Bottom Content goes here.
Wikipedia content requires these links.....
Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Jews are both a religion and an ethnicity. In a religious sense, the term
refers to the followers of the ancient religion known as Judaism. In an
ethnic sense, it refers both to religious Jews, and to those who have
rejected Jewish principles of faith yet still identify as Jews in a cultural
or ethnic sense.
The English word "Jew" ultimately comes from the Hebrew yehudi, meaning
"Judean" or inhabitant of the land of Judea (named after Judah). It passed
into Greek as Ιουδαιος,
Ioudaios, and then into Latin as Judaeus. In both these languages the name
can mean "Judaean" or "Jew", depending on context.
Who is a Jew?
Traditional Jewish law defines a Jew as someone who is either:
* the child of a Jewish mother; or
* A person who converts to Judaism in accord with Jewish law.
According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, this standard has been followed
since the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai 3500 years ago. According to
non-Orthodox Jewish historians, this standard was not followed that long
ago, but it probably has existed for at least 2,000 years. Judaism, thus, is
a peculiar combination of a religion and a non-exclusive ethnic group (i.e.
this ethnic group has a way to allow others to join). Its religious beliefs
are discussed in detail in the entry on Judaism; this article discusses the
Mere belief in the principles of Judaism does not make one a Jew. Similarly,
non-adherence to Jewish principles of faith does not make one lose one's
Jewish status. However, the Israeli legal definition of a Jew excludes those
who have joined other religions.
Based on the Talmud, a distinction can be made between the word "Israelite"
and the word "Jew". According to the Talmud, the word Israelite refers to
somebody who is Jewish but does not necessarily practice Judaism as a
religion. The Talmud states, "An Israelite even though he has sinned is
still an Israelite." In this usage, the distinction is not made between Jew
and Israelite and they are both called Jew. However, in modern day English,
this terminology is not used. Modern day English speakers refer to
"religious Jews" or "secular Jews".
In the last half of the 20th century, two theologically liberal (primarily
American) Jewish groups Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism have
allowed people who do not meet this criteria to marry Jews. They no longer
require converts to follow traditional Jewish procedures of conversion, and
they accept a person as a Jew even if their mother is non-Jewish, so long as
the father is a Jew.
This has resulted in a serious schism among the Jewish people; today many
Reform Jewish and secular Jewish-Americans consider themselves Jews,
although they are not considered Jewish by Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews,
and even by many Reform Jews outside of the United States.
Recognizing Jewish converts
Converts who have undergone non-Orthodox conversions will find that many
Jews will not marry them or their children. Orthodox Jews generally accept
the validity of most Orthodox conversions to Judaism, but reject the
validity of most Conservative conversions, and reject the validity of all
Reform and Reconstructionist conversions. Even among Orthodox Jews, disputes
Conservative Jews accept the validity of all Orthodox and Conservative
conversions to Judaism; they are willing to accept the validity of
individual Reform and Reconstructionist conversions if those cases are
carried out in accord with Jewish law; however these are examine on a case
by case basis.
Since they do not consider themselves bound by Jewish law, Reform and
Reconstructionist Jews accept the validity of conversions to Judaism from
all Jewish denominations.
It is sometimes not made clear to converts that their conversions would not
be accepted by all Jewish groups. This can lead to circumstances when a
Rabbi will not agree to let somebody who thought he was Jewish marry until
he undergoes a new conversion. In the case of a woman who underwent a less
stringent conversion, those who require a more stringent conversion would
consider her and all her children non-Jewish until they undergo the more
In addition the more stringent accuse the less stringent of causing
intermarriage and the deterioration of the Jewish people as they are
watering down what it means to be a Jew and making it easier for people to
leave Judaism by allowing them to easily join non-Jewish families.
For the first two periods the history of the Jews is mainly that of
Palestine. It begins among those peoples which occupied the area lying
between the Nile river on the one side and the Tigris and the Euphrates
rivers on the other. Surrounded by ancient seats of culture in Egypt and
Babylonia, by the mysterious deserts of Arabia, and by the highlands of Asia
Minor, the land of Canaan (later Judea, then Palestine, then Israel) was a
meeting place of civilizations. The land was traversed by old-established
trade routes and possessed important harbors on the Gulf of Akaba and on the
Mediterranean coast, the latter exposing it to the influence of the
Traditionally Jews around the world claim descendance mostly from the
ancient Israelites (also known as Hebrews), who settled in the land of
Israel. The Israelites traced their common lineage to the biblical patriarch
Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. A kingdom was established under Saul and
continued under King David and Solomon. King David conquered Jerusalem
(first a Canaanite, then a Jebusite town) and made it his capital. After
Solomon's reign the nation split into two kingdoms, the Israel (in the
north) and the Judah (in the south). Israel was conquered by the Assyrian
ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BC. The kingdom of Judah was
conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BC. The Judahite
elite was exiled to Babylonia, but later at least a part of them returned to
their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians.
After the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, the Seleucid
Kingdom was formed which sought to incorporate Greek culture into the
Persian world. When the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, supported by
hellenized Jews, attempted to rededicate the Jewish temple to Zeus, the
orthodox Jews revolted under the leadership of the Maccabees and created an
independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty which lasted from
165 BCE to 63 BCE. This was followed by a period of Roman rule. In 66 CE,
Judeans began to revolt against the Roman rulers of Judea. The revolt was
smashed by the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus Flavius. The Romans
destroyed all but a single wall of the Temple in Jerusalem and stole the
holy menorah. Judeans continued to live in their land in significant
numbers, and were allowed to practice their religion, until the 2nd century
when Julius Severus ravaged Judea while putting down the bar Kokhba revolt.
After 135, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem, although
this ban must have been at least partially lifted, since at the destruction
of the rebuilt city by the Persians in the 7th century, Jews are said to
have lived there.
