Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why You Should Never Call Someone (or Yourself) a Shiksa

Shiksa is a Yiddish word that means "non-Jewish female." It's especially used for an attractive woman who could be a "temptation" to Jewish men.

The people who use this word in conversation very rarely know its real meaning: abomination. And the people who know the meaning and use it for that meaning probably aren't the people you want to spend much time with. The two other translations I've found for shiksa are "impure" and "object of loathing." It is not only pejorative, it is intended to be offensive and cruel. It's even used in Israel like Americans would use curse words to refer to women.

So...don't say it. Kochava said so.

And if someone says it in your presence, I encourage you to tell them that it is offensive and explain the meaning of it. Nine times out of ten, they don't know the origins, and they will be better people because you've told them. You'll prevent them from hurting someone's feelings later. It is ESPECIALLY important to say something if someone says this about a female convert. Not only is she no longer "not Jewish" (so it's not even true), but calling her (or you) that word is a violation of the mitzvah of loving the convert and all the other mitzvot related to respecting converts.

There's a movement to "reclaim" the word shiksa. Most notably is the book Boy Vey!: The Shiksa's Guide to Dating Jewish Men (oy vey...) and the blog The Shiksa in the Kitchen (the author has now converted). Coming from the South, I'm familiar with the efforts of the African-American community to reclaim the N word, but this reclamation would be analogous (in my mind) to reclaiming "porch monkey" or some other irredeemably offensive term. I don't think the word shiksa can be reclaimed. [To be clear, I'm comparing the efforts to reclaim a negative word, not implying that shiksa reaches the negativity level of either of those terms. Because by any measure, it doesn't.] And if I weren't so personally offended by the term, I would laugh at the people who try to reclaim it because it would be funny to see someone do something so pointless.

The male equivalent to shiksa is "shegetz," but it isn't commonly used. I suspect that many Jews today don't even know that word. While it comes from the same linguistic source, it translates as something closer to scoundrel or my personal favorite, "varmint." It's pejorative, but doesn't have the same venom as shiksa, particularly since it's so rarely used.

18 comments:

  1. Good post.

    This might resonate with you: http://www.beyondbt.com/2009/02/02/some-musings-on-words-and-their-applications/

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  2. >The male equivalent to shiksa is "shegetz," but it isn't commonly used.

    Boy, would you be surprised.

    As for whether its as pejorative, in my opinion it is no different, except that obviously "shegetz" doesn't have the additional misogynistic connotation. Maybe that pushes shiktza way over the top, but shegetz is pretty nasty too.

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  3. Very well said. I'm not even particularly fond of throwing around "goy," but I'll let that slide sometimes because I'm aware of its definition, its appearance in the Tanakh, et cetera. That said, I'm not entirely convinced that the formal definition supercedes the usually less-than-flattering connotation.

    "Shiksa," though, is way beyond the pale. I'll say something to anyone I hear using it, though in my community, that (thankfully) hasn't been often, and it hasn't ever been directed at me. It's a pretty disgusting words, though. "Shegetz," too.

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  4. This is a very thoughtful, informative, and well laid-out post, on a very important topic that lends itself to much misunderstanding.
    I cringe when I hear or read the term “shiksa” being thrown around casually, as if it is just a cute, ethnic term for a non-Jewish woman. I think Kochava explained things well so I won’t go into much more, but while it has also been my experience that people don’t know what the word means (my understanding is it comes from “sheketz,” i.e. term used to refer to bugs we don’t eat).

    I have heard “shaigetz” a lot, though. I think it’s more universally recognized as pejorative. I’ve heard parents use to their kids it in an admonishing way, like “Put your yarmulke on while your eating, you look like a shaigetz.”

    Another big problem is “shvartzer” and “shvartze.” I think it’s extremely disingenuous when a young person says this casually, and then demurrs “Oh no, it’s not insulting, it just means “black” in Yiddish.” Fine. But using a term for the color of someone’s skin as an epithet for them is not a neutral thing. You wouldn’t say “the black in my class” to refer to a classmate who is dark-skinned. Perhaps your bubbe zaide say it, but this is a different generation.

    “Goy” and “goyim” are neutral terms. But I think there is a difference between referring to people and groups collectively, and referring to individuals. I do not think it is right (or, at least very least, courteous and menslich) to refer to an individual as a “goy,” as if he or she had no other identifying characteristic. (It really bothers me that housecleaning ladies are sometimes called “the goyta.”) It depends on the context: if “goy” and “goyim” are being used to referred to people in a situation where pointing out the Jewishness and non-Jewishness of people is actually relevant, then fine. But in many situations it’s simply not relevant. How would it seem if someone said “I have a meeting with the Jew today” to refer to their accountant?

