I was born into a Jewish family that practiced Judaism. We practiced but didn’t always succeed. Here’s what it means to be a Jew.…
3 Jewish flavors
Jews come in 3 popular flavors: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform:
Since Reform Jews ignore the rituals, Orthodox Jews accuse Reform Jews of being negligent and non-religious. Since Orthodox Jews perform all the old rituals, Reform Jews accuse Orthodox Jews of being hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch with modern needs.
But although Orthodox Jews consider Reform Jews to be misguided, and vice versa, they respect each other. Jews don’t despise each other the way Protestants and Catholics do in Northern Ireland. Christians have wars about religion; Jews don’t. Jews are quiet people.
Do Jews fight?
Although Jews are quiet, they aren’t humble. They don’t agree with Jesus’s recommendation to “turn the other cheek.”
If a Jew gets into a fight, he’ll run away or defend himself or try to talk the opponent out of fighting. But he won’t let himself to be turned into a punching bag. Jews do not believe in self-sacrifice.
Jews try to avoid fights just if they’re “typical” Jews, not commanders of the Israeli military, who are paid to love war. It’s amazing how a paycheck can change one’s sense of values.
Life after death
Christians worry about whether they’ll go to Hell instead of Heaven. Jews ignore the issue of “life after death,” since the Old Testament hardly even mentions the issue.
Once a year, at the Yom Kippur holiday, they pray that God will put their names in His white book instead of His black book. But they believe that if they’re good, their rewards will occur relatively soon, rather than in the hereafter.
According to Christian doctrine, all non-Christians are sinners: they can’t go to Heaven and must instead go to Hell or at least “purgatory” (which is a nightmare that resembles a Howard Johnson’s restaurant on the lonely road from Hell to Heaven). Jews, by contrast, believe that non-Jews can get to Heaven, and that the only purpose of Jewish rituals is to help get Jews an “in” with God. (“Hey, you guys, we’re Jews, God’s chosen people. If you join us, we’ll help you get into Heaven; we’ve got contacts up there. We’ll help you reach the Top through our old ‘Jew-boy’ network. Just follow our rituals — come to our synagogue and bow down at the right times — and do good deeds; then we’ll make sure God treats you right.”)
Since Christians think all non-Christians are sinners, Christians hire missionaries to turn non-Christians into Christians. That’s why Christianity is called a missionary religion.
But Judaism’s not a missionary religion: Jews don’t hire missionaries to turn the rest of the world into Jews. That’s because Jews consider Judaism to be an aid but not a necessity for getting into Heaven.
To be a good Jew, you must perform many Jewish rituals. If a Christian wants to convert and become a Jew, the rabbi is required to warn the Christian how difficult Judaism is. In fact, according to Jewish law, the rabbi is required to try 3 times to dissuade the Christian from converting. If, after the 3 attempts to dissuade the Christian, the Christian still wants to become a Jew, the rabbi knows the Christian is serious, so the rabbi must help the Christian complete the conversion process, by teaching the Christian about Judaism, until the Christian can pass a test proving the Christian understands Judaism thoroughly — more thoroughly than the average Jew!
When a Jewish boy turns 13, he undergoes a ceremony called Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew for “son of the commandments”). In the ceremony, he agrees to observe all the Jewish commandments forever. If he breaks any commandments after making that agreement, he’s considered a jerk.
Before a kid is 13, he can do whatever he wishes, and God won’t blame him for it. God will say, “he’s just a dumb kid.” But when the kid turns 13 and goes through the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, suddenly God’s attitude to the kid becomes: “You agreed to become one of my chosen people; so if you fool around any more, you’ll be breaking the agreement, and I’m gonna make sure you get screwed!” (Jews believe God is very vengeful, unlike the Christians, who believe God is very forgiving. Christians believe it’s okay to sin as long as you say afterwards that you’re “sorry.” Jews believe that if you sin, the only way to repent is to help other people by doing so many kind deeds that they outweigh your past.)
Since the Bar Mitzvah ceremony marks the kid’s acceptance of adult responsibilities, it’s become a ritual of manhood, accompanied by lavish feasts and presents. Just as rich Christians often throw ridiculously opulent wedding receptions, so do rich Jews often throw ridiculously opulent Bar Mitzvah parties, in which the spoiled 13-year-old brat becomes king for a day.
Rabbis bemoaned those bloated pagan bar mitzvah feasts. The Rabbis warn that “Bar” means “son of,” “Mitzvah” means “the commandments,” and that too much attention is being placed on the Bar and not enough on the Mitzvah.
Jews belittle women
Judaism is a male religion.
