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What Did Traditional Jewish Folklore Think of Jewish
Ethics Before Jews Were, Post-Holocaust, Reinvented
as Historical Angels?
And What is the Traditional Jewish View of Other People?


Context for the material below:

Yiddish is the historical "in-house" language traditionally spoken by all Jews in Eastern and Central Europe, distinct from non-Jewish tongues around it. Hasidim, Chasids, and Haredi are terms for the religious ultra-Orthodox, originating in Eastern Europe. This brand of Judaism dominated the Jewish community in some areas (like Hungary) before World War II and the Holocaust. [POLL, S., 1969, p. 14-15] By some accounts, the Hasids generally represented half of the Jewish population in Eastern Europe, even in the 20th century. [LEVIN, M., 1966, p. xi].



The following list from international folklore is these days considered to be historically baseless, and irrationally "anti-Semitic":

     *  "A real Jew will never pause to eat till he has cheated you. (Serbian)
     *   "The Jew cheats even when praying." (Czech)
     *   "A real Jew will get gold out of straw." (Spanish)
     *   "So many Jews, so many thieves."  (German)
     *   "A bankrupt Jew searches his own accounts." (Greek)
     *   "Bargain like a Jew but pay like a Christian." (Polish)
     *   "A Jewish miser will reject nothing more than having to part with his foreskin." (Russian)
     *   "A Jewish oath, a clear night, and women's tears are not worth a mite. (Venetian)
     *   "A Jew, if he cheats a Moslem, is happy that day." (Moroccan)
     *   "Mammon [money] is the God of the Jews." (Hungarian)
          [ROBACK, p. 186-204]

Jewish scholar Leonard Dinnerstein notes the similar folk beliefs about Jews in the African-American community:

      "There are several humorous tales about a 'Colored Man, a Jew and a White Man' in
       which the Jew is distinguished from other caucasians. The main thrust of almost all of
       these jokes is the compulsive Jewish concern for wealth."
       [DINNERSTEIN, L., 1998, p. 117 (of double pagination]

Like virtually all Jewish observers these days, however, Dinnerstein regards such folk tradition to be based on no facts whatsoever. As he decides, despite the fact that such folk traditions are part of every folk history wherever there have been Jews in any number,

     "[Blacks] have imbibed the European-American folklore about the cunning
     and exploitive Jew whose ruthlessly amassed fortune is used to political and
     economic control of society. There is more mythology than substance in these
     beliefs, but that does not lessen their impact. These stereotypes have existed
     among Blacks since their socialization into American culture."
     [DINNERSTEIN, L., 1998, p. 873 (pages are doubly paginated)]

What Dinnerstein neglects to mention, of course, as do virtually all Jewish polemicists on this subject, is that these "stereotypes" have also been very much part of even Jewish folk lore, hence Jewish self-identity. What did the Jewish community think, and celebrate, about itself in its own traditions?

     *    "A Jew at a fair is like a fish in water." (Yiddish) 
     *    "The Jew loves commerce." (Yiddish)
     *    "A Jew and a wolf are never idle." (Yiddish)
     *    "The Jew likes to poke his nose everywhere." (Yiddish)
     *    "Better in the hands of a Gentile than the mouth of a Jew." (Yiddish)
     *    "When the Pole thinks, he seizes his moustache, when the Russian thinks,
           he takes hold of his forelocks, and  when the Jew thinks, he holds his hands
           behind."   (Yiddish) 
          [ROBACK, p. 186-204]

As Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg note about Yiddish folklore: "This folk humor provides a means of indirect social aggression and at other times, it releases a mordant self-criticism." [KUMOVE, S., 1985, p. xx] The following are more examples of traditional Jewish self-identity from a collection of Yiddish folk sayings, [KUMOVE, S., 1985] further confirming certain troubling aspects of collective Jewish identity:

     *    "One need never suspect a Jew -- he surely is a thief." [p. 139]
     *    "It's good to do business with a thief."  [p. 233]
     *    "If you steal -- you'll have." [p. 233]
     *    "What is smaller than a mouse may be carried from a house." [p. 233]
     *    "Petty thieves are hanged, major thieves are pardoned." [p. 233]        
     *    "A thief gives handsome presents." [p. 230]
     *    "Before a thief goes stealing, he also prays to God." [p. 231]
     *    "Better with a hometown thief than a strange rabbi." [p. 231]
     *    "Thieve and rob if you must but be honorable."  [p. 232]
     *    "God protect us from Gentile hands and Jewish tongues." [p. 196]
     *    "Live among Jews, do business among the Goyim." [p. 143]
     *    "If you steal enough eggs, you can also become rich." [p. 249]
     *    "A fool gives and a clever person takes." [p. 106]
     *    "Always take -- if you give me, I'll go away, if not, I'll stay." [p. 106]
     *    "Always take!" [p. 106]
     *    "The goy is treyf [forbidden] but his money is kosher
            [acceptable]." [p. 126]
     *     "Offer a Jew a ride and he throws you out of your own wagon." [p. 45]
     *    "A sense of justice we want others to have." [p. 127]
     *    "Money rules the world." [p. 179]
     *    "Money is the best soap -- it removes the greatest stain. (p. 179)
     *    "Gold shines out of the mud." [p. 179]
     *    "Gold has a dirty origin but is nevertheless treated with honor. [p. 180]
     *    "The world stands on three things: on money, on money, and money."
          [p. 180] [All from KUMOVE, 1985]

