Terry Teachout writes of the perils of the goyim among the Jews, but what of the perils of the Jews among the goyim? One of the minor joys of Richard Rhodes’s book The Making of the Atomic Bomb is this stock answer of a Russian physicist when confronted, as he frequently was, with anti-Semitic remarks: “My ancestors were forging checks when yours were still living in trees.”

Not to be understated, either, are the perils of the Jews among the Jews. Harry Cohn, the legendary chairman of Columbia Pictures, was once solicited by a group of writers for a Jewish relief fund. “Relief for the Jews?” said Cohn. “How about relief from the Jews?”

(Update: Rick Coencas comments on the comments.)

Aaron Haspel | Posted December 8, 2003 @ 8:10 PM | Navel-Gazing

34 Responses to “Jews You Can Use”

  1. 1 1. David Sucher

    Isn’t goyim a term that is at least mildly derogatory?

    It makes me uncomfortable to see it used so casually.


  2. 2 2. Aaron Haspel

    Leo Rosten says in The Joys of Yiddish that "some Jews use goy in a pejorative sense," but this was 35 years ago. If it’s still an epithet it’s a pretty mild one, at least in my circles.


  3. 3 3. acdouglas

    Isn’t goyim a term that is at least mildly derogatory?

    Can be, but most usually isn’t — except in the very limited sense that, from time immemorial, all we down-to-the-bone Jews (i.e., those of us who genuinely feel their Jewishness as a singular characteristic) have considered all non-Jews to be somewhat beneath us.

    ACD


  4. 4 4. acdouglas

    In fact goyim is a disparaging term and it is sad to see it used, either naively or even worse, brazenly.

    That’s rubbish, m’boy.

    Are you a Jew? If so, what Yiddish term would you use to refer non-disparagingly to a non-Jew?

    And if you’re not a Jew, you ought not to be speaking on this matter at all except to ask questions.

    ACD


  5. 5 5. Tat

    David,
    It is only mildly condescending, which is reasonable to be used by people living in relatively safe and stable land. In hostile Russian environment it sounds stronger, but still much less so than the stream of derogatory dirt used openly by public figures when they mention Jews. And I am sure Israeli use much stronger term for that ocean of international hatred surrounding their tiny island of a country, which I hope you find perfectly understandable, as I do.


  6. 6 6. David Sucher

    There is no question that the term goyim is not polite.
    Please see
    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=goyim

    A polite alternative would be gentile.
    Please see
    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=gentile

    Let’s remember that while Jews have enemies amongst the gentile world, they also have friends. And we should not disparage our friends.


  7. 7 7. acdouglas

    There is no question that the term goyim is not polite.
    Please see
    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=goyim

    First off, and most importantly, we do not permit English language dictionaries to define Yiddish words for us.

    Second, you ought to be more circumspect in your choice of English language dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary is a dictionary for morons and other illiterates. It’s a Mickey Mouse dictionary. If you must consult an English language dictionary, consult a real one. An authoritative one. Like the OED, for instance. It’s definition: "goy: Among Jews: a non-Jew, a Gentile." Period. Full stop.

    Third, "gentile" is not a Yiddish word. A Jew who speaks Yiddish, or with a Yiddish background would unfailingly, and non-disparagingly, refer to a gentile as a goy, and gentiles generally as goyim.

    See now how that all works?

    ACD


  8. 8 8. David Sucher

    I think Aaron speaks English very well.


  9. 9 9. Tat

    "Let’s remember that while Jews have enemies amongst the gentile world, they also have friends. And we should not disparage our friends."
    You wish, David, you wish. That’s what they thought in Germany in 1933.
    Being polite never hurt anyone, still – don’t delude yourself.


  10. 10 10. Jim Valliant

    The ancient Greeks saw the world as consisting of two groups: Greeks and "barbarians" (i.e., everyone else.) To the Japanese before the last World War (and, to some extent, even to this day) a similar set of categories were used to describe humanity. Great cultures (with some justification) regard themselves as superior. As a card-carrying philo-Semitic goyim, I trust that I am free to use the term about myself and my kindred, just as African-Americans can use the "N-Word" with impugnity. Given the persecution and discrimination against Jews by Christians over the last thousand years, surely a mild rib such as this can be tolerated…?