In traditional Orthodox Judaism, the men go to the synagogue while the women stay home to cook. Modern Orthodox synagogues permit women to enter, but the women must sit in the back and to the side, in the “ladies” section. Sometimes, the women feel as if they were blacks being forced to sit in the back of a bus.
To hold an Orthodox Jewish ceremony, at least 10 men must be present. Women don’t count.
Why? Because in the traditional Jewish family, the man is supposed to take care of problems with God, while the woman takes care of problems with kids.
On Friday night, the woman is supposed to light candles. The reason, according to the Talmud (the book of Jewish law), is that women are to blame for throwing the world into darkness — it began when Eve let herself be tempted by the snake — and so women should atone by bringing the world back to light.
On the Jewish totem pole, the woman is a notch lower than the man. For example, every morning when an Orthodox man wakes up, he’s supposed to say a prayer in which he says:
In a feminist magazine, a Jewish woman wrote an article on how to be an Orthodox Jew and a feminist simultaneously. She found the assignment challenging!
Conservative and Reform Judaism try to give the women a greater sense of involvement.
For example, Conservative and Reform Jews have created a ceremony called Bas Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah (depending on your accent), which means daughter of the commandments. In the Bas Mitzvah ceremony, the 13-year-old girl pretends she’s a boy and goes through the Bar Mitzvah ceremony. That ceremony financially strains the girl’s parents, who must throw a huge party for the 13-year-old girl but still continue to save money in case she wants a wedding party 5 years later.
In the Christian calendar, each day begins at midnight. For example, Thursday begins at the end of Wednesday, at midnight.
The Jewish calendar begins each day at sunset instead, so a Jewish “day” consists of evening followed by night followed by morning followed by afternoon. That’s because, when the Book of Genesis explains how God created the universe, it says, “It was evening and then it was morning, one day.”
So the Jewish Thursday begins at the end of Wednesday (at sunset) and continues until the end of Thursday (at sunset).
Sabbaths According to Jewish tradition, the most important holiday is the Sabbath (Saturday). Jews begin celebrating it at the end of Friday (at sunset) and continue celebrating it until the end of Saturday (at sunset).
During the Sabbath, Jews go to the synagogue to pray — especially in the evening, after Friday’s sunset, during what Christians call “Friday night.” So on “Friday night,” while Christians are throwing wild parties, Jews are stuck in the synagogue, praying. What a drag!
During the Sabbath, Jews aren’t allowed to work. Orthodox Jews carry the “no work” rule to an extreme: they refuse to use any machine. For example, they refuse to use cars, telephones, and light switches. To get to the synagogue on the Sabbath, Orthodox Jews walk, since they refuse to use cars. If an Orthodox Jew lives too far from the synagogue to walk, he stays home.
Yom Kippur (which means “Day of Atonement”) is a special holiday, nicknamed “The Sabbath of Sabbaths.” Jews spend the whole day of Yom Kippur in the synagogue, where they beg God to forgive them for their sins of the past year, and beg Him to put their names into his white book instead of his black book. During the whole day, Jews fast. I don’t mean the stupid little token fast practiced at Lent by Christians (who just give up meat) or by Muslims during their religious month. No, when Jews fast, they fast totally: throughout the entire Yom Kippur day, Jews eat nothing, and drink nothing, not even water! The only Jews exempt from fasting are kids too young to be Bar Mitzvahed, pregnant women, and the gravely ill.
Having no food and no water for 24 hours might sound dreadful, but actually it’s fun. Kids think it’s fun to try surviving like that for a day — especially since the fast is preceded and succeeded by a big celebratory meal. The fasting is easier than it sounds, since you get to sleep after the first big meal and after praying. And after the first few hours of fasting, your body adjusts to the lack of food, and your hunger goes away.
Although nicknamed “The Sabbath of Sabbaths,” Yom Kippur doesn’t necessarily fall on a Saturday. But like all Jewish holidays, it begins at sunset and ends at sunset.
So the most important days on the Jewish calendar are Yom Kippur and all the Saturdays. Jews take them very seriously. According to the Bible, the penalty for desecrating Yom Kippur is excommunication, and the penalty for desecrating the 52 other Sabbaths is even stronger: death! If you don’t believe me, open your Bible, and read the Book of Leviticus (chapter 23, verse 30) and the Book of Exodus (chapter 31, verse 15).
Lesser holidays Much less important than Yom Kippur and the Sabbaths is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year’s celebration. Then, even lower, come all the other holidays, such as Passover, Purim, Succoth, and Chanuka. (To correctly pronounce the “Ch” in “Chanuka,” say an “H” while gargling.)
