May 24, 2019

The Return of "Jew" as a Slur

“The word “Jew” has returned with full force as a mainstream invective in many places in Europe. No adjective is required. For many people, the expression “filthy Jew” is a tautology.

At its very beginnings, the word “Jew” was just a noun. It comes from the Hebrew word Yehudi, which is derived from the biblical name Judah. The word Judaism comes from the religion of the Jews. By the time the Christian heroes of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice referred to Shylock repeatedly as “the Jew,” there was no question that the word was an invective rather than a reference to the merchant’s religion.

The negative connotations of the word Jew were common in Europe for centuries. In France, in order not to insult Jews, for many years numerous people called Jews “Israelites” and often Jews have done so themselves. When I lived in Paris, a colleague of mine always spoke about Israelites when he mentioned Jews. I could not convince him that I did not identify with this common expression and considered myself a Jew, or Juif in French.”

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