Who are the Jewish people? Part one – Background and History

The question of “Who is a Jew?” remains a contentious and unresolved issue, relating as it does to the ‘Law of Return’ and the nature of the ‘Jewish State’ as well as to the question of whether Jewishness is necessarily connected with either the practice of Judaism or Zionism.

This series offers a brief overview of the diverse elements that constitute the Jewish people today with the hope that it will aid readers in their prayer and witness. We hope too that it will encourage efforts at promoting reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians through Jesus the Messiah.

This is an abridged and edited version of a Powerpoint series compiled by Margie Kinsella. Margie has also written a book entitled “Myths in the sheepfold” which deals with some of these topics. Margie is a missionary in Malaysia with a particular passion for the salvation of the Jewish people.  She is currently residing in Singapore. Margie can be contacted by email at: margie_kinsella@yahoo.com


World wide Jewry is estimated at 14 million:  42% live in Israel, 39% in USA, the rest mostly in France, Canada, UK, Russia, Argentina, with smaller populations in Germany,Australia, Brazil, Ukraine, South Africa and many other countries. Statistics vary according to different sources, therefore these figures are approximate.


75.4% Jewish – 5.8 million, +- 10,000 Believers
20.4% Arab – 1.6 million, 16,000 Christian
4.2% “other” – 320,000 Armenian & other Christians, not Jewish, nor Arab.


There are two tendencies: The one is anti-Semitic, the other is philo-Semitic.  Both are based on stereotypes.

Common stereotypes include the “neurotic, over-protective Jewish mother”, the “spoilt and materialistic Jewish princess”, the “left-wing liberal” and the “nice Jewish boy”, but probably the most pejorative stereotype is that of the “rich and avaricious Jewish miser”. Shylock, the infamous Jewish moneylender, in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, is the epitome of the stereotype that all Jews are cheap and shrewd in business. (When Shakespeare wrote his Merchant of Venice, there were no Jews in England).

Philo-Semitism is especially noted among the Japanese: Jews are rich, Jews are so smart, Jews are good businessmen, Jews are beautiful.

Sanseido’s New Crown English-Japenese Dictionary (revised edition, 1964): “Jew dzu n. Jew: Jews covet money— consequently there are many Jewish millionaires.  The word can be used in lieu of the following: ‘avaricious’, ‘miser’ and ‘rich’.”

While many Jews around the world are indeed prosperous there is also a significant level of poverty in certain communities. While Israel’s GDP has increased 4.5 percent from a year ago, poverty in Israel remains a problem. 50% of Jerusalem’s children live in poverty.Jerusalem is the largest city with a population of 763 000. 23% of the children and 14% of the families in Tel Aviv live below the poverty line. 20% of families and 34% of children live in poverty in Israel as a whole.

Israel has the highest child poverty rate out of the 35 Countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Despite a slight improvement, Israel continues to rank – along with the US, Mexico and Chile – as the OECD country with the biggest gap between the richest and poorest. (Jpost)

It should come as no surprise that 55% of Haredi families (according to Central Bureau of Statistics data) and 53.2% of Arab families (according to the NII poverty report) live under the poverty line.

“Rental and property rates in Jerusalem and Greater Tel Aviv are on par with the most expensive cities in Europe and the US, while Israelis typically earn less than half what their American and European counterparts do.” Maoz report

In August and September hundreds of thousands gathered in mass demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing.


There are Jews from 120 countries in Israel – Not all are actual descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

Few Jews around the world know what tribe they are from as records were destroyed with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Over the centuries there have been many converts to Judaism.

  • Even under Abraham his servants were circumcised (Gen.17:13)
  • A mixed multitude came out of Egypt yet all were known as “Israel” (Ex.12:38)
  • Thousands converted to the Jews when Esther was queen (Esther 8:17)
  • Jesus referred to Jews going far and wide to seek converts (Mt.23:15)
  • At Pentecost, multitudes were there speaking various languages – many could have been proselytes.
  • The Roman Empire was considered 12% Jewish before the spread of Christianity!

Many Jews hold religious beliefs other than Judaism – Atheist, New Age and perhaps 500,000 believe in Yeshua. There are many political differences, Zionists and non- Zionists, free thinkers. Country of origin also plays a significant role in their identification.

What is the biggest obstacle to Jewish people becoming “Christian” or “believers in Yeshua”?

A 2000 year history of persecution by “Christians” in Europe and Russia is one reason why Jews don’t readily become Christians!


