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Jewishness

I saw an interesting article the other day.  It was entitled “Jews: A religious group, people or race?” and it postulated that

In another generation or two, it may be possible only to know whether one bears a “Jewish genome”

A quick internet search turned up at least a dozen firms purporting to perform “Jewish DNA tests.”  One advertised that “Newer DNA Tests Uncover Hidden Jewish Bloodlines” today.  Another promised to answer the question, “Were my ancestors of the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel?”  Yet another bragged, “Our Jewish comparative databases are the largest in the world, containing records for Ashkenazim and Sephardim, as well as Levites and Cohanim.”  … and on and on went the claims in the ads.

That started me thinking about a question I had pondered at length in the past with many Jewish friends – without a satisfactory answer.  Just what does it mean to be a Jew?[1]  Is it only a matter of genes, or is there more to the matter? 

If it’s simply a matter of genes, does the fact that a person may have had one distant “Jewish” ancestor make him a Jew?  If ancestry is the determining factor, what percentage is required to qualify?  0.1%?  1%?  10%?  50%?[2]

Consider the following example:  If I have a Russian great-great-great-grandfather, but all my other direct relatives are Germans, I am 97% German and 3% Russian.  Am I Russian or German?  Now if my Russian great-great-great-grandfather and his German wife had emigrated to America before they had children, would that not make me an American, instead of Russian, or even German?  And what if my great-great-great-grandfather turned out to be a convert to Judaism, but no one else in the family lineage continued the Judaic tradition?  Or what if just my great-great-great-grandmother converted to Judaism, but not until after all her children were born?  Clearly there is more to this question than simple genetic history!

So who is authorized to define who is a Jew and who is not, anyway?  Me?  You?  A rabbi?  A group of rabbis?  Who?  Let’s examine that issue in a bit more depth by tracing the definition of Jewishness back to its Biblical origins.

God alone picked Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God alone picked Moses and David.  God alone picked all the prophets.  God alone specified the terms of His covenant with the ancient Israelites[3] when He picked them.  Therefore God alone defines who is a Jew and who is not.[4]  Any human attempt to do otherwise usurps God’s authority – exactly the same great sin Lucifer committed when he attempted to usurp God’s authority…

Scripture teaches that God never changes.  Therefore God’s ancient Biblical criteria are unchanging and as applicable today as they were in Biblical days.  In Biblical times God defined being an Israelite[5] by two factors that had to be satisfied:

  • Genetic roots had to be traceable back to the original twelve tribes of the Exodus (with some exceptions)[6]
  • Temple worship and a special relationship had to be established with God through strict conformance to the laws defined by God in the Torah.[7]

Jewish History, from God’s Perspective

Please read “A Scolding” first, then “The Punishment” for background.

God made it clear that He had set His people Israel apart from neighboring nations to be an example to them; therefore He forbade the Israelites from worshiping other gods and from inter-marrying or inter-mingling with neighboring pagan nations.[8]  But the Israelites disobeyed both commands.  There are numerous Biblical accounts of intermarriage between Israelites and neighboring tribes[9], as well as Israelites turning to worship of foreign gods.[10]

This intermarriage resulted in children who carried a mixture of Israelite and Gentile genes.  Some with mixed genes lived within Israel and faithfully observed the Torah.  Others with mixed genes lived in neighboring countries and adopted pagan beliefs worshiping foreign gods. There were even full-blooded Israelites living within the boundaries of the Promised Land worshiping pagan, foreign gods.  Which were true Jews?

God was absolutely clear what His standards were; nevertheless the Israelites disobeyed.  As punishment God dissolved the northern Hebrew kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians who deported the Hebrews and replaced them with other peoples.  More genetic mixing…

Subsequently God punished Judah for its wickedness with the 70 year Babylonian exile.  Still more genetic mixing…[11]

After 70 years, however, God brought His people[12] back to Jerusalem, the Temple was rebuilt, and Temple worship resumed.  Israeli identity once more was properly defined.

But then in 70 AD Temple worship ceased completely when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and Jews were scattered throughout the nations[13].  All genealogical records stored in the Temple purportedly were also destroyed at that time.[14]  This diaspora lasted until 1948 when the modern state of Israel was born.

Today’s Identity Crisis

So that leaves the Jews of today with an identity crisis:  It’s difficult to trace one’s roots because all the original records have disappeared.  Genetic tracing may be theoretically possible, but due to all the intermixing of peoples in the Middle East, any conclusions are tenuous at best.

Even if the conclusions were known with precision, what good would it do?  God’s second requirement – strict observance of the Torah and the sacrificial system – has not been satisfied for nearly 2000 years.[15]  Without shedding of blood, there can be no atonement of sin.   Without atonement of sin, none can enter into the presence or fellowship of God![16]  That is a statement of simple truth based on God’s laws, which no human has the authority to change.

