Primary Author
Chara Scroope,
  • There is no consensus on whether the terms ‘Jew’ or ‘Jewish’ refer to an , cultural or religious category, or an all-encompassing identity. Those who identify as ‘Jewish’ do not necessarily agree with each other about what the term means. In a broad sense of the word, a Jewish person is one who, through descent or conversion, is part of the worldwide group that constitutes a continuation of the ancient Jewish people. Nearly all Jewish people agree that an individual born from a Jewish mother is Jewish (i.e. matrilineal descent), regardless of whether one personally identifies as Jewish. However, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism also includes patrilineal descent.
  • Generally speaking, there are two broad Jewish groups in Israel: Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The term ashkenazim comes from the old Hebrew word for ‘Germany’. Today, it is used to refer to Jewish people from Northern, Eastern and some parts of Western Europe, as well as many American Jewish people who have European ancestry. Meanwhile, sephardim comes from the old Hebrew word for ‘Spain’, but today refers to Jewish people from the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa. In colloquial usage, Sephardim includes those who speak (or whose parents spoke) dialects of Persian, Berber or Arabic. Israeli Sephardi Jewish people often identify as Mizrahi (). 
  • In some countries, Judaism is deeply intertwined with the local culture. This means that some Jewish people may be more active in practising their faith, while others may be nominally Jewish. For example, nominally practising Jewish people may only choose to attend religious services for major life events (like funerals) or significant calendar events (like Pesach).
  • The Holocaust, also referred to as the Shoah, was the systematic attempt during WWII to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population. The Holocaust was the most significant event for the Jewish people in modern history, having devastating effects on Europe’s Jewish population which continue to be felt to this day. Though there are no precise figures for how many died during the Holocaust, approximately six million Jewish people were killed. The Holocaust also caused many followers of Judaism to question Jewish theology and personal faith.
  • In strands of Judaism, speaking or writing the name(s) of God is typically forbidden. This is usually due to the belief that language cannot truly capture the entity known as ‘God’. Some substitutes used to refer to God include ‘Adonai’ or omitting the letter ‘o’ when writing the word ‘God’ (i.e. ‘G-d’) or ‘Lord’ (i.e. ‘L-rd’).
  • The nation-state of Israel is particularly important to much of the world’s Jewish population. This is due to the fact that the land of present-day Israel is described in the Torah as the ancient land of ‘Canaan’. In the text, this land is promised to the Israelites by God (thus referred to as the ‘Promised Land’). Therefore, some Jewish people see Israel as their ancestral homeland. Visit the Israeli cultural profile to learn more.
  • refers to the ideology of establishing, supporting and protecting a Jewish nation-state in what is now the country of Israel. The region in which Israel is located is believed to be the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. The Jewish attachment with the region has prevailed for centuries. However, interpretations and applications of thought more recently in modern history diversified through multiple movements. Those who identify as  often have different opinions as to how the protection and support of Israeli should be carried out. Moreover,  is not necessarily supported by all or religious Jewish people. Thus, it is important to bear in mind that not all people who identify as Jewish are , and not all who identify as are Jewish. 
  • Judaism is not monolithic, meaning there are various streams, interpretations and practices of the religion around the world. Avoid homogenising all Jewish people or assuming that their beliefs and practices are the same.
  • The official position held by a particular tradition or stream is not necessarily indicative of the attitudes and beliefs of all lay followers. Individuals may have personal interpretations and applications of the teachings of their respective tradition.

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