American Jews and their religion
The word Jew is used in a number of ways, but generally refers to a follower of the Jewish faith, the offspring of a Jewish mother or someone of Jewish origin with roots to Jewish culture or ethnicity. A combination of all these attributes make one a better Jew. Jews are an ethnic group who refer themselves as a people and members of a nation descending from ancient Israelites including those who joined their religion at various times and places.
This term is associated with the split of the kingdom of Israel between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.
Of late, the term is used to refer to those Jews actively practicing Judaism and those, although not practicing Judaism as religion still refer themselves as Jews by virtue of their family’s Jewish heritage and their own cultural identification. Judaism as the Jews popular religion has many characteristics, of a religion , a nation, an ethnicity and a culture, making the definition of who is really a Jew vary slightly depending on whether a religious or national approach to identity is used.
As he popular religion among the Jews, Judaism guides its adherents in both practice and beliefs, it has therefore been called a religion and also a way of life. It is due to this reason that the difference between Judaism, Jewish culture and Jewish nationality is very thin. Many times and places such as contemporary United States and Israel, cultural practices have cropped up that are characteristically without being religious at all. These practices have been brought about by factors like interactions of Jews and others around them, the Judaism it self and even from the inner social and cultural dynamics of the community,
Jews have been subjected to countless mistreatments all over the world leading to their migration from their original homeland e. g. the famous holocaust led by Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime in German. These mistreatments, which led to their regular migration, have shaped Jewish identity and Jewish religious participation in many ways. Jews also have a number of ethnic divisions, which includes, the German based Jews, the Spanish – Portugal Jews, Gruzim, and American based Jews, Telegu of India and Buchanan Jews of central among many others.
Due to the above-mentioned mistreatments, Jews migrated to many places of the world. Today the Jews in Diaspora make up a large number of the total Jews of the world with United States having 5. 5 million Jews (Jewish people policy institute). The effects of conditions of “freedom” to Jews in general The book, Social foundation of Judaism by Calvin Goldscheider and Jacob Neusner chapter 8 pages 114 to 145. The social crisis of the freedom seeks to answer the question about the ways in which condition of freedom affects Jews as a group.
This book talks about the migration fro Europe origin of (German, Poland and Russia) to thaw United States of America. From the introduction part a number of this migration. The Jewish immigrants to US firstly settled in enclaves in large cities. This is because they considered themselves as nation within other nations and with time, they would one-day return to the holy land with the coming of the Messiah (Neusner, 125). The first immigrants’ to US formed the first generation of Jews. This first generation was characterized by the speaking of the Yiddish language and limited occupation.
The second-generation embraced the notion that Jews like other immigrants must become American and therefore this prompted the de-judaization of all its children. This de-judaization brought about the definition of life as a set of contrasts between ways of Jewish ways of living and everything else on the other side. The second generation did not need schools or youth groups to explain what being a Jew meant instead two educational instruments i. e. memory and experience (Neu, 118). The third generation was contesting to the second generation since they tried to remember what the second generation had wanted to forget.
The Jews were affected the anti-Semitism which was taking place around the world and they were made to learn on how and why they were Jews (Neu, 119). The renaissance of articulated and self-conscious Jewish ness along with the renewed search for Judaism was reignited by first, the rise of the state of Israel. The discovery of holocaust and lastly the resurgence of ethnic identification among the grandchildren of immigrant generation. The freedom of Jews was conditional and not only to Jews living in other nations but also Jews living in the homeland of Israel.
In 1967, Jews of Israel were threatened by war from the Arab neighbors (pg120). This war popularly known as, the war of “all ageist one”. Jews all over the world lived under great because experiences of Jewish persecution especially during the holocaust were still fresh in their minds. Worst still the international community seemed not to interfere to offer any avenue for escape. The effect of all the above freedom conditions led to the assimilation of the Jewish culture and Judaism to cultures of the respective nations offering asylum.
