President Trump’s bizarre executive order first reported as identifying Judaism as a race and a nationality in addition to a religion for the purpose of providing legal
privilege protection raised a lot of eyebrows. It looks like the initial reports were sensationalized and that the order won’t change much. We’ll see.
According to a recent YouGov poll, most Americans, some 80%, consider Judaism a religion while 24% consider it a race and only 18% consider it a nationality. There’s some utility in being able to calibrate the definition according to the circumstance, so maybe the ambiguity is more of a feature than a bug.
There’s also the distinction between Judaism and Jewishness. That the former is generally perceived to refer specifically to a religious identity does not mean the latter is perceived in the same way. Judaism exists under the umbrella of Jewishness, but there can be Jewishness without Judaism. The following table shows the percentages of people who “know God exists” (from 2010 onward for contemporary relevance) by self-identified affiliation:
Only one-quarter of self-identified Jews firmly believe in God. They are only modestly more theistic than the irreligious are, and much less theistic than adherents of the other two Abrahamic traditions. That Judaism is neither proselytic nor closed to conversion adds another wrinkle to things.
The survey also finds that a vast majority of Jews, 95%, racially identify as white. This makes Judaism the whitest ‘religion’ in the US. Referring to Judaism as a distinct race doesn’t mesh well with the contemporary understanding of the term. Should Stephen Miller check “two or more races” on his Census form next year?
Referring to Judaism as a separate nationality is risible, though it is hilarious for all the squirming it induces. It’s doubly funny that Jews in America are putatively being identified as belonging to a nationality other than American as a means of protecting them from anti-Semitic allegations of dual loyalty!
Classifying Ashkenazi Jewishness as a white ethnicity makes the most sense to this gentile. I’m interested in being instructed on the correct way to conceptualize it, particularly with regards to where it fits into the categories of religion, race, and ethnicity.
GSS variables used: RELIG(1-4,9), GOD(6), YEAR(2010-2018), RACECEN1