Monday, August 4, 2008

What's the Word

shiksa: a non-Jewish woman, more specifically—as used in this blog—a non-Jewish woman who is romantically involved with a Jewish man

“Shiksa” has become part of pop culture: Seinfeld had an episode about Elaine’s “shiksa appeal,” and just today I saw a website which referred to Paris Hilton as the “uber-shiksa.” You can buy cute Shiksa” tees (but I wouldn’t want the one that says “Shiksas are for practice”)! I never felt insulted when my Jewish friends or my Jewish family referred to me as a shiksa, for I felt they did so affectionately.

Nevertheless, there’s the word’s ugly, troubling etymology. It comes from the ancient Hebrew meaning “insect,” “blemish,” and “abomination.” Who would ever think of a nice, sweet, polite, eager-to-please person like me as….well, that?

There are some pretty hair-raising stories in the Hebrew Bible about shiksas, who were seen as a threat to the integrity of the Jewish tribes. And there’s no denying that still today we shiksas are threats. We are threats because we may cause Jewish men to drift away from their religion, and/or we may refuse to raise children as Jews. Chances are that your boyfriend’s parents, and yours as well, do not wholeheartedly support your relationship because they know that intermarriages are even more likely to end in divorce than other marriages. But Jews have a special problem—because of intermarriage they fear that their numbers are rapidly dwindling. So your future mother-in-law isn’t worried only about her Herbie’s missing out on matzoh-ball soup; she’s worried about the survival of a 4000-year-old religion as well.

So let’s not let the negative aspects of the word “bug” us. And we’ll show a little rachmones (compassion) for Herbie’s mother as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have some experience as a "shiksa" since I dated a Jewish boy for a year or two in high school. His grandmother particularly was quite worried and not very friendly to me. Kathy