What/who is a Jew?

This is, of course, a very sensitive and arguable question,
which the various branches of Judaism, especially the varying shades of Orthodox and Reform Judaism, in both the United States and Israel,
have debated heatedly, without coming to any consensus.
I merely want to reproduce a letter from a Jewish leader
which seems to present a balanced view of the alternatives:

Yes, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is fair game
by Paul L. Scham
Washington Post Letter to the Editor, published 2012-06-06

In a June 3 Outlook commentary, “When is Mormonism fair game?,”
a spokeswoman for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign was quoted as writing that
ews reports referring to Romney’s faith should be tested by
substituting “Jew” or “Jewish” where “Mormon” is used.
The comparison is absurd.

In addition to being a religion,
Judaism is an ethnicity
and is often considered a nationality.
Mormonism is solely a religion,
one in which, unlike Judaism, belief is paramount;
secular Mormons, if they exist, are few and far between.

On the other hand, Jewish belief is all over the map. For example, there are dyed-in-the-wool atheists who regard themselves as Jews and are so regarded by others and by halachah (Jewish religious law). Moreover, most anti-Semitism in the past 150 years has been based on attacking Jews as a people and as a so-called “race,” not for their religious beliefs or practices.

Any discussion of religion, especially in a political context, is likely to be fraught with tension and can go beyond appropriate lines, such as when Bill Maher referred to Mormonism as a cult. However, religious belief is a legitimate and essential topic for discussion and debate.

Paul L. Scham, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland.