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I am Jewish AMA

857 replies

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 13:05

Following answering some Q&As on a thread about the programme Unorthodox thought i'd do an AMA here. I have looked and don't think there's been one since like 2018.

I am a traditional/modern orthodox Jew so not Hasidic like the show but I actually do talks on Judaism as part of my job and I so my knowledge is fairly good and I am rarely embarrassed or offended by questions.

So go ahead AMA

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OnlyFoolsnMothers · 05/05/2020 13:08

Hi OP- there seemingly quite a bit of debate around Jews being a race. I myself consider myself an atheist Jew, I have not one religious bone in my body but am proud to be Jewish and consider my children to be too. Do you think you can be Jewish without believing in Judaism ?

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 13:12

Not my Jewish side but my ex-anthropologist side coming out Judaism is actually considered an ethnicity - similar to aboriginal and native American - it's an race with an attached religious belief.

But from an orthodox Jewish perspective you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish, or you have undergone conversion that's it. you don't have to believe in anything to be Jewish.

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MrsSpenserGregson · 05/05/2020 13:14

Shalom OP!

Ooh I was going to ask the same question! Forgive me if I phrase my questions clumsily. My father was Jewish, my mother wasn't (her father was Jewish, her mother wasn't). I was adopted out so I knew nothing about Judaism really until I met my first boyfriend. He was Jewish, and he was adamant that being a Jew was a race as well as a religion, but obviously that has horrible connotations now due to the Nazis ... "Being Jewish" passes through the mother, which suggests a "blood" element, and apparently there is Ashkenazi Jewish DNA...?? Is that true? I'd love to know more about my heritage!

Also - what do you think of Friday Night Dinner?!

MrsSpenserGregson · 05/05/2020 13:16

Ah x-post!

So how come so many Jewish people absolutely refute the idea that Judaism is an ethnicity, even in the face of scientific evidence (DNA)? If you google it, there are so may conflicting answers.

OnlyFoolsnMothers · 05/05/2020 13:17

from an orthodox Jewish perspective you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish yes I always say this. Would you consider conversions Jewish though, I thought Orthodox Jews don’t.

thesnackbitch · 05/05/2020 13:20

What are your thoughts on the Netflix show - One of Us?

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 13:20


I think above answers about race. In reform you'd still be considered Jewish although Orthodoxy would not consider you do as it's your paternal line not the maternal one. However, Israel as a state (and as your said the Nazis) would define you as Jewish and either way it's Jewish heritage.
And yes there is such a thing as Ashkenazi DNA, I know a few people who've had the DNA genetics tests come back and come out as that and with things like donation it can affect your chances so it's definitely real. unfortunately it also comes with a host of genetic conditions not often seen outside the Ashki community (probably due to hundreds of years of inbreeding)

As for Friday night I love them, they are my favourite part of the week and the thing I am missing most during lockdown. As a teen it drove me mad as most of my friends weren't Jewish and they'd have parties on Friday night and I wasn't allowed to go. But now I just love the family time together when no one is in a rush to go anyway and just the feeling of spirituality and community that comes with it.

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Isitweekendyet · 05/05/2020 13:22

Can you explain what is special about Friday nights and why it is celebrated? Is it in preparation of the Sabbath?

Do you respect the Sabbath or do you carry on about your day?

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 13:26

@OnlyFoolsnMothers Orthodox communities allow conversion but it is extremely long and difficult process. I know a few people who have undergone it but most are children of Jewish fathers who later converted in an orthodox synagogue. Orthodoxy does not accept reform conversion which are significantly easier and they do not accept marriage as a reason for conversion. They will only convert you if they are convinced you are genuinely sincere and will do this for the rest of your life. they don't want you taking on something and then not being able to stick to it.

@thensackbitch I have seen that but a while ago. I think it's an interesting programme that explores why people enter and leave the Hasidic community but as with most programmes I think there's a certain bias in it and you have to remember that their experiences are not everyone's experiences and that there are many different sects of the Hasidic community and they are all very different

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MrsSpenserGregson · 05/05/2020 13:28

Thank you @Bells3032. My ex was not Orthodox but he was adamant that I wasn't Jewish. He wasn't allowed to marry a non-Jew, and even if I'd converted I wouldn't have been Jewish enough apparently.

