Judaism is not a religion. We are the Nation of Israel, unique from all other peoples and religions in the world. We are a people with a homeland, a language and unique traditions that are supposed to be performed in our homeland. Judaism is the only people that live in the same homeland as our ancestors 3,000 years ago. We speak the same language as our ancestors 3,000 years ago and practice the same traditional practices as our ancestors 3,000 years ago. Jews don’t “practice a religion,” but something very different.
Not a Religion (Video Transcript)
Now I know we were all raised in a day and age, and conditioned to consider Judaism as one of the “world’s great religions.” But this is a bit strange since Jews make up less than .01% of the world’s population. In truth, Judaism is actually not a religion at all. Hear me out.
The word “religion” in almost every dictionary is defined as the belief system in a G-d, deity, book, or prophet. It is commonly understood as a belief system that spreads across borders and across nations.
Once a Jew, Always a Jew
Let’s look at actual religions like Christianity, Islam or Buddhism. If an individual does not believe in Jesus or in the Christian bible, then that person is not Christian. If an individual does not believe in Mohammad or in the Quran, then they are not Muslim. And if an individual does not believe in Buddha or in his teachings, then they are not Buddhists. The point is that if any individual rejects any religion’s deity or considers themselves agnostic or atheists, then by the very definition of religion, they are not a part of it.
Yet in Judaism, even if a Jew rejects the notion of G-d and the Torah, they may be atheists or agnostic, but they are still Jewish and part of the Nation of Israel.
If we take a Christian for example, from France, from China, or from Argentina and from Cote d’Ivoire in Africa, they may all have the same belief system. But they are definitely not the same people with the same culture or historic origin. Yet when it comes to Jews, they may have been physically displaced around the world. But their identity, culture, history and even genetics are all linked to one place and to one people.
Again, by the very definition of a religion, one must believe in that religion’s deity in order to be a part of it. Yet that rule does not apply for the Jewish People and their relationship with Judaism.
In fact, the word in Hebrew that many believe translates to “religion” is the word “Dat” which actually means knowledge and not religion at all.
There is no doubt that many Jews are religious and that the Jewish People’s connection to a higher power and the Torah is an essential element of their identity, but it is important to realize the actual definitions of the words being used, since this what is what the world understands when they hear Jews speak. The word “religious” describes an individual’s relationship with something, whereas the word “religion” very specifically describes belief systems and not a people.
So if Judaism is not a religion, then what is it?
Judaism is the portable suitcase of a native people’s identity that was created upon their forceful displacement from their indigenous land called Judea.
A suitcase that was built to preserve Judean culture, values, laws, ethics, history, tradition, language, aspirations, a connection to a higher power, their way of life, and the will to one day return and to liberate their homeland.
Although today the descendants of Judea are usually referred to as Jews, this same ancient people have been also called Hebrews or Israelites.
Some More Detail
The almost 4,000 year old nation of Israel is made up of 12 tribes. I am a descendant of the tribe of Levi from both sides of my family. Back in the day, the tribe Judah decided to break off from the rest of the nation of Israel. This split, forced the creation of two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judea. Eventually the Kingdom of Judea renamed the land of Israel to the land of Judea, including all Israelites, even if they were from other tribes. This is why the Israelites or the Hebrews are today referred to as Jews, because the name of the land that they last lived in was called Judea.
Around 2,000 years ago the Roman Empire was spreading across Europe and Asia, and the Judeans living in Judea, refused to submit to their foreign rule. Due to the rebellious nature of the Judeans, the Roman Empire destroyed their country and expelled the vast majority of Jews by importing them to Rome on slave ships. In fact, the coliseum of Rome was built by Jewish slaves, and many of the gladiators that fought for Roman entertainment were Judean warriors that had been captured by the Roman Empire.
