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June 24, 2014 7:07 pm

Stephen Fry: ‘Being Jewish is Not a Matter of Religion’

avatar by Shiryn Solny

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Stephen Fry. Photo: Twitter.

Legendary British actor Stephen Fry asserted on Tuesday that Jewish identity can come irrespective of one’s religious beliefs.

His comments came in a Twitter conversation with follower Julian Storey who questioned why a gay person would identify with Judaism.

Storey wrote, “It puzzles me why any gay person would wish to follow a religion which disapproves of them?” Fry, who is gay and Jewish, responded, “Being Jewish is not a matter of religion: I’m a Jew, but don’t follow judaism.”

Earlier in the day Fry tweeted support for a new LGBT news and opinion site launched by the Jewish News, Britain’s largest Jewish newspaper.

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On Tuesday, the Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows actor also re-affirmed his boycott of the Dorchester Collection Luxury Hotels until anti-gay laws in the southeast Asian state of Brunei are repealed. The chain of iconic hotels is controlled by the Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah through an investment group.

Brueni recently adopted the Islamic Shariah penal code that calls for punishing adultery, abortions and homosexuality with flogging, stoning and other harsh penalties, The Algemeiner previously reported.

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  • Calmdownfolks

    What are you all getting so upset about? Fry’s family is Jewish on his mother’s side. He’s always known it, acknowledged it and lived with that part of his culture and been raised in that family. He also has family living in Israel. He is also gay. He is also an athiest. He also has serious reservations about Israel’s behaviour in the region, as many people do both non-Jewish and Jewish. That’s all fine. No one is just one thing.

  • Ethan Coane

    The list of talented, accomplished people, whom I never knew were Jewish, continues to lengthen.

    I’d love to get the title of a book that lists the names, contributions (in all fields of human endeavor), and accomplishments of Jews through the ages; even those, like Stephen Fry, who, while not religiously observant, identify with Jewish values and the Jewish experience. I’m sure many,Jew and non-Jew alike, might be surprised at some of the names on that list.

    • Bonnie from the U.S.

      Fascinating comment. I think there are MANY,MANY
      more people who are Jewish & don’t know it
      or like Fry, are discovering it later in life.

    • Jake Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal.

  • Homosexuality is looked upon by my Catholic Church with disdain! God gave each of us a choice and that choice will be Judged by the one God, whatever denomination that God is, and not here on Earth by Homophobes!

  • This chap Fry reproduces plain Nazi thinking, Jewishness is only hidden in the genes, it is purly biological.

    • Vittore

      That’s not what Fry said. He did not mention either biology or the genes.

      • James Kahn

        But he implied it with his comment that being Jewish is not a choice – just as on;s biology is inherited. Furthermore, he has admitted to being a Zionist, hence a racist, despite having some concerns about ;Israel’s behaviour’. Most of the world except some Western European nations and USA agree on this – may have something to do with control of their media and central banks.

    • Julian Clovelley

      It says a lot about the general lack of virulent antisemitism in Britain, and in my present home in Australia, that being very much a fan of Stephen Fry and having watched an enormous amount of his entertainment and his hosting of documentaries it actually never occurred to me that he is Jewish. Nor has anyone else ever mentioned it. I guess we have progressed here to the point where generally all we recognise is its irrelevance in judging a person.

      Stephen has courageously spoken out against religious hypocrisy, including in public debate. I have never felt that anything he has said publicly has been solely based on his openly admitted gay preference. Everything has been based within an intelligent and reasoned foundation in compassion and human rights. In one area his insight has been particularly helpful, that of depression, which I understand him to periodically suffer – He said:

      “If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” Noble words.

      The personal attacks in the comment column are unworthy and sometimes deliberately hurtful. If you get to read this Stephen, Mate, thank you for years of joy and laughter. Thank you above all for being yourself, revealing yourself, and for expressing yourself so often in terms of compassion and concern for other people, for not claiming personal or racial superiority, for stepping outside the boundaries of a limited national or religious upbringing to embrace the world as a caring and compassionate friend

      I appreciate especially such remarks as “If I had a large amount of money I should certainly found a hospital for those whose grip upon the world is so tenuous that they can be severely offended by words and phrases and yet remain all unoffended by the injustice, violence and oppression that howls daily about our ears.” I’d donate to such a hospital, believing as I do that so much that is bad in the world is really mental illness and trauma

      it is a pleasure to share the world with such as you.

