What is a Jew?

The synagogue was a bare, shabby place, airless with all the windows shut, where forty or fifty men, mostly aged and bearded, faced east to the Holy Land, humbled themselves before their fierce, demanding God and wailed their songs of endless sorrow. I stood there swaying with them, but only mechanically, for I was raised in the Reformed Temple that these traditional religionists would spit upon, and in recent years I had even strayed from this watered-down Judaism, occasionally doing lip service on the holy days now but coming to believe that if love for your fellow man is in your heart you need no superstructure to dramatize it for you. And if it isn't, no God and no Church can put it there. So I stood there swaying and wondering. What is a Jew? The anthropologists have proved it is not a race, since the only scientific category is the Semitic, which includes Arabians and Assyrians, some of the most fervent anti-Jews in the world. And if it were merely a religion, all Jews like me would have to be excluded. And if it is only a unit of national culture it is withering away in America, for the customs and traditions that the Glicksteins brought over at the end of the nineteenth century may have been inherited by Israel, droning in his yarmolka at my side, but were thrown overboard as excess baggage by anyone in such a hurry as his younger brother.

From What Makes Sammy Run?, by Budd Schulberg, pp. 225-226.
Instead of being defined by nationality or religion, Jews were being transformed into a social group whose members shared certain psychological attributes and reactions, the sum total of which was supposed to constitute "Jewishness." In other words, Judaism became a psychological quality and the Jewish question became an involved personal problem for every individual Jew.

The Origins of Totalitarianism,
by Hannah Arendt

I saw a review of books on Freud. David Stern, the reviewer, writes:

Borrowing from Philip Reiff, Yerushalmi calls the type the Psychological Jew. It includes, he writes,
those many who have evinced no special need to define themselves as Jews or to embrace any particular form of visible Jewish commitment, but who have felt themselves to be somehow irreducibly Jewish nonetheless... Alienated from classical Jewish texts, Psychological Jews tend to insist on inalienable Jewish traits. Intellectuality and independence of mind, the highest ethical and moral standards, concern for social justice, tenacity in the face of persecution -- these are among the qualities they will claim, if called upon, as quintessentially Jewish.

The New Republic, September 21, 1992, p. 43

Holden Caulfield on the subject:

Catholics are always trying to find out if you're a Catholic. It happens to me a lot, I know, partly because my last name is Irish, and most people of Irish descent are Catholics. As a matter of fact, my father was Catholic once. He quit, though, when he married my mother. But Catholics are always trying to find out if you're a Catholic even if they don't know your last name.
[1996 US Postal Service Hanukkah Stamp]

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