for the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is not done here for polemical purposes but to demonstrate claims that will arise in my remarks. I am not expressing a position here as to the conflict itself and how it is resolved.

The cultural-philosophical discussion and the halakhic-Torah discussion

The main concept in the title of the discussion, Jewish identity, is vague. The discussion about it can be taken in at least two directions: a. Jewish national identity in the philosophical-ethnic-cultural sense. B. Jewish identity in the Torah-halakhic sense (many will not at all accept the assumption that these are two different discussions). This of course connects to the question (barren in my opinion) whether Judaism is a religion or a nation, which I will not touch on here either. These are not just two different discussions, but they express two different discussion methods: whether to conduct the discussion in the more general conceptual system or in a halakhic-Torah system.

In general, religious identities are easier to define than national identities. This is because religious identities are based on shared values ​​and norms, and in particular on committed actions and beliefs (albeit with different shades of interpretation. Nothing in life is really that simple).[2] In contrast, national identity is a more amorphous concept, and is based on history, territory, culture, religion, language, certain character traits and more, or some mixes of all of these. Usually a national identity does not relate to common mental or practical principles, and certainly not to principles unique to a specific people. But culture, language, psychological characteristics of one kind or another, are variable and ambiguous, and in most cases they can also be shared with other nationalities. Moreover, some of these characteristics vary, and an individual or company may adopt or abandon some of them. So which of these is a necessary criterion for national identity?

This is also the case in the Jewish context. It is quite easy to define the religious Jewish identity. Those who are obligated to keep the mitzvos have a Jewish identity. How many mitzvos should be observed? This is a more complicated question, and it is becoming more and more complicated in our complex generation, but it is a second-order question. Commitment in principle to the mitzvos is a sufficient definition for our needs.[3] Moreover, in the halakhic context the question of identity, even the religious one, has no importance. There is a fairly clear halakhic definition regarding all types of religious obligations, to whom they are addressed and to whom they are bound. Questions of religious identity do not arise directly in the world of Torah-halakhic concepts.

If with regard to religious identity there is no halakhic importance to the question, then it is easy and material with regard to the question of national identity. What is the halakhic consequence of the determination that a group has a Jewish national identity? In halakhah, the question of who keeps or does not keep mitzvos has meaning, and even more so the question of who must or must not keep them. The question of identity has no clear halakhic answer, and has no direct halakhic implications on its own.

From a halakhic point of view, a Jew is someone who was born to a Jewish mother or converted correctly.[4] This is his identity in the halakhic sense, and it does not matter what he does, and in particular whether he keeps or does not keep mitzvos. Halachically he of course must abide by them, and it is possible to discuss whether the one who does not do so is a criminal and what should be done to him. But the question of his identity does not matter. Phrases such as "came out of the whole of Israel" are mostly metaphorical, and have no real practical implication in halakhah. And even if they have some meaning, the halakhah defines them according to its technical criteria.

National Identity: The Distinction Between Agreements and Contingencies

So far we have dealt with the questions of identity from the halakhic-religious point of view. From the general philosophical point of view, the main interest is in the national identity and not in the religious one. I have already mentioned that national identity in general is a vague and difficult concept to define. Here I will focus mainly on two extreme poles in relation to the definition of national identity: the consensual (conventionalist) approach and the essentialist (essentialist) approach.

The question of nationalism and national identity is a new and essentially modern question. In the distant past, for various reasons, people hardly asked themselves what their national identity was and how to define it. The world was more static, people did not make many changes in their lives, and hardly had to confront their identities with competing identities. It is doubtful whether there was in their consciousness a distinct concept of national identity, and even if there were changes in that identity they came spontaneously and naturally and unconsciously. The national identity was natural, similar to the personal and family identities mentioned above. The religious background also contributed to the interest, as most people had a religious identity. In the earlier world there was a perception that kingship is a gift from God to those who are born to be king, and so is our national and religious identity and affiliation with it. All of these were created with the world in the six days of Genesis, and were taken for granted and taken for granted.