The Jewish method of worship changed drastically with new generation members choosing on whether to remain loyal to their Judaism religion or to be loyal to the Jewish culture. In classical Judaism every member of the Jewish culture was expected to live a holy life; saying prayers, learn more about the traditions and do good deeds but. due to conditional freedoms all this changed, with the only requirement of being a Jew being just joining an organization but not personally to effect its purpose (Neus, pg 121) therefore it can be said that as a result of this freedom modernity has overtaken Jews.
Even the powers and responsibilities of rabbi have changed from administrators to strictly religious (pg123) rabbi who was formerly a judge, administrator and a holy man has now been left with duties of presiding over religious ceremonies like marriages and funerals. Another very conspicuous effect of conditional freedom was the reconsidering of women as rabbis. Generally, the overall effects of condition of freedom have led to the entry of western European Jews into the society of other nations among which they had lived for generations.
This has resulted to the question, what is Jew? Who is Israel? What makes a person a Jew? Are the Jews a religious group? Are they a people or a nation? Thus conditions of have condemned Jews into lingering crisis of group identity (pg125). What is of more importance to America Jews, religion or ethnicity. From the book, it is very clear to me and any other reader of the same book that American Jews like their other counterparts in Diaspora are much more obsessed with ethnicity than religion. This argument can be made meaningful by first defining these two terms.
Whereas religion is defined as a set of beliefs and practices, often centered about reality and human nature and often conditioned as ritual or religious law. Ethnic group on the other hand is a group of human beings who identify with each other, usually based on perceived common genealogy or ancestry. Jews whether in US or whichever place initially considered themselves as “Israel” the people to whom torah had been revealed, now living in exile from their homeland. (pg124). Judaism was their religion.
When they came to US, they practiced this religion with utmost faithfulness since wanted to assert they both spiritually and religiously to their newfound society. The classical Judaism demanded that all men and women conform to the will of God. No one was exempted from from following the holy way of living (pg121). Every one was under obligation t observe the Sabbath, say their prayers individually in other words t be a Jew demanded one to perform a hundred holy actions every day. Contrastingly, in modern America to be a Jew requires only to join an organization and only be submitting monetary contribution.
These funds are used to lure professionals who carry out the duties of the organization. This has prompted the birth of what preachers call “check book Judaism”. The formation of thse orgaiztions tends to obliterate the effective role of an individual. People join these organizations because they have been convinced that what “Judaism” expects of them. Jews in America seems to have lost touch with their fathers. His is because initially they saw themselves as anything but holy, they interpreted the things that make them Jewish negatively. They therefore seem to have forgotten why they came into being (pg126).
All these differences in their religious approach have been brought abut by modernity. This modernity has been catalyzed by necessity and choice due to the Jews not looking back to inculcate long time virtues. It is true that modern Jews n America are eager to be Jewish – but not too much so. They continue to confront a crisis not merely of identity but commitment, for they do not choose to resolve he dilemma of separateness within an open society (pg127). Of importance to them is that they are standing in the threshold of a long period assimilation into modern culture and facing a lingering identity crisis.
The importance of ethnicity to Jews is confirmed by their joining of Zionist movements. This movement enhanced the unification of Jews as a people whose foundation lies in the unity of their concern for Zion, devotion to building the land and establishing Jewish sovereignty in it. Their destiny was shaped with their confirming emotional and social commitment to Jewish group hood or separateness and therefore the subsequent creation of a nation. The holy people of Israel who migrated to US because the “American Jewish community” who in the first place were unsure of what Jewish meant.
This lingering crisis of self-definition, characteristic of modern men and women marks the Jews a utterly modern and secular and thus not religious (pg132). The archaic “holy people” has been rendered obsolete by events, its place stands rather different phenomena that manifests into Jews, a different, separate group, and they claim that difference is destiny. American Jews therefore are much engrossed with reasserting themselves in a society whereby they are perceived as a minority group. Ethnicity is what matters to them now and religion follows later. references: Social foundations of Judaism, by Calvin Goldscheiner and Jacob Neusner.