I find it hard to understand how many people, both Jews and non-Jews, claim that there is such thing as a Jewish "race". Yes, I know that Judaism developed amongst the Semitic peoples of the near- and middle-East, but that was many thousands of years ago.

If the Jews are a unique race of people, how can one explain the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) who are ethnically as Ethiopian as Haile Selassie but are religiously recognised as a sect of Judaism, and are perhaps even the descendants of the Lost Israeli Tribe of Dan.

It's also possible to convert to Judaism - but in doing so one obviously does not change one's ethnic background. And with far greater mingling of Diaspora Jews with their host communities these days, including a considerable degree of intermarriage, I'd be prepared to argue that the traditional Semitic origin of most Jews is rapidly becoming diluted and of little importance.

I sort of disagree with iain, but this is no big deal, since where there are two Jews, there are three opinions.

I'd say that Jewishness is an ethnicity, and that Judaism is a religion. The two overlap, but are not identical. Members of Beta Israel identify themselves and are recognized as members of either or both categories.

As for the concept of race, I don't see it as relevant to the nature of Jewishness, since the only racial category that has any precise meaning is "the human race."

I'm sure iain has a point from the genetic point of view - I myself, though distinctly European in appearance, have epicanthic folds, probably the legacy of a long ago raped and pillaged ancestress that chanced to stray across the path of the Mongols. But that doesn't make me part Mongol.

I have ancestors from Poland, Russia, Rumania, Germany, Afganistan, Buchara, Azerbaijan, the Ukraine, Georgia and Iran among others. However, all of them being Jewish, I myself am all Jewish. Doesn't make senes? That's Jewish geography for you.

Let's look at the French for a moment. They're a nation which coalesced from various dukedoms, principalities and cities to eventually come under the rule of a single dynasty. Its borders have always been highly contested, and populations drifted across them more or less freely - to and from Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain and, in modern times, North Africa. Still, you wouldn't question the nationality of people who are a genetic mix of all these European and North African peoples, they are all indisputabley French. Very much the same case can be made for the Swiss, the English (who are even a wilder mix through successive invasions), the Russians, the Chinese...

What differentiates all these people from the Jews is that they have a more or less definite physical location on which to peg their nationality. Jews haven't had that luxury for about two thousand years. If you manage to ignore the fact that people who claim they are Jewish by nationality do not come from one nationalist state (Israeli Jews tend to refer to themselves as Israelis, strangely enough, I know I do), you'll see that intermarriages and migrations aside, they still have a fair case.

Judaism is a religion, but not a race. The Jews are of a single nationality, because they are one people. So Judaism is also a nationality. Why is this so difficult to understand?

Nationality is something of a 19th century (I should probably include the late 18th century in North America and parts of Europe, too) social construct. It so happens that there is identity between the Jewish people and the Jewish nationality.

The identity between a religion and a people was a commonplace in the ancient world. Each people had its religion (although of course neighbouring peoples adopted ideas from their neighbours' religions). Think of the ancient Egyptians as a people; they had their particular religion, which was found nowhere else in the ancient world. The spread of the proselytising religions (Christianity, and later Islam) changed this is the West and the Near East.

Judaism is one of the few survivors of the ancient world. Anyone religiously a Jew is therefore a member of the Jewish people. The modern era has seen secular Jews (I am a secular Jew), who are members of the Jewish people but are not religious and may not believe in God.

iain is right that there is no Jewish race. Modern antisemitism claims there is, but it's evident to anyone who's seen (say) a European Jew, a Yemeni Jew, a North African Jew and an Ethiopian Jew (ignoring the fact that each of these concepts is itself a convenient fiction) that they have no racial grouping closer than "human". But ethnic grouping is not about race. Is the "French race" really different from the "Belgian race"? What about the "Flemish Belgian" and the "Valloun Belgian" races?

None of which has any bearing on nationality, religion, or people. Each is a separate concept; they interact in various intriguing ways. Just ask an anthropologist.

Sorry, but the only proper definition of the Jews is as a 'people,' a group of humans that to varying degrees share some similar ethnic and cultural characteristics, but not exclusively. A 'Jew' is therefore a member of the Jewish people, nothing more.

To speak of a Jewish race is incorrect in the commonly understood definition of 'race,' for there were and are Jews of a variety colors and physical types. To speak of Judaism rigidly as a culture or ethnicity, is also difficult, because although there have been common elements preserved through tradition and religion, Jewish communities have for the past 2000 years often assumed the language, dress, and diets of the regions in which they lived. And of course, to define a Jew in strictly religious terms is also incorrect, for there are and have always been Jewish people who practice and adhere to the Jewish religion to varying degrees or none at all. Thus the only proper definition of the Jews is a 'people', and a 'Jew' as a self- or society-defined member of that people.

For a full history, see Jew.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.