Who Is a Jew?

(Disclaimer: Although anyone who is part of a Jewish community may represent certain communal likeness, not all Jews in every grouping dress, behave, or look alike. While the pictures on this page represent the majority in each group, each individual chooses his or her dress, behavior, or look in the way he or she chooses. It is all a matter of personal identity and comfort)

Being a Jew has certain requirements that need to be met in order to reap the benefits of Judaism . Traditionally, by Jewish Law (Halacha), a Jew is someone whose mother is/was Jewish before the birth of the individual,  or any person who has properly converted to Judaism.

This presents a couple of situations:

  1. Unlike most lineages, Judaism counts the bloodline through the mother and not the father. That is, if the mother is Jewish, the children are considered Jewish, regardless of the father’s background.
    • There are some Jewish communities that allow the paternal bloodline to be taken into consideration for admittance into the community. Temple Beth Israel accepts membership based on either parent, or both, as long as the child was raised with Jewish beliefs.
    • The mother needs to be a Jew prior to the birth of her children; that is, if the mother went through conversion and had children, the children will not be considered Jewish, they would have to undergo personal conversions; however, any new children she has will certainly be considered Jewish from birth.
  2. Not anyone can claim to be a Jew out of his or her own volition. This means that a person wishing to become a Jew cannot simply profess his or her belief and commitment to Judaism on the spot and be a Jew in the sense of the word. If neither parent is a Jew, or if the paternal lineage is not enough to prove one’s Jewishness, a person must go through a conversion process to become a Jew.
  3. Conversion to Judaism is a time-consuming process. The conversion process is beyond the scope of this web page. Please, consult a Rabbi if you are interested in conversion classes.

Judaism is divided into several movements and each one of them has a different approach to Torah and beliefs. These are the main movements of Judaism:

Within those movements are also

  • Sephradic Jews, descendants of those who left Spain in 1492 (at the height of the Inquisition), and later, Portugal

 

 

  • Ashkenazi Jews, primarily identified with Eastern Europe and, more specifically, Germany

 

 

 

 

  • Karaite Jews

 

 

 

  • Yemenite Jews

 

 

  • and even secular Jews who don’t necessarily follow a life guided by Torah, but are still Jews by lineage or conversion

 

 

 

We can also add…

  • African-American Jews

 

 

  • Middle-Eastern Jews

 

 

  • Asian Jews

 

 

  • White Jews

 

 

  • Hispanic Jews

 

 

  • and Jews of every ethnicity and nationality around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of this is to say that a Jew is not one who can be spotted by dress and looks alone. Even if in time a Jew professes another religion, he or she will always be considered a Jew, and will always be welcomed back to the fold when he decides to do so. A Jew is someone who is a member of the Jewish tribe with all the pomp and circumstance regardless of nationality, degree of belief in the religion, and is granted all benefits that Judaism offers regardless of the color of his or her skin.