  • pinchas baram

    why is this stupid article in algemeiner? are you competing with haaretz and jewish daily forward for obnoxious leftwing articles? who gives a damn about this fat slob of a gay british jew who says he doesn’t fellow judaism? i’m amazed you ran the article and also amazed that talkbackers didn’t condemn it- as I am doing right now. also, I do hope this talkback is not censored, as some of my previous talkbacks have been. if it is, this is he last time i’ll read algemeiner.

  • Alana

    I wonder how his opinion might change if he visited Israel?

  • Jacobite

    I read many valid points here, but religious people should be free to make choices without fear of retribution and non religious people should be free to make choices as well without fear of retribution, if we make poor choices than we ultimately will reap what we sow, it does not matter what race or gender.
    May sound unrealistic but intolerance and disrespect of individuals choices is the root cause of so much trouble and violence in the world today.

  • Otto Waldmann

    Let’s bring OUR Judaism into THIS Century.
    Being gay and Jewish are NOT incompatible terms at all.
    Frey’s problem, easily correctable, is that he has poor or no knowledge ( let alone practice as such ) of theoretical Judaism. His opinions of the BDS are regretable and one hopes that some persuasive friend can get access to his mind and enlighten him and, at the same time, part with a bit of some good ( accent on “good” ) ol’ Yidishkeit of the theoretical kind.

    • Mikael

      Oh piss off you apikoros

  • Milton Batalion

    He just sounds ignorant. Maybe if he spent time learning Jewish history he might change his opinion about Israel. Most left wing Jews know very little Jewish history before WWII. Pretty soon the Jewish Brits will be feeling the way the French Jews are now.

  • Jake

    He’s right, and according to his own beliefs his identification as a Jew is illogical. Being Jewish is a matter of self-identification, not religion per se (Judaism predates the modern concept of religion), or genetics. The Jewish people are a nation, previously lacking certain attributes of nationhood (eg. a homeland), but miraculously restoring itself as a full-fledged nation. Like any other nation, there are dissidents like Stephen Fry who reject their own national ethos, and while some would call them traitors, they are still members of the nation. What bothers me much more than his rejection of Jewish morality, is his rejection of Israel’s right to exist. For some Jewish leftists, rejecting Israel is a mere symptom of a wider belief in globalism being preferable to nationalism. But to call yourself a Jew, and reject Jewish nationalism while supporting Palestinian nationalism is backstabbing your own people, and in a sense illogical. How can claim membership of a nation, whose basic rights you reject?

    • Shamgar

      Well said

    • Lynne T

      Moreover, he’s a gay Jew who advocates BDS against Israel. His gesture vis a vis a hotel chain that is owned by an Arab ruler whose nation punishes homosexuals in accordance with Sharia is really a lame, selective one, given the raft of human rights abuses in virtually all of the countries that are the most strident advocates of Israel’s annihilation.

      • Vittore

        Check your geography. The ruler of Brunei is not an Arab by any stretch of imagination. Brunei is not even located in the Middle East.

    • Julian Clovelley

      Addressing Jake’s post. To a non-Jew the Jewish identification problem is relatively simple. To an insider it is more complex because it is emotionally charged and wrapped up in nineteenth century ideas of nationhood and ethnicity, tempered by the effects of outrageous persecution, and a desperately sensed need to physically escape.

      It is hardly however a matter of “self identification” in that a person’s “Jewishness” is more a matter of community acceptance of heritage, or in rare cases conversion – the latter being totally rejected by the modern, more orthodox, groupings. You cannot choose to be “Jewish” – but you can indeed choose not to be.

      To an outsider the religious claim to Jewish ancestry is more easily accepted as being stronger than the genetic claim, once again because of the absence to the outsider of the emotional baggage that the religion carries with it. However it is a simple matter of provable fact that vast numbers of people who would not count themselves as Jewish, in fact have partial Jewish ancestry. In my wife’s case there are Jewish ancestors on both sides of her parental families, and in fact as a family we are a classic case where practicing Jews exist as relatives.

      The real denial in all this is on the Jewish side. It lies in the denial of the extent of ancient and modern import into the religion of converts, most probably wives rather than husbands. The maternal line has been broken again and again – but the religion maintains the claim that somewhere within it lies an unbroken chain, and this unbroken chain is the core, the majority. It is a religious belief however rather than a scientific reality. But it takes a great deal of courage to grasp that truth.

