What Are They?

Modernity and Jewish Self-understanding

What exactly are the Jews? The question baffles the layperson and the scholar alike. If we define them as adherents to a religion, then how can there be Jews who are secular (as most in America are)? And why all the signs of ethnicity—the resistance to intermarriage, the characteristic foods and modes of humor, and the focus on the State of Israel, for example? But if we define the Jews as an ethnic group or race, then why all the religious practices and...

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About the Author

Jon D. Levenson is the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School and the author, most recently, of Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton University Press).