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Can an Objectivist also be ethnically Jewish?

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When I am asked whether I am Jewish, I reply as follows: No. I was raised Jewish but I do not consider myself Jewish; I am an atheist.

Some have argued that I could have answered "yes" to this question and qualify my answser by saying that I am "ethnically Jewish". I think this is a misleading charaterization and is concept-stealing. Judiasm, is a religion. As such, to be a member of that religion, one has to believe in the existence of god at minimum. Now a Jew would argue that you could still be Jewish and an atheist so long as your mother was Jewish--your Jewishness does not depend on your own philosophy. This view, however, relies on the premise accepted by Judiasm that to be a Jew you merely need to have a Jewish mother--a premise which has no objective metaphysical basis. If one rejects this premise, then what is the objective definition of a Jew? It is someone who belives in god and accepts the basic tenants of Judiasm including that to be Jewish is to have a Jewish mother. For Christianity, the same principle applies--to be Christian, you have to believe the basic tenants of the faith including the belief that Christ is your savior etc. Therefore, Judiasm and all religions, is in reality, just an ideology, like socialism.

Just because I share some characteristics with Jews from my upbringing is not enough to say I am ethinically Jewish which would to imply that I am a non practising Jew but nevertheless accept Judiasm's basis tenants. If you are an atheist you can't be a member of any religion--ethnically or otherwise, from a rational viewpoint.

Agree?

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My understanding is that "Jewish" can refer to either religion or ethnicity. A "nonpracticing Jew" is someone who is ethnically Jewish (ie their ancestors came from a certain group of middle eastern people) but does not practice Judaism (the Jewish religion). So yes an Objectivist can be ethnically Jewish (just as they could be ethnically Arab or Japanese or whatever)

Conversely by the way someone who is not ethnically Jewish can convert to Judaism and be considered a Jew purely by religious standards.

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To add to your woes, a person can become Jewish by going through a ceremony, so today's ethnic Jews are not necessarily decendants of some middle eastern people - but come from all races and peoples.

The fact that I was born Jewish doesn't mean I am a decendant of some ancient middle eastern people. In fact - my mother was not born Jewish. She became one of her own free will. But the mystic view is that she became not just a part of the religion, but also a part of the people.

Complicated? Irrational? You bet.

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Are you concerned that the term "ethnic" may imply that you share customs? You could say that you are "of Jewish descent," that way people are sure that it is your ancestry that you refer to and not your personality or beliefs.

But yeah, like everyone says, there's a lot of confusion in what it is so be "Jewish."

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To answer the question in your header: Objectivism is a set of ideas. So anyone with a working mind can subscribe to it, regardless of any other physical considerations such as ethnicity.

Yes, there is such a thing as ethnically Jewish. You are ethnically Jewish if your mother is Jewish or one or both of your grandmothers are Jewish.

As Dr. Peikoff said in his "Objectivism: Questions and Answers" tape (1985), Jews are of a certain biological tribe that has persisted down the centuries, in addition to being the adherents of a specific ideology.

There are people who are ethnically Italian, Croatian, etc. This is the root of the concept "ethnicity." Everyone has an ethnicity.

But no matter one's ethnicity, it cannot determine the content of one's conscious ideas. Only one's attitude toward one's ethnicity could do that. But one's attitude, being ideational, isn't determined (i.e. mandatory), either.

This is why a sharp distinction is made (by rational people) between ideas and biological descent.

Unfortunately, in Judaism ideas and descent have historically been conflated to a possibly unmatched degree. (No one talks about "the Portuguese religion," for instance, unless he is speaking somewhat metaphorically.)

So, don't be confused by the notion that the existence of your ethnicity (whatever it may be) commits you to any outlook or ideology. It doesn't and can't. Nor can a general acknowledgement of the factual basis of ethnicity.

Ethnicity exists *and* free will exists. They are unconnected unless we connect them.

My problem elsewhere is with the people who connect them dishonestly, coming to conclusions that, in my opinion, are so bizarre as to be explanable only by reference to personal, psychological factors. For instance, Dr. Peikoff's rage against Christians and Muslims has aspects of psychopathology that just leap out at an objective observer. To be blunt, you have to "read" some people when they are making no sense; and I read Dr. Peikoff now as a Jewish racist. This mode of explanation may be dismissed as "psychologizing" - but when facing a philosophical folly, "don't bother to examine it - ask yourself only what it accomplishes or is intended to accomplish" ~ To paraphrase Ellsworth Toohey. Among other modes of explaining the seemingly unexplanable, I'd bring in Occam's Razor and "Que bono?", too.

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Yes, there is such a thing as ethnically Jewish. You are ethnically Jewish if your mother is Jewish or one or both of your grandmothers are Jewish.

As Dr. Peikoff said in his "Objectivism: Questions and Answers" tape (1985), Jews are of a certain biological tribe that has persisted down the centuries, in addition to being the adherents of a specific ideology

Well if I dont subscribe to that ideology then how can I say I am ethinically or religiously Jewish? Does Jewish mean that you come from a certain biological tribe AND you follow their ideology? Or is it enough that you just come from the tribe? This is an important question. One's self identity is at stake here. I always considered myself non-jewish despite the fact that I come from the tribe because I do not share the ideology. Also, IN REALITY, what defines that tribe? Is it being born from a Jewish mother? That defintion has no objective basis in reality--totally mystical--Or is there an actual, objective biological lineage that is distinct from other people that one can call Jewish--in the same way as negro or asian etc.

So very confusing? To be sure, to be Asian does not require adherance to any ideology.

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So very confusing? To be sure, to be Asian does not require adherance to any ideology.

