A conversation I had with a friend on Twitter this morning:@Sorcyress
: I am kinda weirded out by the idea of "hug a jew day" (girls were discussing in high school class)...@Sorcyress
: ...but I don't really have the background to fight it. Maybe I'm just reacting to the phrasing "a jew", which is a slur? I don't know.@Sorcyress
: (Also problematic in that what if the Jewish people in question don't *want* hugs. Or don't want hugs for that reason.)Me
: @Sorcyress "A Jew" is not a slur any more than "a Christian" or "a Muslim" is a slur.@Sorcyress
: More on "Jew" versus "Jewish" http://bit.ly/b2Myxv
--implication is that "Jew" isn't technically a slur, but has a dubious history@Sorcyress
: @L33tminion It seems that "Jew" may not be a slur, but is still tainted by a history of being used as one.Me
: @Sorcyress Are you seriously making anti-Semites your go-to source for the definition of the word "Jew"?@Sorcyress
: @L33tminion Based on my research (bit.ly/b2Myxv, bit.ly/JSch1) "Jew" is not a slur, however it is/was so commonly used as one that...@Sorcyress
: @L33tminion ...some people shy away from the word. My best guess is that it's to other reclaimed language, ie, there is not a problem... @Sorcyress
: @L33tminion ...if a Jewish person chooses to self identify as "a Jew" or call themself/another Jewish person "Jew" but because of the...@Sorcyress
: @L33tminion ...history, it can be a little dicey for non-Jewish-identified people to refer to Jewish people a "a jew" or "jews"@Sorcyress
: @L33tminion That being said, IANA Jewish studies major or Jewish. I initially was unsure of whether Jew was a slur. Still am.
At which point I decided a longer post was called for.Full Disclosure:
I was raised Jewish. Many of my family members are Jews. I don't identify myself as "Jewish" / "a Jew", primarily because that implies things about my religious belief and/or practice that are incorrect. (Secondarily, because I put more focus on the religious connotations of the term than ethnic/racial concepts of "the Jewish people".)Jew as "Reclaimed Language":
First off, I take issue with the characterization of the word "Jew" as "reclaimed". Jew is not a word originally applied to practitioners of Judaism by their detractors, but a word with straightforward historical origins that trace back to the biblical story of the origin of the Jews. Wikipedia has an article on the word itself
, which contains an excellent summary:
The Jewish ethnonym in Hebrew is יהודים Yehudim (plural of יהודי Yehudi) which is the origin of the English word Jew. The Hebrew name is derived from the region name Judah (Yehudah יהודה). Originally the name referred to the territory allotted to the tribe descended from Judah the fourth son of the patriarch Jacob (Numbers). Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob and one of the Twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis). The Genesis 29:35  relates that Judah's mother — the matriarch Leah — named him Yehudah (i.e. "Judah") because she wanted to "praise God" for giving birth to so many sons: "She said, 'This time let me praise (odeh אודה) God (יהוה),' and named the child Judah (Yehudah יהודה)", thus combining "praise" and "God" into one new name. Thereafter Judah vouchsafes the Jewish monarchy, and the Israelite kings David and Solomon derive their lineage from Judah. In Hebrew, the name "Judah" (י ה ו [ד] ה) contains the four letters of the Tetragrammaton — the special, holy, and ineffable name of the Jewish God. The very holiness of the name of Judah attests to its importance as an alternate name for "Israelites" that it ultimately replaces.
