Who is a Jew – asks the Economist

The current issue of the Economist has an article – Who is a Jew? – that, unsurprisingly, has attracted a sewer of antisemitism in the comments. Read them at your peril.  The article is boldly trying to tackle a huge topic in far too short a space. So, it skims over the issues, cannot include them all, and makes some inevitable simplifications for the sake of brevity that may skew the reader’s understanding.

This summary is not bad:

Who is a Jew? This question is becoming ever more pressing for Jews around the world. It looks like a religious issue, but is bound up with history, Israeli politics and the rhythms of the diaspora. Addressing it means deciding whether assimilation is a mortal threat, as many Jews think, or a phenomenon to be accommodated. The struggle over the answer will shape Israel’s society, its relations with Jews elsewhere, and the size and complexion of the global Jewish community.

It’s amusing to see in the comments how many non-Jews want to decide who is a Jew and the relevance of Jewish identity. It’s also interesting to note that of all the articles in the issue, as at the time of viewing, the 190 comments attracted is a much higher number than any of the other items. There’s a Lexington blog piece – about USA politics that gets roughly 150 comments – and after that the next best commented piece is about the Middle East peace process. Fascinating.

Read the whole thing (here) and make your own mind up. I suspect you can gauge where the sympathies of the writer lie from the closing section:

For Yossie Beilin, a former Israeli minister, Jews are an extended family. He would like membership to depend on neither blood nor belief, but desire to belong. “It’s a sad joke”, he says, “that after the Holocaust we are telling people who feel Jewish that they are not.” He thinks this family should offer a purely secular conversion ceremony (“I do not want to disturb God, She has so many other things to do”). Many Jews don’t believe, he reasons, so why must converts? Mr Beilin is an outlier, but perhaps not for ever.