Red Tulips from Culture for All stopped by my blog and left a comment under the Labels, Identity and Religion post I made a few days ago. She also responded on her own blog under the same post that started this conversation. However, the two messages cover different material so while I responded to the message she left here underneath that post, I decided to post what I left in response to the message on her blog. I think it's a very interesting subject and it's one that I've studied a bit in the past. It also touches on population genetics and evolution which is one of my favorite topics. the first part (in italics) is the message from her blog. My comments are underneath it.
From Red Tulips
bint alshamsa:Thanks for stopping by! That was certainly a very informative bit about the history of New Orleans and public education.
As far as Judaism...I happen to disagree with you for many reasons.
First of all, Jews share a genetic link with each other, because it is a birthright as well as a religion. You have to realize that until recently, Jews rarely intermarried, and in fact there was a Jewish disease as a result of this - Tay Sachs.
Secondly, Jews, until recently, lived cut off from the broader populations in which they resided. And thus, a unique language formed - Yiddish. Unique songs, dance, and rituals formed. These are separate and distinct from the religion.
Thirdly, Adolph Hitler never asked if someone believed when he sent them to the gas chambers. This ironically created many atheist and agnostic Jews.
Much of this unique culture and tradition formed as a result of antisemitism. However, in a post-antisemitic world (mostly a fairyland, as that does not quite exist, even in America, and certainly in Europe and especially the Middle East is only a dream) Jews are able to mix and mingle with the broader population. In this world, Jews are able to own businesses and run for Congress and even the vice presidency. And so in this world, I would argue it is difficult to maintain a unique cultural identity of Judaism for atheist and agnostic Jews.
I believe that it is antisemitism that in fact helped to create the Jewish culture, which absolutely exists, separate from the religion.
Just remember that given that the Jewish status of someone is a birthright, one can actually be an atheist Jew.
Moi (also known as Tulip, coincidently):
Actually, Tay-Sachs is not a Jewish disease. This is a myth. If you look up information about this disease you'll find that it does indeed occur in people who are not Jewish. The genetic link that Jews share with each other is also shared in those who are not Jewish. In other words, what genetically links Jews to one another also links them to the other Semitic people in the areas where they lived.
It is utterly impossible for Jews to have always lived cut off from broader populations if one is to believe that this more than one Jewish genetic branch. At some point, the groups (e.g. Ashkenazi, Yemeni, Lemba, Sephardic) acquired enough genetic variation to make them into distinct groups instead of one, as they were in the first place. That genetic variation didn't just fall out of the sky. It came from the groups around them. This intermingling is why the Yiddish language contains elements from the languages of those who Jews lived amongst.
There isn't a single culture that exists in the world that does not have unique songs, dances, and rituals. However, being unique does not mean that any total separation from other cultures exists. It simply means that these features form a distinct combination.
It is also a myth that the Nazis didn't care anything about one's beliefs before they sent them to the gas chambers. Many people went to those very same gas chambers because of their beliefs and not because of their ethnic heritage. Living through this period did play a role in many people adopting atheist and agnostic beliefs but it also had the opposite effect in others. Many found their religious beliefs strengthened through seeing the tenacity of those who never gave in to the Nazis no matter how difficult things became.
No culture forms because of being hated. It can be affected by hatred but that's true for every single culture. Native American culture is affected by the oppression we've faced. The various cultures of the African diasporic people was and is affected by hatred. The whole world is affected by hatred and hatred can motivate people to engage in positive or negative behavior. It all depends on what each individual wants a reason to do.
It isn't so much a post-antisemitic world (which I think would require nothing less than a miracle) that threatens the unique cultural identity of Judaism. The main threat to it is the same as the main threat faced by every other unique culture on the face of the earth. That is the globalization made possible by technological advances in transportation.
In the past, intermingling was (in general) a rather slow process. Cultures had more time to absorb elements from surrounding populations and alter these elements to suit their cultural environment. Today, cultures are bombarded with a barrage of cultures. We may get our coffee from Columbia, our fruit from America, our grains from Asia, our television shows from India, our kids toys from China, coats from Canada.
All of this commerce brings with people along with it. No matter what the religious tenets of a people (within a community) are, there are always those who intermarry, reproduce with, and adopt elements of these people who they come in contact with. Such people have always existed. If not, then we would eventually cease to belong to the same species. The fact that people from opposite sides of the globe can come together and produce offspring is proof that humans have been mixing and mingling consistently since our hominid ancestors became homo sapiens.