That’s what Jewish tradition says. Unfortunately, Jewish tradition isn’t very marketable. What a drab religion, to have the biggest holiday, Yom Kippur, be a day of fasting! And what a boring religion, to have the 52 other important holidays all be identical to each other, all be Saturdays, and all be days that prohibit you from driving your car and even from phoning your friends! Of all the world’s major religions, Judaism is the most morose.
Christmas competition When American Jews saw their Christian neighbors enjoy Christmas and throw wild Christmas parties, they got jealous and began placing an artificial emphasis on Chanuka, since Chanuka (like Christmas) involves giving presents and comes at the same time of the year. But according to old Jewish tradition, Chanuka is supposed to be a minor holiday, because it merely commemorates a minor favor that God’ gave a group of Jewish warriors: He let the oil in their synagogue burn for eight days. A little tale about high-grade oil cannot compete with Christmas and Easter, the two Christian holidays that marked the beginning of all Christianity!
During Christmas, Jews feel lonely at being left out of Christmas parties and secretly wish they were Christian. Reform Jews often buy Christmas trees but tell their Orthodox friends that the trees are just “Chanuka bushes.” While Christians preach love at Christmas, and say “keep the Christ in Christmas,” Jews just say “keep the Ch in Chanuka.” While Christians give gigantic presents on Christmas day, Jews must be stingy and give tiny presents instead, because Chanuka lasts 8 days and you’re supposed to give each member of your family 8 presents: one each day!
Celebrate twice In ancient Israel, the Jews weren’t sure which days the holidays fell on, because the calendar depended on the moon’s phases and on a cloudy night it was hard to tell whether the moon was full. So to be sure they celebrated Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), they celebrated it twice.
The Jews who lived outside Israel were even less certain about the holidays, because they had to wait for a messenger to travel from Israel and tell them what the Israeli judges had decided about whether the moon was indeed full yet. So outside Israel, to be safe, Jews celebrated most holidays for an extra day.
For example, if Passover was theoretically supposed to fall on a Thursday, the Jews outside Israel celebrated it on both Thursday and Friday, just to be sure they didn’t miss the right day. They performed the entire Passover ceremony on Thursday, and then repeated the entire ceremony again, word for word, on Friday, while trying not to snore.
The main exceptions were Yom Kippur (no Jew would stand for fasting two days in a row!), the Sabbath (no Jew could afford to relax more than 1 day per week), and Chanuka (eight days is enough already).
Today, Orthodox and Conservative Jews still demand two days off from work for each holiday. Reform Jews have cut back to just one day per holiday. So Orthodox and Conservative Jews are twice as religious, theoretically. But in practice, the typical Orthodox or Conservative Jew does not go to synagogue on the second day of the holiday: instead, he hides from the rabbi and goes fishing instead!
What Jews eat
In the Old Testament, God gave 613 commandments. He made Moses put the 10 most important commandments onto a tablet, but God warned that the other 603 commandments must be obeyed also. Several of those commandments concern food.
No meat with milk God said:
God felt so strongly about that commandment that he said it twice: he said it in the Book of Exodus (23:19) and also in the Book of Deuteronomy (14:21).
Apparently, God thought this: it’s okay to eat a goat and drink milk, but boiling a goat in the milk of its own mother is gross. The Jewish God always insisted on good manners! You must eat the goat first and then drink the milk, or vise versa.
Of course, the law can be hard to enforce: if you go to a supermarket to buy goat meat and some goat’s milk (true delicacies!), how can you be sure that the goat who produced the milk isn’t, by some weird coincidence, the mother of the goat you’re eating? You’d be upset if, while drinking the milk, you nibble at the goat meat, and suddenly God stabs you with a lightening bolt. It could ruin your whole day.
To protect against lightening bolts, Jews have adopted a simple insurance policy: never eat any kind of meat with any kind of milk. Jews won’t even eat chicken with cheese, even though it’s highly unlikely that the chicken’s mother produced the cheese. In fact, if the chicken’s mother did produce the cheese, she’d be a miracle, almost as miraculous as an Easter bunny who lays eggs. Nevertheless, Jews still consider it possible that the cheese might have come from the chicken’s mother, so Jews refuse to eat cheese with chicken.
“Never eat any kind of meat with any kind of milk” has become a Jewish law. But Jewish lawyers (who are very clever) noticed the law contains a vague word: “with.” What does it mean to eat meat with milk? For example, if you eat meat and then five minutes later drink milk, did you have meat with milk?
To make sure Jewish eaters don’t take such liberties, Jewish lawyers have rewritten the law, as follows: after eating meat, you must wait several hours before drinking milk. But how long is “several hours”? In Eastern Europe, Jewish lawyers say you must wait 6 hours; in Germany and most other countries of Western Europe, Jewish lawyers say you must wait just 3 hours; in Holland, where Jewish lawyers are very permissive, they say you must wait just 72 minutes.