As the followers of Messiah Jesus increasingly came from the Gentiles, practices were instituted to ensure the Gentiles and Jews remained separate.

  • Jews were forbidden to buy or sell to the Christians in many locations in Europe.
  • Christians were forbidden to go to Jewish doctors.
  • The only rights the Jews had was to be ‘money lenders’ because the Christians were forbidden to practice ‘usury’.
  • Jews were consistently labelled “CHRIST-KILLERS”.
  • Jews were forced to allow priests to come into their synagogues and preach to them, especially in France.

On a popular level the people believed that since the Jews were responsible for killing Christ it was quite acceptable to mistreat them.  But what does the Scripture say?

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28).

The separation was encouraged on both sides. The Rabbis did all they could to separate out those Jewish members who believed in Yeshua. As early as the first century a self-curse was instituted and any Jew who would not say it was thereby identified as a follower of HIM and considered an Apostate:

“May the apostates have no hope, unless they return to Thy Torah, and may the Nazarenes (Notzrim) and the Minim disappear in a moment.  May they be erased from the book of life, and not be inscribed with the righteous”.

The Crusades, which were aimed primarily at liberating Jerusalem from Muslim power and freeing the eastern churches from Muslim oppression, had unintended repercussions for European Jewry, as Crusader mobs, inflamed with ideas of vengeance against the enemies of Christ and his Church, unleashed a wave of violence against the Jews as they moved through Europe.

When the city of Jerusalem was retaken by the Crusaders both Muslims and Jews who took refuge in their holy sites were massacred – the Jews reportedly being burnt alive in the Great Synagogue which was burnt to the ground while Crusaders paraded around it singing  “Christ we adore Thee”. [i]

During the Spanish Inquisition 1492 AD the baptismal service for Jews included the following prayer:

“I do here and now renounce every rite and observance of the Jewish religion, detesting all its most solemn ceremonies and tenets that in former days I kept and held.  In the future I will practice no rite or celebration connected with it, nor any custom of my past error, promising neither to seek it out or perform it …I promise that I will never return to the vomit of Jewish superstition.

Other versions included:

“[I] will not associate with the accursed Jews who remain unbaptized…

[I] will not practice carnal circumcision, or celebrate the Passover, the Sabbath or the other feast days connected with the Jewish religion…

With regard to swine’s flesh [I] promise to observe this rule, that if through long custom [I am] hardly able to eat it, [I] shall not through fastidiousness or error refuse the things that are cooked with it….

And if in all the matters touched on above [I] am found in any way to transgress…[then I] shall either perish by the hands of our fellows, by burning or stoning, or if [my] life is spared, [I] shall at once lose [my] liberty and you shall give [me] along with all [my] property to whomever you please into perpetual slavery…”

Jews were given the stark choice – become Christian, leave the country, or be burnt at stake. Many Jews publically converted but secretly continued to observe Jewish rites – they were called “Marranos” (a disparaging term meaning pigs) – “Bnei Anousim” today. Even today, so-called “Catholic families” are learning of their Jewish background.

As today radical Muslims & Hindus attack Christians and drive them from their homes— historically, in “Christian Orthodox” Russia, Jews were  over  and  over  again driven  from  their  homes  and  killed – in 1881, 160 cities and villages of Russian Jews were attacked.  In each city, 40 to 50 Jews were killed. This began a great migration from Russia to the land of Israel under the Ottoman Empire.

When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 he immediately ruled that the Jews were no longer ‘German citizens’. Professional Jews were immediately dismissed from their jobs:

The question is often asked, “Why didn’t the Jewish people fight back?”

Over the centuries when faced with persecution, the Jewish people deliberately adopted a ‘passive’ attitude:  Don’t fight back; don’t rock the boat; “this will soon pass” or they simply moved to another location. They had been in Germany for centuries; they expected things to change.

Five years later on what became known as Kristallnacht— night of the broken glass,10,000 shops owned by Jews were destroyed and homes and Synagogues throughout Germany burnt. Hitler had ordered a seven day campaign of terror against the Jews. The Jewish community was ordered to pay one million marks as a fine for the problem of clean up. Jews were forced to scrub streets.

As Hitler’s war spread, Jews were gathered into concentration camps. At the Buchenwaldgate was written in German: “to each his own,” or “everyone gets what he deserves.” The Nazis wore belt buckles – “God is with us”.

During those dark days there were small beacons of light – Gentiles who were prepared to risk their own lives to save Jews.

