msdistress asked: Okay, so I have another question, since you were so cool about my previous one: Is it okay for a non-Jewish person to call you (or anyone else who is Jewish) just a Jew? As a cultural/racial/heritage descriptor, not as a slur? I know this might vary from a person to person, but again, I'm just looking for a general gist of things. To me calling somebody just a Jew sounds impolite, but I'm not a native English speaker, so... Anyways, thanks again. :)
Right so: thank you for asking this! It is a question I get a lot, in my real life more often than over the internet, and I appreciate the chance to answer it. It’s also, through no fault of yours, my absolute least favorite question to get about Judaism, not because it offends me or hurts my feelings, but because the fact that people ask it breaks my heart a little every time.
So, let’s start with the absolute basics and work up from there: Jew is a noun. It means a person who is Jewish! Jewish is an adjective. It describes a person as being a Jew! You can have one Jew, two Jews, or many Jews; you can have Jewish people, or Jewish culture, or Jewish history. You cannot have a Jewish, or many Jewishes, because Jewish is the adjective—I mention this because I have heard people fuck that up aloud, and it is embarrassing for those people. You also cannot have Jew culture, or Jew history, because Jew is the noun—I mention this because I have heard people fuck that up aloud, and it is both embarrassing for those people and, whether intentionally or not, likely to at least vaguely ping your average Jew’s anti-semitism radar. There is no verb form of Jew or Jewish. If you hear someone trying to make Jew a verb, most typically in the expression “Jewed out” (ie, “She Jewed me out of ten bucks” or “They Jewed me out of my security deposit,”) that person is, whether intentionally or not, being an anti-semitic bag of dicks and you should call them on it.
So the technical answer to your question is: yes. It is okay for a non-Jewish person to call Jews Jews! We are Jews. Jew is a noun that means “a person who is Jewish,” and there is absolutely nothing at all inherently wrong with that word. However. The reason I get asked this question a lot, and the reason behind the discomfort that compelled you to ask this question, and the reason this question breaks my heart is as follows: the word Jew has such a long history of being used as a pejorative that people automatically assume it is a negative, or a slur. Or, to put that another way: there is such a long history behind the idea that being Jewish is inherently bad, such a long history of hate, such a long history of people saying “Jew” and assuming it would be read as a slur because it simply means “A person who is Jewish,” that it is now often assumed to be a slur, regardless of delivery. Among other examples I could give here, when I was in college? I dated a guy whose father told me, casually and over the table at a family dinner, that he hadn’t heard the word “Jew” without the word “dirty” in front of it until he was well into his thirties. Like. This goes on.
Which, unfortunately, makes the answer to your question considerably more complicated. What I want to say here is, yes, call us Jews, use the word Jew like you’d use the word Christian, use the word Jew like you’d use any other word, the idea that people don’t use the noun form of Jewish because they assume it’s a slur pisses me off and makes me so sad and fills me with the urge to throw things. But! Not all of us feel that way, and, more importantly, because there is this long pejorative history and because people do use it as a slur and because there are people who grow up and live out large portions of their lives thinking that the word Jew is always paired with the word dirty, or that all Jews have horns (a question people have asked my father), or that there is a real-life secret Jewish money cave hidden somewhere (which is a question people have, in seriousness, posed to me: the time I spent living in southern Ohio was an education in more ways than one), things are a little more tricky than that. I don’t want to say it’s about how you say Jew, because that’s…unclear and unhelpful and the kind of shit I hate. And I don’t want to say it’s about what you intend when you say Jew, because honestly your intent won’t matter, if you use it and your tone makes someone think you’re going in for an attack.
So! This is what I advise: if you’re not sure? Just say Jewish person. If you find yourself thinking “Is it okay for me to say Jew in this context?” just say Jewish person. But please know that that advice is not at all because there is anything inherently wrong with the word Jew: THERE IS NOT, AT ALL, AND IT IS IMPORTANT THAT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT. It’s because your hesitation in the interest of AVOIDING being anti-semitic may in fact be read as hesitation DUE TO of anti-semitism, and that’s a good thing to avoid.
I HOPE THIS HAS BEEN HELPFUL? <3?
(By request, this post is now rebloggable; that version can be found here.)