So if you eat meat, you must wait a while before you drink milk. On the other hand, if you drink milk, you do not have to wait a while before you eat meat; it’s okay to eat meat immediately after drinking milk. But it’s not okay to eat meat immediately after eating hard cheese — because hard cheese sticks to your teeth! After eating hard cheese, you must wait at least an hour, for the cheese to disintegrate. That law about hard cheese was invented by a rabbi and is called the sticky-cheese amendment.
What if two Jews are sitting next to each other, and one of them is eating meat while the other is drinking milk. Have they mixed meat and milk? Fortunately, the answer is “no.” But suppose the Jew who’s eating meat wants to drink orange juice, and the only cup in the house is the one used by the milk drinker. Can the meat eater rinse that cup, put the orange juice into it, and drink the juice? Jewish lawyers have decided the answer is no: the cup that contained the milk must be rinsed and then dried for several hours, before it can be used by a meat eater. As my Christian friends say, “Leave it to a Jewish lawyer to make life difficult!”
But I have good news for you: if the cup is made of glass, you’re allowed to put milk into it, rinse it, and use it for orange juice in a meat meal without any delay — because glass is non-porous. That rule, invented by a kind rabbi, is called the glass amendment.
When I was a kid, a friend decided to become an Eastern European style Orthodox Jew, even though his parents were not. (His parents were Reform.) When I visited his house, his mom made him a chicken sandwich, then gave him a cup of orange juice. He refused to drink the orange juice, because his mom couldn’t guarantee that the cup had been milk-free for the previous 6 hours. (Moral: if you’re a mom whose kid turns into an Orthodox Jew, he’s going to give you Hell!)
To avoid the problem of watching each cup (to make sure it didn’t contain milk within the previous 6 hours) and watching each plate (to make sure it didn’t contain meat with the previous 6 hours), Orthodox Jews have 3 sets of tableware:
Each set of tableware must be washed separately. That’s why, in ancient times, each Jewish home had three sinks. And that’s why, in modern times, the typical Orthodox Jewish American Princess makes her husband buy 3 dishwashers.
No pork Besides the prohibition against eating meat with milk, the Bible contains other laws about meat. For example, it prohibits eating meat from any animal that has a “cloven hoof.” The most popular animal that has a “cloven hoof” is the pig: Jews can’t eat pork.
Although beef is okay, the animal must be killed in a special way — by slitting the animal’s neck while saying a blessing. The animal probably doesn’t appreciate the blessing, but God does.
No shellfish The Book of Deuteronomy (in chapter 14, verses 9 and 10) lets you eat a fish just if it has fins and scales. So you can’t eat shellfish: Jews can’t eat shrimp or lobsters or clams.
What about swordfish and sturgeon, which have fins and scales for just part of their lives? Orthodox Jews refuse to eat them, but Conservative and Reform Jews indulge.
4 categories All those rules about food are called the dietary laws or kosher laws. (Kosher is the Hebrew word for “clean.”)
Jews view all food as falling into 4 categories:
Acceptable meat is called kosher meat. Unacceptable meat and shellfish are called trayfe, which is the Hebrew word for “dirty.” Milk products (such as milk, cream, butter, and cheese) are all called dairy and can’t be had with meat. Neutral foods (such as grains and fruits) can be eaten with either meat or milk and are called pareve.
Symbols When I was a kid, the symbol for “kosher” was a tiny K in a circle, and the symbol for “pareve” was a tiny P in a circle. For example, if you went into a supermarket and bought a package of Jewish meat, you’d see a circled K on the package; and if you bought a package or ordinary cereal (such as Kellogg’s), you’d see a circled P on the package, which meant that you could eat the cereal even if you were Jewish.
Now the circled K has been switched to an uncircled K, and pareve foods have a K instead of a P (because the typical stupid Jew doesn’t know what “pareve” means). In short, the K today simply means “this product contains nothing that would discourage a Jew.”
The K costs money. For each box of cereal that Kellogg sells, Kellogg must pay a rabbi, who inspects the cereal to make sure it’s manufactured in a clean and unsurprising way. Paying the rabbi is like paying the Mafia: “If you don’t pay me, I’ll make sure the sales of your cereal to Jews will decline.”
Instead of a K, you’ll sometimes see a circled U, which means that the food is approved by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
Substitute foods Since Jews can’t eat pork, Jewish hot dogs are all-beef. Since Jews can’t eat bacon (which is made from pork), Jews eat “imitation bacon” made from soy. Since Jews can’t have meat with milk, Jews avoid milk products: they use margarine instead of butter and use “non-dairy creamer” instead of real cream in their coffee.
Obey all that? Orthodox Jews obey all those rules all the time. Reform Jews usually ignore all those rules.
Conservative Jews adopt a creative compromise: they obey all those rules at home (they “keep a kosher home”), but ignore all those rules when they visit restaurants. So at restaurants, they “pig out” and eat everything they’re not allowed to eat at home.
Chinese restaurants Conservative Jews prefer to eat at Chinese restaurants, because Chinese restaurants serve everything that Conservative Jews can’t eat at home, such as pork, shrimp, and lobster. Here’s another reason why Jews love Chinese restaurants: those restaurants, like Jewish culture itself, are ethnic adventures.
The fastest way to find a Jewish community is to look for a Chinese restaurant. In the typical Chinese restaurant, most of the customers are Jews!
To compliment a Jew, say “You’re like sweet-and-sour pork, but without the sour and without the pork: you’re just sweet!”
Judaism is an intellectual religion.
To become a good Jew, you must study many rituals. For example, to prepare for Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish boy must undergo many months of training.
Judaism is based on the Old Testament, in which Abraham, Moses, and the rest of the gang continuously debate with God.
Reading the Old Testament is like reading the record of a legal trial: in the end, God wins, and the Jews agree to obey His 613 commandments, but the interpretation of His commandments fills another set of books, called the Talmud, written by Jewish religious lawyers. In the Talmud and later writings, Jews analyze what God means and what he wants Jews to do. Judaism is an analytical religion. Studying Judaism is good preparation for being a lawyer. Several American law schools offer courses in Jewish law.
Maimonides One of the wisest Jewish scholars was Maimonides, a Jewish doctor who was born in 1135 A.D. and lived in Spain during the Middle Ages. He was interested in medicine but also Jewish law: his Jewish mom was proud that he was a doctor and a lawyer! He put the finishing touches on the Talmud (the book of Jewish law). He also developed the ladder of charity, which went far beyond anything ever proposed by his predecessors (such as Jesus).
Maimonides’ ladder of charity consisted of eight rungs. At the lowest rung, the rich man gave money to the poor man, but the money was given in a very obvious way, so that the rich man knew who the poor man was, and the poor man knew who the rich man was, and the poor man felt embarrassed. At higher rungs, the charity was given anonymously, so that the poor man didn’t know who the rich man was, the rich man didn’t know who the poor man was, and the rich man couldn’t “gloat” over the poor man. But the very highest rung on Maimonides’ ladder involved giving no money at all! Instead, at the highest rung, the rich man spends time with the poor man, and trains the poor man in a new skill, so that the poor man can get a job and won’t need charity anymore!
Maimonides wasn’t the only person to think of that. For example, the Japanese have an old saying that summarizes Maimonides’ ladder; the Japanese say: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; but if you give a man a rod instead, he’ll eat for a year.” Actually, the Japanese say it using Japanese grammar, like this: “Give man fish, eats for day; give man rod, eats for year.”
Notice that Jews, like Maimonides, worry about climbing social ladders, whereas the Japanese say “Hell with society” and prefer to simply eat fish.
No blind faith Although Christianity encourages “blind faith,” Judaism does not. Judaism encourages thought more than faith. Jews are told to think about how to interpret God’s law.
No Pope Catholics are told that the Pope is infallible — always right — and to obey the Pope’s command without questioning. Jews don’t have a Pope.
The word rabbi means just “teacher”: a rabbi is just a scholar who’s studied religion thoroughly but who, like any other human, might be wrong; it’s okay for a Jew to argue with his rabbi.
Unlike a Catholic priest, a rabbi has no mystical powers. You don’t need a rabbi to perform a Jewish service: you need just ten ordinary men, and one of the men has to agree to act as the leader.
You need a rabbi’s signature just on legal documents, such as marriage contracts and divorce papers. So a rabbi is just a bright guy who’s also empowered to act as a notary public.
Study hard Jewish parents encourage their kids to study hard: finish high school, finish college, and proceed to advanced degrees.
What Jews think of Jesus
Jesus was Jewish. His Last Supper was a Passover ceremony.
Jesus was a teacher, a “rabbi,” who was more humane than most other rabbis. He criticized the other rabbis for being greedy, bureaucratic, and pigheaded — and was right.
According to Jewish tradition, a Messiah would come. Many nuts claimed to be the Messiah. Jesus, too, claimed to be the Messiah. Other Jewish rabbis believed that Jesus, too, was a nut.
Jesus’s most important contribution to our culture was to emphasize the importance of love and forgiveness. He turned away from the harsher ethics espoused by other rabbis.
