What Is a Jew?

Are we a religion, a nation, a race, or something else altogether?

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Produced by Dovi Halpern and Michael Tintner, founders of Sinai Speak.com a Jewish initiative dedicated to uniting the best speakers in the Jewish world to spread their wisdom through short, inspirational videos on the same common platform.

Comments (52)

(38) joseph Ergas, August 11, 2015 9:12 PM

the jewish family

exelent! now I have a answer to all the questions!!!!

(37) Barajas, July 21, 2015 6:26 PM

.We do not yet feel this crisis to such an extent, but we already understand that we have no leverage to correct it, and are not able to control it. Humanity is helpless before this crisis and cannot cope with it. This is the crisis of the family, of a person’s relationship to the world, to his neighbor, to his children, and to nature.

This is a crisis of nature itself, of climate. We are losing hope for life, the form of our existence, its purpose. People are gripped by such despair that they don’t understand what to live for. And here, there is an opinion, gradually formed in the world that the whole problem is in the Jews, and namely in Israel …

This hatred of the Jews, the usual anti-Semitism and the newborn “anti-Israelism,” will not stop, but will only increase. One must understand that these grievances against the Jews come from nature itself. Therefore, we must examine them and find out how “fair” they are.

If we refer to the sources with this question, i.e., the wisdom of Kabbalah, which is the true Torah, the basis of the nation of Israel, its creation and organization thousands of years ago, we will see that the grievances are correct.

Kabbalah explains why the nations of the world hate Israel. After all, it should be a light to all the nations, it should shine to all seven billion. It is his duty, for which it exists on this earth.

There is no such nationality as “Jew”! There are French, Spanish, Russian, British, but the people of Israel are no ordinary people. Anyone in the world who wants to convert to Judaism and join the people of Israel, becomes a Jew. He supports unity (Ehud) and hence is called a Jew (Yehudi).

(36) Anonymous, July 20, 2015 3:27 PM

Judaism is an Individual Inheritance of Torah and Philosophy

Rabbi, with all respect, I think you need to re-examine your conclusion.
We learn from the Torah that being a B'nai Yisroel is a Yerusha, an inheritance. We inherited the Torah and Philosophies of our forefathers given by H'shem. This is an important difference from just a "family" because, like with things you inherit, each individual gets to chose whether to accept it or not (free will). For those who chose to accept their inheritance, we call them practicing Jews and for those who chose not to accept, we call those non-practicing Jews (or Apacorsim).
Of course, non-Jews have a choice as well regarding the Laws of Noach, or if they choose, they can accept the yoke of Torah and join those who serve H'shem together with other Jews. Their descendants will then share in our Yerusha as Jews. If, however, a "convert" then chooses not to continue to accept the inheritance, unlike non-observant heriditary Jews, then their status may return to that of a non-Jew and, unlike an adopted child, they are no longer consider among the B'nai Yisroel.
I hope this might help clarify our status as Jews.

(35) Lea, July 19, 2015 4:52 PM

urgent needed: repair

What a misser!!
You got stuch with the needle at Bne Yisrael? If you read a bit more you will arrive at the words Am and Goy Kadosh and Mamlechet. That means we are first and foremost a NATION, derived from a family. With a nation belongs a country: a specific country only and a specific language only. You got stuch with your needle in the grove of the galut, the diaspora, a temporary punishment fot he jewish nation. Please repair your needle and your tune

(34) Anonymous, January 15, 2015 2:42 AM

Made me cry!

Excellent!!! Made me cry, so well put!
- a 'non-religious' member of the 'family'

(33) Sari, August 3, 2014 5:00 PM

not-western not-eastern not-white

Very good! Succinct! I keep trying to point out to so many fellow Jews still living overseas that no, we are not really western, not really eastern, not really European, or American, or British, not white ---- we are something else, uniquely so: part of the Jewish family, as you say.

(32) BettyAnn Sanland, July 20, 2014 5:38 PM

Thank you for your explanation

Hi there...
I am a conservative southern female. I am not Jewish.I have recently met some wonderful Jewish friends that have taken me under wing and have been so wonderful and patient with all my many questions.
We are all G_d's children and it is good to reach out and to get to know one another and to learn more about one another.
I enjoy reading aish.com that my Jewish friend introduced me. She is a wonderful lady. We share recipes, friendship, current events, and so much more. I am a 65 year old female born and raised in the Atlanta, Ga. area. I am very concerned with things happening in the USA and the world today. G_d bless us all in these trying times.

