I’ve never really focused on this on my blog before, but I want to share my perspective as a Jew. Yes – I am Jewish, and while no Jew in my life has ever asked me this question, Christians always seem to ask me so I guess for some reason Christians need to know that: yes indeed, both my parents were Jewish.
I guess Christians ask that a lot because some live in areas of the country where they’ve never actually met someone who was Jewish; or, because in Christian circles someone is always “discovering” that some obscure great-great grandparent might have been Jewish because of some family rumor, it might be hard to believe that someone hanging out in the Christian community who claims to be Jewish might actually be really, truly Jewish — like, solidly both parents, and all the grandparents, had no question about the matter.
Actually, the reason no one would ask this in the Jewish community is because it is generally assumed no one wants to be there who isn’t actually Jewish, and even then, Judaism doesn’t actually require that both parents be Jewish for one to be a Jew. Only one’s mom needs to be a Jew, or alternatively, one can be a Jew by choice and convert. But this means that “when” I have children, they will be just as Jewish as me. There’s no such thing in Judaism as “half-Jewish” or “partially Jewish;” one either is or isn’t, and thus my non-Jewish husband doesn’t really factor in to Jews accepting that my children are part of the tribe. (But sadly, I know that *Christians* will constantly ask my kids their entire lives if *both* their parents were Jewish, as some sort of litmus test, and I just hope my children won’t get a complex over it that threatens their sense of identity as part of my people.)
The other question I get a lot from Christians is whether or not my family “raised” me “practicing” Judaism. Again, this is an outsider’s question. Every Jew practices Judaism in some way shape or form, however assimilated into Gentile culture they may be — whether that simply means eating bagels with Lox, and perhaps having a Chanukkah bush (read: Christmas tree) at Christmas, or celebrating three Jewish holidays a year with heartfelt conviction while eating a ham sandwich on the way home from the party, or really any level of more religious observance they might feel drawn to. All Jews have a sense of connection not necessarily to the faith, but definitely a connection to our shared culture and history, even if it only goes back as recently as World War 2, which reinforces us a distinct people who shared in a common history of trauma. (Many traumas, in fact, as WW2 is not the only one.)
A professed atheist who is addicted to dill pickles, with a dating profile on Jdate.com, might not be the image Christians have of what a practicing Jew looks like, because unfortunately many Christians’ image of what it means to be a practicing Jew comes from their reading of the New Testament mixed with some sort of caricature they’ve absorbed somewhere. They are expecting Jews to be like the Pharisees of the Bible, walking around in long white robes, speaking in Hebrew, and blowing shofars.
And, the scarier Christians are the ones who have bought into some crazy conspiracy theory and think we control all the banks and the world, which is most certainly why I grew up needing the free school lunch program, couldn’t even afford to go on my senior class trip, nor the French class school trip like my Gentile classmates, and which is also why my impoverished father has been known to sardonically say, “Every Jew owns a bank…it must be true, people constantly say so. I just want to know, where’s my bank? Why don’t I have a bank?” It’s also why so many Jewish Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty, and why thankfully there are even Christian organizations that want to help them out.
At any rate, over the years since believing in Jesus, I’ve actually I’ve experienced a whole spectrum of Christian viewpoints about Jews, a great deal of which seem to be detrimental to the Jews as people. It’s time I would like to talk about what’s going on out there in the Christian world relative to my people — the people of my birth — and where I might humbly or perhaps not-so-humbly submit what I think needs to improve in the Christian worldview towards Jews.
What I’ve seen is that the Christian pendulum has two extreme ends of its swing, including at one end a church with theology that is completely enamored with the idea of “Jewishness” and Jews, and on the other end, a theology engendering a distaste for everything Jewish and a desire to erase even the idea of Jewishness itself.
These two positions in many ways are diametrically opposed, but, something they both have in common is that they are viewpoints that dehumanize Jews and replace Jews with an idealism that is uniquely concerned with Christian interests and concerns, to the disregard of Jews themselves. I’ll explain more of what I mean as I go along.
Adoration of all things Jewish
First, there is the side of the church that is absolutely in love with anything about Jews and the modern nation of Israel. Often, I and probably most Jews don’t generally mind this so much — on one hand, it’s so much better to have people enchanted with our culture and peoplehood and religious practices than to have them hating us, barring us from employment, and even wanting to kill us for no reason, as so often in history things have gone for us with Christians.
But there is a problem here even so: as believers in Jesus fall in love with Jewish things, they often fall in love with their distinctly Christian IDEA of Jews and Jewish things, more than the actual Jewish people around them. For one thing, the Christian “love of Israel” is often oversimplified; way oversimplified, beyond the reality and complexity of how Jews themselves even relate to the complex politics and ideas in the region. It’s as if Christians don’t realize that Israel is a democracy with as much or more diversity in political opinions than Americans have about America, and that debates are had from many different JEWISH perspectives about Israel’s policies in region. Christians for instance often don’t realize that there are entire cities INSIDE Israel (not in Palestinian held areas) that are filled with Israelis who are Arab, part of the fabric of the nation of Israel since 1948, who even sometimes even serve in the Israeli military. Nor do they realize that Jews themselves protest other Jews settling in sensitive areas in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, nor that there are kibbutzim where Jews and Arabs live together in a shared life. There is a lack of understanding of the history and variety of opinions Israel has about what it means to be a modern Jewish state.
