Social Linguistics – It’s Etymology not simple Grammar

Social Linguistics – It’s Etymology not simple Grammar

I have to respond to Paula’s post on the difference between being Jewish and being a Jew. I would have just left her misguiding ideas alone, but she used strong language about differing opinions, so I think it needs to be addressed.

First, the etymology. “Judaism” comes from being of the tribe of Judah or of Benjamin, which was absorbed by Judah after the civil war in the ancient land of Israel that left those two tribes to survive while the other 10 were “lost”. With some believing that the tribe of Reuben went to Africa, we accept them as Jews because of their heritage/history, faith, and differentiating culture. So before you can say there is a difference between “Jewish” identification and identification as a “Jew”, you have to define Judaism.

It’s not just a religion. It could be a race, because you can find it in DNA. See this video, at 3:29 – “So, I’m a Muslim Jew”.

Judaism could be a culture because there are Jewish rules for food, clothing, housing, and life priorities, which are basically the defining characteristics of a culture. Of course, it is also a religion.  But, you can be a Jewish Buddist, or a Jewish Atheist, which makes it seem like our definition of religion is not strictly the same as what is thought of as a religion.

Then there is the etymology of the other word. The one that Paula didn’t use, but which was the elephant in the corner of her post: Zionism. Zion comes from the Aramaic “tsion” which means “pure”. The Ark was housed in a tent inside other tents, and to get to it, you had to be pure. To enter the Holy place, you had to be Pure. So the ancient Israelites came to mean both pure and holy in one word. “By the rivers of Babel, there we sat and we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The idea of the Holy Land and Zion being the land of return came at about 587 BCE.

The idea of the Land of Israel, the land of return, Zion, is the ideal for Jews living outside of Israel. For those who are Jewish in the faith-sense, in the religious sense, identifying with the Land of Israel is part of identifying with your heritage and culture and the thousands of years of your family and history. But the Land of Israel is a memory. The modern State of Israel is a political, economic, legal entity.

We can’t get 10 Israeli Jewish citizens in one room to agree on all the points of politics and current events. So why should we think that Jewish citizens of other countries have a duty to support the modern State of Israel, no matter what?

Don’t you see? For every thinking, reasoning person who disagrees with Israel, that is another weight on the balance of the pro-Israelis of all religions. If all Jews were pro-Israel always, without thought, their opinions would not be counted anywhere in the world. Because we have both sides represented in every conversation, those who support the State are able to defend their position with the same logic that they took their stance.

Paula said “Not a one of those Adjectives would have fought for America; only a few have ever been to Israel”, and that’s where I see red. My grandfather and great-uncles fought for America during WWII. My brother is a career officer in the USAF right now. Jewish Americans are part of the greatness of the USA. As Jewish Europeans are part of the greatness of every country where they choose to live and reach for potential – good, bad, brilliant, otherwise. Those who identify as Jewish are not less than those who identify as Jews.

And those who are Zionists are not any more admirable than those who do not support Israel blindly.

To those who believe that loving Israel and loving our heritage is the same thing, I want to tell you a little story. I was in college, in Jerusalem, discussing a historical case of mental health with my professor. A young Jewish woman lived most of her adult life in institutions, labeled hysteria what was probably clinical depression. The fact that she was Jewish was part of her medical history. I mentioned, as an 18-year-old Jewish American Israeli Zionist, that if she could have come to Israel, it might have saved her life, as it seemed a great part of her illness was a sense of not belonging, of having no purpose in the world. My prof said, “That is your cure, your answer. Coming here worked for you. But this young woman was mentally ill. She would have been ill wherever she was. Zionism is a political movement, not a utopia.”

What works for you, is not for everyone. You are welcome to your passions. And I’ll smile politely when you talk about anything I disagree with. But when you offend my family, and demean my American home and the people who choose to live as Americans of whatever religion, the gloves come off.


  1. Hey Rochelle – sorry to have caused you to see red. In the specific area to which you refer, my reference was to the people with whom I grew up – not one of whom would have fought for the US (actually, one young woman did join the armed forces…so ONE would have, the rest would not).

    A generation before us, they were running away from the US to avoid the war in Vietnam. And yes, a generation before that, Jews were indeed fighting FOR the US in Europe and elsewhere. But, at that time, the terms were different, as was the understanding between State and man.

    Today, the number of Jews in the military is, perhaps, proportional…which is unusual for a community that prides itself on participation. I have not done the research (yet), but at a guess, I would think Jews tend to vote at a higher rate than most of the US population, donations to charity, participation in community events, etc. ranks high (or did when I lived in the States). But I do not believe that carries through to serving in the military.

    And for the record, my brother is a Lieutenant…or a Commander or maybe a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy Reserves now. But again, we speak of individuals versus the culture. The CULTURE of Jewish Americans is NOT to serve, as it is, in fact, the culture of most Americans. The US military is NOT a microcosm of most of America in that there are rich and poor, Black and White and Red and Asian etc in anything close to the proportions that exist within the US population.

    I absolutely agree that Jewish Americans are part of the brilliance of the US (as Jewish Europeans are as well). Our people have made a tremendous contribution to pretty much every country in which they live, striving to build a home and a country stronger for their living there. No question and no argument.

