HEBREWS: ISRAELITES: JEWS
"What's the difference between Hebrews, Israelites, Jews?" has often been asked. There must be a difference, but what it is, is hard to say, as the answers given by persons who call themselves "Jews", rabbis included, are as far from exactness as was the little girl who, when asked, "What is salt?" replied---"It's the stuff that makes potatoes taste bad when you don't put any of it on them."
It was while studying things Catholic, in relation to things Jewish, that we found Judaism to be terminologically confusion confounded. We found no agreement whatsoever among persons calling themselves "Jews" as to the distinction between these terms, hence they are used interchangeably.
This matter is discussed continually in the Jewish press, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, formerly president of the Zionists Organization of America, says that the term is indefinable ("From Pharaoh To Hitler"). Israel Zangwill, one of Jewry's most famous literateurs declared that "A Jew can be an Atheist, or Christian, and still be a Jew." Ludwig Lewisohn, professor of literature in the Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., says that "The Jew need believe nothing to be a Jew," holding the claim that Jews are a religious community to be "a dangerous fallacy." The 1938-39 "Who's Who In American Jewry" lists 54 persons of Jewish parentage as "Jews," even though they professed other than the Mosaic religion.
Fifteen of them are Protestant ministers and two are Catholic priests. Trotsky, Kaganovitch, Livonov, and other Communists are listed as "Jews." Arthur Koestler, author of "Thieves in The Night," said in the New York Times: "I am in favor of Jews becoming assimilated with and absorbed by the countries in which they live. I think it is high time to liquidate the anachronism of a separate community all over the world, WHICH CANNOT BE DEFINED AS A SEPARATE RACE OR NATION OF RELIGIOUS SECT, and whose insistence on remaining apart has led to an unprecedented chain of massacres, persecutions and expulsions" (Sept. 1, 1946).
Father Arthur Day, S.J., who did considerable work among the Jews of London, England, suggested that a believer in the Mosaic Law be called a "Mosaist," so as to avoid confusion expressed by Israel Zangwill. While the term Mosaist would help to overcome the terminological confusion in Jewry, if it were adopted; while it would safeguard believers in the Mosaic Law from bearing the odium of persons called "Jews" who are atheists, Communists, etc. It is not our privilege to make terms for the other fellow. "Jews" must define terms for "Jews;" Catholics, and Catholics alone, may rightly define Catholic terms. Much of the misunderstanding regarding things Catholic is due to non-Catholics using Catholic terms in a manner that is not Catholic.
Exactitude, as well as moral certitude, is a distinctive Catholic Church characteristic. Her theological terms and dogmatic definitions are as clear-cut and structural as are the principles that govern the multiplication table. This terminological exactitude, necessary for theological clarity, soundness and unity, is entirely lacking in present-day Jewry. Knowing of the lack of agreement in Jewry as to the distinctive meaning of the terms Hebrews, Israelites, Jews, it was not a surprise to hear the late Rabbi Isaac Landman, editor of the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, smilingly say: "There is only one thing that two Jews can agree upon; that is how much the third Jew should give for charity."