Actually, people ask me if I'm a Sikh, and I answer, "Yes, atheistic." It happens outside Judaism :)

These instances are only a case in which the English language refers to two different things by the same words. It happens often, and can be described more accurately by specifying between ethnicity and religion. I imagine two words were never created or needed to be specified often because the ethnicities and religions sat hand in hand for so long.

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My problem elsewhere is with the people who connect them dishonestly, coming to conclusions that, in my opinion, are so bizarre as to be explanable only by reference to personal, psychological factors. For instance, Dr. Peikoff's rage against Christians and Muslims has aspects of psychopathology that just leap out at an objective observer. To be blunt, you have to "read" some people when they are making no sense; and I read Dr. Peikoff now as a Jewish racist. This mode of explanation may be dismissed as "psychologizing"

Given that you can't read Dr. Peikoff's mind and, considering the indirect evidence you have doesn't logically lead to such bizarre conclusions about him, I WILL dismiss it as psychologizing.

but when facing a philosophical folly, "don't bother to examine it - ask yourself only what it accomplishes or is intended to accomplish" ~ To paraphrase Ellsworth Toohey.

OK. What DOES your psychologizing accomplish?

An excuse to go on an anti-semitic rant, perhaps? :rolleyes:

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Maynard, if you can show that LP's views are irrational please do so. That would be sufficient to discount them regardless of his "psychopathology." If you cannot refute them then once again his "psychopathology" is irrelevant. That is why the whole approach of responding to a person's argument by psychoanalyzing them is so dishonest ; it just ignores the actual argument being made and tries to discredit the arguer by ad hominem.

Well if I dont subscribe to that ideology then how can I say I am ethinically or religiously Jewish? Does Jewish mean that you come from a certain biological tribe AND you follow their ideology? Or is it enough that you just come from the tribe? This is an important question. One's self identity is at stake here.

Being jewish can be based on ethnicity or religion or both. But it really doesn't matter because your self-identity is not at stake. For a rational person ethnic heritage should be of little or no importance. Your self-identity should be based on your beliefs and values, not on whatever tribal customs your ancestors followed.

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When I am asked whether I am Jewish, I reply as follows: No. I was raised Jewish but I do not consider myself Jewish; I am an atheist.

When I am asked whether I am Catholic, I reply "What do you mean ?".

I was raised in the tradition and know the customs and the mythology quite well, and if that's all they want to talk about, that's fine.

It seems like saying "I am an atheist" may not really be answering the question they are asking. It's almost like picking a fight. Like if someone asked you "are you an American ?", and you say "I am a Capitalist".

There are many secular Jews, and even many atheist Jews who go to the most reformed synagogues for social reasons and more abstract discourse and are open about their beliefs. I think today, if someone presumes you are irrational because of your religious upbringing, that's their problem, and you can gently straighten them out later in the conversation if they've made that assumption.

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I find it strange that the answer could be "yes". I wouldn't say that I'm ethnically Lutheran even though my ancestors were practicing Lutherans. And if someone asks "Are you Norwegian", I don't say "I'm ethnically Norwegian", I say "Well, I had Norwegian ancestors". or (if I'm being irritable) "No, I was born here".

The answer to the question "Are you X" is simple. If you identify with the values of X, then you should say "Yes". Otherwise, say "No".

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The confusion lies in the fact that Judiasm can be seen as a both a religion and an ethnic background. If it is taken as the later, I do not have a problem saying that I am Jewish. However, I think the term connotes more than just ethnicity and is actually first and foremost a religion. As such an Objectivist cannot be a Jew or a member of any religion regardless of its ethinic overtones. Thus my answer to the question: "Are you Jewish", is I think the only way to answer i.e., No I am an atheist but I was raised Jewish.

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As such an Objectivist cannot be a Jew or a member of any religion regardless of its ethinic overtones. Thus my answer to the question: "Are you Jewish", is I think the only way to answer i.e., No I am an atheist but I was raised Jewish.

I remember once when someone asked Ayn Rand a question that began ,"Why are Jews so altruistic and politically liberal ..." she took it as an anti-semitic remark and became quite angry. She said she didn't answer questions like that and then stood up very tall and said: "Did you know that I'M Jewish?"

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An African could be an atheist but he still mantains that he is a Dogon, why? For the Jews and the Dogons their religion is their culture, the two can hardly be seperated except in the case of individual deviations.

I think what this thread illustrates is that being Jewish is more than or other than just designating a religous view. It seems to denote an ethnic grouping with both a racial and historical base. I guess, judging from the way Ayn Rand used the term herself, its like saying "I'm an Arab"; ie my ancestory is based in a certain region and a certain racial blood line with a certain history. The common religion seems to be a non-essential option.

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  • 1 year later...

Why is it that all of the top Objectivists are Jews? Not religiously Jewish but ethnically Jewish. Ayn Rand was ethnically Jewish as is Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden and Leonard Peikoff. The ARI is also a passionate defender of Israel. Many of the top mods on this forum and other Objectivist forums are Jewish.

Considering that Jews make up only a tiny fraction of the total population, what accounts for the high number of Objectivists (especially top Objectivists) who are Jewish? Also, is it feasible that the defense of Israel that the ARI engages in is motivated by a kind of ethnic affinity to the people of Israel?

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I am not very familiar with Judaism, but I think part of the answer might be that among Jews intellectual activities and achievements have always been very important. I think that would make it more natural for such a person to embrace Objectivism than someone who grew up with less respect for such activities.

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I think part of the answer might be that among Jews intellectual activities and achievements have always been very important. I think that would make it more natural for such a person to embrace Objectivism than someone who grew up with less respect for such activities.

I think this hits it pretty square. Look at the adherents of almost any "extreme" (i.e., self-consistent) ideology, and you'll find a high proportion of Jews.

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