Do a search on the internet of the word "Jew" and you will find site after site claiming that Jews are not the people of the bible. They will claim that the word "Jew" only applied to members of the tribe of Judah (one of twelve tribes, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the sons and grandsons of Jacob). G-d renamed Jacob "Israel" and the nation came to be called Israel, or Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel). The Jews of today are (for the most part) still the descendents of those ancient people. I say "for the most part" because a non-Jew may convert and join the Jewish nation, but historically (and DNA proves this out) most Jews have remained from the initial family of Jews.
No, Jews are not a race. There are black, white, and every ethnicity in between Jews. There are red headed Jews (King David was one!), blonde Jews and freckled Jews. . . we are not a race, but we are a people. We are a family. We are a nation.
The anti-semites (anti-Jews) claim that with the destruction of מַמְלֶכֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל / the Northern Kingdom of Israel around 2700 years ago that at least 10 of the 12 tribes "disappeared." This is not true in that members of all the tribes also resided in מַמְלֶכֶת יְהוּדָה / the Southern Kingdom of Judah. So let's start with a little history lesson (from the T'nach / bible) to refresh some memories.
King David's son, Solomon, inherited the kingdom. When he died, around 796 BCE (before the common era) his son Rehoboam becomes king. If you are familiar with the American Civil War you can understand what happened. The northern half of the country resented Rehoboam and his decrees (and also as a punishment to Solomon for letting his wives practice idolatry). Half the country broke away forming the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
The people who think the tribes in the northern kingdom are somehow inheritors of the covenant (and that if they think they are somehow modern descendents of those long lost people) really need to read their T'nach (bible) a bit more closely, for most of those people became idolaters and were cut off from G-d and the Jewish people.
יָרָבְעָם / Y'roboam (Jeroboam) became the king of Israel (the northern kingdom) and he set up Temples in Beit El and Dan. This is in violation of G-d who clearly stated that all qorban (sacrifices) must be brought in only the Temple in Jerusalem (Bamidbar / Numbers 12). Y'roboam went even further than that and made not one, but TWO golden calves! Think back to the story of Moses when the erev rav made a golden calf and the Jews did not prevent it! This act of idolatry is considered one of the worst in Jewish history (even though only 3000 Jews out of 3 million took part), and yet Y'roboam makes not one but TWO of these atrocities???
"The king took counsel and made two golden calves, and he said to them, saying, "It is far for you to go up to Jerusalem; here are your gods, O Israel, that have brought you up from the land of Egypt." 1 Melachim 12:28 / 1 Kings 12:28.
"Here are your gods?????" The Torah is clear that a Jew who turns to idolatry (and does not return to G-d) is no longer Jewish. That person is cut off from G-d and the Jewish people.
"However, if a person commits [such an act of idolatry] high-handedly, whether he is native born or a proselyte, he is blaspheming G-d, and that person shall be cut off [spiritually] from among his people. Since he has denigrated G-d's word and violated His commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off [spiritually and] his sin shall remain upon him." Bamidbar / Numbers 15:30-31.
During the history of the northern kingdom it is one idolatrous king after another. While some Jews remained Jewish (trekking to Jerusalem) the majority were disconnected from Torah and from G-d. There were nineteen kings for nearly 250 years who led their people deeper and deeper into idolatry. G-d sent the prophet Elijah to the northern kingdom trying to get them to return to observance. For a time it seemed to work, the people returned to G-d -- but not for long.
"Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah saying, "So may the gods do and so may they continue unless at this time tomorrow, I will make your life like the life of one of them." 1 Melcahim 19:2 / 1 Kings 19:2.
Elijah fled to save his life and the people soon returned to their false gods.
The point being that the people of the northern kingdom, for the most part, are lost to history. They are not the "inheritors of the covenant." They became idolaters, they did not return to G-d. Just as many Jews today are fooled into becoming "messianic Jews" and thinking that they are still Jewish, their children will not be Jews, they will be Christians. The Jews of ancient Israel turned away from G-d. They are, for the most part, lost to history. 2700 years later what are the odds that there is an unbroken chain of Jewish mothers having Jewish girls who in turn have Jewish children in an unbroken chain? Highly, highly unlikely.
Recently some peoples have been discovered to seem to have Jewish roots (Ethiopia and China are two examples). In those cases if the people want to join the Jewish people they must undergo a Jewish halachic (legal) conversion to Judaism. They may have some Jewish heritage, but they are not Jews without a legal conversion.
Which brings me back to the word "Jew."
Many anti-semites will try to claim that the word "Jew" only applied to members of the tribe of Judah. This claim is based on ignorance of the T'nach (bible). In the book of Esther Mordechai is called a Jew “from the tribe of Benjamin.” Similarly Jewish priests are from the tribe of Levi. Obviously all the tribes are called “Jew” just as they are called “Israel” and “Hebrew.” It is simply a different word meaning the same thing – the people of Israel. Even the Christian bible has Paul claiming to be a "Jew from the tribe of Benjamin."
