Although the terms “Hebrew” and “Israelite” continued in use into the New Testament period (eg Rom 9:4; 2 Cor 11:22; Phil 3:5), by then the term “Jew” was more commonly used. This originally referred to a member of the southern tribe of Judah (which is it’s use in Jer 32:12; 34:9), but after the Babylonian Exile it came to replace “Israelite” as the most widely-used term for one of God’s covenant people. This was because, by that time, virtually all Israelites were in fact members of the tribe of Judah, as the northern tribes (“Israel” in the narrow sense) had lost their identity after the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. The exceptions were chiefly members of the tribe of Benjamin (Ezra 1:5; Phil 3:5), which had been linked with Judah since the division of the kingdom. “Jew” and “Jewish” should not be used in the generally accepted sense when speaking of the period before the Exile.
If we follow Biblical precedent, it is certainly correct to call them “Hebrews” from Abraham onwards (see Gen 14:13). The origin and scope of this name is very much debated among Old Testament scholars, but the Old Testament itself implies some connection with Eber, Abraham’s ancestor (Gen 10:21-31; 11:14-26). “Israel” was the new name given by God to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson (Gen 32:28; 43:6, etc), and so the descendants of Jacob are “Israelites” or, collectively, “Israel”. In Exo 3:18 and 5:1-3 “Hebrews” and “Israel” appear to be used as synonymous terms (though if “Hebrews” indicates the descendants of Eber, then Hebrews were, strictly speaking, a much wider group than the tribes of Israel). As already mentioned, “Israel” also has a secondary and more specific meaning in the Old Testament, since it can signify the northern tribes as distinct from Judah, especially after the division of the kingdom.
Origins of the Words “Jew” and “Judaism”
The word “Jew” (in Hebrew, “Yehudi”) is derived from the name Judah, which was the name of one of Jacob’s twelve sons.
Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. Originally, the term Yehudi referred specifically to members of the tribe of Judah, as distinguished from the other tribes of Israel. However, after the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel (I Kings 12; II Chronicles 10). After that time, the word Yehudi could properly be used to describe anyone from the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, as well as scattered settlements from other tribes. The most obvious biblical example of this usage is in Esther 2:5, where Mordecai is referred to as both a Yehudi and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
The word Judaism literally means “Judah-ism,” that is, the religion of the Yehudim. Other sources, however, say that the word “Yehudim” means “People of G-d,” because the first three letters of “Yehudah” are the same as the first three letters of G-d’s four-letter name.
Who is a Jew?
A Jew is any person whose father or mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.
It is important to note that being an observant Jew has everything to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents who has not undergone the formal process of conversion but who believes everything that Torah instructs and observes every law and custom of Judaism is a proselyte Jew. That person is rightfull candidate to conversion.
Proselytes have had a place in Judaism from early times. The Law of Moses or Torah made specific regulations regarding the admission into Israel’s community of such as were not born Israelites. The Kenites, the Gibeonites, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites were thus admitted to levels of Israelite privileges. Thus also we hear of individual proselytes who rose to positions of prominence in the Kingdom of Israel, as of Doeg the Edomite, Uriah the Hittite, Araunah the Jebusite, Zelek the Ammonite, Ithmah and Ebedmelech the Ethiopians. According to the Books of Chronicles, in the time of Solomon (c.971-931 BCE) there were 153,600 proselytes in the land of Israel and the prophets speak of the time as coming when the proselytes shall share in all the privileges of Israel. Accordingly, in Good News or (NT), we read of proselytes in the synagogues.
The name proselyte occurs in the Good News ( New Testament) only in Matthew and Acts. The name by which they are commonly designated is that of “devout men”, or men “fearing God”, or “worshipping God”, or “Godfearers”.
The twisted notion that in the eyes of the most liberal or ultra-orthodox movements of Judaism, a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, is very wrong. Read Inquisition books, Progroms and lately ask survivors if they were spared at the knowing of patrilineal Jewishness. In case you need in-depth enlightment about who is a jew when it comes about Israel, Jews or hebraic heritage. Read The holocaust Chronicle: a history in words and pictures . I also pay you to find someone that was spared from death or horrible fate during the Inquistion times because it was mixed, biracial or a half jew.
In this sense, those movements are treating Judaism like a club which is not. Conversion to Judaism is more like a nationality than like other religions, being Jewish is like a citizenship. In the Torah, you will see many references to “the strangers who dwell among you” or “righteous proselytes” or “righteous strangers.” These are various classifications of non-Jews who lived among Jews, adopting some or all of the beliefs and practices of Judaism without going through the formal process of conversion and becoming Jews. Once a person has converted to Judaism, he is not referred to by any special term; he is as much a Jew as anyone born Jewish.