Project Genesis

Judaism is More Than a Religion

I have often tried to explain to my friends that Judaism is a religion but also a peoplehood – however, I can’t explain to them why, except for just believing this to be true. Do you have some insight into this subject?

In order for you to understand why we represent a peoplehood, it is necessary to provide some historical background.

It all began when Seventy people, all children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren of a man called Jacob (also called Israel), traveled to Egypt from Canaan and in the space of a few hundred years grew into a ‘nation’ of a few million people. According to the Talmud, these people were a distinct entity in a number of ways; they were in the most part descendants of one man; they had their own language: Hebrew, hence the name Hebrews; they had their own set of laws and customs handed down from the time of Abraham as well as unique names and a unique style of dress.

This group of people, called Hebrews or Israelites, were led out of Egypt by Moses and brought to Mount Sinai in the Sinai Desert. It was at this mountain, according to the Torah, that G-d made a special offer to the Israelites through his prophet, Moses:

“You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have lifted you upon the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you listen to Me and guard My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. You shall be to Me a kingdom of noblemen and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:4)

The Israelites answered:

” Everything that God has spoken we shall do…” (Exodus 19:8)

At this point, an historic revelation takes place whereby God ‘descends’ onto Mt Sinai and seals the covenant by declaring the Ten Commandments to an awestruck nation (Judaism is the only religion which makes a claim of national revelation, in other words, a claim that G-d actually spoke to a whole nation). Moses then ascends the Mountain for 40 days during which time G-d teaches him all that is now referred to as Jewish Law and Philosophy; Upon his descent, Moses teaches what he has learned to the whole nation.

The crucial point here is that the Covenant was made with the nation as a whole, a nation which committed itself to follow the laws of the Torah in the Land of Israel, a national homeland God had promised to give them. If Judaism was simply a religion then a Jew who doesn’t practice Jewish Law and doesn’t have Jewish beliefs should be considered a Non-Jew; however, this is not the case; anyone who’s mother is Jewish is automatically a Jew no matter what this person does or believes, simply because he/she has been born into the nation. Judaism was never meant to be a universal religion; rather, it represents a covenant made by God with the nation he chose to be His representatives on Earth. Any Non-Jew can join this covenant if he/she so chooses, but what they are primarily choosing is to join our people, just as Ruth, the Moabite convert, implies when she says to Naomi, first that “your people are my people” and only then “your God is my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Ari Lobel

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