Religion Or Culture


When I saw the headline in the Sept. 2 Jewish Week regarding whether Judaism is a religion or culture, I couldn’t wait to read the opinions of your writers.

The Torah never refers to the Jewish people as a religious group and never labels Judaism as a religion. Rather, we Jews are called a nation in the Torah, and Judaism is the name of the Covenant that the Jewish nation establishes with God at Sinai.

There is no true word for “religion” in Hebrew. Dat means knowledge of God and emunah means faith; neither means religion. The Jewish “religion” is a modern term as Leora Batnitzky points out in her article. Christianity and Islam are religions. Judaism is not. Religious beliefs do not make its believers share a common “look” and share similar features. People may look Italian, Irish and German etc., but they don’t look Christian. Many Jews, however, “look Jewish.” Most Jewish people share a common DNA.

One might question that if Judaism is not a religion, then how can a non-Jew convert to Judaism. A convert to Judaism first joins (“immigrates into”) the Jewish people (nation) and then accepts our covenant with God.

Even without borders or a government that define most nations, the Jewish nation has survived in exile for almost 2,000 years. What has kept us intact without our physical national boundaries has been our approximately 4,000-year-old Covenant and our sense of peoplehood. Whether we are religious, atheistic or agnostic, most of us have chosen not to abandon our rich and meaningful Jewish heritage, however we choose to define it.

Marc Roth
East Hills, L.I.