What to do?  What to do?  The requirements of the Torah remain unchanged, and no man is authorized to change them unilaterally.  Is there no way out?

There is one and only one way:  As it turns out, God did actually offer up another option, a new covenant through Christ Jesus, The Messiah, who was fully God and fully man.  He said,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  (Mat 5:17-18)

God’s steadfast and firm objective remains the same today as it was 2,600 years ago when He spoke these words through His prophets:

if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. (Lev 26:41-42)

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh– Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart (Jer 9:25-26)

“Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’

Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land?

You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land?

Say this to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence.  And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through.

Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed.  (Eze 33:24-29)

The LORD wants us to seek Him and follow after Him.  The issue is not our pedigree; it’s our hearts.  He seeks our love and fellowship, and He has provided the way.  He abhors all who follow other gods, including those who follow the god of religious tradition, yet ignore His laws and commands.

  • A person can test for Jewish DNA, but the results don’t make one Jewish.
  • A person can follow Jewish traditions, but they violate God’s Torah and fail to make one Jewish.
  • A person cannot even aspire to Jewishness by following the Torah, for religious leaders have abandoned God’s commands.
  • There is only one option left:  Embrace God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and love through Christ Jesus; only then can one become a true Jew with a circumcised heart.

The night I finished writing the above I slept soundly.  Suddenly I awoke in the middle of the night and was compelled to write the following conclusion.

Beware false teachings!

Son of man, beware the smooth words of the enemy clothed in the wisdom of man!

Jew, beware, lest you fall prey to those who mislead you.  I desire not your religious rituals.  I desire not your traditions.  Your circumcised flesh it but a symbol, a symbol to you that I have set you apart to be mine and to be holy.  But I desire not just your circumcised flesh.  I desire that your heart be circumcised as well.  Then, and only then, will you know me as the The LORD, The LORD who created you, the One who brought you out of Egypt through the deep waters, the One who tenderly nurtured you and cared for you, the One who disciplined you severely for your unfaithfulness, the One who watches over you constantly, the One who will never ever forget you or leave you.  So circumcise your heart and come to me!

Christian, beware, lest you fall prey to those who mislead you.  You are a wild brier, yet I have grafted you into my vine, my precious, carefully tended vine the Jews, because I love you too.  Do not be deceived by those who say “The LORD God has abandoned his chosen vine” because I have severely pruned the vine in my anger.  Do not think, “Surely, the vine has been pruned; no longer will it bring fruit; I have taken its place.”  Do not allow pride to swell in your heart and consume you, lest you be pruned yourself and cut off from the vine.  For the wild brier which I have grafted into the vine cannot survive without the vine or its root, the root of Jesse; just as the vine cannot survive without its root, the root of Jesse, Christ Jesus.

For you are all one, my children, you are all one in Christ Jesus, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old.  I created you; I nurtured you; I, I alone, The LORD God of Israel sustain you.  Come, come to me my children and see the good things I have planned for you, plans to make you prosper.  Come with circumcised heart all of you, in humility, love, peace, and reconciliation.  Do not argue, do not squabble, do not compete.  Just come.  Come, come now as one, for you are one, you are all my beloved.

Am I not enough?  What more is there?  What more can there be?  Come quickly, for my day of judgment approaches soon for all, Jew and Gentile alike.  Come, come now, for time is short!  Do not be deceived and misled to eternal destruction by the smooth words of the enemy clothed in the wisdom of man!  Come, come to me all my children with circumcised hearts!

THE END

Additional links of interest:

Being Jewish is More Mind Than Matter

Can DNA Testing Confirm Jewish Ancestry?

Genetics and the Jewish Identity

Who is a Jew?

Am I Jewish?  How is Jewish Identify Determined?[17]

http://judaism.about.com/library/3_askrabbi_o/bl_simmons_amijewish.htm
http://www.torah.org/qanda/seequanda.php?id=318#

DNA Analysis Services:

http://www.dnaspectrum.com/full_spectrum_plus.aspx
http://www.familytreedna.com/landing/jewish-ancestry.aspx

Why Is Jewishness Passed Down Through the Mother?

http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/968282/jewish/Why-Is-Jewishness-Passed-Down-Through-the-Mother.htm
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/ask_the_expert/at/AsktheExpert–Matrilineal_descent.shtml

Learn more about Messianic Judaism

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[1] I am not Jewish, so I tend to approach this matter from a Christian perspective.  I regard the Hebrew Scriptures as the foundations for Christianity and study them diligently.  I recognize that my conclusions are inconsistent with widely held Jewish traditions in this regard.  That is why citations focus on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Torah in particular, whenever applicable.