(31) grant, July 18, 2014 3:32 PM

a Jew

Jew is chosen as family member by a power fare beyond our understanding. God loves the individual desire individual as a family member will model the love as part of the family. others will see the love is real between God and family; a jew is God.s chosen family no mater where on the earth individual is.

(30) Mia Sherwood Landau, July 17, 2014 2:49 PM

LOVE this video, Rabbi

This video provides great ideas for those of us who do not live in Jewish communities and often find ourselves faced with similar questions from friends and even from family. You can be certain your words will come in handy for me in the future. Thank you so much for posting!

(29) Anonymous, July 3, 2014 1:38 AM

Love this idea!

Well-done! really got me thinking about what the Jewish People really are. Thank you, Rabbi Zeldman!

(28) Anonymous, July 1, 2014 8:11 PM

Being a Jew is a Halachic matter, not a Brotherhood

I have a lot of Hakoras HaTov to Aish Ha-orah, for the work they did in helping me become Frum, today. Instilling a feeling of belonging is very important to the not-yet-observant.

Nevertheless, defining a Jew is really a Halachic matter, not a family one. This ONLINE philosophical "lecture" will likely cause more damage than it will do good.

The so called "Jewish State" of Israel is actively trying to dilute the halachic authority of the Beis Din in matters of marriage and conversion.

If chas-ve-chalilah this effort succeeds, then a Jew will be defined as a Bnei Eisav just as much as he/she will be a Bnei Yisroel.

Anonymous, July 8, 2014 12:41 AM

What a refreshing way to define a Jew. Let's hope people like Anonymous one day change their thinking and enter the modern world.

(27) Janice, June 23, 2014 8:32 PM

Nice talk!

And here I thought that you weren't paying attention in Talmud class at CHAT.

Moshe, July 6, 2014 10:38 PM


LOL- Hi Janice. I was actually copiously taking notes, while trying my best to SEEM like I wasn't listening. Good act huh?

(26) Rafael, June 21, 2014 1:10 PM

"The worlds biggest disfunktional family"

I am of safardic decent and also Spanish and French . Many of my friends are of mix blood though they have a Jewish ,Irish or Italian sir name.
When a Black American hundreds of years deep in this culture tries to adapt African culture and gives himself a Muslim name... That's when the dysfunction begins
I've lived my 63 years as an American and look at my history as history. I will not fight the battles of my ancestors against the decendence of their enemies today
the Natzi disfunction occurred when they wanted to reclaim their god given right to rule and purify the world. They resurrected symbols and emblems of their ancient mythologies to rekindle their ancient entitlements
ManyBlack Americans attempt to reinvent themselves as Muslims. They also revisits the hate of the white slave owner an project their misguided hate on todays White people.
What is a Jew.? People who call themselves Jewish have in fact assigned their own definitions to what that is. My Jewish friends do not approach me as a Jew...but as my friends. There are other Jews who hate my Jewish friends for that!
As my Spanish father would say" Jew make of yourself what you want"

Anonymous, July 2, 2014 10:23 PM

According to Halacha (Rabinnic law) a Jew is a Jew of he/she is the child of a Jewish mother or one who has converted to Judiaism. That's it.

(25) Anonymous, June 10, 2014 5:27 AM

I LOVE THIS! That really pinpoints Judaism for me --- a family.

(24) Sima, June 8, 2014 5:03 PM


and this is a fact. No need to go thru so much babble

(23) Shloime Twerski, June 8, 2014 5:52 AM

Attention Yosef Dayan: Better Jews?

As a response to Yosef Dayan: maybe you can say living in Israel, speaking Hebrew, and keeping Mitzvot are positive attributes which take a Jew farther in life (or in death) than having not done so, but one can never say who is a better Jew or not. When thinking of it like that, what comes to mind is: one would be saying that one is allowed to sacrifice the life of a "lesser" Jew who does not have these attributes in place of himself if he himself does have these attributes and his life is being threatened lest he executes his friend who does not have these attributes. However, this we already know is forbidden under all circumstances; even if one does have these three attributes and the other does not. "Who says your blood is redder? Maybe the blood of your friend is redder," is what our sages teach us with regards to this. Maybe you agree to this, and we are just not in sync with the definition of what you meant by better. If that is the case then you were saying those three things are values. Doing Mitvot i'm with you. Your 100% right that that's a value. Living in Israel might be also. Mighty big controversy, but both sides seem to have a very good point. Speaking Hebrew...if we had the original language then yes. What we have now is a far cry from the dialect that was spoken long ago by our ancestors and was called LOSHON HAKODESH or THE HOLY LANGUAGE. Therefore, i'm going to disagree with you on that one. I'll admit it's pretty cool. You know, after all, WE speak OUR OWN language. That makes us distinct. Awesome. Ummm...still not a value. In my opinion at least.
Very nice video Rabbi Zeldman. If I had your email I'd love discuss it with you. Any way I could get it?