  11. 11 11. Tat

    Jim,
    Goyim – plural, goy- sing., see above


  12. 12 12. Aaron Haspel

    Of all the things I say here I never imagined I would catch grief for the word "goy." Now I have no particular affinity for either Jews or Gentiles; I was raised Jewish, but like Seinfeld’s dentist I’m in it for the jokes. If "goy" is disparaging, about which opinions differ (and I agree with AC that the American Heritage Dictionary is scarcely authoritative), then it reflects badly on Jews, just as the word "barbarian" reflects badly on the Greeks. Words of that sort are just absurdly clannish. However, I think we can agree that if I substituted "Gentiles" for "goyim" in the post it wouldn’t work quite as well. Offense intended, but by the jokes, not the locution.

    And yes Jim, employing goyim as singular is very goyische.


  13. 13 13. David Sucher

    Aaron and ACD: I hope that you will reconsider your words.

    In fact goyim is a disparaging term and it is sad to see it used, either naively or even worse, brazenly.


  14. 14 14. Bill Kaplan

    You guys got goyisha kups. Why do this when you could be making money?


  15. 15 15. Jim Valliant

    Ethnic "pride" is the same coin, other side, of racism, and when a group identifies "all others" by a special name, it is BY ITS NATURE a mark of irrational group-think, a sense of "superiority." However, Greek culture WAS superior to all others back then, and a disproportionate number of the best minds of the last century have been Jewish. I am certainly ignorant of Yiddish, and I love being that "goyische" as much as I admire so many Jews, proud of my lack of ethnic or religious identification with ANYBODY.


  16. 16 16. Tat

    Oh, my.
    "Two Jews, three political parties…"< don't remember, who>


  17. 17 17. David Sucher

    Someone commented that it was irrelevant that the American Heritage Dictionary finds goyin to be disparaging because it is a dictionary of no great reputation.

    I have no idea whether it is or not but the very fact that it might appeal to the lowest common denominator — the comman man and woman, in fact — is all the more reason to avoid use of the word because many people — "correctly" or not — believe the term is disparaging. So it is.

    Enough said?


  18. 18 18. acdouglas

    I have no idea whether it is or not but the very fact that it might appeal to the lowest common denominator — the comman man and woman, in fact — is all the more reason to avoid use of the word because many people — "correctly" or not — believe the term is disparaging.

    So we ought to order our speech and behavior so that they won’t be misunderstood by the lowest common denominator of the population.

    Sterling logic, that.

    But given your take on architecture and aesthetics, I’m not….

    Well, never mind.

    ACD


  19. 19 19. Alex(ei)

    As I understand, goy can be used disparagingly in English (as MW confirms) and other European languages, but it’s surely not as strong as native anti-Semitic slurs. I suppose shaygetz or shikse instead of just goy would be indeed derogatory. The only problem with goy that in some Biblical contexts it means "heathen" and thus can be offensive to, say, devout Christians. It all depends on the situation and context. Why not stick to time-tested English terms instead of potentially embarrassing recent loans?


  20. 20 20. acdouglas

    David:

    Apologies for that last quip in my last comment up there. It was inappropriate, and uncalled for.

    ACD


  21. 21 21. Mark Riebling

    I’m reminded of Glenn Reynolds’ statement that he doens’t allow comments on his site because the comments sections just turn into chat rooms.

    I think "goy" is usually disparaging in context, as in: "Do you want to stab your mother in the heart? No more talk about marrying that goy! Why don’t you find yourself a nice dentist!" But perhaps goys like me can use the term of themselves without fear.


  22. 22 22. Terry Teachout

    I seem to have been the inadvertent but proximate cause of this thread, so I will put in my two cents’ worth: all the Jews I know use "goy" and its variants in a variety of ways, depending on the situation and context. As the Gentile music critic and shabbes goy (in-house joke) for Commentary, I’m perfectly happy to be known as such.


  23. 23 23. jtmckee

    nice to see new yorkers scolded for perfectly innocent remarks

    since I have often been wrongly accused I will agree with those who consider the term racist
    since it clearly is but so what?