Many of the Israeli Jews were sold into slavery while others became citizens
of other parts of the Roman Empire. This is the traditional explanation to
the diaspora. However, a majority of the Jews in Antiquity were most likely
descendants of convertites in the cities of the Hellenistic-Roman world,
especially in Alexandria and Asia Minor, and were only affected by the
diaspora in its spiritual sense, as the sense of loss and homelessness which
became a cornerstone of the Jewish creed, much supported by persecutions in
various parts of the world. The policy of conversion, which spread the
Jewish religion throughout the Hellenistic civilization, seems to have ended
with the wars against the Romans and the following reconstruction of Jewish
values for the post-Temple era.
Before the rise of Islam the Jews inhabited the entire Roman empire; with
the Arab expansion, some of them would move as far as India and China. Some
Jewish people are also descended from converts to Judaism outside the
Mediterranean world. It is known that some Khazars, Edomites, and
Ethiopians, as well as many Arabs, particularly in Yemen before, converted
to Judaism in the past; today in the United States and Israel some people
still convert to Judaism. In fact, there is a greater tradition of
conversion to Judaism than many people realize. The word "proselyte"
originally meant a Greek who had converted to Judaism. As late as the 6th
century the rump Roman empire (ie Byzantium) was issuing decrees against
conversion to Judaism, implying that conversion to Judaism was still
The commonly-used terms Ashkenazi and Sephardic refer both to a religious
and an ethnic division. Some scholars hold that Ashkenazi Jews are
descendants of those who originally followed the Palestinian Jewish
religious tradition, and Sephardic Jews are descendants of those who
originally followed the Babylonian religious tradition.
Jews have historically been divided into four major ethnic groups:
* Ashkenazi (Jews who lived in Germany or France before migrating to
* Sephardic (Jews who lived in Spain or Portugal)
* Oriental Jews (Jews who lived in the Middle East and North Africa, but
later spread to Central Asia and South Asia). Note that in common
usage, most Oriental Jews are called Sephardic, as the religious rites
of Oriental Jews and Sephardic Jews is essentially the same.
* The Yemenite Jews (also known as Teimanim). These are Oriental Jews
whose geographical and social isolation from the rest of the Jewish
community allowed them to develop a liturgy and set of practices
sufficiently distinct from other Oriental Jewish groups so as to be
recognized as a different group.
Smaller groups of Jews include the following:
* The Ethiopian Jews, also known as the Falasha or Beta Israel.
* the Bene Israel, i.e. Jews who lived in Bombay, India.
* The Romaniotes, i.e. Greek speaking Jews living in the Balkans from the
Hellenistic era until today (almost 6,000 people worldwide)
Yiddish is the tradition language of the Ashkenazi, whereas Ladino
(Judeo-Portuguese) is that of the Sephardim. Most Oriental Jews spoke
Arabic, but others spoke Aramaic or Persian.
Following the Spanish Inquisition the Sephardic Jews were dispersed, some
migrating to Europe, where they were assimilated into the Ashkenazi, others
migrating to the Middle East where they were assimilated into the Oriental
Jews. Most Oriental Jews practice Sephardic rite and are therefore sometimes
referred to as Sephardic. Ashkenazi Jews practice Ashkenazi rite.
Out of these communities, the largest by far are the Ashkenazim, comprising
~80% of the Jewish total, with Oriental Jews comprising most of the
Sub-groups of Jews include the Gruzim (Georgian Jews from the Caucasus),
Juhurim (Mountain Jews from Daghestan and Azerbaijan in the eastern
Caucasus), Maghrebim (North African Jews), Abayudaya and (Ugandan Jews)
Ancient sects of Judaism
Almost all Jews today are Rabbinical Jews, who follow Judaism through the
lens of the oral law, contained in the Mishnah and Talmud. A much smaller
group known as the Karaites still exists. They reject the teachings in the
Mishnah and Talmud. (Members of this group refer to themselves as Karaites,
not as Jews.)
One small community of Samaritans is still extant; however, their religion
is not the same as rabbinic Judaism. The Samaritan faith and that of other
Jews diverged over a millennium ago; Samaritans do not consider themselves,
nor call themselves, Jews. The Samaritan religion is based on some of the
same books used as the basis of rabbinic Judaism, but these religions are
not identical. Samaritan scriptures include the Samaritan version of the
Torah, the Memar Markah, the Samaritan liturgy, and Samaritan law codes and
biblical commentaries. They do not recognize the legitimacy of the oral law,
nor most of the Jewish Bible (Tanach).
Jewish synagogues are led by rabbis (spiritual leaders). In many synagogues
there is a hazzan (cantor) that leads many parts of the prayer service. Many
Sephardic rabbinic Jewish communities refer to their leaders as hakham.
Among Yemenite Jews, known as Teimanin, the term mori (teacher) is used.
The spiritual leader of a Karaite community is often called a hakham.
Prior to World War II the world population of Jews was around 14-16 million.
The Holocaust reduced this number to around 10-11 million. Today, there are
an estimated 13 million Jews worldwide in over 134 countries. Of these,
around 5.8 million live in the United States and 4.3 million live in Israel.
Most of the remainder live in Canada, Hungary, Ukraine, France, Argentina
and Russia, including 2.4 million in Europe.
Israel is the only country in which Jews form a majority of the population.
It was established as an independent state on May 14, 1948. The symbol on
the Israeli flag is known as the Star of David ("Magen David" in Hebrew).
Despite the small number of Jews worldwide, many influential thinkers in
modern times have been ethnically Jewish. These include Karl Marx, Sigmund
Freud, Albert Einstein, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand (only born Jewish), Noam
Chomsky and Milton Friedman. See List of famous Jews