Quite often in today’s world, words that have a specific meaning are generalized so that the word is used to mean something that is far less specific. This is the case with the word “Jew”. This word is commonly used incorrectly
Most often, the word Jew is now used to reference either Israelites in general or people who follow the Jewish faith or Christianity. Did you know that this isn’t what the word really means?
To understand the meaning, it should be understood that there were two kingdoms of Hebrews. Israel was in the north and Judah was in the south. We commonly think of ‘the children of Israel’ as including both, but the two kingdoms were once separate.
Judah is named after Jacob’s son, Judah. “Jew” is actually a shortened version of “Men of Judah”. These were the people who were directly related to the man, Judah. The people who lived in that kingdom were mostly from three of the tribes of Israel; Judah, Levi, and Benjamin. Still, a Jew is a direct descendant of the tribe of Judah, and thus, of Judah himself.
“Israel”, which has many meanings, is used to refer to all the descendants of Jacob. This would include those descended from Jacob’s son, Judah. This means that Israel includes the Jews.
This is the point of confusion. From this meaning, all Jews are Israelites or children of Israel. However, not all Israelites are Jews. They can be descended from one of the other tribes of Israel. This is the same concept as saying, “All squares are rectangles, but a rectangle isn’t necessarily a square.”
What it comes down to is this; although we often lump Christians and Jews together to refer to people of certain faiths, regardless of their ancestry, a Jew is really a person who is genetically linked to Judah, son of Jacob. The word that comes closest in meaning to how the word “Jew” is used today would be “Hebrew”.
Knowing all of this isn’t likely to change anyone’s use of the word, but it can be greatly helpful in having a clearer understanding of what a Jew really is.