My son is friends with an Israeli Jewish boy who also says that being Jewish is not a race/ethnicity. His family get really upset whenever the idea is mentioned.

I actually meant "Friday Night Dinner" the TV show! Grin. But what you said about Friday nights with the family was so much nicer.

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 13:31


The Jewish day starts at sunset so Friday night is the start of the Sabbath which then ends at nightfall on Saturday night. On Friday evening men will usually go pray at the synagogue (and women if they want to but they are not obligated to) and then you will have a family or community meal together, even less religious Jews will usually spend Friday night marking the Sabbath with Friday night dinners with family.

On the Sabbath in general you are not meant to do anything that is considered work (work is a bit of a misnomer obviously rabbis work and is actually a list of activities that were required to build the temporary temple in the desert after the exodus from Egypt). So this includes creating or destroying a flame so no turning electricity on and off, no carrying outside of a walled area and no writing or spending money.

For me personally I try to keep it but I admit I am not the best person at doing so in the world and I often give in to using electricity.

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Whywonttheyletmeusemyusername · 05/05/2020 13:37

Placemarking - Christian, but work with Synagogues....anything more I can learn is helpful

doodleygirl · 05/05/2020 13:38

I haven’t got anything to ask but I too am really missing our Friday night dinners. I am not religious but we always do Friday night, sometimes just the two of us but mostly many more. We have reverted back to FaceTime/zoom kiddish which we did when our kids were at Uni. Like many we had a Zoom Seder.

I’m rambling now, today seems hard.

ilovemydogandMrObama · 05/05/2020 13:40


My (female) cousin converted to Judiasm.

Why did she have to have another marriage ceremony to be recognised as Orthodox?

Also, why do Jews rock back and forth when praying?

Windyatthebeach · 05/05/2020 13:44

As a young teen dm I lived in a mainly Jewish area. I watched with interest the dc and their families. We lived near a huge park and sat daily admiring the well behaved dc.. Wondered if my dc would be like them - so well dressed and highly respectful of their dps.
I failed people..

WyfOfBathe · 05/05/2020 13:49

I'm a Christian and have seen a bit of debate online after a church had a Passover meal - what do you think about non-Jews celebrating Jewish festivals such as Passover or Hannukah?

turkeyboots · 05/05/2020 13:50

In Unorthodox there is a scene with the kitchen wrapped up in tin foil. I looked online for a reason, but only found a chat board of orthodox women saying how accurate it is. Why is the kitchen wrapped in tin foil?! And tinfoil is a relatively new invention so what did people do before?

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 13:54

@MrsSpenserGregson Just because he didn't practice doesn't mean he didn't belong to an orthodox synagogue and go by traditional practices. As said whilst conversion is possible it is a long (several years) and difficult process and Rabbis won't convert you if they feel you are doing so for marriage and that you won't keep it to a certain degree for the rest of your life. However, there are some sects - I think mainly middle eastern ones - who don't accept converts at all or the very least won't marry them. Cohens (a certain status within the community based on your birth - I can go into that in another post if you like) are not allowed to marry converts at all.

@ilovemydogandMrObama your cousin would not have needed another wedding to complete her conversion, it may have been they chose to get married once the conversion was complete under a Jewish auspice but it's not compulsory - just your marriage wouldn't be recognised under the Jewish community without doing so. Also if she converted into orthodoxy it may be that it made it easier for her children to prove their Jewish status in future.

The moving back and forth is called Shokkling - from my understanding it improves concentration and blood flow to the brain. I think it's also more comfortable than standing up straight for long periods of time to be honest. I don't believe there is any mystical reasoning behind it.

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Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 13:59

@turkeyboots The scene you are referring to takes places during the festival of Passover which marks the Jews exodus from Egypt - they left so fast they did not have time to let their bread dough rise and therefore to commemorate this we do not eat or come into contact with anything leavened (aka anything that rises). Before the festival Jews will clean their home top to bottom to make sure there is no crumb left of leavened produce. However, to extra safeguard against remnants or whatever many religious people will cover their kitchen in silver foil to prevent their Passover food coming into contact with anything that has previously been in contact with leavened products.

I honestly don't know what they did before silver foil I assume covered it in cloths or something or just scrubbed very very hard.