Sephardi and Ashkenazic Jewry
Eventually, Jews bought their own freedom in what is today Italy and were yet again forced to leave. This caused two diasporic groups to be formed. One group left to “Sepharad”, which was a name for Spain, and the other group left to “Ashkanaz”, which was the region of Germany.
This is where Sepharadi and Ashkenazi Jewish history begins. After the Spanish Inquisition, Sephardic Jews were forced out of Spain to North Africa and with the rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe, Asheknazi Jews began moving East to places like Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia. This is why there are Jewish communities in all of those places. It was not a religion that crossed borders onto these peoples, it was a people that were physically forced to cross borders because they were being persecuted due to their Jewish identity.
It is scientifically and historically incorrect to view Ashkenazi Jews as Europeans or to see Sephardi Jews as North Africans. Jews were never considered “white” or “European” in Europe, and Jews were treated unequally as “Dhimmis” in North Africa and the Middle East. My personal family on my father’s side was massacred in Poland during the Holocaust for being Jewish, and not Polish nor part of the Aryan race, and my family on my mother’s side were massacred in Oujda, Morocco for being Jewish and not Moroccan nor Arab.
The true meaning of Sephardi and Ashkenazi
Understand this, the word Ashkenazi or Sephardi is not an adjective that describes the origin of any Jew, but a word that portrays the experience that some Jewish ancestors had post the colonization of their lands. Even when we look at Ashkenazi Jewish DNA, it is actually more closely related to Arabs in the Middle East than it is to white Europeans. Makes sense, since both Arabs and Jews are Semitic peoples that originate from the Middle East.
Jews are from Judea and Judaism is a preservation tool
Even the word Judaism itself is never mentioned in the Torah, because Jews were a people and there was no need to create something that would preserve or spread Judean identity. However, when the Romans expelled the Judeans, they needed to create something that would preserve who they were.
This is where Judaism was born. After a few generations and due to the fact that Jews are such a small population, it became hard for others around the world to understand who or what the Jewish People really were, and since other nations had religions, most confused Jewish identity and the preservation of their cultural as a religion, and even worse, many Jews themselves began seeing their true identity and culture as a religion secondary to their physical birth place’s identity.
If the world understands religions as belief systems and not peoples, why are some Jews so attached to still calling Judaism a religion? It is not Hebrew word. It is an English word that means something very specific to the world, and not at all a representation of what Judaism actually is.
Religions do not have rights to lands, peoples do, and if Judaism is a religion then the Jewish People have no legitimate claim to Israel.
Let’s look at other native peoples around the world who have existed for thousands of years. For example, the First Nations of North America commonly referred to as Native Americans or Native Canadians. This people is made up of many tribes and each have a fundamental connection to a very specific piece of land. Although each tribe has their own set of deities and spirits, the First Nations are not considered a religion, they are a people. Furthermore their identity as a people is not exclusively dependent on an individual’s belief in such deities or spirits. What I mean by this, is if a Native American individual were to reject his or her belief in their culture’s deities, should he or she no longer be considered a Native American. Does he or she no longer have a history, a culture, a language, a connection to a land, or an identity? The answer is clearly that they do, since being a Native American is being the descendant of a people and not a part of a religion that spreads across borders and nations.
What is interesting of indigeneity, is that it is based on a collective people and not on an individual’s past.
The point of this video is for non-Jews to understand who the Jewish People, Am Israel, really are. For Jews to begin a decolonization process and undo the injustices that were committed against us by invader nations. To my fellow Jews, How are we to expect that the world consider Israel as the home of the Jewish People, if we ourselves in the diaspora do not call it home. If we ourselves do not understand who we are and if we cannot communicate or project our own narrative to the rest of the world.
Again, Judaism is not a religion but the portable suitcase of a native people’s identity that was created upon their forceful displacement from their indigenous land called Judea.
Remember we say Am Israel chai, not Dat Yehudi chai.
I am a Hebrew, I am an Israelite, I am a Jew, I am an Israeli. I am all of those things, because they are the same.