The term "Jew" most likely came to be the common term because the last land (prior to the modern state of Israel) of our nation was "Judah."
Consider a comparison. There was once a royal family in England named "York." Richard III was a King from the house of York. There is also a town in England called York. There is a city in America called "new" York. The city is located in a state also called "new" York.
So ask yourself, is someone called "York" related to King Richard III?
Probably not. Most likely they simply live in York or New York (take your pick).
“Who is a Jew” is determined by being born to a Jewish mother, or by a legal Jewish conversion with a Beit Din (Jewish Court). There are those who insist they are “of Israel” based on neither, and they will strongly insist they are Jewish – perhaps one of the “lost” tribes or just because the “feel Jewish” or because their father may be Jewish.
None of those reasons meet Jewish law as outlined in the bible and in the Talmud.
Just as one can’t suddenly declare themselves to be the King / Queen of England (the Yorks have not been English kings ever since Richard III who was deposed by the Tudors -- and they aren't around any more either!) and expect to be taken seriously, it is ridiculous to think that a non-Jew (per Jewish law) can come along and insist they are Jewish (or “Israel”).
It is also just as ridiculous for an anti-semite to try to de-legitimize Jews by claiming we are not Jewish. Some truly rabid anti-semites will go so far as to state that Jesus was not Jewish (even though the Christian bible claims that he was not only Jewish, but the "king of the Jews"!).
“Feeling Jewish” is one where illogic trumps everything. You can feel Chinese, but if you were born to Anglo-Saxon parents you are not Oriental. The same is true for Jews – “who is a Jew” is determined by Jews and our courts, not by someone’s “feelings.” Nowhere can a person declare himself to be something and have it "be so." You can't go to Ireland and suddenly declare yourself Irish because you "feel" Irish! Why would it be any different with "who is a Jew"?
In recent times various spin-off groups of Jews (or Jewish wannabes) have taken the stance that “I have a Jewish father but a non-Jewish mother, but I'm still Jewish because my father is a Jew." Some denominations have recently gone along with this claim -- but unfortunately for them and their children the bible and Jewish law disagrees with them.
In the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) descent followed the patriarchs and their women. However, the period of the Patriarchs was before the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It was only with the revelation on Sinai that the Jewish people received their legal system. However, post Sinaic Covenant the T'nach (bible) clearly tells us that “who is a Jew” passes from a Jewish mother, and not the father.
D’varim / Deuteronomy 7 says “he [the non-Jewish male spouse] will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others." The Hebrew wording and the knowledge of Torah are required for the correct understanding of the message these two verses convey. The Torah teaches two important concepts here. On the one hand, with the understanding that the "he" in D’varim / Deuteronomy 7:4 refers to the non-Jewish father-in-law, the one referred to as "your son" is the son of the Israelite father, a Jew, who is marrying the daughter of the non-Jewish father. The verse then states that this Israelite son will " serve other gods ", which means that any children of this marriage will be Gentiles, following the race and faith of their Gentile mother. This is reaffirmed in The Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 68b.
Perhaps the strongest statement that "who is Jewish" is passed by a Jewish mother (and not by a Jewish father and a non-Jewish woman) is in the book of Ezra the prophet. "And Shechaniah, the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, raised his voice and said to Ezra, "We have betrayed our G-d, and we have taken in foreign wives of the peoples of the land, but now there is hope for Israel concerning this. And now, let us make a covenant with our G-d to cast out all the wives and their offspring, by the counsel of the Lord and those who hasten to [perform] the commandment of our G-d, and according to the Law it shall be done." Ezra 10:2-3 (2) .
"According to the Torah (וְכַתּוֹרָ֖ה) it shall be done." Torah = bible (G-d's rules).
This halacha (Jewish law) is codified in the Code of Jewish Law, HaEzer 8:5, and in the Rambam's' Mishneh Torah, Laws of Forbidden Relationships, 15:4: "This is the general rule: The status of an offspring from a gentile man or from a gentile woman is the same as his mother's; we disregard the father."
Use logic. Other than G-d's mitzvot the laws were decreed by men. The courts were run by men. The governments were run by men. If being Jewish could be passed paternally men would no doubt have made that the law! The fact that men cannot pass on "Jewishness" is not "man made" -- it is biblical.
Do we ignore the father completely? Certainly not. The father is the one who determines what tribe the child is from. That is: Kohen, Levi, Yisrael. Also, in determining royalty and other leadership roles among the Jewish people we go from father to son.” Link.
The focus of this posting are three topics:
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.