04 December 2007

Ideas about Race & Religion

There is a fine line between ethnicity and religion. But in some cases, that line can be blurred. Where do people draw this line, if they draw one at all? This distinction becomes much more complex when dealing with Judaism in particular. Judaism is recognized as a world religion. But what is the distinction between Jews and Judaism? The underlying distinction between religion and ethnicity is foreign to Judaism itself, and is one form of the dualism between spirit and flesh that has its origin in the philosophies of Plato and that permeated Hellenistic Judaism. Consequently Judaism does not fit easily into conventional Western categories, such as religion, ethnicity, or culture. This in part reflects the fact that most of Judaism's 4,000-year history predates the rise of Western culture and occurred outside the West. During this time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic and theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile. In the Diasporas, they have been in contact with and have been influenced by ancient Hellenic, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism. This nationalistic uprising would produce a Jewish state in the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, a geographical region called the Levant and also called Phoenicia. They also saw an elite convert to Judaism, only to disappear as the centers of power once occupied by that elite fell to the people of Rus and then to the Mongols. Thus, I would argue that Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not heretical, not religious, but all of these.

Traditional Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever. Thus a Jew who claims to be an atheist or converts to another religion is still considered by traditional Judaism to be Jewish. Thus, one's Jewishness is a technical measure, made in accordance with a standard definition. However, the Reform movement maintains that a Jew who has converted to another religion is no longer a Jew, and the Israeli Government has also taken that stance after Supreme Court cases and statutes. Any thoughts, ideas, responses???

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