kittybecca in English blog in English of

Preface: In this article I use the term “nation” synonymously with “people”, as this is its oldest sense. I am most emphatically not referring to the modern concept of “nation-states.”

The Jewish nation or Jewish people is an entity larger than a tribe which has existed since antiquity independently of its particular rulers, who were often foreign (Roman, Babylonian, Persian, etc.). Jews comprise the tribes of people who claim descent from the Biblical Israel and lived, in ancient times, in the South of present-day Palestine/Israel, as opposed to the northern nation of Samaritans. Most of our individual tribal identities are lost, though the tribe of Levi has maintained its individual identity for liturgical purposes, as has the particular subgroup of Kohenim (Priests) within the tribe of Levi.

On Shavuot, an ancient pilgrimage/harvest festival that has just passed at the time of this writing, Jews traditionally read the Book of Ruth, which is about a woman from Moab (present-day Jordan) who, during the time of the Judges, went to the land of Israel, joining the people (nation) of Israel and becoming an ancestor of the Jews' second king, David.

Along with the many religious messages that can be gleaned from this, I also like to think it is saying something very important about what constitutes membership in the Jewish people. Whether or not Ruth was a true story (and I doubt it was), it was a part of Jewish culture then and it is part of Jewish culture now; it was used to teach our cultural attitudes and beliefs to our children and to the people who, like Ruth in the story, chose to join the Jewish people.

There are many people who argue that Jews are nothing more than a religion; that the Jews may have been a people in ancient times, but are not anymore. They argue that the lineage of the Jewish people is largely either gone or so mixed with the other peoples of the world as to be irrelevant. This demonstrates either ignorance or omission of the opinions of actual ancient Jews as transmitted through stories such as that of Ruth.

Many will claim, contrary to academic consensus and without evidence that would overturn such consensus, that Ashkenazi Jews are Khazars. They might point to genetic studies which show that many Ashkenazi Jews are descended from European women and Jewish men, therefore “proving” that Ashkenazim aren't Jews. They may even argue that Palestinians are the real descendants of the Jews, even if they are Muslims, Christians, or members of other religions, while holding Palestinians to a much lower standard for having such descent recognized than actual Jews.

Jews, however, have always seen ourselves as a people, from ancient times to modern times. And the Book of Ruth makes it clear that “the Jewish people” are not a strict genetic lineage, and nor were we during the time of Ancient Judaism. As a matter of fact, in the story, Ruth's descendant goes on to be King of Israel, defeating someone who seemingly was not descended from a convert, Saul.

As a result, even if it were true that there were Khazar converts among us, it literally wouldn't make the least bit of difference to what constitutes Jewishness. This was a Jewish truth in ancient Judah, it remained a Jewish truth in the Diaspora, and it remains a Jewish truth today: Jew has always clearly meant a member of a group sharing a religion, culture, language, etc., including the new people who join us. Thus in any meaningful sense, today's Jews are the Jews that have existed since ancient times.

None of us popped out of nowhere. Culture is transmitted from one person to the next: parent to child, child to parent, community to child, child to community, rabbi to child, child to rabbi, community to convert, convert to community, rabbi to convert, convert to rabbi, convert to child, child to convert. Culture and society are the only senses in which any nations exist.

I don't care why you're doing it: it's never ok to deny the continuity between ancient and modern Jews, or ancient and modern Judaism. It's flat-out wrong, demonstrates a lack of respect for the actual traditions and beliefs of our ancestors, the ancient Jews, and is usually done to legitimize erasure or dismissal of Jewish history. And if you need to make such arguments to justify anti-Zionism, which you shouldn't, then maybe you, specifically, are more than just an anti-Zionist.

You will often hear certain Jews referred to as Europeans, but surprisingly few people are aware of the story of how those Jews came to live in Europe in the first place. This is how it happened:

  1. Our homeland, Yehuda, was occupied by the Romans. Initially they installed a puppet king, and later they came to rule it directly.

  2. After two failed rebellions, our temple and capital city (Jerusalem) were destroyed. The Romans rebuilt the city as a Roman city and put a temple to Jupiter in place of our temple.

  3. After our third failed rebellion we were banned from Jerusalem and forbidden from practicing our religion in the land, and many of us were sold into slavery.

  4. A mass exodus began at this point due to intolerable conditions as well as forced expulsions. A minority stayed in Galilee (where the “Jerusalem Talmud” was written), but most were dispersed.

  5. We had previously been exiled to Babylon, so many of us moved back to that general area, where a Jewish community remained; it was there that the Babylonian Talmud was written. Others went to Southern Europe and further north to Gaul, whether as slaves or people pursuing basic necessities in a foreign land.