(22) Anonymous, June 7, 2014 5:41 PM


We are family! That's so cool!

(21) marcia k steimez, June 4, 2014 4:07 PM

excelente definition!!i loved it!

(20) Yosef Dayan, June 1, 2014 6:54 PM

Yes, all of us are Jews, but

those living in Israel, speaking Hebrew and keeping Mitzvot are better Jews.

No question!

(19) Basha, June 1, 2014 10:50 AM


Even if one wants to forget they are a Jew, it will take a non-Jew to remind them who they are...!

(18) Karyn, May 29, 2014 5:35 PM

Even Messianic Jews are Jews

According to this definition - converted Jews, apostates and even Messianic Jews ARE Jews.

Mike, June 5, 2014 4:25 PM

every person who was born jewish remains jewish, this was never denied

Jews who leave their faith and commit Avoda Zara, the worship of foreign gods which the most serious transgression are still considered Jews, and people are commanded to love them and to teach them about the true God of Israel and that it can not possibly be Jesus (Numbers 23:19, 1.Samuel 15:20-35, "God is not a man" and Jesus is a man) they have to be shown what the God of Israel said, not a person no matter what his integrity.
While the messiah is not the most important part of Judaism, there clearly will be a messiah from the kings David and Solomon (also check here the lineage of Jesus as described in Matthew and Luke, he is ineligible to be a messiah, can not possibly be the messiah, since neither genealogy passes through Solomon making Jesus ineligible. He can not possibly be the messiah.)
Care has to be taken also with name 'messianic Jews'. It is basically an offshoot of a Baptist church and its 'Rabbis' are all ordained baptist ministers. Most congregants are actually not Jews but Gentiles who feel affinity to the Jewish people and the God of Israel and who want to know more. If you look at the congregants who are actually Jewish it is extremely rare to find anyone who was born Jewish and comes from an orthodox family. All this is designed to create the impression to Jewish people who do not know better that this is a legitimate form of Jewish worship. It is first of all dishonest, like a Buddhist donning the clothes of a catholic priest and saying Do you know what christianity is? and then teaching buddhism but calling it christianity.
Why? Money. Check your leadership.
Most people in these messianic congregations are actually Gentiles who were seeking something that is closer to what God really wants. Many of the leave, some to orthodox judaism, when they realize that what they are being taught there is not the word of God and that God wants mankind to worship the Creator alone. "There is no other God". You came to a good place (Aish).

Mike, June 5, 2014 4:47 PM


I wish you much sucess in your learning about God. You came to a good place (aish). Also check out their Article "Why Jews don't believe in Jesus".
You are clearly interested in God. May you have a lot of blessing in your quest.

what I wrote earlier, that Jews who are jewish remain jewish is true, but the condition is either to be born to a jewish mother or to have converted to Judaism previously. To convert to Judaism entails 1. according to the torah to take upon the 613 commandments which include not to delete or add anything from the Torah and that the mitzvot are forever, which is not compatible with christianity, not to speak about the worship of something that is not the God that Israel encountered, that "was not known to your fathers" in the desert Sinai
2. to sincerely want to join the Jewish people, which a Gentile does not have to do in order to earn eternal reward / have a portion in the world to come. It is enough to perform the 7 Noahide commandments.

If I could make a suggestion, it would be to learn more about Judaism from places like Aish and find an orthodox Rabbi (best would be someone knowledgeable in christianity (for example outreachjudaism.com) to guide you.

Mike, June 5, 2014 4:54 PM

sorry, short addition

outreachjudaism.org (not .outreachjusaimcom, sorry)
Blessings for your journey

(17) Morris Givner, May 26, 2014 11:24 AM

The Ten Commandments Is The Essence Of Judaism

To me,my belief in the Ten Commandments affirms my Judaism.

(16) Lorraine, May 24, 2014 5:23 PM

Jews are all that he said but one more, the most important of all; Jews are a People.

All of the above comments are who we are, but we have been a people for better than 5,000 years. And yes, we are the people of Israel no matter where we live, no matter what form of religious practice we observe, or even if we observe no religiosity, we are one people.

(15) KP, May 23, 2014 5:08 AM

Great article!

Great article! I like the way it was explained, in such a clear and simple way! However, I would like to know what author meant when describing it as "dysfunctional"?

