Israel Forever

For the week ending 14 December 2002 / 9 Tevet 5763

Who is a Jew? Who is a Hebrew?

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The influx to Israel of so many immigrants under the Law of Return who are not considered Jews according to religious law has been the catalyst for the great debate as to "Who is a Jew?"

Perhaps the time has come for a serious discussion as well as to "Who is a Hebrew (Ivri)?"

In last weeks Torah portion we find Pharaohs chief butler referring to the imprisoned Yosef as "a young Ivri". Yosef earlier heard himself described as an Ivri when the wife of his master Potiphar falsely accused him of misconduct. Because he did not deny his roots despite the Egyptian contempt for Hebrews he merited something which even Moshe did not his bones were buried in the land of the Hebrews, Eretz Yisrael.

Avraham, of course, was the first to be called by the name "Ivri". One explanation offered by the Midrash for this title based on the word eiver (side) is that while the entire world was on one side in its pursuit of idol worship, Avraham was fearlessly on the other side promoting monotheism.

This, then, is the hallmark of the Hebrew. He does not seek to conform to the misguided pursuit of all the "isms" of history which are only variations of the idol worship which caused the original Hebrew to place himself on the other side of universal consensus. As the polls predict a significant increase in the popularity of a local political party whose only platform is combating the religious public, we must ask ourselves whether this passion for turning Israel into a secular, democratic state in imitation of the western world is consistent with the heritage of the Hebrew.

It is to be hoped that an honest evaluation of "Who is a Hebrew" will inevitably lead to a Torah-based definition of "Who is a Jew" and guarantee the Jewish-Hebrew character of Israel forever.

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