In the modern era, with the rise of nationalism in Europe and in the world in general, the question began to float in full force. The difficulty of defining national identity has yielded answers that are mostly between two poles: the first is the conventionalist pole that sees national identity as something based on an almost arbitrary agreement. Once a group sees itself as a people, at least if it lasts a certain amount of time, because then it is a people. The poet Amir Gilboa, in 1953, following the establishment of the state, described it as follows: "Suddenly a man gets up in the morning and feels that he is a people, and begins to walk." The other pole is substantive perceptions that see national identity as something natural and structured, just like personal identity. When one wonders more about the nature of that elusive "natural" element, nationality, romantics sometimes come to metaphysics. According to these approaches, nationality has a metaphysical existence in some sense, something like a Platonic idea, and the individuals that make up the nation are included in this entity because of their metaphysical connection to it. Each horse belongs to the group of horses without the need to explicitly define what a horse is. He's just a horse, and that's it. Likewise, every Belgian belongs to the Belgian group without committing to any definitions. Not only because it is difficult to suggest definitions, but because it is not necessary. National identity is a natural concept just like personal and family identity.

It is important to understand that Amir Gilboa's words describing the national awakening could also have been written within the framework of the substantive-metaphysical conception, but here it will be an experiential awakening, in which the same metaphysical reality that was previously dormant penetrates people's consciousness. It awakens in them and they want to realize it in practice, in concrete institutional political and social senses. Suddenly a person gets up and feels the metaphysical fact (which has always been true) that he is a people, and starts walking. In the romance of national awakening man arose in the sense of awakening from a coma, in contrast to the consensual conception in which he arose is interpreted as an ascent from the ground to begin the march. The debate is over whether the establishment is an awakening or a formation.

National identity: the consensual approach and its expression

On the agreed side of the map stand thinkers like Benedict Anderson, in his influential book Imaginary communities (1983), and many others followed. These deny the existence of an essential content of concepts such as nationality and national identity. Those who hold this approach see nationality as a kind of arbitrary fiction that is created and crystallized in the consciousness of some groups throughout their (usually shared) history. It is important to understand that this is not to say that this awakening is not valid, or that its demands and claims can be underestimated. definitely not. National identity exists as a psychological fact and is important to people, and as such many believe it deserves respect. But essentially it is something arbitrary. To sharpen the meaning of this approach, the reader will forgive me if I devote a few paragraphs to current affairs here.

A blatant example of an approach that belongs to the consensual school is the view of Prof. Shlomo Zand. Zand is a historian from Tel Aviv University, who previously belonged to Compass circles and belongs to the radical left circles in Israel. In his controversial book When and how was the Jewish people invented? (Wrestling, 2008), Zand chose to analyze an example that particularly challenges Benedict Anderson's thesis. He is trying to prove there that the Jewish people are an imaginary community. This task is particularly ambitious, for whatever our opinion of Anderson's position is, if there is an example in the (Western) world that stands in stark contrast to his thesis it is the Jewish people. Indeed, in my opinion (and in the opinion of many others) Zand's book gives a bad name to historical research, and in particular undermines such a fundamental and important distinction between ideology and academic research.[5] But what allows him to do all this is the inherent ambiguity of the concept of national identity.

If we continue with current events, a particularly clear example from the other pole, one that well confirms Anderson's view, is the Palestinian people. The Palestinians are a people who are clearly based on an imaginary identity (which sometimes includes really fictional hallucinations, such as belonging to the Philistines or the biblical Canaanites, or even to earlier ages)[6], Created almost out of nothing in historical terms.

It makes sense to point out here a typical implication of the consensual conception. At the beginning of his book, Zand dedicates the book: "In memory of the residents of al-Sheikh Mu'anis who were displaced in the distant past from where I live and work in the near present." The tone is descriptive and serene, and on the face of it he seems not to see it as a problem. If national identities are inherently imaginary, then one imaginary identity is pushing the other. It comes and it disappears. This is the way of the world. According to him, these are psychological facts and not metaphysical values ​​or truths, not even historical truths. This is the other side of the conventionalist currency that sees national identities as imaginary.

The conclusion is that if a national identity is in fact an arbitrary subjective agreement, then two (though not necessarily) inferior conclusions can be drawn (though not necessarily): 1. Such entities have no real rights. Nations are spineless creatures, which have no existence outside the imaginations of people. 2. National identity is an integral part of the identity of many people and in fact there is no other national identity (essentially real), so the fact that it is an imaginary identity does not mean that the claims and claims of such entities can be underestimated.

Miraculously, quite a few people with this approach allow themselves to use it to criticize one identity (in the case of Zand, the Israeli-Jew) and accuse them of mystifying an arbitrary and imagined social convention, inventing ourselves to know, and at the same time from the same point of view. Of another imaginary identity (the Palestinian, in the example of Zand). The absurdity is further exacerbated by the fact that the Jewish people in particular are the least successful example and the Palestinian people are the clearest example of imagined nationalism. I will repeat and emphasize that I do not intend here to discuss the proper relation to the claim of such a community for political recognition, as this is a normative-value-political question. Here I deal only with historical-cultural description and critique of incoherence in discussion.

