On Being A Hebrew

Separating “Hebrews” from Jews is a Christian tactic used to rationalize the cognitive dissonance between their contempt for Jews and their religion's reliance on “Hebrew” scripture. From the very beginning of Christianity, their aim has been to establish themselves as the legitimate heirs of the Hebrews and to delegitimize the actual Hebrews who continue to exist. To this day, the argument rears its head in a number of forms. There is an entire industry devoted to attacking the roots of the Jewish people, and no matter how bad the science, linguistics, or historiography behind it is, it will always have buyers, who will chock its lack of widespread academic acceptance up to an international Jewish conspiracy instead of terrible methodology.

Because a lot of antisemitism comes in the form of racial arguments, I feel a need to combat one that I see often, that modern Jews are not the original Hebrews because of interbreeding with neighbors in the Diaspora. This is wrong because the Levant was already an extremely diverse place before most Jews were driven out of there. It was a crossroads between civilizations: Egypt, Rome, Persia, etc.. “Europeans” had been interbreeding with Jews for a long time before we had ever even left.

Any claim that modern Jews are not “the original Hebrews” applies exactly the same to every other Levantine people. The indigenous people who remained in Palestine after most Jews had left continued to intermarry with Europeans, Persians, Egyptians, etc., as well as with peoples who were mostly newcomers to the area, like Arabs. And that's fine. Population mixing has been the history of humanity forever. Racial science is junk for exactly this reason: ethnicity is not encoded in DNA. The descendants of the original Hebrews are the people who have remained Hebrew in some way: culturally, linguistically, socially... in other words, Jews and Samaritans.

Jews, including anti-Zionist Jews, need to start calling ourselves Hebrews and Israelites more often again, just to undermine antisemites. Ultimately we're part of many subcommunities. I'm a Yid and a Hebrew/Israelite. Crosslinguistically we're called Hebrews, Jews and Israelites depending on the language. Not all of them are entirely accurate for every Jew: for example I'm not a member of the tribe of Judah but rather the tribe of Levi, and yet the term “Jew” suffices even where “Hebrew” or “Israelite” would be more accurate. But the point is we have a right to all of those terms, including in the Diaspora, though it's important to also recognize that Samaritans are also Hebrews/Israelites.

To be a Hebrew, I don't have to go to Israel and take part in their militaristic and racist society. I was born a Hebrew. Jews were Hebrews before Israel ever existed, and we're not going to stop being Hebrews because some people insist on continuing to erase our existence.

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