The Middle English word Jew is from the Old French giu, earlier juieu, from the Latin Iudaeus from the Greek Ἰουδαῖος. The Latin simply means Judaean, from the land of Judaea. In the Old English the word is attested as early as 1000 in various forms, such as Iudeas, Gyu, Giu, Iuu, Iuw, Iew. [links omitted]
The first article that @Sorcyress cites, Jonah Goldberg's Proud and True: He's A Jew
, claims that "the word 'Jew' is being rehabilitated". The article correctly identifies some problematic uses of the word "Jew". "Jew" as a verb and as an adjective are
problematic and that usage both originates from and ties back to an anti-Semetic context. However, the article makes some bizarre statements, for example:
Ironically, the Jew-Jewish distinction was brought to the fore recently by - or to be more fair - because of, another Democrat: Hillary Clinton. The allegation that she called an aide a "f***ing Jew bastard" 30 years ago, fairly or not, reminded some people that "Jew" can be a hurtful word. "F***ing Jewish bastard," oddly enough, would not have been as offensive. [emphasis mine]
Wait, what? I suppose that last statement is technically true. A reduction in the number of syllables conveys emotional intensity (think how many slurs and swears are one syllable), and also has the connotation of force of habit. One would not be unreasonable to conclude that the speaker of the first line is more vehement in their anti-Jewish sentiment and guessing that they more habitually rant about their dislike for "the Jews". But talk about missing the forest for the trees, if the reminder there has to do with the usage of "Jew" versus "Jewish" as opposed to the association of either with "F-ing bastard"!
Another paragraph of note from the same article:
[...] Hitler was largely successful in smearing the word "Jew." The word was so beaten up that after the Holocaust most American Jews took to saying, "I'm Jewish," rather than say, "I am a Jew."
Hitler speaking of "Jews" would have been rather uncharacteristically in English
, so that leads to some fascinating sociolinguistic questions about the effects of a word with similar derivation in a different language being used as a slur. (I'm being a bit unfair here, I'd guess that the effects of English-speaking anti-Semites had a more significant direct effect on the perception of the word "Jew" in English. A rhetorical reference to Hitler in the context of the recent history of anti-Semitism can surely be forgiven.)Identity and Labeling:
Proponents of political correctness (and yes, I would count myself in that group) often focus on the use of labeling language. See, for example, the discussion of "person-first language"
. It's true that language can be hurtful because it implies that an attribute is more of a core part of someone's identity than it actually is. Unfortunately, that cuts both ways: Language can be hurtful because it implies that an attribute is less
of a core part of someone's identity than it actually is. Especially if that connotes, "I don't want to treat this as a core part of your identity because it's bad." When someone uses "Jewish person" when "Jew" would flow better, I wonder if this is an expression of discomfort with their own negative attitude about Jews, or an excessive focus on speech norms
as opposed to the actual effects of speech. To give an exaggerated example, think what it would imply if someone consistently referred to Jews as "people who are members of the Jewish religion" or "people who practice the Jewish faith", especially if they didn't refer to members of other religions in a similar manner. (I considered using "person with Judaism" as my example, but I'm pretty sure that crosses the line from rhetorical exaggeration into satire.)On Consistency:
Speaking of that last, the connotations of "Jewish person" versus "Jew" may also depend on how the speaker refers to (more specifically, how the listener expects the speaker to refer to) members of other religions. "Jew" is the ordinary noun for "a member of the Jewish religion". So if you refer to "Christians", "Muslims", "Buddhists", "Hindus", and "Jewish people", I don't think the connotation with regard to Jews/Judaism is positive. As the Wikipedia article concludes:
[...] when used as a noun, "Jew" is preferred, as other circumlocutions (e.g. "Jewish person") give the impression that the term "Jew" is offensive in all contexts.
Note that the last is not an argument from any authority, simply a long-standing consensus among the article's editors. I'm just quoting that to say "I agree"."Hug a Jew Day":
Of course, none of that addresses the original question of whether or not "Hug a Jew Day" is weird or offensive, except to object to the characterization of "Jew" as "a slur". I can see why "Hug a Jew Day" could be problematic.
However, a bit of searching revealed a more interesting historical context than I'd originally expected. It seems that "hug a Jew day" dates back to 2009
. It originated as a Facebook group formed in opposition to Kick a Jew Day
, which in turn was inspired by Kick a Ginger Day
, which was inspired by an episode of South Park
. Hard to say without further information how @Sorcyress's classmates' discussion fits into that context, but there's clearly some substantial stuff to dig into.