But beyond politics: one time here in the USA, I was at a new Bible study where I didn’t know most of the people and I hadn’t said much during the meeting. At the end of the meeting, an older gentleman whom I hadn’t yet met came up to me and without introducing himself or even asking my name, asked me point-blank, “What are you?” Now I could have taken this many different ways, but experience told me it was likely that he had noticed my olive skin, and fairly pronounced nose, and other physical features unlike most people in this predominantly Germanic neighborhood, and that his question was aimed at uncovering my ethnicity. I found the question, though, as it was posed, to be literally dehumanizing. So as I responded with an, “Excuse me?” and he repeated the question, “What are you?” emphatically, I just replied, “I’m human.” The man smiled and said, “Yes, but I mean, what ARE you?” To which I again replied that I was indeed human. This went back and forth with a few iterations to which I just kept replying with the word “human.”
Now what I found the MOST bothersome was not the man and his questions, although they were rude and I was hoping he would realize his rudeness at some point by my resistance to answering his question — but what really bothered me was the response of my Christian friend who brought me. She could have chosen to stay on the sidelines, or, to politely introduce me and the man to each other, but when she sensed what this guy was asking, she instantly replied to him on my behalf, “She’s Jewish.” I still did not know this man’s name, nor why he presumed to need to know my ethnic background, and I also felt incredibly objectified by the friend I came with who somehow didn’t understand that my privacy was worth keeping, and my humanity was worth fighting for, instead divulging without my permission to an inappropriately curious voyeur what my exotic middle eastern appearance said about my ancestry. (And by the way, my completely Jewish grandmother had naturally blonde hair and blue eyes! Stereotypes are not reality!)
But there are lots of little examples:
- I’ve been in prayer meetings where Christians were weeping over their sins as a people towards Jews, only to find out it was a mere religious exercise which while Jews were the hot topic, when I introduced myself as a Jew to extend forgiveness and they had zero interest in talking with me as an actual person.
- I’ve been cursed out by Christians in debates on the internet, that, when somehow the debate brought up the topic of my Jewishness, the perpetrator immediately started saying, “Why didn’t you tell me you were Jewish? I don’t want to be cursed by cursing a Jew!” As if treating me like a person worthy of kindness and honor wasn’t important unless he knew I was Jewish.
- I’ve had people tell others that I was Jewish and had their friends come up to me asking if they could be friends with me because “I’ve never been friends with a Jew before but I really want to be.”
- In my hippy lifestyle when I decided not to shave my legs and armpits in a revolt against “the system” oppressing women with requiring women to remove body hair, I’ve been asked if the reason I didn’t shave was because I was Jewish. (Uh, no…are all hippies Jews?)
- There was an older widow who told me she was “waiting for her Boaz” to remarry, and when I asked what she meant, she told me God had promised her she’d marry a Jew, which, while I found it strange and objectifying, I still introduced her to a Jewish single guy friend in her age bracket, and then she took me aside and told me she meant a RICH Jew.
- And, I’ve had a non-Jewish roommate that I felt saw me as a person until I came home one day to her and her friends in our living room, and as soon as I walked through the door, she announced, “This is Heather, my Jewish roommate,” as if somehow that was vital information that one must know before simply knowing me as another person. Like, why??? When I protested that she would never introduce a black friend like that, she defended herself saying that with a black person, it was too obvious to need to say anything.
- I’ve been told I need to move to Israel to fulfill Bible prophecy. Yet God was calling me to go to other nations as a missionary.
Maybe none of these examples seem particularly poignant if you haven’t experienced them, but what they all have in common is that in some corners, there is such a fascination and infatuation with Jews as a concept, that an actual Jewish person is not really “seen” but rather entirely objectified; is not known as a person or even as a fellow believer in Christ who happens to be Jewish, as much as “this Jew I know.” To this extent, the love and fascination with Jews actually turns into racism — just, a nicer, less dangerous form of racism that happens to be a little harder to explain.
And ultimately, it ends up with cultural assimilation, where Christians are all claiming to have a Jewish great-grandparent (no offense to those who truly have one) and everyone dresses in stuff they think Jews would wear so they can dance and blow shofars the way they think Jews would do so….and they try to keep Torah with a total disregard for thousands of years of careful debate about how it might best be kept, because a verse or two about how Jesus had an issue with some tradition or another — and ultimately, their eagerness to connect with Jewish things ends them up in a position of trying to replace Jews themselves; with their own version of what they think Jewishness is.
The icing on the cake of course is that most of these folks also believe all Jews should immigrate to Israel, to fulfill their vision to have two-thirds of us killed in some great Armageddon so Jesus can come back. It’s such a great vision for our future, and for our children’s future. I can’t wait. But of course, there are other movements in the church to be concerned about.
On the other hand: the “JEWS DON’T ACTUALLY EXIST” teaching.
