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The ESP of the
Jewish Way of Life

Roll your mouse over each circle to find the questions. 
Ethics Spirituality Peoplehood
Click on circles for more about Jewish ESP!


The ESP of the Jewish Way of Life

Dear BeingJewish.org visitor:

Many have told me that the 3 ESP circles helped them understand Judaism so much better.  Here's a short explanation, based on a question someone once email to me plus an amazing real life example:


Dear Gil:

I have a very simple question, is Judaism a religion or a race?  I know it may be a dumb question but I have asked a few Jews I know and they all give me different answers.  I am not Jewish I'm African American, but my great-grandfather is supposedly Jewish.  I just want to know if it is possible to have "Jew" in you, like it's possible to have Italian or Indian.             

Thank you,           


Hi L:           

Your question is not dumb at all!  A lot of people including many Jewish people have a hard time answering as you have already discovered.  There is much to say on this subject of WHAT IS JUDAISM ANYWAY?  In fact, it is one of the first chapters of my book.  But here, I will try to give you a brief answer:

Here is my answer: Judaism is much more than a religion and is NOT a race.  I define Judaism as: A way of life. 

The Jewish way of life consist of 3 things that I call E.S.P.  E stands for Ethics, S stands for Spirituality and P stands for Peoplehood.  I draw them like overlapping Olympic rings as you can see in this graphic.

The ESP of
Jewish Way of Life

In Judaism, each of these circles is considered sacred.  The interesting (and confusing thing for many) is that a Jew can live in any one of these circles and never enter the other circles.  Plus you can enter the other 2 circles from any one circle.  In addition, the circles overlap so you can simultaneously live Jewishly in 2 or all 3 circles. 

This can be a confusing, but really it is kind of simple.  For example, when I say that Judaism is much more than a religion, I mean that even if you do not believe in God you're not disqualified from being a Jew.  For example, Hitler sure did not define Jews by their Spirituality!  He cared about Peoplehood.  In addition, Jews are supposed to behave Ethically whether they enter the Spirituality circle -- that is, whether they believe in God or not!   

Here I want to say a word about the Peoplehood circle: according to Jewish law, to be considered Jewish by birth at least one of your parents must be Jewish.  (Many Jews say you must be born from a Jewish mother -- but I won't get into that here.)  

HOWEVER!  Judaism is NOT a race -- though our enemies love to call us a race.  Any person of any race is welcome to convert to Judaism...if Judaism were a race, you could not convert to become a Jew.  Nobody can convert to become another race -- but anyone can convert to become Jewish.  There are Jews of all races and colors -- for proof, just look at a city street in Israel.  I want to make an important point here: Many people (including Jews) think the emphasis on Jews marrying other Jews is repulsive racist thinking.  I would be repulsed too...if Judaism were a race...but it is not.  Again, Judaism is a way of life.

The ESP of the Jewish "way of life" is all encompassing.  There is no aspect of life that is not included in either Ethics, Spirituality, Peoplehood or all three.  There is much more that can be said about the ESP circles of Judaism...in fact, you could write a whole book on the subject.  I did!  Hope this brief summary helps!


An Amazing and True Story!

To reiterate, the reason I think so many people have a difficult time defining Judaism is because a Jew can live Jewishly in any one of the three circles and never touch the other circles.  Plus a Jew can move from circle to circle during their life -- or even during a day.  At any given moment, a Jew can live in one circle or another or live in a place where the circles overlap.

Here is a story that illustrates what I mean.  I was giving a presentation about Jewish Spirituality near Norfolk Virginia, home of the largest US naval base in the world.  A fellow raised his hand and said, "I'd like to share an example of how Jewish Peoplehood and Spirituality happened to me in a most powerful way."

He explained that he was an Army combat helicopter pilot for 12 years and he fought in Operation Desert Storm -- the Persian Gulf War of 1991.  While he was in Saudi Arabia, he was prohibited by military order from outwardly showing that he was Jewish.  That meant, he could not wear a Star of David, a mezuzah or a Chai pendant.  He was even advised to remove the word Jewish from his dog tags!

The reason?  To protect the Jewish soldiers should they be captured by the Iraqis and also because the Saudis were sensitive that non-Muslim soldiers were on Saudi soil defending the holiest sites in Islam: Mecca and Medina.

December rolled around and this soldier received an envelope marked TOP SECRET!  The big secret?  There was going to be a Chanukah party!  The Jewish soldiers in his division and the neighboring division were invited.  He described how he gathered in the middle of the Saudi desert about 300 kilometers from anywhere with about a dozen other Jewish soldiers to celebrate Chanukah.  Then he hastened to add "I'm not an observant Jew, I'm not a religious guy, I'm not even sure I could  say the blessings over the candles.  But when a Jewish chaplain arrived after driving across an empty desert to be with us, lit the menorah candles with us, said the blessing and then served us potato latkes and gefilte fish, it was one of the most powerful spiritual Jewish experience of my life...in part because I was there in Saudi Arabia with my fellow Jews."

This is a dramatic example of how Jewish Peoplehood and Spirituality can overlap and happen simultaneously.  In my experience, most Jews live most of the time very aware of the Peoplehood circle... a feeling that there are differences between them and their non-Jewish neighbors and that they share things in common with other Jews.  Even the most non-practicing, disconnected Jew feels the Peoplehood circle if an anti-Semite gets on the media and attacks Jews.  The response from them or almost any Jews is "Hey!  You are talking about me and my people and I don't like what you are saying!"  Awareness of, feeling or accessing the other two circles, Spirituality and Ethics is not as obvious for most Jews.

Regardless of where on the diagram Jews find themselves living, the ultimate goal of Judaism would be for all three of these circles to overlap one on top of each other all of the time.  When they do, a Jew feels a connection to the Jewish Ethics, Jewish Spirituality and Jewish Peoplehood at the same time. 

I hope through this website we can show you relevant ways to access each of the ESP circles and where they overlap, so that in your modern life, you can more fully enjoy the wisdom and beauty of Being Jewish!

Please feel free to email me with your comments.


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