Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “There is no basic set of meaningful principles on which all Jews would agree.”

What does it mean to identify oneself as a Jew?

As a rabbi, as someone who is, one might say, a Jew by profession, I have given a fair amount of thought to this issue.

The most obvious first answer, I believe, is that a person is a Jew by religion.

In fact, that is a hard argument to make, as odd as it may seem.

There is no basic set of meaningful principles on which all Jews would agree.

And there are huge variations in both practice and belief.

Are Jews members of a race?

This is clearly not the case.

Jews come in every color and exhibit every combination of ethnic features.

Do Jews belong to a nation?

Following the involuntary exile inflicted on us many centuries ago, the notion of Jews as a people living in one place, speaking one language, or even sharing one culture does not fit.

Even linguistically, we are splintered.

Hebrew is our official language, the language of the land of Israel and of our sacred texts, but many Jews have no knowledge of it at all.

What we are is a family.

We are the biological or, in the case of converts, the spiritual children of the House of Israel.

We are connected to one another, whether or not we agree with one another, whether or not we even like one another.

We are not a perfect family, but we are a real family.

We are all proud when one of us does well and embarrassed when one of us does badly.

And as much as we may argue among ourselves, we are always there to defend or assist one another.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz