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Who is a Jew?



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“After all, how difficult can it be? Let’s make a state law for that and everything will be fine!” Thinking in such a way and without checking the issue, the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, legislated the Law of Return On July 5, 1950. The law gives automatic citizenship upon landing in the state to those born Jews (having a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother), those with Jewish ancestry (having a Jewish father or grandfather) and converts to Judaism (Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative denominations, though the last two must take place outside the state since these currents are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate).

The day after, the confused cleaning lady of the Knesset asked the Prime Minister: “Who is a Jew?” Annoyed, the Prime Minister exiled her to Zambia and forgot her question. Until this day it remains unanswered and at the very heart of the State of Israel. Simply, it doesn’t differentiate between the ethnic group and the religion. Each one of these categories is open to different interpretations. Under certain interpretations, many millions of Muslims in Afghanistan and nearby Central Asian locations could ask for Israeli citizenship and transform the human landscape of Israel overnight. The political leadership of the state is very careful not to touch this law anymore and to delegate personal issues (birth, marriage, death and in fact all religious matters) to the Chief Rabbinate. It’s a boiling potato.

Even in Israel many citizens do not understand the issue properly. Israel likes to portray itself as a Western country, but its foundations are deep within Asia. There are two basic models upon which nations are based. One is territorial, claiming a country exists in a given territory; this is the situation in the Americas and Europe (the last may be changing, see the ugly treatment of Muslims in France). The second is ethnic, claiming a nation is formed by individuals belonging to a given ethnic group. Many Asians countries belong to this category; Thailand is a good example. The early Thai kingdoms were almost nomadic in nature, moving slowly southwards from Xishuangbanna–in Yunnan, China–to Thailand’s actual location. These kingdoms were defined not by territory but by the people composing them. It is so to such an extreme, that only in 1913, the significant Chinese minority got citizenship.

By legislating the Law of Return, the State of Israel placed itself among this group of ethnic nations. It could have worked if it wasn’t for one tiny detail: “Who is a Jew?” I could begin now a long analysis of the issue, but it would just be ugly racism. The last has become a key characteristic of the State of Israel. I have described it in The Cross of Bethlehem and in various articles in this website. The ugly manifestations vary from a president fastidiously claiming he’s a Sameh Tet to ultraorthodox Jews refusing to marry Russian Jews due to ethnic concerns (yes, the Khazars question!). The Black Panters, Zohar Argov and rabbi Meshulam–among many others–can tell ugly stories of discrimination. What went wrong? A two millennia long Diaspora combined with mixed marriages along and across the world have created a reality in which the question “Who is a Jew?” cannot be answered on ethnic grounds anymore. Anybody attempting to do that and looking into the details would find what he could have guessed from the beginning: each one of us is a unique human being. Under these circumstances, creating an ethnically defined state was a sad error. Even a religious answer would have failed, because a careful look into the Bible would tell us who are the True People of Israel.

A popular topic of my preaching is different aspects of the “True People of Israel,” a summarized version is available in this website. A point to pay attention is that from the beginning the issue wasn’t decided on ethnic grounds, but mainly on those of Faith. After all, the Bible talks about Redemption, and redemption is based on Faith.The central point is Faith in both the Old and the New Testaments:

Romans 1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

We can see that from the beginning with Abraham in Genesis until the end the redemption was by Faith and not by ethnic group as supremacist Jews claim. Thus, not all the ethnic People of Israel belong to the spiritual People of Israel. Moreover, people not belonging to the ethnic People of Israel where justified by God and recognized as part of the chosen, the redeemed. Even a person like Rehab the Prostitute entered this category, while many ethnic Jews were denied the pleasure. Apostle Peter said the same as follows:

Acts 3:22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
3:23 And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.

Apostle Paul gives the same message in a variety of ways:

Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
3:29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

Romans 9:8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

Romans 9:27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:

The true descendants are by spirit, not by flesh, he says to us. The chosen People of Israel are those who are descendant by spirit, by faith, and not by flesh. From the ethnic People of Israel, only a few would accept Jesus and become part of the Spiritual People of Israel. The True People of Israel are in the Church, and nowhere else; not even in a badly defined organization recently recognized as a terrorist entity.

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