Birth of Judaism

Who are Jews? where do they come from? and what is their relation to biblical law and history?

Jews come in two varieties: cultural Jews and religious Jews.

Cultural Jews are born into a Jewish community. The Jewish people to them is this community.

Religious Jews, on the other hand, believe that around the 16th c. BCE God made a covenant with the “descendants of Jacob” at Mount Sinai that they must keep forever (Exodus 19:3).

The Orthodox/Reform Divide

During the Enlightenment, Jewish movements split into two main factions, which are called orthodox and reform. This division reflects that between cultural and religious Jews. Like cultural Jews, reform Jews see the Torah as part of Jewish culture or a progressive revelation that is subject to liberal interpretation. Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, see the Jewish people as the flesh-and-blood children of Israel, understand the Torah as divine commandments and defer to biblical authorities (such as the Kohanim) and precedents.

History of Jewish movements: reform, conservative and orthodox

The Crisis and Paradox of Jewish Identity

Secular and reform Jews do not generally claim to be “Children of Israel” who rightfully inherit the land of Israel. Hence, their claim to nationhood and the land of Palestine is purely based on a violent fiction.

Conservative and orthodox Jews, on the other hand, do claim to be Children of Israel and that the land of Israel is their rightful inheritance. However, even if true, the Torah does not support their claim, since they deserted the land of Israel and assimilated with other nations (see Ezra 9), especially if their story of a return after up to some 2000 years is to be believed (see Hatikva and note that Ezra 9 is supposed to have taken place after only 70 years of exile).

When it comes to conservative and orthodox Jews’ claim to be Children of Israel, demographics and DNA speak for themselves. According to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs Demographics of Judaism, the global population of Jews today is about equally divided between America and Israel, each of them fostering about 40 percent of the world’s Jews. The population of Jews in America breaks down to the following groups:

    • reform (~38 percent)
    • conservative (~33 percent)
    • orthodox (~22 percent)

The population of Jews in Israel, on the other hand, breaks down to the following groups:

    • secular (~50 percent)
    • non-denominationally religious (~35 percent)
    • orthodox or ultra-orthodox (Haredi) (~15-20 percent)

The global population of Jews breaks down to the following numbers and percentages by group according to statistics on Wikipedia:

Global population of Jews according to statistics on Wikipedia

Total population 14,511,000 (2017) 100%
Orthodox ~2,000,000 (2019) 14%
Conservative ~1,100,000 (2019) 8%
Reform ~1,800,000 (2019) 12%
Secular ~9,600,000 (2019) 66%

According to Demographics of Judaism (op. cit.) 75 percent of the world’s Jews are Ashkenazis of German descent while the other 20 percent are of Spanish descent. (Ashkenaz is not Semite according to Genesis 10:2-3.) The latest statistics indicate the current intermarriage rate in the Jewish community is 47 percent (2011).

In short, a minority of Jews actually claim to be Children of Israel. Most of this minority have foreign (predominantly non-Semitic) ancestry. Their situation is similar to Europeans and Métis who claim Indian status or lands.