Modern Jews think Jesus was a great teacher but still just a human whose advice, though quite wise, could still be further improved and refined.
To learn more about Judaism’s fascinating weird customs and rituals, read The Jewish Book of Why, written by Rabbi Alfred Kolatch and published by his own publishing company (Jonathan David Publishers, 68-22 Eliot Ave., Middle Village, NY 11379).
To learn how and why Jews revolted against Orthodoxy and created Reform Judaism, read The Story of Reform Judaism, written by Rabbi Sylvan Schwartzman for bright kids. It’s published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in New York City.
Jews have been stereotyped as being “money-grubbers.” The connection between Jews and money has a long history that was actually the fault of the Christians!
A terrible disease — leprosy — began spreading over Europe in 1349. It was called the plague, the Black Death. Since people didn’t know it was caused by germs, they blamed it on the Jews. In several cities — such as Frankfort, Germany — ignorant mobs burned the houses of all the Jews, forced the Jews to live in a segregated area (called a ghetto), and prohibited Jews from participating in normal life. Since the ghetto was surrounded by walls and was undersized, life in the ghetto was dangerously crowded.
Outside the ghetto, Christians developed a feudal system (which required farmers to swear a Christian oath of loyalty to their noble or king); and all employees in a shop or a craft were forced to join a guild (union), which admitted only Christians. So Jews couldn’t become farmers or shopkeepers or craftsmen.
The Catholic Church forbade Catholics from lending money at interest. But Catholic businessmen couldn’t run their businesses without getting loans! So Catholic businessmen, out of necessity, permitted Jews to come out of the ghetto for one occupation only: to give Catholics loans.
Charging interest on loans was against Jewish tradition as well as Catholic tradition, but the Jews had no choice: the only kind of job Jews were allowed was lending money.
That’s how Jews became bankers and pawnbrokers. That’s how Jews became associated with money. The Catholic Church forced them into it!
Catholics then adopted a strange attitude: they criticized the Jews for charging high interest rates, but nevertheless went to the Jews frequently because they prohibited their fellow Catholics from lending money!
Since lending money was the only way Jews could survive outside of the ghetto, Jews had to become wise about money, to survive. Instead of spending money recklessly, Jews had to learn how to save it and invest it. To Jews, having money became a form of security.
Even today, Jews view money differently than Christians. Christians view money as something to spend immediately and enjoy; Jews view money as something to put into the bank as protection against impending disaster. When Christians think of money, they think of the joy of spending it immediately; when Jews think of money, they think of the disasters that money protects against. When a Christian looks at his piggy bank and sees it’s half full, the Christian is happy about the thought of spending the half-full piggy bank immediately; when a Jew looks at a half-full piggy bank, the Jew sees it’s half empty, and worries that a disaster might strike for which a half-full piggy bank won’t be enough.
Jewish merchants tend to be not just long-nosed but also hard-nosed. Shakespeare exaggerated when he said the Jewish merchant Shylock demanded a pound of flesh, but even now Jewish merchants often tell their complaining customers, “You don’t like it? So sue me!” That’s why Jews tell this tale:
Jews are worrywarts
Jews always worry. They worry whether the meat they’re eating is kosher. They worry that they don’t have enough money in the bank. They worry that the Christians and Arabs will persecute Jews again or at least give Jews a hard time.
Those worries extend to the rest of life also. Jewish mothers worry that their sons won’t become famous doctors; they also worry that their daughters will marry dumb, brutal Christians. During the 1960’s, Jewish students worried about Viet Nam; in fact, the whole antiwar movement was begun by 2 groups of left-wing agitators (the Students for a Democrat Society and the Weathermen), who were all Jewish! If it weren’t for those Jewish students, we’d probably still be in Viet Nam!
Yes, Jewish men always worry: they’re never happy-go-lucky. That’s why Jews don’t drink much beer: Jews can’t adopt the ho-ho-ho attitude that beer-drinking requires. Instead, Jews prefer wine, which is quieter and more morose.
All Jewish culture is summarized in the personality of one man: Woody Allen. In his films, Woody spends most of his time worrying. In his earliest films, he worried about household appliances taking over his life. In later films, he worried about whether Diane Keeton loved him. In his most recent films, he worries about problems that are more profound.
When Jewish men (like Woody Allen) try to date, they continually worry that their girlfriends will reject them. Jewish men’s fear of women continues even after the men are married.
Yes, Jewish men are always pessimistic about sexual relationships — unlike Italian men, who are always optimistic. The contrast between Jewish men and Italian men is the subject of this famous joke:
Jews like Soft & Dry deodorant because of Soft & Dry’s ad:
Since Jews are always nervous, they’re always deodorizing.