National Identity: The Essential Approach

So far I have stood by the conventionalism and the problematic nature of it. Perhaps precisely because of these difficulties, some take the concept of national identity to the realms of metaphysics. The national awakening in Europe, as well as the Jewish national awakening that was reflected in the Zionist movement and was greatly influenced by European national romanticism. These movements often express a position that nationalism is founded on some metaphysical entity (the people, the nation). Extreme expressions of this view appear in fascist expressions (in Hitler's Germany, Bismarck, and many more before them, as well as in Garibaldi's Italy and more). These attitudes were expressed in the Torah thought of Rabbi Kook and his students. These adopted this metaphysical idea, and turned it into the essence of a Jewish faith. The Jewish spark, dim, hidden, denied and repressed, however it may be, is what defines a person's Judaism. The virtue of Israel and the innate and genetic uniqueness of every Jew, became almost an exclusive criterion for Judaism, especially when all traditional characteristics (observance) disappeared, or at least ceased to be an agreed-upon common denominator. The "Knesset of Israel" has turned from a metaphor into an ontological expression of the Jewish metaphysical idea.

I present here the substantive approach in response to the consensual one, but on the historical axis it is clear that the substantive (though not always metaphysical) conception preceded conventionalism. Historically, it has been conventionalist approaches that have emerged in response to substantive approaches. If the substantive approach is very much identified with modernism and national awakening, then conventionalism is part of the post-national "new critique" that is identified with the position known as postmodernism.

The basic paradox

So far I have described the two perceptions opposite each other. Where do they collide? What are the differences between them? I think that on this level we are in for a surprise. A priori those with the second approach, the essential ones, are exempt from seeking definitions of national identity. After all, according to them, anyone who has an affinity for the metaphysical idea (Knesset of Israel) is a Jew. Even in the controversy of conversion we hear again and again about the argument of "Seed of Israel" as a basis for demanding facilitation of the conversion process, and not surprisingly it comes mainly from circles close to Rabbi Kook. It is metaphysics that defines us as Jews, and therefore we are exempt from the need for program definitions. For metaphysical romantics, Jewish identity is an empirical fact that is not subject to content, values, or any other criterion. Of course, those with such an attitude may believe that every Jew must observe the values ​​and mitzvos of the Torah, but this has nothing to do with his definition as a Jew and his identity.

Of course, even according to the materialist-metaphysical conceptions, different characteristics of the Jewish national identity can be proposed, but in their view these are contingent characteristics, that is, they are not important for the purpose of defining the nation. Even those who do not observe them are Jews by virtue of belonging to the Jewish metaphysical idea. As unexpected as it is, the question of identity is foreign to traditional thinking.

On the other hand, those with a conventionalist approach, those who do not believe in metaphysical romance, need much more definitions, criteria and characteristics by which they can judge who belongs to this national identity and who does not. That is why they are asking themselves why we are Jews. If not metaphysics, then what is? But conventionalists do not find such a plausible definition, and thus arrive at perceptions of imaginary identity. Many of them adopt a definition that does not seem to be a natural continuation of Jewish identity as it was perceived in the thousands of years before us. Reading Amos Oz's books, speaking Hebrew, serving in the army and paying decent taxes to the state, being persecuted in the Holocaust, and perhaps also being inspired by Torah sources, are the characteristics of Jewish identity today. To this must be added the common history and genealogy. It is factual and only this is what really characterizes Jews in our time (though certainly not all of them). If so, in their view national identity is also a kind of fact, just as in the metaphysical method, except that here it is a psychological-historical fact and not a metaphysical fact.

Two questions arise in relation to the conventionalist approach:

  • In what sense does this national identity constitute a continuation of its previous manifestations? If only the imaginary identity is the basis for continuity, then it is not enough. We must first define the group and only then can we ask what its characteristics are. But as long as the characteristics do not exist how do we define the group? This is a question that remains without a satisfactory solution, and there can be no satisfactory solution for it in the consensual picture. As stated, even the holders of the essential position have no solution to this question, except that they are not at all bothered by it.
  • Do these definitions really "do the job"? After all, these definitions do not really stand up to any critical test. Think about the settings suggested above. Speaking in the Hebrew language certainly does not necessarily distinguish the Jews, and on the other hand there are many Jews who do not speak Hebrew. Even the connection to the Bible is not like that (Christianity is much more deeply connected to it, and many Jews are not connected to it at all). Payment of taxes and military service certainly does not necessarily characterize Jews (Druze, Arabs, migrant workers and other non-Jewish citizens do this no less well). On the contrary, there are quite a few good Jews who do not, and no one doubts their Judaism. Amos Oz and the Bible are read all over the world, even if not in the original language. On the other hand, is literature written in Poland related to the Bible also Jewish? So what's left?

