Leona Uchitelle

Along with the more well-known divisions in Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — there are subgroups.

There are Jews who consider themselves cultural Jews, gastronomic Jews, secular Jews or ethnic Jews.

Cultural Jews identify themselves as nonreligious, as their connection to Judaism is through Jewish history, literature, arts and, yes, food.

Because we Jews have been in the diaspora for generations, our interpretation of Jewish culture is influenced by the countries we have lived in.

Gastronomic Jews use food as their Jewish marker. Rabbi Avis Miller refers to these Jews as “Jew by food.”

Gil Marks, a rabbi and author of “Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods,” says that you can’t practice Judaism religiously or culturally without food. Most of our Jewish rituals are followed by a celebratory meal.

For Jews who consider themselves nonreligious, food may be what reminds them of who they are.

The most-observed Jewish holiday is the Passover Seder. The Seder is set around a family table. Traditional foods — matzoh, charotze, bitter herbs — and family are their marker of Jewish identity.

Secular Jews consider themselves nonreligious. They would choose to celebrate traditional Jewish holidays as historic festivals.

A secular Jew would celebrate the holiday of Passover not as God’s redemption of Israel from Egyptian slavery but as an acquisition of freedom and sovereignty.

Some Jews will argue that being Jewish is a matter of ancestry. These people are Jewish without being specifically religious.

“Ethnic Jew” is a term most often used to describe a person of Jewish parenting and background who does not necessarily actively practice Judaism but still identifies with Judaism culturally or fraternally.

Ethnic Jews know their Jewish background and feel strong cultural ties to Jewish tradition.

When it comes to however Jews refer to themselves, here is the bottom line: Orthodox and Conservative rabbis consider anyone born to a Jewish mother as Jewish, while the Reform movement considers a child Jewish if either of the parents is Jewish.

After birth, people are free to decide what label they want to use to describe their Judaism.

Leona Uchitelle is active in the Jewish Congregation of Venice.


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