(14) dov abraham, May 19, 2014 9:51 PM


You are so right, next time some ask me WHAT IS A JEW I well now able to tell them in my simplest way, the way you said it

(13) Anonymous, May 16, 2014 4:47 AM

When Questions are Harrassment Attempts to Eradicate Judaism...

I appreciate your video and I find it very encouraging. No matter what people say about me, which are often lies of ignorance, I am non-observant because of other people, primarily mother. I am not pointing fingers just to do so...but it is physically the truth. Please be careful because there are a lot of Christian, Pagan, and Catholic extremists who love to financially and physically attack Jews of any degree of 'Jewishness' and they think they are justified for religious or patriotic reasons. G-d knows that I speak the truth. My answer when questioned is that a Jew is and can be either (or both) a descendant of Israel (genetic) or of the Judaic religious faith (non-observant or observant).

(12) Henry Wiltschek, May 14, 2014 7:18 PM

What an inspirational explanation

More people should hear this and it would fight anti-semitism,
If people in General Had a better understanding what a " Jew "

(11) Anonymous, May 11, 2014 10:18 PM

why "disfunctional"?

Actually, we're a part of all the things the rabbi says we're not. . What the Jews are is unique - not capable of being defined by any of the categories that apply to the rest of the world. And we are a family. With all the varieties and disagreements and differences that characterize all families. If all that makes us "dysfunctional," then "dysfuntional" defines the family. And that really undermines it. So dispense with the pejorative adjective.

(10) Hessel Meilech, May 11, 2014 2:29 PM

What are we Jews

What do we Jews have in common? What is our common identity?
It is not:
1. The colour of our skin.
2. The languages that we speak
3. The food that we eat
4. The way that we pray
5. The songs that we sing in Shul
6. The countries that we live in

There are two answers that ties us together 1. The stories. The stories that we retain in our head and our heart from the bible as well as, our suffering, our endurance, our resilience and our creativity. We are all part of that story. Without the written word, the portable memory we would not have survived from century to century. The transmission of words and memories would outlast the architecture of the holy land.
The Torah that was given to us 3000yrs ago has formed the basis of our religion as well as the burden that came with it. The Torah is like a multifaceted diamond that has sparkled down the centuries.
A woman was sitting next to another woman in a restaurant and looked down at the huge diamond on her ring. That is a huge diamond, Yes she replied, it is the largest diamond in the world. The Plotnick diamond. However the diamond also comes with a burden. What is the burden? The burden is Mr. Plotnick

(9) Miriam Gil, April 9, 2014 11:21 PM


This video should be displayed all the time! It is exactly the way I view the Jewish family and a significant part of the identity of a Jewish person!

(8) Devorah, April 8, 2014 11:40 PM

Answer ok ,but maybe incomplete -I feel it needs this too

With all your questions, each very valid arguments against particular labels to explain the Jew, do you really think a one-word appellation will end up covering it? Obviously you realize it is way more complex.We ARE a family, but a family without typical parameters. While you can kind of explain a convert being a ben/bat Yisrael by saying (s)he is a fully accepted adoptee, that really doesn't do justice if you know the Kuzari, who said that after someone is converted they literally transform their bloodline & DNA, even retroactively (!) so that in effect they now ALWAYS HAVE BEEN a part of the sons of Abraham, and this is beyond being "accepted" cheerfully and producing progeny who will be equal members of this clan. So, as another commenter mentioned, we also cannot avoid the truth of the fact that we are a unified group via our special connection to G-d and Torah.But even for those who say - Ok, that is our past, but as long as I am either converted kosher or have the requisite Jewish mother, I am a full-fledged member, whatever my level of commitment or belief. Ahhh -ALMOST! While generally G-d counts us in no matter what, there are ways of falling so far away that one CAN be cut off, for deliberately forsaking just a few most essential requisites identifying you as a part of this People and G-d. So that is what leads me to conclude that yes, we can say we are a family and some kind of dysfunctional club, but MOSTLY we are part of a shared DESTINY. And that is what one acquires by birth or conversion no matter the race or belief level. By extension it fits perfectly to say that anyone who is part of the same destiny is part of the same past, no matter how well this person follows the rules of the club or cares to swear allegiance to his G-d or his forefathers. Unfortunately, throughout this Exile, no one has reminded us of this better than those out to destroy us. We'd do better to discover that lesson ourselves and unite lovingly, I would say.

(7) Hector Olivera, April 8, 2014 7:51 PM

I am part of the disfunctional family by choice

Grew up catholic but feel my ancestors were converted by force. I am learning how to become a Jew and hopefully make Aliyah.