It is important to note here that there are certainly Jewish character traits, as can be said of the collective character of many other peoples. But character traits are not nationally identical. Moreover, in order to talk about a character trait one must first define the group that is endowed with it. After all, there are many people in the world who are endowed with a character that can fall under the definition of a Jewish character, and yet no one will say they are Jews. Only after we know who a Jew is, can we look at the group of Jews and ask if there are any character traits that characterize them. There is also a Jewish history and a common origin, but these are just facts. It is difficult to see value in all of these, and it is not clear why all of this is perceived as an existential problem and as something that needs definition. It is factually true that most Jews have a common origin and history in some sense. So what? Is there room for a claim from someone to be Jewish, in the sense of genealogy and history? If he is like that then he is like that, and if not then not.

If so, even if we are very open and flexible, it is still difficult to point the finger at a sharp criterion for who is a national Jew in a value sense in the consensual approach. Perhaps we should adopt the method accepted in psychological (and sometimes also medical) diagnostics, according to which the existence of a certain amount of characteristics from a given list would constitute a satisfactory definition of a Jewish identity? As I have shown above, it is difficult to see this as a satisfactory criterion either. Can any of us give such a list? Can any of us explain why six of this list of attributes are required, rather than seven or five? And above all, will this criterion really succeed in distinguishing between Jews and non-Jews in a credible way? Quite clearly not (see examples above).

Because of this problematic nature, many of the conventionalists return here to the realms of halakhic genetics, meaning that they too are looking for the Jewish identity in the mother. Others will hang it on a person's personal consciousness: a Jew is one who feels and declares himself a Jew.[7] The built-in circularity and emptiness of this definition does not really bother conventionalists. Agreements are ready to accept any convention, be it circular or meaningless whenever. Its validity is due to the fact that they agreed on it. But it is expected that an imaginary community will be willing to base its identity on imaginary criteria. Beyond all these arguments, it is still either facts or empty arguments, which certainly does not explain the existential tension around this issue.

Rabbi Shach in his speech quoted above attacks the definition of Jewish identity, and does so in halakhic terms. It basically presents a kind of substantive position, but not necessarily metaphysical (national identity in terms of commitment to certain values). Wikipedia 'Speech of the Rabbits and the Pigs' describes the reaction of the Rebbe of Lubavitch to the speech of the rabbits of Rabbi Shach as follows:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe‘, Bar Plugata Of Rabbi Shach for many years, responded to the speech in his own speech, which he delivered atSabbath Afterwards in his beit midrash. The Rebbe said that no one is allowed to speak against the Jewish people. The Jewish view is that "Israel, though the sin of Israel is," the children of Israel are the "only son" of God And he that speaketh in his condemnation, as he that speaketh in the condemnation of God. Every Jew must be helped to maintain everything Commandments Religion, but in no way attack it. The Rebbe defined his contemporaries as "Udim shaded by fire", and "Captured babies“, That they are not to blame for their knowledge and attitude towards Judaism.

This is an example of a reaction from the metaphysical type. On the other hand, the then president, Haim Herzog, expressed the conventionalist response to Rabbi Shach's words, when he wondered how the Jewishness of the kibbutzniks of the Kubilniks and the handcuffs who founded the state and served in the army with great devotion could be questioned. So what is Rabbi Shach preparing for? He does not accept metaphysics, nor is he willing to be a conventionalist. Is there a third option?

Are indefinable concepts non-existent?

The obvious conclusion is that the concept of Jewish national identity is indefinable. It is of course possible to offer different definitions, each according to his degree of creativity, but it is certainly not possible to agree on a definition, and at least for most groups they do not seem to exclude those who do not meet their definition from all of Israel (as long as their mother is Jewish). Does this mean that such an identity is necessarily imaginary, meaning that a Jewish identity does not really exist? Is the only option for metaphysics or halakhic formalism the narrative? I'm not sure.

