Alarming News

January 31, 2006

Random question

Why does the question ‘are you a Jew?’ bug me so much more than ‘are you Jewish?’

Posted by Karol at 05:48 AM |
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“Why does the question ‘are you a Jew?’ bug me so much more than ‘are you Jewish?’”
Now THIS is a fascinating question. I think you have to take a clue from the historical use of “Jew” as a pejorative. Think of an obscene adjective or gerund, as in G*ddamned or f*cking, before the word “Jew” and the viscera already quivers. I believe over time that the use of pejoratives before “Jew” psychologically turned the very name of the race into a curse. You can’t ask the question “are you a Jew?” without having people associate the word with the negative terms that reflexively have preceded it for centuries.
“Are you Jewish?” asks the same identity question without the baggage that comes with the noun.
As a non-Jew I would never dream of asking the question using the noun because of the historical curse associations. “Jewish” is safer and less likely to insult.
Sad but true. As a Mick myself I have always appreciated Thomas Cahill’s book series about the different peoples who created Western values and civilization. He started with the Irish as preservers, but the second title, “The Gifts of the Jews,” correctly points out that “Jews essentially invented Western civilization and shaped Western consciousness today, as they were the first in human history to claim individual freedom, and to presume they could make the future better than the past.” See

Posted by: Redhand at January 31, 2006 at 8:13 am

Yeah, people keep asking me if I’m Irish. Sometimes when I’m not even at a pub.

Posted by: ccs178 (Chris) at January 31, 2006 at 9:15 am

There’s a really funny “Are you a Jew” moment in the new Albert Brooks movie “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.”
Incidentally, he never finds it.

Posted by: Dorian Davis at January 31, 2006 at 9:24 am

Adjectives desribe you; nouns serve as substitutes for who you are.
It’s not just “Jew/Jewish” either. Note the subtly different connotations between:
* “I was sitting next to a Black man on the subway today”
* “I was sitting next to a Black on the subway today”

Posted by: Joe Grossberg at January 31, 2006 at 9:42 am

A couple of theories:
1) People would rather be described using adjectives than nouns, because using a noun subconsciously limits your whole being to one feature: Jew.
2) The -ish makes “Jewish” more abstract, fluffy, and cute than “Jew.” When are you eating lunch? One-ish. What’s your religion? Kinda Jew-ish.
3) You people over-analyze things too much. :) Bloggerish people, I mean.

Posted by: Jay at January 31, 2006 at 9:47 am

Damn you Grossberg, for sneaking in the real point while I was busy constructing comedy…
Grossberg… you’re a Jew, right?
I guess it’s not the same when the adjective and the noun are the same… I’m a Catholic Catholic.

Posted by: Jay at January 31, 2006 at 9:49 am

The above makes sense.
In the specific context though the term Jew is not usually meant as a compliment.

Posted by: Nick at January 31, 2006 at 9:50 am

Why does being asked if you are jewish bug you at all?

Posted by: ll at January 31, 2006 at 9:53 am

I typically refer to the Jewish people as jews or a jew. Of course I was raised in the bible belt and also belive that they are god’s choosen people and should do some righteous but kicking in their hometown.
The person you were talked to could either be a racist or read the bible a lot (which remember jews wrote most of it and still use a lot of it.)

Posted by: cube at January 31, 2006 at 10:17 am

“Grossberg… you’re a Jew, right?”
Yes, though a doctor, and not a mohel, did the honors.

Posted by: Joe Grossberg at January 31, 2006 at 11:36 am

ll, being asked if I’m Jewish doesn’t bother me at all. Being asked if I’m a Jew totally rubs me the wrong way.

Posted by: Karol at January 31, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Well, not only do I not have any problem with being asked bout my “Jew” but I also want to add…… With hands raised high in the air, at the top of my lungs :I’m a Jew.
Even reg a domain just to have it.
Are you a Big Jew?

Posted by: MDism at January 31, 2006 at 6:22 pm

Sorry, but this totally reminds me of that scene in the South Park Movie:
Cartman: Kyle, all those times I yelled at you and called you a dirty Jew–I didn’t mean it. You’re not a Jew.
Kyle: Yes, I AM, Cartman.
Cartman: No, really, I’m sorry.
Kyle: No, Cartman, I AM a JEW!
Cartman: Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Posted by: Jay at January 31, 2006 at 8:59 pm

I think it bothers you because your hyper-sensitive. The question doesn’t bother me.

Posted by: danTHEdemocrat at February 1, 2006 at 10:41 am
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