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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 19.5:
Is "shvartze" offensive? Is "goyim" offensive? What about "nachriah"?


"Shvartze" is the neutral Yiddish term for "black", including the person. There are other derogatory terms--some borrowed from English. But there are Jews who can make "shvartze" offensive. However, even though the meaning of the term isn't offensive, that doesn't mean that the word hasn't acquired an offensive connotation over time. This is the case with "shvartze". Historically, it was used in a nonneutral way, regardless of its neutral meaning. In general, the term should be avoided. Note that "shvartze" is also used to describe strict observance. [From the black clothing often worn by the very observance. See Section 11.1, question 6 for more details on this.]

"Goy" [plural: goyim, adjective: goyishe] is the standard Hebrew term for non-Jew. Literally it is the Hebrew for "nation." Spoken aloud with a disgusted inflection, it's pejorative. So is the word 'Jew' in similar circumstances. Better to say "gentile" or "non-Jew" when writing in English for a multireligious audience, such as SCJ. In general, the use of judgemental or pejorative terms, even if no offense is intended, should be avoided. They only serve to incite anger and side-track the conversation. True conversation comes from being factual and appropriately neutral.

In the phrase "shabbos goy"--a gentile who does things for Jews on Shabbos--it is neutral, yet when refusing to do something for someone by saying "I'm not your shabbos goy", it carries a derogatory tinge.

A similar term is "nachriah". The root means "foreign" as in "not one of us". A non-Jewish deity is often called "eil neikhar" (Deut 31:16), and a non-Jew is a "ben neichar" when the Torah describes the restriction that only Jews eat of the Pascal offering (Exod 12:43).

Some also suggest avoiding the term "Marrano", which means "pig". Depending on the intended meaning, the terms "Sephardic" or "Crypto-Jew" are more appropriate.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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