This question takes us to philosophical realms that there is no place to enter here, so I will only try to touch on them briefly. We use many vague terms, like art, rationality, science, democracy and more. However as we approach to define such a concept we encounter problems similar to those described here. Many conclude from this that these concepts are imaginary, and even build around it a magnificent postmodern palace (the conceptual connection to Rabbi Shagar is not accidental). A clear example of this is Gideon Ofrat's book, The definition of art, Who offers dozens of different definitions of the concept of art and rejects them, until he finally comes to the conclusion that art is what is displayed in a museum (!). On the other hand, Robert M. Piersig, in his cult book Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Describes a metaphorical journey of a rhetoric professor named Phydros, who is in pursuit of defining the concept of quality. At some point he undergoes enlightenment, concluding that Greek philosophy has caused us the illusion that every concept must have a definition, and a concept without a definition simply does not exist (it is imagined). But a concept like quality is probably indefinable, and yet he refuses to accept the conclusion that it is a concept that has no real content. A mere convention. It is clear that there are quality connections and there are some that do not. To the same extent, there are works of art and there are works of poor artistic value. The conclusion is that concepts like quality, or art, although difficult and perhaps impossible to define, still exist. They are not necessarily imagined.

It seems that a similar claim can also be made in the context of national identity. One can accept the essential thesis that there is a national identity without the need for metaphysics. National identity has different characteristics and it is difficult to offer a definition for it, and yet these are not necessarily imaginations or conventions, nor are they necessarily metaphysics. It can be an amorphous real concept that is difficult or impossible to define. It seems to me that a similar substantive definition underlies Rabbi Shach's conception (although he proposes a halakhic definition, and does not accept the possibility of an alternative national definition). He argues that there is an essential definition of Jewish identity, and even demands from people claims based on it. On the other hand, he does not see metaphysics as a satisfactory alternative. As for myself, I do not tend to think so. Without metaphysics I do not see how one can speak of a national entity in the ontological sense. But it is clear to me that many disagree with me on this.


So far the philosophy. But now comes the next question: Why is all this important at all? Why should we define, or even try to understand, Jewish identity? My answer is that it does not matter at all. There are no implications for this question, and it is at most a matter of intellectual analysis (usually barren, and perhaps even empty of content). If I may sin in the psychology of an armchair, the search for a Jewish identity is an expression of a sense of commitment to Jewish religion and history without being willing to put them into practice. People are looking for alternatives to an identity that was once religious, so that they can feel Jewish after the shedding of identity and religious commitment. To this end, new questions and new concepts are invented, and considerable and futile effort is put into deciphering them.

In my opinion, there is no way to discuss an intelligent discussion of Jewish identity, and certainly not to reach decisions about it, which is also not really important. If it's a convention then why argue about agreements. Each will sign the agreements that appear to him. If it's metaphysics, I do not see how it is accessible to debate and debate. And even if we accept a substantive conception of a Jewish national (as opposed to halakhic) identity, this is again inaccessible to definitions, to debate, and certainly not to an agreed decision. These are semantic proposals, many of which are unfounded, and others are completely empty of content, or do not stand the test of any reasonableness. Moreover, as I have pointed out, all of this has no practical significance whatsoever. These are people's psychological struggles with themselves, and nothing more.

This unnecessary and unimportant argument is now used primarily to slam the opponent. Anyone who wants to promote socialist ideas - explains to all of us that Judaism has always been socialist, and anyone who is not like that is not a Jew. Others who are interested in militaristic ideas also flaunt Judaism and Jewish identity. So it is with democracy, equality, capitalism, liberty, openness, coercion, charity and kindness, social justice, and all other lofty values. In short, Judaism is a light to the Gentiles, but the nature of that light is fundamentally indisputable and indecisive. Unlike other controversies, which can be ways of clarifying and can also have some value in it, the controversy regarding Jewish identity is in principle unresolved and unimportant in any sense.

One thing is quite logically clear: none of these lists of values ​​(socialism, militarism, social justice, equality, freedom, etc.), or any other value, can constitute an essential, necessary or sufficient element in the definition of a Jewish identity. Anyone who believes in any of these values ​​or in any combination of them can be a fancy gentile for all opinions and undisputed. There is no bar to being a socialist gentile, advocating equality or freedom, a militarist or not. Therefore, all of these are not relevant criteria for Jewish identity, even if the unbelievable happens (and fear not, it probably will not happen) and someone will be able to prove from Jewish tradition and sources that one of these is indeed part of the program of this identity.

