It has become fairly common of late to refer to the Jewish people of the Second Temple era as Judeans rather than Jews. The commentators who prefer this usage claim that this is how the Jews themselves described themselves. It is true that the center of Jewish culture, religion and civilization was Jerusalem and that Jerusalem is located centrally in the area of the Holy Land known as Judea, and in fact, the entire area from Idumea in the south up to and including Galilee and beyond in the North is sometimes referred to as Judea.
These writers, many of them respected scholars, claim they are using this description in the search for accuracy. They point to the fact that the root word in Greek can be translated as either Jews or Judeans. These scholars describe all the Jews of the ancient world--whether they reside in Egypt or Greece or even Rome as Judeans. While I do not doubt the integrity of these folks, I consider this usage not only inaccurate but dangerous. It is difficult for me to believe that the members of the Jewish community in Rome, dating back hundreds of years, and accorded special privileges by Julius Caesar and some of his successors considered themselves to be Judeans.
Furthermore, this usage tends to truncate, diffuse, even obliterate Jewish history. When did these Jews cease to be Jews and become Judeans? When did they cease to be Judeans and become Jews? In some cases, commentators are forced to invent cumbersome, even silly, constructions. For example, one historian, trying to describe the attributes of these "people of the book," refers to their Judean-ness,
The overall effect of this word-play is to diminish the Jews and separate them from their history and their culture. After millennia describing these folks as Jews, they now have a non-specific title that ties them to a piece of real estate, not their extraordinary culture.
In some instances, I can't help believing that, with all their good intentions, these folks are perpretating a sly form of anti-Semitism. After all, a Greek or an Arab, or a Roman could live in the area of Judea without being a Judean--in fact that person could well be offended by being referred to in that manner..
But the real reason for ending this usage is that it does not help in describing or evaluating the Jews of the Second Temple era. In fact it neuters them; in this iteration they are connected to a patch of earth, to a climate and geography. No doubt the Jews of that time felt connected to Judea, Galilee, etc. Those of the diaspora felt an identity so strong that thousands traveled from the far reaches of the Roman Empire to Jerusalem to mark the major pilgrimage festivals. And virtually all of the people who attended the ceremonies and rituals at the Jerusalem Temple, willingly--nay, happily paid the 1/2 shekel annual tax.
Let's not destroy, diminish or cheapen the identity of the Jews. It is particularly worrisome today, an era in which anti-Semitism is on the rise in many parts of the world, even in the heart of /Europe where millions of Jews were slaughtered. Universities are teaching various form of anti-semitsm, student associations are blocking open converse by Jews and their supporters, even physically attacking them. For their own sake, these pitiful villains, these mental midgets, these under-educated and over-praised students should at least agree on the name of their enemy,
The recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, reminded me of the day I was sworn in by Chief Justice Rehnquist as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar. Afterwords, the little delegation of new members from the University of Chicago Law School met with Justices Scalia , Breyer and Ginsburg for "tea' and a chat.
I was especially interested in speaking to Scalia because of various connections I had with him, not personal, but institutional. Justice Scalia had taught for several years at my Alma Mater, The University Of Chicago Law School. He matriculated at Georgetown, where he earned his Bachelor's. My late daughter graduated from Georgetown, but from the Law School, not the College. Scalia graduated from Harvard Law. I had done by post graduate legal studies at Harvard Law, where I worked on he American Law Institute Tax Project. Kind of a stretch, right? But most of all I admired Scalia for his profound legal scholarship, exquisitely crafted decisions and famous wit and humor.
All three justices proved to be very pleasant conversationalists, although Justice Ginsburg seemed especially frail, Still, this was over a decade ago and she is still active on the court.
The religious profile of the court was remarkable: 6 Catholics and 3 Jews. While all of the Jewish justices tended to vote on the liberal side, the Catholics were split. Justice Sotomayor was (is) liberal; Kennedy relished being the swing vote when the court was split 4-4. Roberts, surprisingly, turned out to be the wild card, twice voting to uphold Obamacare, astonishing his colleagues.
Does the voting record of the justices have anything to do with their religious affiliation? It shouldn't, but it probably does. Yet it would be difficult to assess accurately the contribution of religious affiliation to the record of the justices.
The death of Scalia has precipitated a mini-crisis. Whether it will turn out to be a major turning point in American jurisprudence remains to be seen. Did I glean any special predictive information in my brief conversations with the justices? Regrettably, no. Still, it was fun, and made me feel that while I wasn't a significant part of history, I was close to those who were.