      Whilst this has been questioned by historians in the past it is even more questioned by Jewish historians today, as the Zionist stream of Jewish thinking seeks to create a Jewish nation, which uses the Bible as its history book, and the supposed universal exile in Roman times as a “historical” explanation.

      Let me make a suggestion to you, Jake, that might fill you with anger or horror – but does it not seem quite likely that amongst the population you refer to as Palestinian or Arab are vast numbers of people who could claim a similar genetic heritage to yourself, perhaps even a closer one to the Jews of the time of the Emperor Augustus than yours? For rather than immigrants, many are likely to be largely the descendants of those who did not leave the region at the time of the disputed universal exile. They are the descendants of people of the region who converted to Islam, following the rise of Islam in areas conquered by the Arabs in their great imperialist expansion. This I might add is again part of an internal Jewish debate. But it seems highly likely those who reamained, over centuries adapted with similar assimilation and inter-marriage to those groups that left

      As an outsider I feel the problem is one of of mistaken congruence, Zionism is not congruent with Judaism, and neither is necessarily congruent with the term Jewish. Israel as a multicultural pluralistic state is one that is based on sensible post war partition of a violent region. I fear that as a Jewish State it contains within it a likely religious fallacy that in time will prove unsustainable, and bring it crashing down.

      In fact all I am saying is that the Biblical belief that the people of the Middle East are genetically linked through the Patriarch Abraham is likely in fact to be true in a far more recent sense. No one select religious stream has a claim to the d-vine inheritance that is the core of Zionist nationalism. Religion, myth, and perceived history have become irretrievably intertwined with fantasy of origin, reinforced by appalling persecution of individual religious groups. We are really all one in the end – intermingled in our blood and ancestry, with many of our number clinging to archaic beliefs and nationalist fables created to serve purposes long after the events they fictionalised.

      Some of us step out of that ethos. I have done so with Christianity, and it seems Stephen Fry has with Judaism. That leaves both of us perhaps viewing the events of the Middle East with a horror and despair based on the genetic reality that you are on both sides actually doing it to yourselves. Just as in the European wars – when you take away nationalist myths – the people there were at war with themselves. In terms of origin we are all one intermixed human group that probably finds its true origin in Africa.

      I recently traced my own family back to 1564, and North European migrants to England. That was far enough to establish the truth that my relatives fought on both sides in the Napoleonic Wars, the Franco Prussian War, the Great War, and Second World War, and even on both sides in the Boer War

      So when I sense your despair in confronting the likely reality that Israelis have family relatives on the other side of the security wall – I rather know how you feel.

      Silly isn’t it all? We really are all one. Peace sometimes requires turning your back on historical fantasy and recognising that the pain we see others suffering is also our own, and that co-existence problems are readily solvable when we look forward instead of backwards

      That is why it is customary with a train to put the locomotive at the front. It makes far more sense to look where you are going than meditate on where you vaguely – and often incorrectly – sense having been. Emotion and nostalgia are backward looking. It is reason and intellect that select and guide your future path. Religion or no religion

  • Biodegradable

    One has to wonder why he so proudly declares himself to be a gay Jew while at the same time joining with the whole BDS “Pro-Palestinian” movement. Just google some of his remarks regarding Israel.

    • Hear, hear to Biodegradeable. Stephen Fry is not “legendary” except in his own mind. He ought to cosy up to the Palestinians and see what they think of him. I know of another “personality” who preferred Arabs to Jews and she got a slap in the face from them, so it has taught her a lesson.

      • Russ

        Ms Bacon: Just curious. Are you at liberty to ID the “personality” to whom you referred in your post? I don’t know who it was, but I know who I wish it was 🙂 Perhaps, you will be willing to shed some light ?
        Thanks.

  • It is simple. Every Muslim wants him dead because he is a Jew. Case closed. Muslims love killing Jews because Muhammad loved killing Jews.

    • Noellsq

      It does not matter if he is a Jew or Gay he is not a follower of Allah. He has to be killed just like me being an American. When people realize that the only way to stop this shit in the middle east is to act like animals and kill all the animals or cut their balls off.

      • Mikael

        Except they have laws based on the Torah, so while you descend to the level of animals (which you in the West have pretty much done so already), they will have a sound system based upon the Jewish Torah to fall back on.

        Yes, the Jewish Torah you anti semites and apostates.

        Prepare to get served

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