Jewish identity in our time

The conclusion is that the debate over national identity is futile and worthless. As I have already mentioned, the same is true in relation to religious identity. Anyone who is born to a Jewish mother or has converted properly must keep the commandments of the Torah and the words of the sages and not commit transgressions. that's it. The definitions of man, his identity, and other vegetables, are a subjective matter, and may be psychological, metaphysical, conventionalist, or perhaps even an amorphous (indefinable) essential. All the possibilities can be right, so there is also no point in discussing them.

Let us consider what could be the consequence of such a discussion? That someone will feel satisfaction that he is a good Jew? Feeling good is a matter for psychologists. Discussions about identity in the value sense are barren and empty semantics, and therefore unnecessary. If a concrete implication is given for which we are interested in defining identity, then it will be possible (perhaps) to discuss the relevant questions about it. But as long as it is a general discussion, everyone will define their Judaism as they wish. Even if one is right and the other is wrong, this question should not interest anyone, except for a few academic researchers who make a living from such semantic analyzes. On the other hand, who am I to interfere with this heroic and futile effort? Sisyphus is also part of our cultural identity…[8]

[1] Eldad Beck from Germany, YNET, 1.2.2014.

[2] The secularization process raises issues of scholarly religious identity (does it mean Protestant, Muslim, or Catholic, secular?).

[3] If we are dealing with definitions, then the nature of the mitzvos in question and the motivation for their observance are very important. Even if the law requires moral conduct, it is unlikely to define Judaism on this basis since it is common to all in the world. Even mitzvot such as the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, which are not of a moral nature, can not define a religious Jewish identity, since it also exists in those who do not define themselves as part of the Jewish religion, because in many cases the motivation for their existence comes from the same place.

[4] Although conversion is also a process that itself is as controversial as many other halakhic issues, it is enough for our needs.

[5] This did not stop the book from being translated into twenty languages ​​and winning awards around the world.

[6] See, quoting Eldad Beck's letter quoted above.

[7] To the best of my recollection, the then president, Haim Herzog, in his response to the rabbit speech, as well as many others to this day, mentioned this "criterion." Anyone with a bit of logical sensitivity is amazed at this fascinating phenomenon. We want to define the concept Jewish, and do so in the following way: all a that can be placed in place of X in the following format: "X who felt X" and the description comes out true, is Jewish. According to this definition, any self-aware creature that does not lie to itself is a Jew (check the placement group).

[8] It is possible that we must also understand Gideon Ofrat's above conclusion. Perhaps he is not saying that there is no such thing as art, but only concludes that the discussion about it is unnecessary and fruitless.

3 Thoughts on "Jewish Identity in Our Time and in General"

  1. When you define a Jew as someone who thinks of himself as a Jew, you have said nothing. The terms used in the definition should be familiar before and without it. So if we assume that the term Jew is X and the definition needs to clarify it, then basically what you said in such a definition is that a Jew is an X who thinks he is an X.

  2. I do not agree. To identify a material that is not defined at all. In Kabbalah there is a definition of both divine and sparkle etc. As long as one speaks in a vague Torah then it is a meaningless definition. There is definitely a definition. But I will not bring her now. What is lacking in definition means that there is no principle that unites everyone to identify one. And therefore there is no one identity for all. There is a nafkamina for Jewish identity. Because the very fact that I see myself as a Jew and I do not doubt the identity of another as a Jew. In this I connect myself to him and when I do a certain act and I define it as a Jewish act, then I say a Jew, part of his Jewish values ​​is to do these acts. Which is not necessarily true because a cat for example behaves modestly without belonging to the religion of modesty however a person has the ability to behave like a dog and eat on the floor out of a desire to achieve another purpose. Although the path he chose is contrary to nature.

    If the Jew really sees himself as a new Jew and detaches himself from the Jewish identity. The other, for example, will not use the Law of Return. Especially if it is done out of state institutions as a Jewish state. But when a connection is severed then it is called sex and according to Jewish law it should be caused an indirect death.

    So if we all see ourselves as Jews. Despite the differences then there is one thing we all have in common that is what causes us not to give up our Jewish definition. And to associate ourselves are connected to all the Jews in the world. This is not a legal definition because even Jews who do not recognize the law admit it. This is the definition of a way of life that all Jews want. This is a definition that has expression in his life as a Jew even if it is only while seeking to realize this definition. In any case, it is the center of value. Whether in an attempt to realize it or in an attempt to ignore it by force. Because that too is an attitude. On the other hand, a value with which he has no relationship does not deny what he does not think about at all and does not manage conflicts with.

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