Are They Jewish By Religion Or By Race?

Posted: November 21, 2010 in Q&A
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Q. I want to thank you for all of your time and hard work keeping up with your wonderful site, it’s truly a blessing!! I have a question about being Jewish. Are Jewish people Jewish by DNA, or just religion? I have always though that Jewish people were Jewish by DNA. I have a friend that says she is Jewish and that being Jewish is only a religion. Can you please clear this up for me?

 

A. This is a complex issue made more confusing because the race and the religion have the same name. There are many people of Jewish blood who are not religious at all.  There are also followers of the religion who are not of Jewish blood. And then there are those who are neither Jewish by blood nor by religion, but are still called Jews. For example many Israelis are not religious, nor are they of Jewish ancestry.  Somewhere in the past their Gentile forefathers converted to Judaism and ever since then they’ve been called Jews even if they no longer practice the religion.  Many of them came from Europe after WW2 and helped re-settle Israel.

This is a situation that troubles some.  They say the people in Israel today are not biological descendants of the original 12 tribes and therefore have no right to the Promised Land. While it’s true that many Israelis are descendants of Gentile converts, there is a significant population of religious Jews in Israel today who are descendants of the 12 tribes. They’re the remnant of the original inhabitants and have a legitimate claim to the land. If the history of the Jewish people is any example, every one of the original 12 tribes is represented among the population of Israel.

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