    Then you write – “those who identify as Jewish are not less than those who identify as Jews” – I can’t argue with that sentence because it is not complete. Not less…what?

    Do you mean their value as human beings? Clearly I agree; do you mean their dedication to the Jewish people? That’s questionable, From my direct experience (and many recent polls) – 70% of them have all but abandoned their Judaism, relegated it to a once-a-year appearance in synagogues during the high holidays, or buried it in a carefully wrapped box beneath the Christmas tree in their living room, which is just adjacent to the dining room on which they serve a luscious ham dinner at the much abbreviated seder they might hold.

    I do not demean America…I mourn for what is happening to the Jewish communities there. I mourn for cousins who abandon without ever really knowing what it is they are giving up. And then, have the nerve to criticize Israel for what they read in the media!

    There is no judgment on my part as to superiority, no wish in any way to lessen the greatness of the United States or the contribution of Jews who live there. But when those Jewish Americans believe they have a pass to attack Israel because of their Jewish roots, I have the right to defend Israel with the reality of their present.
    My grandfather (who in his later years was not religious) was forever grateful to the United States for offering him – a Polish Jew – refuge. He gladly surrendered the “Polish” part and became “American” – but he was, to his dying day, a Jew. Sadly, for financial reasons – the hope of working on Shabbat to earn extra money to save his mother and sisters from Hitler (he didn’t succeed), he also turned his back on religious observance and raised his children as secular.

    In turn, his children raised their children with minimal religious observance or real knowledge. If his children didn’t change from American Jews to Jewish Americans, without question, most of his grandchildren did.

    My grandfather has nine living grandchildren. He has two who live in Israel; one living in Spain; and six in the US. Of the six in the US, three have married non-Jews (as has the one living in Spain). Most having nothing or close to nothing in terms of ties to the Jewish people, Judaism, etc. Only in my immediate family do we have (so far), 100% marriage to Jews. Taking those three out of the total of nine, we have a 66% intermarriage rate and to the best of my knowledge 66% have never been to Israel either.

    I do not attack America or Jewish Americans – I simply question why they believe they have the right to leave most of Judaism behind and yet still retain some superior right to criticize Israel as some sort of insider, as someone who somehow has that special connection that people like my grandfather felt every day of his life…more than 50 years of which was spent in the US.

    A cousin who lives in Spain, who married a non-Jew and claims to have converted, who raises her two sons with complete absence of Judaism in her life and theirs…has little but harsh words for Israel; her sister, who also married a non-Jew, felt she has the right to tell me what is good for Israel, her brother, who has married two non-Jewish women similarly has zero connection with Israel. And on and on it goes. I watch from afar as they celebrate Christmas and write about going to Easter parties.

    And I remember where the break started…how their father criticized what “you people” are doing over “there”. Because that’s what Israel was to him – “there”. These people are the subject of my article – not ALL Americans, not ALL Jewish Americans…but certainly, too many of them.

    1. blank Rochelle Fisher

      I disagree with your opinion, which you are stating for fact. The fact that you don’t even know your brother’s rank is a bit telling. I really disagree with your statement that the culture is to not serve. That is just not true. I believe stats show that most American Jews vote liberal, which is generally more for peace and diplomacy than for war. That is not a culture of selfishness. That is a culture of non-aggression.
      To answer your question about “not less than what” – you made it clear that you believe that identification as Jewish makes a person less valuable to the world than a person who identifies as a Jew. You said “dedication to the Jewish people”. Why should an individual or a culture be dedicated to any one people? Every person in the world has the same value as every other. Dedicating one’s life to a “people” – even to the point of refusing to marry someone because they don’t belong to that “people”, or worse, refusing to allow your child to marry “outside” – is so easily in conflict with dedication to the improvement of the human race or the world on which it resides. If Judaism has nothing to offer a modern person, it should be scrapped. Like a company that cannot provide desired goods should go bankrupt. If a person, or a family, realize they can be good people and productive citizens without religion, it is wrong to judge them. It is wrong to call it “nerve” when they voice political opinions, even when you don’t agree with them. It is right to listen to all sides, to take feedback and to explain. If you can’t explain the actions of Israel in a way that makes sense to you, you can’t expect outsiders to understand. And if outsiders of any religion take sides and won’t listen, that is their loss. We all win by listening to each other.
      As to rights – everyone has the right to choose their religion or rejection of it. Everyone has the right to voice an opinion of any current event, any culture, any country. The only time that right is limited is when someone uses clout or popular media to incite to violence. If your cousins as calling for the genocide of Jews and saying, “It’s OK for me to say this because my roots are Jewish,” then you have a point. Short of this, your post is close-minded. If your original post had been this reply, I wouldn’t have taken it so personally. But it wasn’t clear you were venting your anger and frustration about your own family.
      As long as they are family, maybe you can try answer their points? My non-Jewish brother-in-law and I had many online talks about what he knows from the media and social media, and what I see in real life. We actually enable each other to see new perspectives. We learn from each other. Imagine that.
      Personally, I believe the ideal of Us-and-Them is last century and is the opposite of the upward spiral of moral humanity.

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