Jewish psychoanalyst Theodore Reik, in Jewish Wit (his volume about the subliminal psychological meanings of Jewish humor) notes:

      "All kinds of deception and cunning, of fraud and trickery,
       devised and committed by Jews, either to get money or to
       avoid paying money, are exposed and candidly revealed by
       Jewish jokes." [REIK, T., 1962, p. 67]


                                     **************


"'My [husband] Morris was in Auschwitz. Ask him what he thinks of the Hasidim. Morris, come here,' she orders. He shuffles in like a Foghorn Leghorn auditioningfor a part, cigar clenched firmly between his teeth. 'What do you think of the Hasids?' Without missing a beat in he begins to intone,
         'Huset Ganef
         Geh Ka' Chrzanow
         Koif a fayert
         Lieg in drayert.'

         (Hasid, you crook
         Travel to Chrzanow, for a look
         Buy a horse
         Then drop dead, of course.)
It's a child nursery rhyme my grandmother used to chant on those rare occasions when she saw a Hasid in Nebraska."
-- An elderly Jewish couple in New Jersey, to Robert Eisenberger, Boychiks in the Hood. Travels in the Hasidic Underground, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995, p. 158]


                                         ******************


In Yiddish/Hebrew "folk tradition," Romanians are called "amolek" (an analogue to the despised Biblical "Ameleks"), the Irish called "beytzimer" (a pun on the word testes), the Germans the pejorative "deitshuk," the Italians "loksh" (noodle), the Moldevians "moldevan" ("a boor or lout, yokel"), and the Prussians "preissn" (cockroaches). Armenians were called "timkhe." "This Hebrew word in the Bible," noted Jewish scholar A. A. Roback, "with reference to Amalek, the hereditary foe of the Israelites, curiously enough, is employed by Jews in Galicia [Poland], as a nickname for the Armenians, whom, for some reason, they look upon as descendants of that eternally despised people." [ROBACK, p. 141]  "Goy" (the categorical term for non-Jews), of course, means "an illiterate, coarse or lowbrow person." A "goyische kop," continues Roback, is a "Gentile head. A dunce, bonehead. It may be noted that the Gentiles referred to here were peasants, but the Jewish folk mind denies far-sighted, sensitive intelligence, understanding, and brilliance even to highly trained and distinguished non-Jews." [ROBACK, p. 139-140] (Traditional Jewish defamations of those of African descent will be discussed more extensively elsewhere).
-- From A. A. Roback, A Dictionary of of International Slurs (Ethnophaulisms), Sci-Art Publishers, Cambridge, MA, 1944 [A. A. Roback was a Jewish psychiatrist/psychoanalyst]


                                         ********************

The Israeli social critic, Israel Shahak, has pointed out the hypocrisy is modern day Jewish efforts to veil its less than noble past. Shahak cites the 1968 English-language volume, The Joys of Yiddish, by Leon Rosten, noting that it

      "is a kind of glossary of Yiddish [the Jewish traditional language of central
      and eastern Europe] [with].... an etymology stating ... the
      language from which the word came into Yiddish and its meaning in
      that language ... The entry shaygets - whose main meaning is 'a Gentile
     
boy or young man' -- is an exception: there the etymology cryptically states,
      'Hebrew origin,' without giving the form or meaning of the original Hebrew word.
      However, under the entry shiksa -- the feminine form of shaygets -- the author
      does give the original Hebrew word, shegetz (or, in his transliteration, shegues)
      and defines its Hebrew meaning as 'blemish.' This is a bold-faced lie as every speaker
      of Hebrew knows. The Megiddo Modern Hebrew-English Dictionary, published in Israel,
     
correctly defines shegetz as follows: 'unclean animal': loathsome creature, abomination ...
      wretch, unruly youngster; Gentile youngster."
      [SHAHAK, p. 26]

Edwin Freeland notes that:

     "The etymological history of the word shiksa itself is instructive ...
       The Hebrew word shakaytz means to abominate, to utterly detest.
       In the Bible there are constant admonitions not to eat or take the shikutz
      
(masculine noun form), literally, the abominated thing, into one's house."
       [FREEDLAND, E., 1982, p. 508]

For popular consumption in English, however, the word shiksa is usually carefully censored.  In A Dictionary of Yiddish Slang and Idioms, for example, "shikseh" is simply defined as "Non-Jewish girl (also used to imply an impious or wild Jewish girl)." [KOGOS, p. 70]

But most Jews know better. Yossi Klein Halevi, who grew up in an American Orthodox community, notes that the word "shiksa" means "a gentile woman, that nasty Yiddish word implying 'slut.'" [HALEVI, MEMOIRS, p. 224] When Israeli Ze'ev Chafets married a non-Jewish woman in 1997, he had to face more firmly the institutionalized Jewish racism (and moral double standards) against his new wife:
     "Jews who would rather cut off their tongue than say 'nigger ' or 'spic'
     
and consider 'kike' and 'Hymie' fighting words talk about 'goyim' and
     
'shiksas' with blithe indifference. They assume that we can't be guilty of
      prejudice because we are all victims ... But terms like 'shiksa' ... no longer
      sound like charming Yiddishisms to me; they seem like slurs."
     
