Jewish dopers: "A Jew" vs "Jewish"

In the NBC show *Community *one of the characters says that she is Jewish. Another characters refers to her as “A Jew” and she says “I prefer you use the whole word.”

In the thread about the show there is some discussion (I will quote in a second posting, it doesn’t appear that you can quote *and *start a new thread) but I thought we might get a better response here.

Do you prefer “Jewish” to “A Jew?”
Will you explain why?

I am interested in hearing your opinions and I do not mean this as hate speech and if I have phrased the question poorly please explain too how I might phrase it without offending.

Here are the quotes I promised. Also, mods is this better off as a debate?

I’m not Jewish. I do feel a little odd - maybe even uncomfortable - saying Jew, though that might have more to do with Cartman than anything else.

You know, for some reason I always felt uneasy too with saying “a Jew.” But for the life of me, I don’t know why or where I learned it was “wrong.”

It’s wrong for the same reason that “Democratic Congressman” is preferred to “Democrat Congressman”.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “a Jew.”

The joke in Community was not that the character was saying “a Jew,” but rather the uncomfortable way she said it: “I didn’t know you were (deep breath) a Jeeeeeeewww.” It was because she was seemingly unable to say the phrase without a lot of baggage that it was recommended she say “Jewish” instead.

My apologies for being so dense, but I do not understand the comparison. Can you expand a little?

I don’t have a specific preference for either term – but on a slightly (or maybe more than slightly) related note, I really, really, really wish there were a good way to distinguish between adherents of Judaism (the religion) and people who are ethnically/culturally Jewish.

Thanks for starting this thread!

I’ll move my posts over here…

I’ve been pondering over the distinction between using jew vs jewish. Trying to see how it work in comparison to other tags, I mean.

For example, you could say either:

Beth is a Christian.


Beth is Christian.

And I don’t think either is at all offensive. (On the face of it, I mean, you can always load your tones to make anything an insult.)

Similarly for denomination tags: a Lutheran/Lutheran, a Baptist/Baptist, an Episcopalian/Episcopalian, a Morman/Morman.
OTOH, I see a definite difference between saying Beth is a Black vs. Beth is Black.

So… why is using the noun form only sometimes offensive?

Note: I’m not saying that it isn’t – clearly at least some people are offended by it – I’m just trying to figure out what the general rule is.

But maybe I’m getting out of Cafe Society territory.

As in, not wrong at all?

That was my thought - as far as I am aware Jew is a perfectly good word. I’m not sure what the woman Khadaji referenced means by “I prefer the whole word”.

Again, though, it feels slightly wrong to say it.

People say “Democrat” quite often to refer to members of the Democratic Party, but Democratic in that sense is a proper noun, so a Congressman who is a member is not a Democrat Congressman but a Democratic Congressman.

Put “non-practicing” in front of “Jew”?

And my second post:

Originally Posted by DrFidelius
Because “is Jewish” tells us something about the person, “is a Jew” seems to tell us everything about the person.

I understand that, but the same distinction could be said of Christian vs. “a Christian”, and neither form is offensive. I just did some Googling, and found that apparently both forms are acceptable for some other religions. For example:

John is a muslim. AND John is muslim.
John is a Buddhist. AND John is Buddhist.
John is a Wiccan. AND John is Wiccan.

Is the difference just that the noun and adjective forms have different spellings/pronunciations?

I have heard that saying he’s ‘a jew’ was not nice, but I heard that from the type of person that is overly offended at everything (not Jewish) and so I took it with salt.

I grew up reading the KJV bible, so shortening ‘Jewish’ was not something I thought was a bad thing.

It does sound a bit softer in plural, for some reason. ‘The Jews and the Gentiles’ somehow sounds softer than, “She’s a Jew”.

It depends a lot on tone and circumstance. It can be used non-offensively, especially in the collective ("…when the Jews return to their homeland"), but it can also be use crassly, especially when used in the singular (“a jew”) and even more so when used in the 2nd person (“I didn’t know you were you a Jew”).

There’s no hard rule on it. You just know the crassness when you hear it.

Not really, IMHO…

It’s cumbersome (again, IMO, YMMV.)
Some “Cultural Jews” (like me) prefer not to be defined in terms of our relationship to religion.
And sometimes you will be dealing with a Jewish person who is both Ethnically/culturally Jewish and a religious Jew, but may need to disambiguate which facet of their “Jewishness” you’re referring to.

I would likely say (well, if I were to comment at all): I didn’t know you were Jewish - because somehow I didn’t know you were you a Jew does seem crass, or somehow wrong. As mentioned up thread, I don’t know where this feeling comes from, because I can’t recall it ever being taught to me that it was “wrong”.

Not trying to be a smartass here (although it’s difficult for me: I’m in a 12-step program): How is being “Jewish” different from being “Muslimish” or “Christianish” or “assholish”? Generally, the -ish appendage to a word implies that someone is exhibiting behavior typical of the descriptive: in other words, it is usually used as a pejorative. It’s interesting that “Jewish” has evolved into the preferred term rather than being an insulting description.

Oh, I see. How about Israelite or Hebrew then?

Because, again, unlike other faiths, Jews are as much an ethnic/cultural grouping as a religious one. Hence the use of the “-ish” suffix, which often denotes nationality - such as in Irish or English.

I suppose if you wanted to get technical about it, you would be better off using Judaic to refer to matters related to the faith.

No preference. Just please don’t use the clunky politically correct “Jewish person” that one sometimes hears.

Couldn’t care less either way.

-Malleus, a Jewish Jew who practices Judaism.

I think this is just a matter of conditioning, much like the above “black/a black” difference, or how you can say “He’s an Englishman” but “He’s a Chinaman” is just ooky. (True, “Chinaman” and “Englishman” have the same noun/adjective divide as the other examples.)

If you hear a term used pejoratively, it becomes suspect. If no one ever said “a Jew” offensively, then we wouldn’t have this sort of conditioned reaction that it’s a bit off.