(6) Anonymous, April 6, 2014 5:10 PM

I love what Rabbi Moshe said . I always wear my "little hat"" at work to let The God know that I am aware of His present . I am a women so I got a many question why? I have to admit is hard to answers this by simple saying " I am a Jew " I was adopted by my parents after the war and now I adopted myself to Jewish Family as a convert : and yes I do not speak the Hebrew I do not live in Israel but I Love my Family and I love God

(5) Beverly Kurtin, April 6, 2014 6:05 AM

We are NOT a Race!

The Roman Catholic Church started saying that this or that person was part of a race. We Jews cannot be a race. We can be a religion, a people, but a race? NO!
We are a people made up of all people.
I just love when people try to call us a race in my presence. I get them to drop that idea.

The Abab's newest claim is that Judaism and Jewish people have only a religion holding us together but are not a people, therefor we do not require a homeland. Of course that is simple weak propaganda, but something of which we should be aware.

I still rubs me the wrong way that we let the Arabs call themselves Palestinians and that we even refer to Judea and Samaria as the West Bank...something the Jordanians called our areas for 19 years. All the other years of the names goes down the drain. Aarrgghhhhh.

Anonymous, April 8, 2014 5:52 PM

A family which intermarryes is a race

Jews marry Jews, period, and thus you have the Jewish Race

Elia, April 11, 2014 10:01 AM

Jews are a nationality & ethnic group

Jews are a nationality, and therefore an ethnic group - no different from Americans, Canadians, Italians, or any other nationality.
And, just as the Americans, Canadians, Italians, etc. live all over the world, so do Jews.
Our nationality or origin is imprinted in our DNA, and cannot be changed, regardless of where we live. Ours nationality comes from ancient Israelites from Israel.
Our Religion:
Just as the members of other nationalities have their individual chosen religions, most Jews have chosen the religion of Judaism, founded by their prophet Moses.
just as religion brings together its members, Judaism also brings their members together.
Jews are an ancient nationality, with an ancient religion. And just as other nationalities have specific cultures, so does the Jewish nationality.
And race?
Just as the American nationality has different "races" among them (black, white, yellow, red), so does the Jewish nationality.

Just because the Jewish nationality is small, and most of them belong to the Jewish religion (Judaism), there should be no confusion. Jews "know thyself" that you may not allow others to define you.

(4) Anonymous, April 3, 2014 2:11 AM

What is a Jew - A Story

The question of what is a Jew also use to continually trouble me, as most of my life I lived a very secular existence. When I left my job in 1995 to spend a year at a Yeshiva in the Rova, I also concluded that a Jew was a member of a large dysfunctional family. But as I returned home to LA, I discovered I was wrong! The immense idealism I had when I was in Jerusalem seemed to quickly dissipate in the US. As I saw Jews fighting with one another, Synagogues splitting apart and Rabbis being arbitrarily fired by the Shul president, like throwing out a Sefer Torah!. I have come to discover that being a Jew IS NOT a family but, rather, a Story. Every Jew is part of a 5,700 year old story that binds us together. Even though many chapters have been completed, no one knows how the story will end. We only know it will only be for the best.

Anonymous, April 8, 2014 5:51 PM

That IS a dysfunctional family

Synagogues splitting apart and Rabbis being arbitrarily fired by the Shul president, like throwing out a Sefer Torah are ll parts of a dysfunctional family symptomes

(3) SusanE, April 2, 2014 8:34 PM

Great Answer - A Jew is a Jew is a Jew

One other long word to bind together all the Children of Israel is family DNA,

Anonymous, April 8, 2014 5:50 PM

What about converts?

Converts don't have the "Jewish DNA" just like adopted kids don't have their adopted siblings' DNA

(2) muriel morgen, April 1, 2014 7:17 PM

The speaker omitted the two most important reasons for being Jewish. The belief in one G-d and the giving of the Torah.That is what binds us together.How could he explain who we are without once mentioning G-D

laurie engel, April 8, 2014 5:30 PM

About God, I am ambiguous, about being a Jew I am not.

Avi, April 8, 2014 5:49 PM

He Did Adress That

He repeated a few times that even non-religious Jews and Jews who believe in something else if another religion or atheism are all still Jews, and also Muslims believe in God

Madeleine, April 8, 2014 9:47 PM

Not all Jews believe in God

Not all Jews believe in God, Some are Agnostic or even Atheist, yet they're still Jews.

Anonymous, April 9, 2014 5:52 AM

We are NOT all bonded by god. In fact, far from it. There are also Secular Jews. Religious Jews are bonded by god. We are a family, a race and a culture that are the Children Of Israel.

(1) Andre Ranulfo, April 1, 2014 5:29 AM

Best answer ever!

Best answer ever!


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