Jewishness (JEW-ish-ness) listen


  • n. Ethnic or cultural Jewish identity, as distinct from 'Judaism'.

  • n. The quality of being a Jew, not limited to (nor necessarily excluding) religion, ethnicity, biology, or nationality.

Example Sentences

  • "Still, I cannot claim to have penetrated to the inner mystery of Jewish identity or 'Jewishness,' the qualities that make a Jew a Jew." -- Shaye J. D. Cohen, "The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties"

  • "Rather, they adopted an elaborate system of subsitute faiths that were supposed to keep people Jewish—from commitment to 'prophetic Judaism' (read, left-wing politics), to Israel, to the memory of the Holocaust, to a generalized ethnic 'Jewishness.' -- Elliot Abrams, "Judaism or Jewishness?" First Things 74 (June/July 1997): 18-25.

Languages of Origin

  • Yiddish
  • English


  • possibly a loan translation from Yiddish ייִדישקײט yidishkayt, which corresponds to ethnic or cultural Jewishness as well as Judaism as a religion

    • Who Uses This

      • Jews: Jews of diverse religious backgrounds and organizational involvements
      • Ethnic: Jews whose Jewish identity is primarily ethnic


      • North America
      • South Africa
      • Australia / New Zealand


      • None


  • "Jewishness" implies an open-ended definition of Jewish identity, allowing the user to determine what constellation of "Jewish" qualities -- religion, ethnicity, biology, self-definition -- define his or her own or a subject's Jewish identity. Thus a Chabad essayist uses the word to write that "it is the relationship between the Jew and his Creator that defines his Jewishness," while the L.A. Times reports that members of Yiddishkayt, an "L.A.-based organization dedicated to celebrating and preserving the heritage of the Yiddish language and its culture," "embrace a notion of Jewishness that is purely cultural."

    Abrams uses the word, by contrast, to indicate a shallow or deracinated version of Jewish identity.

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