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ShoppingBasket · 05/05/2020 14:02

I have watched unorthodox and now I'm watching shtisel.
Why do women shave their heads and then wear wigs?
Why do men carry plastic bags - why not normal bags/rucksacks or is this just in the tv show? They also showed them with white rope around their arms when praying, what is this?
If a couple end up not have children does anything happen? Do they divorce etc. In unorthodox there was huge pressure to conceive but sometimes it can take couples years through no fault of their own. Is there a pressure there in real life?
I know unorthodox has some discrepancies but is it fairly accurate? Or stereotypical?

Thank you!

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 14:07

@WyfOfBathe I think particularly Passover being celebrated by non-Jews is a little strange as it is a festival that is meant to mark the slavery and saving of the Jewish people and Chanukah also has similar themes so I think it's a little strange for someone not Jewish to celebrate them (for the record I also don't believe in celebrating Christmas as it feels like I am celebrating someone else's religion though my husband's family do mark though in a very secular way).

However, if people want to come to a seder or Chanukah party to learn about the religion etc I have no issues with that and have invited and hosted people myself but to do so with no Jews present is just strange though I wouldn't throw a fit about it.

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glitterbiscuits · 05/05/2020 14:23

What do Jewish people think about aethiests?

Or other religions?

What's going on with Muslims and Jews?

What the answer to Palestine?


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ludicrouslemons · 05/05/2020 14:28

Other than obvious things like bagels and cheesecake, I've never eaten Jewish food. Is it worth trying to make something and if so, what?

I've been looking up kugel recipes since seeing it on shtisel but it seems like the sort of thing you need to grow up with.

Bells3032 · 05/05/2020 14:28

@ShoppingBasket - lots of questions here, will answer as best as I can

Why do women shave their heads and then wear wigs?
Married women are meant to keep their "true beauty" for their husbands - now beauty is not meant in the same sense as the modern world but more about their more innate self. Therefore as part of that there are parts of themselves they keep private including their natural hair. However, most places don't have an objection to wearing a lovely wig - it's not about making yourself uglier it's about keeping some parts of yourself hidden for just yourself and your husband. Similar to how your clothes keep certain parts of you private but can be used to make you more attractive.

The shaving this is often done for practicality reasons mainly - it's hot under those wigs and also to help it sit better. there are some Hasidic sects that do insist on shaving but it's more to do with everyone does it than a real religious reason or it may be there's less risk of it falling out from underneath the wig. Some women will chose not wear a wig and instead wear a headscarf or less religious women may chose to just cover their hair with a hat.

Why do men carry plastic bags - why not normal bags/rucksacks or is this just in the tv show? Yeah I noticed that to and I honestly have no idea. there's no religious reason for it - may have just been they were on hand.

They also showed them with white rope around their arms when praying, what is this?
The white strings you may have also seen hanging from their waists and they are tassels of a Tzittzit which is a four cornered garment with strings, knots and tassels which is commanded for a man to wear in the Torah at all times - it is supposed to be a constant reminder of G-d and the knots and tassels somehow represent the 613 commandments in the Torah.

You may have also seen them wrap black leather straps with boxes attached around their arms and heads. These are not bondage gear, these are called Tefillin and the boxes contain certain prayers and they are meant to help men feel more centred and focused when praying.

If a couple end up not have children does anything happen? Do they divorce etc. In unorthodox there was huge pressure to conceive but sometimes it can take couples years through no fault of their own. Is there a pressure there in real life?

There is a huge pressure to conceive in orthodox community as one of the first commandments is to be fruitful and multiple and should someone be infertile their family may encourage them to divorce. However, whilst divorce is allowed in Judaism it is highly discouraged and a Rabbi would encourage them to follow every avenue first including getting medical support if needed. I don't think it would be a case of a year and let's get divorced. However, should a woman be completely infertile then I think in a community like that the man would probably be encouraged to divorce and fulfil the commandment with someone else but only once every other option was explored. I think in this case it was more the family not being particularly fond of her pushing for it anyway.

I know unorthodox has some discrepancies but is it fairly accurate? Or stereotypical?

From what I understand it is fairly stereotypical but there has been a lot of criticism that it focuses entirely on the negative with nothing mentioned of the positive of being in such a community and obviously things are dramatized.

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LikeDuhWhatever · 05/05/2020 14:29

If jewishness is inherited from the mother’s side then why don’t jewish children get their surname from their mother? As far as I know they get it from their dad. Why is that?

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