13 February 2014

Why would we use the term "Jew?"

Brooklyn Jew 2 by bobmendo
Brooklyn Jew 2, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.
I don't remember being so surprised. The man was a gentle man, kind, and apparently supportive of what we do. "Praise the Lord!" he said when he came into the book shop. He said how he enjoyed seeing our testimony boldly proclaiming Jesus in the midst of a fairly secular area. He liked the name "Jesus" on our signage. He was perplexed however, and expressed it this way.

"Why would you use the term "Jew" in your signage?" I thought, surely he understood we were actually Jewish people and had come to believe in Jesus as our Messiah. Right? So the question surprised me. I tilted my head a little and answered, "Because we are Jews, I guess." That should have satisfied him.

But his response was jarring.

"The word 'Jew' means 'miser', so why would you want to use that word in your name?"

Wow, I don't know that I'd ever heard that. 'Jew' of course doesn't mean that at all, but where he had been raised, and the thought had apparently never been successfully challenged, 'Jew' meant a Shylock, a miser, a tightwad. And any good Christian would never name themselves with such an appellation.

Rabbi Doniel Baron wrote about this very thing a couple days ago. My friend Phil sent it to me.
"We are a nation of many names: Israel, Jacob, Ephraim, to name a few. Why does it seem that the name "Jew" sticks the most? What does the name mean?

The words Jew (Yehudi in Hebrew) and Judaism (Yahadut) come from the name Judah, or Yehuda as it is pronounced in Hebrew. Yehuda was one the 12 tribes that descended from our forefather Yaakov. Understanding who Yehuda was and what he represented provides us with the key to comprehending the name Jew and understanding who we really are.

The word Yehuda comes from the Hebrew word lehodot, which means to thank. Indeed, upon his birth, Leah, Yehuda's mother, exclaimed "hapaam odeh et Hashem," this time I thank God. Feelings of gratitude characterized Yehuda's birth. The commonly used word todah, meaning "thank you," stems from the same root.

Our Sages taught that a person's name is given by his parents in a moment of Divinely inspired insight, and a name describes something about the person who bears it."

Now being a thankful people is not something which has always characterized the Jewish people.
Isaiah said it four times, Jeremiah once, Daniel twice, Ezra and Nehemiah once each, but David was the man who thanked God the most and who called us as Israel to 'give thanks to the Lord' more than anyone else.

Why would we use the term "Jew" of ourselves? Because we are Jewish people, who read the same Scriptures as other Jews, who want to learn of them, who want to live thankful to the Lord, and who want to call others to the same thankfulness. We are not cheap about that; we give of ourselves to that goal daily.

Would you use the term if you could?

3 comments:

Stephanie Hilliard said...

I did not know about the origin of the name Yehudah in the root word to thank. What a wonderful new insight it gives into the name for our people. It also calls us to embody that thankful attitude as a tribute to our name and our Creator!

Jim Weinberg said...

I think that it is more complicated than this. I think the biblical Hebrew usage indicates more accuracy than a simplistic usage of “thanks.”

I think the use of “Jew” must be defined under terms of Scripture. For orthodoxy it might be difficult to determine a truer definition solely based upon the Torah.

In Cultural Anthropology there is the Form-Meaning Composite concept where the original meaning of the original form is lost and thus a new meaning is ascribed to the original form.

Some texts to consider for a case are Genesis 29.35, 49.9, 1Chronicles 5.1-2, 2 Chronicles 7.14 and Romans 2.29.

Ezra 9.1-2 must be added to reconcile with the Deuteronomy 7.1-12 as a result of the fence law where a Jewish male must marry a Jewish female for Jewish offspring.

Yet rhetorically does 2 Chronicles 7.14 – “My people who are called by My Name” refer to the use of Jew? By what name shall “Jews” or Israel be called if they are called by the Name?

Anyway, the biblical Hebrew definition of Jew or Judah involves more than its root of “thanks.” The biblical definition indicates “praise.” It should not raise any concerns because a definition of praise is to express “thanks” to or love and respect for (God).

So in the Genesis 29.35 text it is Leah who is offering thanks, but there is the indication that she found favor with God and that must be added into the extended use of Jew. Leah named her fourth son, Judah because she received praise from God. It would seem awkward for God to thank Leah for her character, but then perhaps He is thanking and rewarding her for learning His moral nature of holiness, righteousness and justice, goodness, mercy, grace and faithfulness.

Adding the extended definition of praise to thanks therefore reconciles with Romans 2.29 where a “true” Jew is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men or other “Jews” or Rabbis or the fact that his mother is Jewish -- but his praise is from God.

But being a Jew is more than holy living and finding favor with God. These are testimonial requirements for the cause of revealing God and His plan for humanity. So the Jew must bear God’s plan because of a Covenant to bring Messiah. That plan is certainly not the land of Israel to receive a double portion, fill bellies and live vainly within a “Jewish” cultural lifestyle.

