Judaism: Religion or Race?
Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal
Today, to trace anyone's descent to ancient Palestine would be a genealogical impossibility; and to presume, axiomatically, such a descent for Jews, alone among all human groups, is an assumption of purely fictional significance. Most everybody in the Western world could stake out some claim of Palestinian descent if genealogical records could be established for two-thousand years. And there are, indeed, people who, though not by the widest stretch of imagination Jewish, proudly make that very claim: some of the oldest of the South's aristocratic families play a game of comparing whose lineage goes farther back into 'Israel'. No one knows what happened to the Ten Lost Tribes of 'Israel', but to speculate on who might be who is a favored Anglo-Saxon pastime, and Queen Victoria belonged to an 'Israelite' Society that traced the ancestry of its membership back to those lost tribes.
Twelve tribes started in Canaan about thirty-five centuries ago; and not only had that ten of them disappeared - more than half of the members of the remaining two tribes never returned from their "exile" in Babylon. How then, can anybody claim to descend directly from that relatively small community which inhabited the Holy Land at the time of Abraham's Covenant with God?
The Jewish racial myth flows from the fact that the words Hebrew, 'Israelite', Jew, Judaism, and the Jewish people have been used synonymously to suggest a historic continuity. But this is a misuse. These words refer to different groups of people with varying ways of life in different periods in history. Hebrew is a term correctly applied to the period from the beginning of Biblical history to the settling in Canaan. 'Israelite' refers correctly to the members of the twelve tribes of 'Israel'. The name Yehudi or Jew is used in the Old Testament to designate members of the tribe of Judah, descendants of the fourth son of Jacob, as well as to denote citizens of the Kingdom of Judah, particularly at the time of Jeremiah and under the Persian occupation. Centuries later, the same word came to be applied to anyone, no matter of what origin, whose religion was Judaism.
The descriptive name Judaism was never heard by the Hebrews or 'Israelites'; it appears only with Christianity. Flavius Josephus was one of the first to use the name in his recital of the war with the Romans to connote a totality of beliefs, moral commandments, religious practices and ceremonial institutions of Galilee which he believed superior to rival Hellenism. When the word Judaism was born, there was no longer a Hebrew-'Israelite' state. The people who embraced the creed of Judaism were already mixed of many races and strains; and this diversification was rapidly growing...
Perhaps the most significant mass conversion to the Judaic faith occurred in Europe, in the 8th century A.D., and that story of the Khazars (Turko-Finnish people) is quite pertinent to the establishment of the modern State of 'Israel'. This partly nomadic people, probably related to the Volga Bulgars, first appeared in Trans-Caucasian in the second century. They settled in what is now Southern Russia, between the Volga and the Don, and then spread to the shores of the Black, Caspian and Azov seas. The Kingdom of Khazaria, ruled by a khagan or khakan fell to Attila the Hun in 448, and to the Muslims in 737. In between, the Khazars ruled over part of the Bulgarians, conquered the Crimea, and stretched their kingdom over the Caucasus farther to the northwest to include Kiev, and eastwards to Derbend. Annual tributes were levied on the Russian Slavonians of Kiev. The city of Kiev was probably built by the Khazars. There were Jews in the city and the surrounding area before the Russian Empire was founded by the Varangians whom the Scandinavian warriors sometimes called the Russ or Ross (circa 855-863).
The influence of the Khazars extended into what is now Hungary and Roumania. Today, the villages of Kozarvar and Kozard in Transylvania bear testimony to the penetration of the Khazars who, with the Magyars, then proceeded into present-day Hungary. The size and power of the Kingdom of Khazaria is indicated by the act that it sent an army of 40,000 soldiers (in 626-627) to help Heraclius of the Byzantines to conquer the Persians. The Jewish Encyclopedia proudly refers to Khazaria as having had a "well constituted and tolerant government, a flourishing trade and a well disciplined army."
Jews who had been banished from Constantinople by the Byzantine ruler, Leo III, found a home amongst these heretofore pagan Khazars and, in competition with Mohammedan and Christian missionaries, won them over to the Judaic faith. Bulan, the ruler of Khazaria, became converted to Judaism around 740 A.D. His nobles and, somewhat later, his people followed suit. Some details of these events are contained in letters exchanged between Khagan Joseph of Khazaria and R. Hasdai Ibn Shaprut of Cordova, doctor and quasi foreign minister to Sultan Abd al-Rahman, the Caliph of Spain. This correspondence (around 936-950) was first published in 1577 to prove that the Jews still had a country of their own - namely, the Kingdom of Khazaria. Judah Halevi knew of the letters even in 1140. Their authenticity has since been established beyond doubt.