  24. 24 24. Lisa Wilhelmi

    A.C. Douglas hit the nail on the head with his first comment.

    Since Goyim means "anyone who is not a Jew", and David Sucher is unable- or unwilling- to explain why the term degrades those to whom it’s applied, I can only conclude that he considers it an impolite reminder of the inherent inferiority of us Goyim. Now…that’s chutzpa!

    The word is inoffensive. His objection to its use betrays more than he intended, I suspect.


  25. 25 25. RLazan

    While I do consider "goy" to be a mostly harmless noun, simply the fact that it is a word used to describe someone based solely on their religion makes it tend towards the dismissive and prohibitive. It immediately creates a barrier between the Jew and the gentile, and therefore, while maybe not offensive, is definitely not positive or accepting.


  26. 26 26. Greg Hlatky

    Actually I find goy less offensive than schmuck.


  27. 27 27. acdouglas

    While I do consider "goy" to be a mostly harmless noun, simply the fact that it is a word used to describe someone based solely on their [sic] religion makes it tend towards the dismissive and prohibitive.

    Goy or goyishe has nothing to do with religion per se. It refers to any people belonging to any nation (people) outside the Jewish nation (people).

    And, yes, it’s exclusionary. It’s largely (but not entirely) a response to the Jew, for millennia, being considered an outsider in any nation he inhabited no matter how successfully integrated into the national life in all other respects he may otherwise have been.

    ACD


  28. 28 28. acdouglas

    Actually I find goy less offensive than schmuck.

    Schmuck can apply to anyone, Jew or goy. Technically, it’s simply the Yiddish term (vulgar) for penis, but carries with it the full set of negative associations as does the vulgar English term prick.

    ACD


  29. 29 29. steve

    To All:
    Me too, but needs skill, as in AAron’s post, not to jolt a little.


  30. 30 30. David Sucher

    To Lisa Wilhelmi

    …huh? What are you talking about?

    (I’d write you off-line but your address links back to this blog.)


  31. 31 31. Lisa Wilhelmi

    David-

    You regard the word "Goyim" as derogatory, disparaging, and impolite. Since the meaning of the word is broad and merely means non-Jew, your reaction is understandable only if one considers "non-Jew" as synonymous with "sub-Jew".

    But I’ll admit that, until now, my exposure to the word has been limited to that contained in Leo Rosten’s "The Joy of Yiddish", and the odd Phillip Roth novel. So what do I know?


  32. 32 32. Laurie Sucher

    To Lisa:
    Unfair! And I say this not only as a relative of David Sucher, who just solicited my take on the word "goy" and then directed me to this interesting discussion. (Talk about a tempest in a samovar.) I think it’s undeniable that the word has impolite connotations! Your last remark is on the order of, "Well, Doctor, YOU’RE the one drawing the dirty pictures," if you get my drift.Something like that anyway.

    But really, I think it’s altogether situational. There are many contexts in which the word is okay; many others in which it isn’t. And it’s not only about whether Jews or non-Jews are using it. It has to do with a whole bunch of other factors, historical, sociological, demographic, social, etc. etc. By the way the Hebrew word merely means "nations," as has been said, all those who are not Hebrews. But like many words for groups of people, it has taken on negative connotations over the centuries. But then again, so what? I’m not against its use, just that … it has to be the right time and place.


  33. 33 33. Aaron Armitage

    Goy is Yiddish, but it’s English too. Or should we run to the odious French to discover what half our words mean?

    I’m not offended by it, BTW.

    I am offended by Tat’s assertion that it’s deluded to think Jews have Gentile friends.


  34. 34 34. Vita Bolja

    Listen, I’m not going to claim that I’m an expert on Yiddish or Hebrew, but you know what? There are many words that were tossed around back then that many people consider offensive today. Pejorative or even dismissive terms are offensive. Do you consider "schwarzer" mildly offensive? How about "shiksa?" When you care so little about people that their individual background doesn’t matter to you, I would consider that to be offensive. And about Jews being better than everyone else, well, let us remember that we were offered the Torah LAST (not first). But having it gives us much more responsibility to do the right thing so that we are beyond reproach. Let’s have some gratitude and some humility.


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