[BROWNFELD, p. 85]



                                                     ****************

Eastern European Jews had a popular Yiddish song about Gentiles and alcoholism, a condition believed to be indigenous to non-Jews: "Shicker is a goy ... trinker muss er. (The Gentile is a drunkard; he has to drink.)" [CANTOR, N; 1994, p. 183] Jews themselves had a marked tendency towards sobriety. George Mosse suggests that "the reasons for their moderation in the consumption of alcohol may have ... been ... economic.... Avoidance of drunkenness helped to avoid expenses and thus assisted in the primary accumulation of capital." Staying sober, needless to say, is also a distinct advantage, economically or otherwise, over the intoxicated. And alcoholism is a steady, reliable source for profit. "The Jews," says Hillel Levine, ".... could avert facing his contribution to the plight of the serf -- 'A goy,' he might mutter with self-righteousness, 'drunken sloth is the essence of the Gentile.' [LEVINE, H., p. 10]
 
It is disturbing to note how deeply ingrained the disdain for non-Jews is in Jewish folk tradition (as well as the lengths they go to hide it from Gentiles). In a 1955 study of Jewish American stereotypes equating non-Jews with drunkenness, 38 of 73 Jewish respondents denied they had ever heard about an association of Gentiles and alcoholics as children, but "when asked specifically about a childhood ditty called 'Drunken is the Gentile," only 17 denied familiarity with it. This turnabout, wrote the researcher, Charles Snyder, was because Jewish respondents recognized that "the interviewer knew the prevailing folk beliefs and that it was no longer necessary to conceal ethnocentric ideas behind a universalistic front." [SKLARE, p. 576]

**********************

In a 1961 study of Jewish-Americans (not focusing solely on the Orthodox), Judith Kramer and Seymour Leventman noted from Yiddish-speaking informants that

     "Even in the Yiddish language [the common language of immigrant Jews from
      central and eastern Europe, where more Jews lived, til Hitler, than any other
      place in the world] ... popular usage distinguished between Jews and non-Jews
      by employing different verbs to describe the behavior. Reserved for gentiles
      are words otherwise used in reference to animals: e.g., Jews eat (essen), but
      goyim
eat like pigs (fressen); Jews die (starben), but goyim die like dogs (pagern);
      Jews take a drink (trinken), but goyim drink like sots (soifen)."
      [KRAMER, p. 107]

"Every Jew is familiar with the works of Hillel," says Chaim Bermant,

     "and the precept of 'love they neighbor as thyself' is at the heart of Judaism,
      yet every student brought up on the Babylonian Talmud -- and it must be
      remembered that for many centuries, especially in Poland, the Jews studied
      little else -- is inculcated with a disdain for the gentile which has entered into
      Jewish lore and into the very expressions of the Yiddish language."
      [BERMAN, C., 1977, p. 35]






Bermant, Chaim. The Jews. Times Mirror, 1977

Brownfeld, Alan. Growing Intolerance Threatens the Humane Jewish Tradition, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 1999

Cantor, Norman. The Sacred Chain. A History of the Jews, HarperCollins, 1994

Dinnerstein, Leonard. The Origins of Black Anti-Semitism [in Gurock, Jeffrey. Anti-Semitism in America, v. 6, Routledge, 1998

Freedman, Edwin. The Myth of the Shiksa. [in Herz/Rosen, 1982]

Halevi, Yossi. Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist. An American Story, Little, Brown, & Co., 1995

Kramer, Judith/Leventman, Seymour. Children of the Gilded Ghetto, Yale University Press, 1961

Kumove, Shirley. A Collection of Yiddish Folk Sayings, Schocken Books, NY, 1985

Levine, Hillel/Harmon, Laurence. The Death of an American Jewish Community. Free Press/Macmillan, 1992

Lewin, Meyer. Classic Hasidic Tales. Citadel Press, NY, 1966, p. xi

Poll, Solomon. The Hasidic Community of Williamsburg. Schocken, NY, 1969

Reik, Theodore. Jewish Wit. Gamut Press, NY, 1962

Roback, A.A. Dictionary of International Slurs (Ethnopaulism), Sci-Art Publishers, 1944

Shahak, Israel. Jewish History, Jewish Religions. The Weight of Three Thousand Years. Pluto Press, 1994

Sklare, Marshall. The Jews. Social Patterns of an American Group, The Free Press, 1955


 



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