Nation or Religion?

Are the jews (is Judaism) a nation or a religion?

This question has bothered many people throughout the years and many times it boiled down to someone trying to limit the rights of the jews.

Back in Hungary I remember people saying we jews are not Hungarian (as in the Hungarian nation), but then the basis of their argument was that we are not Christians. I recall the wife of a friend of mine asking my sister and myself why do we consider ourselves Hungarian.

The funny thing was that all 4 of our grandparents had Hungarian as their mother tongue, but for her none of the grandparents spoke Hungarian as a child. They were all Slovaks, Germans and Croats. And yet she, a devoted Christian, had this question. We were speechless.

In general however the "deep Hungarians" think that jews don't belong to Hungary. I am not sure if they go the philosophical question whether the jews are a different nation (e.g. like Croats or German) and that's why we don't belong to Hungary, or because our religion.

The latter of course would be a hard sell as the vast majority of Hungarian Jews are secular.

It's a religion only

Then there are other people - one of them I met recently - who feel the urge to tell me that jews should not have their own country because they are a religion and only nations have countries.

I should have asked him why is there be a Belgium or Switzerland then, but I don't know enough about those countries to use them as counter examples to the nation=country idea.

Basically he was only using this as an excuse for being anti-Israeli while trying to avoid thinking about himself as anti-Jewish or, using the more common term for this feeling: anti-semitic.

How and Why Did Judaism Survive? An Answer to Mark Twain

I got thinking about this topic again as I just watched Rabbi Y.Y Jacobson talking about How and Why Did Judaism Survive? An Answer to Mark Twain

In a nutshell he thinks we are a nation because of the Torah. As I recall he does not say the religion. He says the Torah which is basically a mix of a law-book and history-book, and dream-book.

Religion or being outcast?

Of course this brings a lot of questions of why and how secular jews who don't read the Torah are still jews that might bring one to another question:

Are we still jews because the other nations always looked at us as different people as enemies? Are we still jews because the other people (e.g. the Hungarians) think that the people with Jewish ethnicity (to use Russian euphemism) or Jewish descent (using the Wikipedia euphemism) think we are jews and we don't belong.

Both

Obviously I don't have the answer, if for no other reason because there is no single answer. Nevertheless I think it is clear that Judaism or being Jewish has both religious and national aspects.

Published on 2021-07-25 by Gabor Szabo