So there is Genesis 49.9 indicating the Messiah coming out of Judah for the obedience of the peoples adding much more responsibility and purpose of being Jewish. Ultimately it indicates the Messiah as the solution for humanity and has a relationship with separateness from sin.

Subsequently the Genesis 49.9 text also indicates that even though Joseph is the head of Israel by Law, Judah would prevail (1Chronicles 5.1-2).

Now what about the fence law of Ezra 9.1-2 and Deuteronomy 7.3-4? All Law is based upon original Law. The reason Israelis were told not to intermarry among foreigners is because they would turn to serve other gods of unholy living standards opposite of the moral nature of God and His coming Messiah.

Ezra’s case was that Israel was banished into exile and later Judah to Babylon for unholy living and serving other gods. Upon returning from Babylon the Cohanim, Judah and Israel began intermarrying with foreigners who served other gods -- the problem that caused the exile.

So the use of Jew means and Israeli must uphold the Covenant in holiness for the coming of Messiah. But intermarrying with foreign women did not apply to Moses marrying a foreigner and his Levitical offspring carrying out the Temple service. It did not apply to marriage of foreigners such as Rehab and Ruth of whom David arrives and how be it of Rehoboam of Solomon the offspring of an Ammonite in violation of Deuteronomy 23.3-4 (1Kings 11.5, 14.21) wherefore the Messiah arrives.

It’s complicated.


Jim Weinberg said...

I think that it is more complicated than this. I think the biblical Hebrew usage indicates more accuracy than a simplistic usage of “thanks.”

I think the use of “Jew” must be defined under terms of Scripture. For orthodoxy it might be difficult to determine a truer definition solely based upon the Torah.

In Cultural Anthropology there is the Form-Meaning Composite concept where the original meaning of the original form is lost and thus a new meaning is ascribed to the original form.

Some texts to consider for a case are Genesis 29.35, 49.9, 1Chronicles 5.1-2, 2 Chronicles 7.14 and Romans 2.29.

Ezra 9.1-2 must be added to reconcile with the Deuteronomy 7.1-12 as a result of the fence law where a Jewish male must marry a Jewish female for Jewish offspring.

Yet rhetorically does 2 Chronicles 7.14 – “My people who are called by My Name” refer to the use of Jew? By what name shall “Jews” or Israel be called if they are called by the Name?

Anyway, the biblical Hebrew definition of Jew or Judah involves more than its root of “thanks.” The biblical definition indicates “praise.” It should not raise any concerns because a definition of praise is to express “thanks” to or love and respect for (God).

So in the Genesis 29.35 text it is Leah who is offering thanks, but there is the indication that she found favor with God and that must be added into the extended use of Jew. Leah named her fourth son, Judah because she received praise from God. It would seem awkward for God to thank Leah for her character, but then perhaps He is thanking and rewarding her for learning His moral nature of holiness, righteousness and justice, goodness, mercy, grace and faithfulness.

Adding the extended definition of praise to thanks therefore reconciles with Romans 2.29 where a “true” Jew is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men or other “Jews” or Rabbis or the fact that his mother is Jewish -- but his praise is from God.

But being a Jew is more than holy living and finding favor with God. These are testimonial requirements for the cause of revealing God and His plan for humanity. So the Jew must bear God’s plan because of a Covenant to bring Messiah. That plan is certainly not the land of Israel to receive a double portion, fill bellies and live vainly within a “Jewish” cultural lifestyle.

So there is Genesis 49.9 indicating the Messiah coming out of Judah for the obedience of the peoples adding much more responsibility and purpose of being Jewish. Ultimately it indicates the Messiah as the solution for humanity and has a relationship with separateness from sin.

Subsequently the Genesis 49.9 text also indicates that even though Joseph is the head of Israel by Law, Judah would prevail (1Chronicles 5.1-2).

Now what about the fence law of Ezra 9.1-2 and Deuteronomy 7.3-4? All Law is based upon original Law. The reason Israelis were told not to intermarry among foreigners is because they would turn to serve other gods of unholy living standards opposite of the moral nature of God and His coming Messiah.

Ezra’s case was that Israel was banished into exile and later Judah to Babylon for unholy living and serving other gods. Upon returning from Babylon the Cohanim, Judah and Israel began intermarrying with foreigners who served other gods -- the problem that caused the exile.

So the use of Jew means and Israeli must uphold the Covenant in holiness for the coming of Messiah. But intermarrying with foreign women did not apply to Moses marrying a foreigner and his Levitical offspring carrying out the Temple service. It did not apply to marriage of foreigners such as Rehab and Ruth of whom David arrives and how be it of Rehoboam of Solomon the offspring of an Ammonite in violation of Deuteronomy 23.3-4 (1Kings 11.5, 14.21) wherefore the Messiah arrives.

It’s complicated.