This one is the extreme opposite of the folks who are in love with all things Jewish. In this side of the church, the teaching that the church is the REAL Israel dominates. According to this side of the church, Jews disqualified themselves from being Jews 2000 years ago by not believing in Jesus. Then God destroyed the Jewish temple in 70AD, thus ending Judaism. The church is what God’s plan landed on as He rejected the Jewish people and instead chose the church. Therefore, aside from Christians being a new Israel, there is no such thing as Jew today as God “ended” that whole covenant in 70AD.
Now, for every lie, there is a little bit of truth. Here’s the truth of the matter: the Israel of the Bible was a nation that represented something that God wanted to do more fully in Jesus Christ and those who would believe in Him. There is something valid about understanding that the Earthly nation of Israel was not the fulness of God’s plan for a people, and that the body of Christ is a spiritual “Israel” .
But here’s where the problem is, if it isn’t already obvious: You can’t just erase an entire people group, their contribution to your faith, and their history, just because the way you’ve calculated things in your theology says you can.
No one would ever go up to a Native American and say, “Native Americans aren’t in the Bible, therefore, according to my theology, you’re not a Native American.” This is about as valid as saying, “My theology says Jews no longer exist, that God has no special place in his covenant for Jews anymore, and therefore, there’s no such things as Jews.”
Yet these people act like this is the case. They ignore an entire people group which has mostly shared DNA for the past 2000 years. (They are also very fond of a theory that says a race of people called Khazars all converted and became Jews, to try to prove erroneously that there is no genetic connection of modern Jews to ancient Jews. Even if it were true, which DNA says is not true, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because Jewishness is more than just DNA. But the DNA link does mean that there is a people who share ethnicity with one another through thousands of years of intermarriage.)
They ignore that a group of people has a shared heritage, shared culture, shared humor and ideas, a shared Bible that they have copied over and over for two millennia, and that they have suffered together at the hands of mostly Christians for the greater part of those two millennia. They ignore the fact that there is a people with a shared story, language, practices, food, history, trauma, homeland, and to some extent or another, belief system.
I’ll upset my Jew-loving audience who is sure the modern Jew is a fulfillment of Bible prophesy, by saying to the Jew-dismissing Christian audience what they need to hear:
It doesn’t matter one iota if prophesy is already fulfilled, nor that God instituted a new Covenant, ended the old, nor even if it would be true that He rejected the Jews from being His people — none of these things change the fact that there is a group of people on the Earth right now, descended by blood, history, culture, and religion from those people God wrote the whole Bible story about, whether or not you think God is finished with them, even today, and even if there would be nothing spiritual about the whole situation, Jews are still a viable people regardless of whether or not the Bible is done with Jews or not.
Ultimately, Jews today are not a theological fact for you as much as a fact of present reality and a historical fact — we are here, and we’re not going to stop being a people just because your misinterpretation of our Holy Book and our Prophet and Messiah says so. The problem is, you’ve confused your theories and theology with actuality.
We don’t have to theologically “count” for you as “true Jews” for us to be Jews nonetheless. Jews in the Bible might have been defined by God’s covenant to Abraham and Moses, but even if everything Biblical about us would belong to the past, it’s still a shared history — and today’s Jews are still a people even if they are less defined by Biblical markers. Whether we are descended via DNA or simply culture and tradition, it is immaterial — the Israel according to the flesh still lives, not to compete with the Israel of the Spirit, but to constantly reflect a God who is merciful and faithful who does not utterly destroy even if His plan does not depend on us anymore. God did not wipe Jews off the planet, as much as I’ve overheard some of you saying that Hitler was sent by God to do so in your insane need for your theology to make sense. The fact that Jews still exist, and a nation called Israel has been resurrected may not be any sort of Bible prophesy in your measurement, but it doesn’t have to be.
We don’t have to fulfill Bible prophesy to be real. We don’t have to fit somewhere in your understanding of covenants to be a people who have a history with God that we pass on to our children today.
We are yet a people. We didn’t disappear in 70AD; we just went into hiding. And as much as you are Irish, or you are German, or you are whatever it is you might want to be, American, Australian, Canadian, whatever — well we are a people. Sorry to inform you, but as much as you want to, you can’t just Bible that away.
Romans 11:17-18 “Now if some branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others to share in the nourishment of the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, remember this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.
SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THINGS?
Well this post is very long. But if I could ask Christians — just treat us as people. Interesting people, people who you may or may not want to learn from, but please stop trying to be us. Please stop treating us as an artifact to stare at, rather than your brothers and sisters in humanity, and sometimes even in your faith.
And please stop coming up with theologies where you tell us what our place is to be in your version of the world — I guarantee you, we won’t fit your box for us, anymore than anyone made in the image of God does. We won’t be pawns in your theological games, my apologies, but it must be said. In the end, try loving us. Show us a real Jesus, not the one you’ve held up as you’ve hurt us through the centuries. Make us want what you have — if you indeed really have Him — and welcome us with open arms in the covenant our own Messiah made with us. While we don’t run the world, and we don’t generally own banks — we do have treasures to share with you if you get to know us, for real, as people, and generally, we really want to know you too.