Jew (Yehudi, in Hebrew)

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JEW (yehudi, in Hebrew)

Name accorded since the Exile (4th century b.c.e.) to the descendants of Abraham, a monotheistic Semitic people who lived in Palestine. The word Jew was used for the first time in 332 b.c.e. to designate the inhabitants of Judea at the moment when Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East. Judea was a province of the Persian Empire that issued from the Kingdom of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, many political, intellectual, and religious leaders launched a public debate about who exactly was a Jew. Lay people and most political figures favored a separation between religion and politics, and between religion and nationality, but the ultra-Orthodox favored the creation of a religious state and connected ethnic origin with religion, as the Israeli government eventually did and continues to do. The Law of Return (Hoq ha-Shvut), passed by the Knesset on 5 July 1950, provides that any Jew is entitled to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen. A 1970 amendment extended citizenship rights to non-Jewish spouses and the children of Jews. Some Orthodox leaders have called for an amendment narrowly defining a Jew as a person born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Orthodox tradition. This has sparked considerable debate among the Jewish Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative movements.

SEE ALSO Abraham;Jacob;Knesset;Law of Return.