The Jews are a particular people with a particular religion. While common historically, when Egyptians prayed to Egyptian gods, and Romans prayed to Roman gods, today the idea of a people, complete with their own culture and god(s) is usual restricted to native groups such as the Australian Aboriginals, or American Indians. The Jews, an people who were around in the time of the ancient Egyptians, the Romans and the Greeks remain a partiular people (or nation in todays language) and a particular religion.
When compared to ancient peoples, the position of the Jewish people is clear. It is only when outside pressure try to force the Jewish people to fit preconcieved molds that confusion arises. Such pressure has come from some evagelical groups (from the Spanish Inquisition through till today) who wish to define the Jews as a religion and to lable it as outdated and it's followers in need to "salvation" and convertion. In a twist on this theme, Christian groups like Jews for Jesus seek to keep the people aspect of the Jews while destroying the religion, converting Jews to Christianity. The Nazis adopted the opposite approach, using "Racial Science" as means of defining Jews as a people - hunting down those where were members of the Jewish people regardless of their religion. For the Nazis, one Jewish grandparent was enough to mnake someone Jewish.
Irene Lancaster brought this reference on Zionism and the Jews to our attention:
'The roots of Zionism are to be found ... everywhere and in every century of Jewish history.... Zionism is simply one expression of the confusing fact that the word 'Jews' covers both a people and a religion. It would doubtless be simpler if it were not so; but all attempts to force Jewish history into one category or the other end by falsifying it. If Jews had been simply a people two thousand years ago, when they lost home and autonomy, they would long have been extinct. Had the religion of Judaism been all that was involved, it would long ago have been absorbed into one or the other of the daughter monotheisms.
Zionism has minifested itself in many different ways during its long history.... But one thing has been constant, a determination to maintain roots in the 'Promised Land'. Much of the modern discussions of Zionism would have been clearer if this had been realized. It was not case of 'Jews returning to a land they had left two thousand years ago'. As a people they had never left it either physically or spiritually.'
Rev Dr James Parkes, A History of the Jewish People, Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1963
It is only by understanding the Jews as aparticular people with a particular God, and indeed a particular homeland (both historically, culturally, and religiously) that one can begin to understand the complexity of the relationship between the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Jews can have as many beliefs politically and religiously as Chrisitians or Greeks. Once can be Jewish and feel a strong connection tot he Jewish people without being religious. One can be religious but isolationist and cut off from the rest of the Jewish people. One can even be an athiest, not culturally conncted to the Jewish people, yet still consider oneself Jewish... or indeed be considered Jewish by others despite every effort to renounce it. Ofcourse these positions are not the norm. Most Jews are religiously Jewish to some degree, attending services in a synagogue at least three times a year. Even more make certaint to atleast attend the Passover Seder which takes place in the home, as much a cultural experience as a relgious one.
It is often however the views of vocal minority who are given media attention, be they the ultra orthadox religious sect of Neturei Karta (who represent a tiny fraction of the Ultra Orthadox Jews and an even small fraction of the overall Jewish people), those with Jewish ancestors (like Karl Marx, an athiest himself, whose father converted to Christianity from Judaism), or those like British Academic Steven P. Rose a proponent of the academic boycott of Israel who makes a point that he is Jewish when he speaks (he grew up in a Jewish family in the UK during WWII, but is himself a leading athiest). Official voices of the Jewish community, such as the Board of Deptuies in the UK tend to make less sensational announcements, and less often.
On the subject of Israel specifically, official comment on behalf of the Jewish people often comes from the World Zionist Organisation or local branches such as the Zionist Federation in the UK or the American Zionist Movement in the USA.
In Israel Jewish culture is celebrated much as British culture is celebrated in the UK, or American culture in America. The law of the land if not religious, though the weekend is scheduled to avoid the Jewish sabbath (lasting over Friday and Saturday) much as the weekend in the UK avoids the Christian Sabbath (lasting over Saturday and Sunday). Religious function such as marriages are handled by religious authorities and such authorities exist for all the major religions. The law of the land is decided by the democratically elected parliment (the Knesset) and in addition to the usual left-right political parties there are also relgious parties who take parts in elections.
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