According to these Hasdai-Joseph letters, Khagan Bulan decided one day: "Paganism is useless. It is shameful for us to be pagans. Let us adopt one of the heavenly religions, Christianity, Judaism or Islam." And Bulan summoned three priests representing the three religions and had them dispute their creeds before him. But, no priest could convince the others, or the sovereign, that his religion was the best. So the ruler spoke to each of them separately. He asked the Christian priest: "If you were not a Christian or had to give up Christianity, which would you prefer - Islam or Judaism?" The priest said: "If I were to give up Christianity, I would become a Jew." Bulan then asked the follower of Islam the same question, and the Moslem also chose Judaism. This is how Bulan came to choose Judaism for himself and the people of Khazaria in the seventh century A.D., and thereafter the Khazars (sometimes spelled Chazars and Khozars) lived according to Judaic laws.
Under the rule of Obadiah, Judaism gained further strength in Khazaria. Synagogues and schools were built to give instruction in the Bible and the Talmud. As Professor Graetz notes in his History of the Jews, "A successor of Bulan who bore the Hebrew name of Obadiah was the first to make serious efforts to further the Jewish religion. He invited Jewish sages to settle in his dominions, rewarded them royally... and introduced a divine service modeled on the ancient communities. After Obadiah came a long series of Jewish Chagans (Khagans), for according to a fundamental law of the state only Jewish rulers were permitted to ascend the throne." Khazar traders brought not only silks and carpets of Persia and the Near East but also their Judaic faith to the banks of the Vistula and the Volga. But the Kingdom of Khazaria was invaded by the Russians, and Itil, its great capital, fell to Sweatoslav of Kiev in 969. The Byzantines had become afraid and envious of the Khazars and, in a joint expedition with the Russians,conquered the Crimean portion of Khazaria in 1016. (Crimea was known as "Chazaria" until the 13th century). The Khazarian Jews were scatteredthroughout what is now Russia and Eastern Europe. Some were taken north where they joined the established Jewish community of Kiev.
Others returned to the Caucasus. Many Khazars remarried in the Crimea and inHungary. The Cagh Chafut, or "mountain Jews," in the Caucasus and the Hebraile Jews of Georgia are their descendants. These "Ashkenazim Jews" (as Jews of Eastern Europe are called), whose numbers were swelled by Jews who fled from Germany at the time of the Crusades and during the Black Death, have little or no trace of Semitic blood.
That the Khazars are the lineal ancestors of Eastern European Jewry is a historical fact. Jewish historians and religious text books acknowledge the fact, though the propagandists of Jewish nationalism belittle it as pro-Arab propaganda. Somewhat ironically, Volume IV of the Jewish Encyclopedia - because this publication spells Khazars with a "C" instead of a "K" - is titled "Chazars to Dreyfus": and it was the Dreyfus trial, as interpreted by Theodor Herzl that made the modern Jewish Khazars of Russia forget their descent from converts to Judaism and accept anti-Semitism as proof of their Palestinian origin.
For all that anthropologists know, Hitler's ancestry might go back to one of the ten Lost Tribes of 'Israel'; while Weizmann may be a descendant of the Khazars, the converts to Judaism who were in no anthropological respect related to Palestine. The home to which Weizmann, Silver and so many other Ashkenazim Zionists have yearned to return has most likely never been theirs. "Here's a paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox": in anthropological fact, many Christians may have much more Hebrew-'Israelite' blood in their veins than most of their Jewish neighbors.
Race can play funny tricks on people who make that concept the basis for their likes and dislikes. Race-obsessed people can find themselves hating people who, in fact, may be their own racial kith and kin.
Dr. Alfred M. Lilienthal, historian, journalist and lecturer, is a graduate of Cornell University and Columbia Law School. During the Second World War, he served with the US Army in the Middle East. He later served with the Department of State and as a consultant to the American delegation at the organising meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco.
Since 1947, he has been at the forefront in the struggle for a balanced US policy in the Middle East. He is the author of several acclaimed books on the Middle East, including The Zionist Connection. He now lives in Washington, DC.
On December 18, 1993 Dr. Lilienthal celebrated both his 80th birthday and the 40th anniversary of his first book, What Price 'Israel'? Dr Lilienthal, who is a courageous anti-Zionist Jew, was joined by more than 200 guests who travelled from all over the United States to attend. The following excerpt is taken from this first book, What Price 'Israel'?