Jews Without Judaismrnby Jacob NeusnerrnCertainly no confusion of the ethnic with the religious presentsrnmore anomalies than the mixture of ethnic Jewishnessrnand religious Judaism that American Jews have concoctedrnfor themselves. But the brew is fresh, not vintaged. For nearlyrnthe entire history of the Jews, to be a Jew meant to practice thernreligion set forth in the Torah revealed by God to Moses atrnSinai, which the world knows as Judaism. A Jew who gave uprnJudaism adopted some other religion and ceased to identifyrnhimself with the Jews as a group. So the religion, Judaism, definedrnthe group at both the entry and the exit points.rnFor the entire history of Judaism and for most of the historyrnof the Jews, the definition of the Jewish group invoked purelyrntheological categories, hi that religion the Jews are called “Israel,”rnmeaning the Israel of which Scriptures speak, the holy socialrnentity (“people,” “nation”) that God called into beingrnthrough the saints, beginning with Abraham and Sarah. Belongingrnto Israel imposes divine requirements: a belief in thernone God who created Heaven and Earth and made himselfrnknown to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then to Moses at Sinairnand to prophets thereafter; and commandments that definernthe holy way of life that marks Israel as God’s people. So “Israel”rnin Judaism corresponds to the socioreligious entity Christianit’rncalls the “Church” or the “mystical body of Christ.”rnIn the context of faith, therefore, “Israel” not only does notrncorrespond to the state of Israel or to the Holy Land but it alsornhas no relationship to “the Jewish People,” “the Jewish community,”rnor to any of the other secular formulations that definernJacob Neusner is Distinguished Research Professor ofReUgiousrnStudies at the University of South Florida and a professor of religionrnat Bard College.rnwhat it means to be a Jew today and to belong to the Jewish ethnicrngroup. Above all, no imperative attaches itself to the continuationrnof the Jewish people, and “Jewish survival” bears nornurgency in its own terms. None of the Ten Commandmentsrnmaintains that God regards as an end in itself the maintenancernof the Jews as a distinct social entity.rnTo illustrate the distinction between the Israel of the Torahrnand the various secular and cultural definitions of who constitutesrna Jew and the Jewish people is easv: until the 17th-centuryrnphilosopher of Jewish origin, Benedict Spinoza, there is nornsingle instance of a Jew giving up Judaism (the religion of thernTorah) and remaining Jewish—adopting no other religion, affiliatingrnwith no other social entity; that is, from Abraham tornSpinoza, to be Israel meant to practice Judaism, and, more tornthe point, to cease to practice Judaism marked the end of belongingrnto Israel. (If for Spinoza, one could be a Jew withoutrnpracticing Judaism, he did not indicate how long secular Jewishnessrnmight persist.) This is why historians point to Spinozarnas the first secular or “modern” Jew.rnBut until the middle of the 19th century, Spinoza remainedrna singular figure. And evervone knew he had been excommunicated!rnSo it was taken as the norm that someone who ceasedrnto practice Judaism also abandoned the Jewish group and presumablyrnentered some other religion and its community.rnWhen, in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, Jews thoughtrnthey were gaining entry into the civil society of Western civilizationrnin Germany, France, Britain, and the United States,rnsome, continuing to see themselves as Israelites in the religiousrnmeaning of the word, reformed Judaism to ht the new circumstance;rnothers reaffirmed the received meaning of Israel as arnpeople dwelling apart, in God’s eternal presence. The latterrnNOVEMBER 1997/21rnrnrn