Jews worry about illness. Here’s another tale from the Internet about desires and worries:
German Jews invented a dialect of German called Jewish German or Yiddish German. It used German grammar and vocabulary but borrowed some words from Hebrew. The entire Yiddish German language was written using Hebrew characters instead of the German alphabet. As the popularity of Yiddish grew, it spread to nearby countries (such as Hungary and Russia) and borrowed words from Slavic and Russian languages.
The Yiddish language developed its own brand of humor, which still gives smiles to Jews all over the world. One of the most popular techniques of Yiddish humor is to answer a question by giving a counter-question. For example, suppose a Yiddish Jew is trying to quit smoking, but hasn’t succeeded yet. If somebody asks him “Are you still smoking?” he’d reply, “Do fish swim?” or “Is the Pope Catholic?” If somebody else asks him “Have you stopped smoking?” he’d reply, “Can a fish climb a tree?” or “Is the Pope Jewish?”
Schmuck Although Yiddish is based on German and Hebrew, cynics call it a perversion of German and Hebrew. For example, consider the German word schmuck, which means “ornament.” The Jews borrowed that word and used it as a euphemism for “penis.” For example, a Yiddish-speaking girl might walk up to a boy, look at his penis bulging out of his pants, and say, “That’s a nice schmuck you got there.” It’s quite clear which “ornament” she’s referring to! Among American Jews, a favorite Yiddish expression is, “You stupid schmuck!” which means “You stupid cock!” or “You stupid fucker!” Since American Jews use the phrase “stupid schmuck” so often, people think “schmuck” means “fool”; but historically, it means “penis” or “ornament.” That’s how schmuck, which is the German word for “ornament,” became the Yiddish word for “penis” and then the English word for “fool.”
The history of schmuck became an issue when NBC was filming Saturday Night Live. In one of the scripts, a portrait of Lincoln was supposed to say to Nixon, “You’re a schmuck!” Al Franken, who wrote that script, thought “schmuck” just meant “fool.” But one of NBC’s censors knew that “schmuck” could also mean “penis,” so he censored the script. Instead, Lincoln had to say to Nixon, “You’re a dip.” Lorne Michaels, the producer, passed the bad news to the writers, by sending them this memo: “You can’t say ‘schmuck,’ you schmucks!”
Schlemiel The most popular pair of Yiddish words is “schlemiel & schlimazel.” Both words refer to unlucky guys. A schlemiel is a bungler who continually causes disasters (accidentally); a schlimazel is a guy who’s continually the victim of disasters (caused by schlemiels).
For example, suppose two waiters accidentally spill hot soup onto your lap — five times each. The waiters are schlemiels; you’re a schlimazel.
Goy The Yiddish language divides the world into two kinds of people: those who are Jewish, and those who are not. A non-Jew is called a goy.
A typical Yiddish war-cry among Jewish mothers is:
In Yiddish life, everything is classified as being either Jewish or goy. If an activity is mindless — totally devoid of cleverness or originality — it’s called goy, because it requires no clever strategy.
Aha Jews love to say “Aha!” (To say it properly, say the “A” softly in a bass pitch, and then say the “ha” loudly in a treble pitch.)
This story shows the meaning of Aha!
Hebonics After some schools started considering “urban black street talk” to be a foreign language called “Ebonics,” an Internet report joked that the New York City Board of Education declared “Hebonics” (Jewish English) to be a foreign language also.
In Hebonics, each question is answered with another question that implies a complaint:
Instead of beginning the sentence with a subject, the subject is moved to the sentence’s end, with the subject’s pronoun put at the beginning.
For sarcasm, “shm” is put in front: “mountains” becomes “shmountains”; “turtle” becomes “shmurtle.” The two words are then used together:
Here’s how to reply Hebonically:
Jewish women look like Italian women.
In Boston’s red-light district, Italian hookers complain that guys mistake them for being Jewish. That’s partly because Italian hookers, like some Jewish women, love money.
JAPs Most Jewish women are wonderful, but a few are obnoxious. A young Jewish woman who loves money obnoxiously is called a Jewish-American Princess or JAP.
At Jewish parties, scared Jewish guys tell each other, “Let’s get out of here! The JAPs are coming!” They aren’t talking about the Japanese.
Such Jewish women — JAPs —love to wear a long dress having a long slit up the side. I learned that lesson the hard way, by embarrassment:
To decorate their homes, such Jewish women prefer art that’s abstract and gaudy. Even though my own family is Jewish, we can’t help getting cynical about it. My brother calls that style of art “kike modern.”
