The Re-Establishment of the Nation of Israel in the Twentieth Century
After thousands of years of the Jewish Diaspora, with Jews living as minorities in countries across the globe, a movement called Zionism , with the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland and sovereign state, emerged in the late 19th century. The political movement was formally established by the Austro-Hungarian journalist, Theodor Herzl in 1897 following the publication of his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State).
The movement was energized by rising anti-Semitism in Europe and anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia and aimed at encouraging Jewish migration to Ottoman Palestine. The movement was eventually successful in establishing Israel on May 14, 1948, as the homeland for the Jewish people.
- Advocates of Zionism view it as a national liberation movement for the repatriation to their ancestral homeland of a persecuted people residing as minorities in a variety of nations.
- Critics of Zionism view it as a colonialist, racist, and exceptionalist ideology that led advocates to violence during Mandatory Palestine, followed by the exodus of Palestinians and the subsequent denial of their human rights. (37)
Spectrum of Observance
Countries such as the United States, Israel, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina and South Africa contain large Jewish populations. Jewish religious practice varies widely through all levels of observance. According to the 2001 edition of the National Jewish Population Survey, in the United States’ Jewish community—the world’s second largest—4.3 million Jews out of 5.1 million had some sort of connection to the religion. Of that population of connected Jews, 80% participated in some sort of Jewish religious observance, but only 48% belonged to a synagogue, and fewer than 16% attend regularly.
Birth rates for American Jews have dropped from 2.0 to 1.7 (Replacement rate is 2.1.). Intermarriage rates range from 40-50% in the US, and only about a third of children of intermarried couples are raised as Jews. Due to intermarriage and low birth rates, the Jewish population in the U.S. shrank from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2001. This is indicative of the general population trends among the Jewish community in the Diaspora, but a focus on total population obscures growth trends in some denominations and communities, such as Haredi Judaism. (35)
Origin of the Term “Judaism”
The term Judaism derives from the Latin Iudaismus , which derived from the Greek Ioudaïsmos . This ultimately came from the Hebrew Yehudah or ” Judah .” The first appearance of the term Judaism appears in the book of Second Maccabees, dated to the 2nd century BCE.
According to traditional Jewish Law, a Jew is anyone born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism in accordance with Jewish Law. American Reform Judaism and British Liberal Judaism accept the child of one Jewish parent (father or mother) as Jewish if the parents raise the child with a Jewish identity.
All mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts, although conversion has traditionally been discouraged since the time of the Talmud. The conversion process is evaluated by an authority and the convert is examined on his or her sincerity and knowledge. Converts are given the name “ben Abraham” or “bat Abraham” (son or daughter of Abraham).
Traditional Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever. Thus a Jew who claims to be an atheist or converts to another religion is still considered by traditional Judaism to be Jewish. According to some sources, the Reform movement has maintained that a Jew who has converted to another religion is no longer a Jew, and the Israeli Government has also taken that stance after Supreme Court cases and statutes. However, the Reform movement has indicated that this is not so cut and dry, and different situations call for consideration and differing actions. For example, Jews who have converted under duress may be permitted to return to Judaism ” without any action on their part but their desire to rejoin the Jewish community ” and ” A proselyte who has become an apostate remains, nevertheless, a Jew. ”
The question of what determines Jewish identity in the State of Israel was given new impetus when, in the 1950s, David Ben-Gurion requested opinions on mihu Yehudi (” who is a Jew “) from Jewish religious authorities and intellectuals worldwide in order to settle citizenship questions. This is still not settled, and occasionally resurfaces in Israeli politics. (35)