IRENA SENDLER, a German Catholic woman living in Poland, had a permit to enter the Warsaw ghetto as a social worker checking for signs of typhus. Together with others in the Polish resistance she smuggled 2500 infants and young children out in ambulances and trams, providing them with false documents, and sheltering them in individual and group children’s homes outside the Ghetto. She was caught, severely beaten and sentenced to death but was saved from execution by her colleagues who bribed her German guards. She went into hiding for the remainder of the war but continued to help Jewish children. She died in 2008 at age 98.

Helping Jews was very risky — entire families were hanged if a Polish person was found helping Jews. Whole villages were destroyed because the villagers were helping the Jews!  The Ulma family (father, mother and six children) of the village of Markowa near Lancut, where many families concealed their Jewish neighbours, were executed jointly by the Nazis with the eight Jews they hid. In the villages of Bialka 150 villagers were massacred for sheltering Jews.  In November 1942, the Ukrainian SS squad executed 20 villagers from Berecz for giving aid to Jewish escapees from the ghetto in Povorsk.

Ten percent of Warsaw’s Polish population was actively engaged in sheltering their Jewish neighbours. It is estimated that the number of Jews living in hiding on the Aryan side of Warsaw in 1944 was at least 15,000 to 30,000 and they relied on the network of 50,000–60,000 Poles who provided shelter, and about half as many assisting in other ways.



The New Israeli mentality can be encapsulated in the phrase – NEVER AGAIN! We have MILITARY MIGHT – the Hebrew word bitahon, meaning trust in God has come to be associated with military might. After the Holocaust some Sabras (native born Israelis) even criticized European Jewry for not having fought back in order to die with honour. This attitude led to difficulties in absorbing and assimilating holocaust survivors. Today there are 208,000 survivors living in Israel, many of them in poverty:

“Poverty among Holocaust survivors in Israel is something of a dirty little secret. An estimated 70,000 survivors — one-third of those living in Israel — don’t have enough money to make ends meet, victims’ support groups say. The survivors show up in soup kitchens or government welfare agencies.” (Seattle Times) 

Jews are taught, do not forgive this history! “If we forgive, it might happen again!” The problem with unforgiveness is that Israel treats the Palestinians with the same spirit they were treated! Palestinians  are  looked  down  upon, referred  to  as  “rats”  and “cockroaches”, the same  names Germans  called Jews.

Israeli peace activist Nurit Peled-Elhanan, a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose daughter was killed by a suicide bomber in 1997, blames Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians for the conflict. Her new book shows that Israeli text books are using stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims that incite Israelis to war and wanton murder of Palestinian.


EVA MOZES KOR and twin sister Miriam were victims of the infamous experiments of JOSEF MENGELE in Auschwitz.  Eva was given lethal bacteria to see how long she would live. Once she died, the other twin would be killed and simultaneous autopsies done. Eva  ‘refused’ to die; they both lived. 50 YEARS LATER in 1995 EVA MOZES KOR PUBLICALLY FORGAVE ALL NAZIS.

She says: “I felt as though an incredibly heavy weight of suffering had been lifted.” She says that because she was able to forgive her worst enemies, she was finally able to free herself from her victim status. Eva also said that countries have failed to make peace because they have not encouraged enemies to forgive one another in order to heal themselves and that without forgiveness, future peace moves will also fail.

Other concentration camp survivors were horrified! “No one can forgive pure evil!”

How do we interpret John 20:23? “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Over the years, many countries, many groups of people have asked the Jewish people for forgiveness

…..to the writer’s knowledge it has never been recorded that Israeli or Jewish leaders have responded: “yes, we forgive you.”

Christians must stand in the gap, pray and work for the salvation of Jews and Muslims through being reconciled to God through Christ:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)


Go to Part Two: Who are the Jewish People?- The Return to the Land


[i] Note: A modern day source even claims the Crusaders “[circled] the screaming, flame-tortured humanity singing ‘Christ We Adore Thee!’ with their Crusader crosses held high.”[7] On the contrary, a late 11th century Jewish communication does not corroborate the report that Jews were actually inside of the Synagogue when it was set on fire.[8] This letter was discovered among the Cairo Geniza collection in 1975 by historian Shelomo Dov Goitein.[9] Historians believe that it was written just two weeks after the siege, making it “the earliest account on the conquest in any language.”[9]However, all sources agree that a synagogue was indeed burned during the siege.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_and_the_Crusades

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