Is That a Jewish Expression?

Dr. Gerhard Falk

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk

Is That a Jewish Expression?


   Recently I heard a committed Jewish man address a synagogue congregation. Included in his comments was a reference to “The Old Testament.” Jews tend to use such expressions although they depict a view derived entirely from another religion. 

   There is no “Old Testament” in Judaism, not only because there is no testament but also because “Old” implies that there must be a “New” testament, if any.

    The word “testament” is usually translated from the Latin to mean a will left by a deceased person for the benefit of his descendants. In a  religion other than Judaism it is held that a deity lived as a man on this earth and, upon his departure, left the “Old” and “New” testaments behind. Some identify the “Old” testament with our Torah which is of course not old at all. It is current and lives now. It is not superseded by any other Torah and therefore it is not Jewish to refer to the Torah as old.

   Now the word “testament” is also quite un-Jewish. Its origin lies in two Latin words, testes, i.e. the male reproductive gland  and mens meaning hand. It was customary in the ancient world for men to swear an oath in court on the testicles of their fathers. This may seem gross and uncouth to us. However, the ancients knew that their survival depended on the reproduction of food from the earth. Therefore they swore by the reproductive gland.

  Now take a look at B’rayshit, Chapter Vayyechi, i.e. Genesis XLVII verse 29. This reads in part: …”Sim –no yodcho tachat yraychi” or, “put, I ask of you, your hand under my thigh.”  Israel had his son Joseph swear that he would bury him in the Holy Land and not in Egypt.

   Another un-Jewish expression we should avoid is the use of the abbreviations B.C., meaning “before Christ”, and A.D., meaning Anno Domini or year of our lord. We use B.C.E., i.e., Before the Common Era and C.E. or Common Era.

   There is no “wailing wall” in Yerusholayim. There is however, a Western Wall which the Israelis call Kotel Hamaariv.  “Western Wall” is the exact translation of those two Hebrew words used by those who live there. The expression “wailing” is an anti-Jewish epithet implying that Jews “wail” like coyotes or other animals.

   Jews, like all people, sometimes express their exasperation by various comments. It is not Jewish, however, to shout out the name of a deity associated with another religion in such circumstances.

    Then there is the effort of some Jews to explain the “kosher” laws to themselves and others by claiming that these laws are antiquated health measures. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ancient peoples, including our ancestors, knew nothing about germs and contamination. Beef was as infectious under some circumstances as pork or other meat. The reason for the “kosher” laws was to teach self control and a humane attitude towards the slaughter of animals. That is still the case. Therefore we need not excuse ourselves for observing these laws. Furthermore it is not true that “the Jews don’t eat pork” . The fact is that we eat only those animals which have a cloven hoof and chew the cud. Therefore, the pig is only one of many animals we cannot eat. This is not merely a “Jewish aversion.” The kosher laws are found in the Torah.

     Those who find it “quaint” if not ridiculous to observe food laws forget that in California it is illegal to sell horse meat, that we never eat dogs and cats and snakes as do the Chinese and that the idea of eating grub worms as do the natives of Australia is so disgusting to us that the mere thought makes us ill. In short, the rejection of some foods and the acceptance of others is a common folkway among all mankind. Surely the refusal of Hindus to eat the cow is respected by us. Then why not exhibit some self-respect and not disparage the customs and laws of our own people?

   We should also avoid the words shiksa and shagetz. Those words are Hebrew for “abomination.” Surely we do not call a human being an abomination.

   We also need to recognize that “goy” is not a pejorative and does not mean non-Jew. It means nation or people. The Torah repeatedly refers to “Goy Israel”, the people of Israel.              

  Finally, remember that we are Jews. We are Jews, i.e. descendants of Judah. We need not say we are of “Jewish descent” as if it is somehow shameful to say with Jonah (Jonah  I :9) Ivri Onauchi, I am a Hebrew. Of course, Ivri means Hebrew. We, of course are not Hebrews because we do not speak that language in our daily lives. The Israelis are Hebrews. We say Yehudi Onauchi, I am a Jew.

   The great British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, prided himself on having been born a Jew and actually campaigned for a seat in parliament by telling the voters that he was more aristocratic than his opponent who was a Lord. He claimed that being a member of the People of Israel was the most distinguished aristocracy one may claim on this earth. The voters agreed with him. He was elected and later was knighted as Lord Beaconsfield. We Jews need no such titles. The title Jew is more than enough.

Shalom. U’vracha.


Home ] Up ]