[2] Many Jews assert that Jewishness is defined by the mother (matrilinear tradition).  Under this premise even a single molecule of inherited female Jewish blood makes one Jewish.

[3] Dictionary definition for Jew: [ http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/jew?s=t ]

  1. one of a scattered group of people that traces its descent from the Biblical Hebrews or from postexilic adherents of Judaism; Israelite.
  2. a person whose religion is Judaism.
  3. a subject of the ancient kingdom of Judah.

[4] In Exo 33:19 God said to Moses as He passed before Moses:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Clearly God did not relinquish any of His authority in this regard; He will be gracious to whomever He chooses and retains the right to include anyone He chooses in any group to receive His special blessings.  But we also know that He is truthful, faithful, and righteous.  Therefore He will not violate His covenants and character; nor will he choose unpredictably, randomly, or irrationally.  But The LORD still makes the choice.

[5] Jew in modern terminology

[6] This genetic requirement was primarily to satisfy the Abrahamic covenant of land ownership in The Promised Land.  One must remember that genetic roots were already muddled at the time of the Exodus – Joseph’s sons via an Egyptian mother serve as an example.  That particular Biblical example illustrates the inevitability of some amount of genetic mixing between the general Israelite and Egyptian populations during 400 years of Egyptian captivity.  Furthermore, a number of Egyptians joined the Israelites as part of the Exodus.  Therefore the genetic pool was already confused on both sides even before the settlement in The Promised Land.  But we know God did not discriminate because Joseph’s sons each received a share of The Promised Land in spite of their Egyptian origins. (Note that by today’s matrilinear tradition Joseph’s sons would not qualify as Jews since they were born of a Gentile mother.)  Additionally, God made allowances for Gentile foreigners to convert to Judaism.  (Deu 29:10-13)

[7] Exo 6:7, 22:31, 23:13; Lev 20:22-23, 26:12

[8] Exo 34:11-16; Deu 7:1-11; 1Ki 11:1-8

[9] The various wars in the region furthermore comingled the genetic pool:  When a nation conquered another nation, it was standard practice for the victors to acquire the women of the losers as wives, concubines, or slaves.  These relationships no doubt resulted in Israelite and Gentile offspring of mixed genetic heritage.  Given the frequency of such events in the region, one would expect many Gentiles to carry “Jewish” genes as well as the reverse.

[10] Jdg 2:12, 17, 19, 3:6, 10:6; 1Ki 9:9; Isa 1:21; Jer 5:7, 11:10, 16:11-12, 18:15

[11] Some actually claim that the “Palestinians” come from Arabized Jewish ancestry.  Are they Jews, too, then?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RP7T17Cvy3s

[12] “My people” did not include all Hebrews based on genealogy, but only those Hebrews who had maintained their faith in their God even during the exile.

[13] Jesus predicted this event as punishment for the Israelites missing their time of visitation.  (Mat 23:31-39; Luk 13:34, 19:41-44)

[14] This statement is generally based on Josephus.  Some claim that the records were taken to Rome and destroyed there.  Here are some references on this topic (careful reading and interpretation may be required):

http://forums.carm.org/vbb/archive/index.php/t-63029.html
http://www.jewishanswers.org/ask-the-rabbi-category/the-basics-of-judaism/who-is-a-jew/?p=2903
http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=535303
http://www.jehovahs-witness.net/watchtower/bible/15138/1/genealogical-records-destroyed-in-AD70

[15] Consequently many modern Jewish teachers have reinterpreted the Torah as follows:  “The Jewish tradition teaches us that our Torah is a guide book for living.” Rabbi Gershon Litt ( http://www.jewishanswers.org/ask-the-rabbi-category/the-basics-of-judaism/?p=933 ).  One is not required to follow a guide book for living, and one can revise its content based on current circumstances and interpretation of tradition.  In contrast, one is required to follow a book of laws exactly as specified, and only the law-giver, God Himself, is authorized to change those laws.  Big difference!

Some may argue further that the sacrificial system cannot be implemented without reconstruction of the Temple, and therefore the law cannot be satisfied and must be modified by man.  But the sacrificial system operated in the time of Moses without a Temple (Exo 38:1), as it did in the time of David and before Solomon completed the Temple.  Furthermore, according to Ezr 3:2, ancient Israelites rebuilt the altar of the Lord and began to make regular sacrifices before the 2nd Temple was completed.  So why can’t the sacrificial system operate today without a Temple?

[16] Exo 29:1-46, 30:10, 33:20; Lev 4:1-6:7; Num 8:5-22

[17] These two articles incorrectly justify Jewish matrilineal tradition as being based on Deu 7:3-4, which states:

You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. 

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  1. March 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm

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