Friday, October 12, 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture, Part I

by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Here's the first of my book reports; the Rabbi hasn't given us our booklists yet, but he did say that this would be on it.  Since this is a fairly long book divided into parts, I think I'll just do each part separately.  It should make things easier for me, for my notes.

Part I: Who are the Jews?

This section is, obviously, about Jewish identity.  It talks about the various Jewish stereotypes (like Jews being good businessmen, doctors, comedians and whatnot), but also about who the Jews really are as a people (including why the stereotypes may have originated).

As anybody who's opened a Bible can tell you, the Jewish people are descendants of Abraham, as are the Muslims.  The Muslim people are descendants of his son Ishmael, while the Jews are from Isaac's lineage.  Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau.  Esau rejected the religion, while Jacob embraced it.  Jacob had 12 sons, who became the fathers of the 12 Jewish tribes.  10 of those tribes are lost, and the two that remain are Judah and Levi.  From the name Judah, we get the word Jew.

Of course, it's a little more complicated than that.  The Jews were originally a tribe, but are now a religious group.  They are not, technically a "nation" or an "ethnicity", or a "race".  They're a group of people.  You can be Jewish by virtue of your lineage, or by conversion.  There are a whole bunch of laws governing who is Jewish and who is not.  This only seems to matter when one is considering moving to Israel, as every Jew has the right to become an Israeli citizen (although not all Israelis are Jews).

What I found interesting is that, even though Jews have a patriarchal society, you are considered legally Jewish if your mother was a Jew.  If your father was a Jew, but your mother was not, you must convert to become Jewish.  Being Jewish this way doesn't mean you must follow Judaism.  

Then again, I'm converting and choosing to be among the chosen people.

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