Such Jewish women wear lots of jewelry. That tradition began centuries ago, when Jews were chased from country to country, and the only valuables small enough to transport easily were jewels.
Jewish girls have a reputation for being frigid. The joke I told before, about how the typical Jewish man begs and pleads for 3 hours to get the girl to say yes, is typical of the way Jewish girls like to be treated.
Several other jokes poke fun at the frigidity of Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs):
JAPs refuse to do housework:
JAPs are materialistic:
For more such jokes, read Truly Tasteless Jokes by Blanche Knott (published by Ballantine), Utterly Gross Jokes by Julius Alvin (published by Kensington), and Outrageously Offensive Jokes by Maude Thickett (published by Pocket Books). Each of those books is divided into several volumes and costs about $2.50 per volume; get them all. They reveal the stereotypes of Jews other cultures also.
Jewish mothers No matter how good a Jewish boy is, his mother will nag him to do even better, even after he’s become an adult. According to the Internet, here’s what celebrities’ mothers would say, if they were all Jewish:
Relating to kids
Here’s another story, passed to me by my crazy Jewish relative....
How Jews treat blacks
Sometimes, blacks and Jews are the greatest of friends. At other times, they’re the greatest of enemies.
When I was a kid, my teacher showed my class a movie called The Poor Pay More. It was a documentary, shot in Manhattan’s black ghetto (Harlem), and it showed how businessmen ripped off poor blacks. It showed: a butcher whose scale exaggerated the weight, a supermarket that raised its prices each week on the day when welfare checks were issued; and a variety of other morally repugnant business practices perpetrated by furniture stores, refrigerator salesmen, etc. In every case, the victims of the scams were blacks, and the perpetrators were Jewish. That’s because, in Harlem, most of the shops were run by Jews. Though some Jews in Harlem were honest, many were rotten. In Harlem, the blacks and Jews viewed each other as opponents: the Jews cheated the blacks, then the blacks mugged the Jews.
On the other hand, the first national political organization for blacks — the NAACP — received most of its donations from Jews. That’s because Jews — especially Jewish liberals living in rich suburbs — believe strongly in fairness, equality, and liberty for all.
The NAACP lobbied to help blacks. But its very name (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples) smacked of compromise and Uncle Toms. In the 1960’s, when groups such as the Black Panthers and the Black Muslims began preaching black equality through violence, the Jews got scared and stopped donating money to black causes. Another reason why Jews stopped donating money to black causes is that black politicians (such as Jesse Jackson) became friendly with Arabs, and Jews fear that a coalition of Arabs & blacks will try to snatch Israel away from the Jews.
The history of Jews resembles the history of blacks. Both groups are minorities. Both groups have been persecuted for many centuries.
Blacks lived in Africa but were captured by slave traders, brought to America, turned into slaves, and separated from their families. Similarly, according to the Bible, the Egyptians turned Jews into slaves and forced Jews to build the pyramids, until a rabble-rousing Jew named Moses convinced the Jews to run away to Israel. Later, Jews were ruled by the Romans and by many other conquerors and forced to leave their homeland.
Jews in the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, get together with blacks and celebrate Passover together. The words of the Passover ceremony, which commemorates the escape by Moses and his Jews from slavery, have meaning for both the Jews and the blacks.
Some “Blacks” demand to be given more respect and called “Afro-American.” I guess we “Jews” with big noses should do the same and demand to be called “Nostril-American” — or should we go Latin and opt for “Rhino-Caucasian”?
In New York City’s Harlem, you can find a group of black Jews. They claim to be descended from the Biblical Jacob, who had sex with one of his black maids. Those black Jews read Hebrew and practice Orthodox Judaism; but in the middle of their otherwise traditional Orthodox Jewish service, they suddenly break out into a wild Afro dance, while singing “Hallelujah!”
Just 2% of Americans are Jews, but 35% of Ivy League students are Jews.
Universities (such as Vanderbilt) are trying to get more Jews to apply for admission, because Jews make universities smarter and funnier and closer to the Ivy League. To get more Jews to apply, those universities advertise in Jewish hangouts.
Irving Berlin was the American Jew who composed subversive songs secularizing Christian holidays:
Some obsessive Jews think they see “Jew” everywhere. For example, Jews believe Canada is Jewish. How else can you explain Canada’s national anthem, “Oy, Canada!”
When Adam Sandler (the pathetic comic actor) was a teenager, he kept interrupting his high-school history class by yelling out “Abraham Lincoln was the first Jewish President!” The teacher said “No, Lincoln wasn’t Jewish,” but Adam kept insisting. Finally, the teacher asked, “What proof do you have?” Adam said, “Our history book says Lincoln was shot in the temple.”