    Finally, I think Jews sometimes forget that the logic by which we view the world is not the logic most people use. We call ourselves Jews, Yidden, Jewish people, etc. Those terms don’t bother us because they are indeed part of our self and collective identity. On the contrary, they are positive terms and we are proud of this identity. But non-Jews don’t call themselves “non-Jews” “goyim,” and this is not how they think of themselves. That’s another reason to use those terms carefully, and to think twice before saying “oh, it’s neutral, it just means…”

    I know I’m hardly the first to point all this out, but wanted to add my two cents.

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    1. Goy might be "neutral" in theory, but (as a contraction for "homosexual") "homo" is theoretically neutral as well- and it's a very offensive term.

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  5. Thank you, Chaya Kayla, for pointing out the use of the word "shvartze". It is used constantly in the Orthodox Jewish community,at least here in New York. And you can't tell me it just means "black". (African-Americans do refer to themselves as Black, and don't mind if others do too.) The people who use it have one tone of voice for "a shvartze katz" (a black cat), even those who don't particularly like cats. But when they say that word about a human being, it sounds just like n*****. How about "shvartze cholerye", literally, the Black Plague? I guess you need to be around Yiddish speakers to hear all the permutations. Whenever I call someone out on it, and they tell me "it just means black", I tell them: We live in America. I'm sure you know the English word. Use it.

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  6. I have heard "shegetz" plenty of times, and, since it has the same root as "shiksa," I find it equally offensive.

    The irony, however, is that "shiksa," the etymology of which is not descriptively accurate (i.e., the literal/original meaning of "shiksa" [the Hebrew "shiktza" -- abomination] has nothing to do with non-Jewish women), yet the word can be used publicly without too much of a social backlash. The primary pejorative for Black people, however, is considered so unacceptable that it is referred to as "the N-word." (To be sure, this is a good thing, given how people feel about the term!!) Funnily enough, however, the etymology [the Latin "niger" -- Black] is descriptively accurate!

    Go figure.

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  7. A couple of years ago I made an attempt to lampoon the 'concept' of 'shiksa' in my blog. Here is the link:
    http://schvach.blogspot.com/2009/10/sowhats-shiksa-already-by-schvach-yid_04.html

    You're absolutely right, 'shiksa' not only means abominable, the word itself is abominable. I never use it (except in that one blog). THAT word has joined the ranks of the 'N' word. One last point - another blog site that used the 'S' word is 'Shiksa From Manila'.

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  8. Thank God, someone willing to talk the truth about the origins and misuse of an excessively ugly word that continues to besmirch Jewish culture. I have also written in this topic.

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  9. Kind of interesting reading this. I heard this word on an episode of Cold Case last night. A lady playing a Jewish mother used it to describe her late son's girlfriend, as casually as one might describe someone's hair or eye color. "She was a shiksa, just like you." Discovering the meaning makes her apparently friendly demeanor in the scene all the more inappropriate.

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  10. There are some Yiddish words that are intrinsically neutral but have acquired a negative connotation. "Shiksa," however, has had a negative connotation from the start. Ignorance is usually the reason for its use, as with many other things. How many people who say "mazal tov" know that it declares a belief in astrology? This is what happens when "Jewish culture" becomes a substitute for real Judaism, a petrified skeleton taking the place of a vibrant faith and way of life.

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  11. Call me a goy and I'll break your Jewish nose...

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  12. utter nonsense reading this thread. linguistics transition and fluctuate over time. get over yourselves

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  13. Never thought it was that bad
    A word that a real putz uses O I can dig it
    Never used it just heard it a lot in New York.
    not in California

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  14. Don't worry about it. Call us whatever you want. To those of us who already know what a low opinion you people have for anyone but yourselves, it won't matter anyway, because we don't believe all the hooey you people try to convince yourselves of about your alleged superiority in the first place.

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  15. You don't have to post this comment either. We already are familiar with your tendency to censor and shut down any discourse that doesn't tickle your divine fancy.

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  16. Why it's a bad word I really still can't understand !

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    1. I don't know how I can be any clearer. It means "abomination" and "object of loathing" and is used as a slur against women, often said with venom dripping from the word itself. It is used as an insult and considered one of the worst insults one can give a non-Jewish woman. It's used as an insult to keep Jewish men "in line" and away from those dirty temptresses who are really just golddiggers who think Jews have money.

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