Monday, February 8, 2010

Is "Jew!" an expletive? an insult!

In English, it is a short word that can be spat out at one: Jew! Likewise in French: Juif! In Russian: Zhid! In German "Jud!" In Spanish, the impossible to spit out "Judio!" the Italian equally un-spit-out-able "Giudeo" And, of course, the Arabic yahood! The last-named definitely not a term of endearment.

In any language, it can be used to modify a noun such as -bastard or -boy.

It can be an equivalent of the forbidden n----- word, although that word when used among themselves, and even used when addressing a Caucasian, can be nothing worse than the equivalent of "man" or "human being."

But back to the word "Jew" or "Jew!"

Its origin was of course "Yehuda," the name (in Hebrew) of one of the twelve sons of Jacob. In English this was translated into "Judah."

"Yehuda" pronounced fast--swallowing the "e" ends up as Yudah and is easily transformed into the German Jude or Jud (the "J" in German is pronounced as is the English "Y."

The Romans called the area apportioned to Yehuda's descendents, the tribe of Yehuda or Judah (the remnant Southern part of the divided Israel-Judah kingdoms) as "Judea." As a matter of fact, all of the area inhabited by the descendants of the ancient Hebrews and the "Children of Israel" was the Roman province of Judea.

So, if you like a Romanized name, you could call yourself a "Judean." As the Romans were far from friends to the inhabitants of Judea, that appellation does not sit well with us. The Spanish "Judeo" (khudeo) derived thus from the Latin.

"I am a Judean." may sound better--more patrician--to the Anglicized ear than "I am a Jew," but it is not only pretentious but also Romanized and abhorrent to the memory of those valiant Jews who died or suffered in the revolts against the Roman occupiers.

Referred to as Yehudim, those whose ancestry hailed from Roman Judea from whence they were exiled by the Romans, ended up as "Juden" in German. In the singular the German"Jude" or "Jud" (German "J" is pronounced as English "Y"). If "Jud" is pronounced by an English speaker, the transformation to "Jew" is apparent.

In German-origin Yiddish, the descendants of the inhabitants of Yehuda referred to themselves as Yid--singular (plural Yidden)--hence the Russian Zhid.

The question posed still remains: is being called "Jew" an insult or the proper name for Jewish ethnicity?

This question is the subject of What does it mean to say 'Jew'?

By Cara Hogan Advocate Staff


What do you think of when someone says "Jew"?

Does it echo of anti-Semitic epithets or conjure a sense of pride associated, say, with the state of Israel?

The National Endowment of the Humanities has awarded a $50,400 grant to [Cynthia Baker] a professor at Bates College in Maine to research the word - from its first appearance thousands of years ago through its usage today.


[Professor Baker] said ancient Jews did not seem to adopt the term. "In the Talmudic literature, the rabbis almost never refer to Jews," said Baker. "We have thousands of pages of manuscripts of these people who we would call Jews, and they never use the word."


She said that during a fiveweek research program in what had been the Jewish ghetto in Venice, she was struck by the words for Jew in Italian, either ebreo or giudeo. That got her thinking how in English, three words - each with a different connotation - apply to Jews.

"Why Hebrew, why Israelite, why Jew?" said Baker. "Who gets to decide in what context and circumstances lead to the different choices of terms from different periods?"

She observed that, while in the past gentiles have used the word Jew in a pejorative fashion, Jewish people today are claiming the word with pride.

"In early Zionist usage, sometimes Jew was a term of pride," said Baker. "But there was a dichotomy between the muscular Hebrew and the effete, neurotic anti-Semitic character of the Jew. It was the Hebrew in his land with his muscles and his gun that was going to finally vanquish that Jew of the anti-Semitic stereotype."
More there, read the whole thing at

Would you rather be called "a Hebrew?"

