is a Jew? While I’m often asked how I can be both a Jew and an atheist, this question hardly ever comes from Jews. According to all branches of Judaism, a person is Jewish if born to a Jewish mother. Since my mother was Jewish, so am I. End of story. But it isn’t.
Jews argue about everything, including who is a Jew. Disagreements usually develop along sectarian lines. Reform Jews are willing to accept into the tribe someone with a Jewish father and a gentile mother, but Orthodox Jews are not. Some ultra-Orthodox rabbis won’t even accept a child as Jewish when born to a devout Jewish mother from a donated gentile egg. All branches of Judaism allow for converts, but Orthodox Jews don’t recognize conversion of gentiles to Judaism unless that conversion is approved by a three-judge religious court comprised of three Orthodox men (usually rabbis), ritual immersion in a mikvah, and a commitment to perform all the Torah’s commandments according to Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law.
Gentiles are often surprised to hear that there is no religious belief requirement to be a Jew. Well-known Jews with no belief in God include intellectuals like Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx, as well as comedians like Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Jon Stewart, and Sarah Silverman (no relation, unfortunately). In fact, these Jews openly criticize or make fun of religion.
I am hard-pressed to name a pious Jew, dead or alive, who is a household name worldwide — except for Jesus.
A Pew survey shows that 62 percent of American Jews say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15 percent say it’s a matter of religion. Secular Jews, atheist Jews, and agnostic Jews comprise the largest constituency of Jews. I am hard-pressed to name a pious Jew, dead or alive, who is a household name worldwide — except for Jesus. Which brings us to . . .
What’s a Christian? I think it’s more difficult to define a Christian than a Jew. Christians believe that Jesus was/is a very special person with important teachings. But Christians differ on countless significant issues: whether Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, whether he was born of a virgin, whether he was resurrected bodily, whether he died for your sins, whether everything in the New Testament is literally true, whether and when he will be returning, and whether such beliefs will be the difference between going to heaven or hell.