Jew (word)

Jew (word)

This article focuses on the etymology of the word Jew.

Biblical and Middle Eastern origins: The Jews in their land

The Jewish ethnonym in Hebrew is _he. יהודים "Yehudim" (plural of _he. יהודי "Yehudi") which is the origin of the English word "Jew". The Hebrew name is derived from the region name Judah ("Yehudah" יהודה). Originally the name referred to the territory alloted to the tribe descended from Judah the fourth son of the patriarch Jacob (Numbers). Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob and one of the Twelve tribes of Israel(Genesis). The Genesis 29:35 [] relates that Judah's mother — the matriarch Leah — named him "Yehudah" (i.e. "Judah") because she wanted to "praise God" for giving birth to so many sons: "She said, 'This time let me praise ("odeh" אודה) God (יהוה),' and named the child Judah ("Yehudah" יהודה)." Thus combining "praise" and "God" into one new name. Thereafter Judah vouchsafes the Jewish monarchy, and the Israelite kings David and Solomon derive their lineage from Judah. After the splitting of the United Monarchy, the name was used for the southern kingdom of Judah, containing not only the land of the tribe of Judah but also that of Benjamin and Simeon. With the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and the exile of Ten tribes, the kingdom of Judah became the sole Jewish state and the term "y'hudi" (יהודי) was applied to all the Jews left.

In Hebrew, the name "Judah" (י ה ו [ד] ה) contains the four letters of the Tetragrammaton — the special, holy, and ineffable name of the Jewish God. The very holiness of the name of Judah attests to its importance as an alternate name for "Israelites" that it ultimately replaces.

Obv: Double cornucopia.
Rev: Five lines of ancient Hebrew script; reading "Yehochanan Kohen Gadol Chaver Hayehudim" (Yehochanan the High Priest, "Chaver" of the Jews.] In the Book of Esther we find the earliest reference of the word "Jew" being used. The name appears in the Bible in a verb form, in Esther 8:17 [] which states, "Many of the people of the land "mityahadim - became Yehudim/Judeans/Jews" because the fear of the Yehudim fell on them." Also in Esther we find that the name "Jew" is given to a man from the tribe of Benjamin, in Esther 2:5-6, [] "There was a man a Yehudi (Judean/Jewish man) in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite; who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile that was exiled with Jeconiah, king of Judah, which Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had exiled."

The most common view is that the Middle English word "Jew" is from the Old French "giu", earlier "juieu", from the Latin "Iudaeus" from the Greek "polytonic|Ἰουδαῖος". The Latin simply means "Judaean", from the land of "Judaea". In the Old English the word is attested as early as 1000 in various forms, such as "Iudeas", "Gyu", "Giu", "Iuu", "Iuw", "Iew".

Ancient terminology

In some places in the Talmud the word "Israel(ite)" refers to somebody who is Jewish but does not necessarily practice Judaism as a religion: "An Israel(ite) even though he has sinned is still an Israel(ite)" (Tractate "Sanhedrin" 44a). More commonly the Talmud uses the term "Bnei Yisrael", i.e. "Children of Israel", ("Israel" being the name of the third patriarch Jacob, father of the sons that would form the twelve tribes of Israel, which he was given and took after wrestling with an angel, see Genesis 32:28-29 [] ) to refer to Jews. According to the Talmud then, there is no distinction between "religious Jews" and "secular Jews." In modern English, the term "Israelite" is never used to refer to contemporary Jews, but can be used to refer to Jews of the Biblical era. The Jews of today's State of Israel are called "Israelis" (as are all the state's citizens, regardless of ethnic origin) and do not call themselves "Israelites" in English. They refer to themselves using the Hebrew word "Yisraeli", which is the same for both.

Usage by non-Jews

The term "Israelite" has also been appropriated by various non-Jewish groups, for example the Rastafarians, who claim descent from the tribes of Israel.

Changes in use

The word "Jew" has been used often enough in a disparaging manner by antisemites that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was frequently avoided altogether, and the term "Hebrew" was substituted instead (e.g. Young Men's Hebrew Association). Even today some people are wary of its use, and prefer to use "Jewish". Indeed, when used as an adjective (e.g. "Jew lawyer") or verb (e.g. "to Jew someone"), the term "Jew" is purely pejorative. However, when used as a noun, "Jew" is preferred, as other circumlocutions (e.g. "Jewish person") give the impression that the term "Jew" is offensive in all contexts.

In much the same manner, Yiddish term for "Jew" ( _yi. איד, _yi. ייִד) "Yid", (singular), _yi. ייִדן "Yidn" (plural)) — originally a benign term — was once used as an ethnic slur, but now is often used by Jews in praise, to describe an upstanding religiously observant Jew (e.g., "He's such a "Yid", giving up his time like that") or to distinguish upstanding religiously observant Jews from non-observant, with the implication that the latter would be better people if they were stricter in their observance (e.g., "Yidn" wouldn't do such a thing").

In the past, the term "Jewess" was sometimes used for Jewish women. This word, like "Negress" is now at best an archaism, and is generally taken as an insult. Fact|date=July 2008

ee also

* Jewish ethnonym in various languages

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • JEW — (Heb. יְהוּדִי, Yehudi). Semantics The word Jew passed into the English language from the Greek (Ioudaios) by way of the Latin (Judaeus), and is found in early English (from about the year 1000) in a variety of forms: Iudea, Gyu, Giu, Iuu, Iuw,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Jew Watch — URL: Тип сайта: политический …   Википедия

  • Jew's harp — A modern Jew s harp …   Wikipedia

  • jew — (v.) to cheat, to drive a hard bargain, 1824, from JEW (Cf. Jew) (n.) (Cf. GYP (Cf. gyp), WELSH (Cf. welsh), etc.). The campaign to eliminate it in early 20c. was so successful that people began to avoid the noun and adjective, too, and started… …   Etymology dictionary

  • jew —    ‘Jew’, used as a term of address, now tends to be aggressive but was not always so. In literature it occurs from time to time. especially in plays or books like The Merchant of Venice where a Jewish character is important to the plot. Shylock… …   A dictionary of epithets and terms of address

  • Jew — A Jew (Hebrew: יְהוּדִי, Yehudi (sl.); he. יְהוּדִים, Yehudim (pl.); Ladino: ג׳ודיו, Djudio (sl.); ג׳ודיוס, Djudios (pl.); Yiddish: ייִד, Yid (sl.); yi. ייִדן, Yidn (pl.)) [According to the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language …   Wikipedia

  • Jew Watch — Infobox Website name = Jew Watch caption = Screenshot of Jew Watch s home page, May 9, 2006 url = commercial = type = hate site language = English registration = owner = Frank Weltner author = Frank Weltner launch date =… …   Wikipedia

  • Jew — /jooh/, n. 1. one of a scattered group of people that traces its descent from the Biblical Hebrews or from postexilic adherents of Judaism; Israelite. 2. a person whose religion is Judaism. 3. a subject of the ancient kingdom of Judah. adj. 4.… …   Universalium

  • Jew */ — UK [dʒuː] / US [dʒu] noun [countable] Word forms Jew : singular Jew plural Jews 1) a member of the group of people who lived in Israel and believed in Judaism in ancient times, and who now live in many places all over the world, including Israel… …   English dictionary

  • Jew — /dʒu / (say jooh) noun 1. one of the Hebrew or Jewish people; Hebrew; Israelite. 2. someone whose religion is Judaism. 3. a member of the ancient tribe or nation of Judah. 4. → Israeli. 5. Colloquial (dated) a usurer; miser; someone who drives a… …   Australian English dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.