From The Jewish Daily Forward:

Hebrew vs. Jewish

By Philologos

Not only, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, was "Hebrew" vigorously promoted as a substitute for "Jew" in a number of countries, but in some of them it actually carried the day, as well. This was the case in Russia and Italy, where yevrei and ebreo became the standard words for "Jew." The same thing wasn’t that far from happening in English, either. One only has to think of such American Jewish institutions as Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Hebrew Free Loan Society, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and so on to be reminded of how many Jews 100 years ago preferred being called "Hebrews" by Christian America.

Strictly speaking, the distinction these Jews wished to make was different from Horwitz’s. "Hebrew" vs. "Jew" seemed to them a question not of a religious vs. a secular identity but of a genteel and respectable nativeness vs. a scruffily suspicious foreignness. A "Hebrew" was for them an American Jew who spoke or aspired to speak a proper English, to adopt American ways and to be outwardly no different from his Christian neighbors; since these neighbors went to church Sunday, there was nothing "un-Hebrew" about going to synagogue Saturday. The same held true of such countries as Russia and Italy. A yevrei or ebreo was a Russian or Italian in good standing, fully accepted in liberal Russian or Italian society; a zhid or a giudeo was a looked down-upon outsider. And yet inasmuch as the Hebrew, yevrei or ebreo was definitely a non-Orthodox Jew who did not make too much of his religion, there was a decided element of "secularity" in the term, after all.

Want to be called a "Hebrew" instead of a "Jew?"

Think that then they can't call you a "dirty" or a "f---ing" Jew? How about when they shorten the aristocratic Hebrew into "Hebe?" Easy to modify with the derogatory adjectives.

See? Makes no difference. Call me what you will--Jew or Hebrew (fogeddabout "Hebe"), but you f--k with me and you might be looking at (or feeling ) your newly torn other a---ole.

(The foregoing last phrase applies to antisemites.)
END NOTES FOR "JEW" and "Hebrew"


Originally from Yehuda (Judah), which in Latin became Iudea (Judea). In Hebrew, a person from Yehuda was a Yehudi, which today is the Hebrew word for a Jewish person.The Latin Iudea was altered in the languages of Europe. In France, it is Juif, in Germany, Jud, in English, Jew.
Y becomes J in Germanic languages as old English is basically a German dialect y i and J were interchangable then the frankified Normans invaded and brought the zh sound for J from French which became the English J.
It's from "Yehudi" = Hebrew. Yehudi->Jehudi->Judean->Jew.Meaning, from the tribe of Judah, son of Jacob.

From Hebrew vs. Jewish

By Philologos
ivri, "Hebrew," in the Bible refers to an ethnic group rather than to a religion; but yehudi, "Jew," whose original meaning is "Judean," occurs in the Bible only once, in the Book of Esther, and was hardly ever used in later rabbinical literature, where the accepted term for "Jew" was yisra’el, "Israelite."

From Judaism 101
Origins of the Words "Jew" and "Judaism"

The original name for the people we now call Jews was Hebrews. The word "Hebrew" (in Hebrew, "Ivri") is first used in the Torah to describe Abraham (Gen. 14:13). The word is apparently derived from the name Eber, one of Abraham's ancestors. Another tradition teaches that the word comes from the word "eyver," which means "the other side," referring to the fact that Abraham came from the other side of the Euphrates, or referring to the fact Abraham was separated from the other nations morally and spiritually.

Another name used for the people is Children of Israel or Israelites, which refers to the fact that the people are descendants of Jacob, who was also called Israel.

The word "Jew" (in Hebrew, "Yehudi") is derived from the name Judah, which was the name of one of Jacob's twelve sons. Judah was the ancestor of one of the tribes of Israel, which was named after him. Likewise, the word Judaism literally means "Judah-ism," that is, the religion of the Yehudim.


Originally, the term Yehudi referred specifically to members of the tribe of Judah, as distinguished from the other tribes of Israel. However, after the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel (I Kings 12; II Chronicles 10). After that time, the word Yehudi could properly be used to describe anyone from the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, as well as scattered settlements from other tribes. The most obvious biblical example of this usage is in Esther 2:5, where Mordecai is referred to as both a Yehudi and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

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