  6. Those of us who remained in Galilee rebelled two more times under Roman/Byzantine rule and most were massacred.

  7. Within a century, the Arab invasion happened. At this point the population of Palestine was mostly Christian with a small Jewish minority (the people who were able to hide from the massacring Byzantines in the mountains) as well as a Samaritan minority. Over the next few centuries the population became predominantly Arab Muslim as a result of settlement from the Peninsula as well as conversion of some Christians, a large number of Samaritans, and probably some Jews as well. A small number of Jewish farmers have never left the land.

  8. The large community of Jews displaced to what became the Frankish and later Holy Roman Empire came to be known as “Ashkenazi.”

  9. The large community of Jews displaced to Iberia came to be known as “Sephardi.”

  10. Many other communities existed throughout the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia, etc.. Most of the communities remained in touch using Hebrew as a written lingua franca; others became isolated.

  11. Jewish life under Arab rule was undeniably far better than European/Roman rule; writings from the time show considerable mutual respect and admiration between the two peoples. For example, a Hebrew-language poet from Muslim Spain wrote: “וגן עדנך יהו סיפרי קדושים / ופרדסך יהו סיפרי ערבים”: “And may your Garden of Eden be the books of the holy ones [Tanakh], / And may your Paradise be the books of the Arabs.” The two peoples literally coexisted peacefully through the arts (among other things), unlike Jews and Europeans.

  12. The Crusades killed and displaced even more Jews from Palestine, at the same time as Crusaders killed many European Jews.

  13. In Europe, we were forced at various points to wear yellow stars, specific hats, and other things identifying us as Jews, subjecting us to violence and intense trauma. Laws called “Jewish disabilities” prevented us from participating fully in society. Often we were made to do the jobs that were generally detested but considered necessary by the ruling class – hence we would be easy to sacrifice in bad times.

  14. The Christian Reconquista forced Sephardim out of Spain; many went back to North Africa and the Middle East, where they integrated with existing communities, but others spread out into Europe to places like the Netherlands and France.

  15. Only during the Enlightenment were Jewish disabilities gradually removed (legally), in the hopes we would assimilate into the new areligious Revolutionary French rationalist society.

  16. This didn't happen and we remained de facto outsiders. At various points we were reminded that we were outsiders in hate crimes known as pogroms, the worst of which was the Holocaust, which also brought about the return of Jewish disabilities for a while.

  17. As a result of all these pogroms it became clear that it would never, ever be possible for us to be safe among Europeans, that we would always be outsiders, even if we were temporarily tolerated. That any freedom we might think we have was an illusion, and it would be ripped away as soon as it was convenient. This was, and is, a fact, as we can see with the way Nazis are rising again.

So this is why a lot of Jews who lived in Europe for a time have a huge problem with being called “Europeans.” We were never Europeans, nor are any of us Europeans now. Calling us Europeans is erasing the reality of the uneven power dynamic between us and actual Europeans. It's erasing the fact that we were colonized by Europeans and forced by Europeans out of the land that we are indigenous to.

This is independent of Zionism, of course, which I'm unequivocally against. Britain did not have the right to give Palestine to the Jews at the expense of the other peoples. The displacement of the Palestinian people was not OK. The occupation, the wall, etc. are not OK. It's not OK to have a Jewish state in an area that has always had so many people of different ethnic groups, regardless of history. It was never OK for a Jewish kingdom to rule over other peoples to begin with.

But this history is important because when you whitewash Jews as “Europeans” this is denying our long history of trauma and denying the reason any of us ever had to move to Europe in the first place, as well as the fact that we never became fully accepted/assimilated Europeans and have always been considered outsiders to be tolerated or not tolerated.

Of course it's also a very simplified history, and ignores all the good things that came of Jewish interaction with other cultures. Still, it's extremely important that people distinguish us from our oppressors and recognize the history behind how we came to live under them. And that was the aim of this long post, formed from Mastodon threads. Not to celebrate the Jewish diaspora (which I do very often), but to explain how it came about. As well as to show how antisemitic it is when resistance to Zionism centers around denying Jewish history rather than saying that this history does not justify a single thing that Israelis have done to Palestinians.

Sadly, lots of people think it's merely “anti-Zionist” to erase Jewish history, and it isn't just that. I could, of course, excuse such sentiments among Palestinians; no one likes their oppressor. But in truth these arguments rarely come from them. We're far more likely to see such sentiments among white western Europeans, as though they believe that by expressing such sentiments, they are opposing colonialism rather than continuing it. The truth is that when white Europeans deny Jewish history, they are merely continuing this long history of imperialism that led Jews to become a persecuted minority among them.