web analytics
April 25, 2015 / 6 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Time To Retire A Derogatory Term

      The other day I met a young Orthodox Jew who approached me in Manhattan to say hello. We talked about the state of Jewry and of Israel, and I gained considerable respect for his intellect and his insight.
 
      Then I asked him where he had grown up, and he told me, “In a really tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, where there is a lot of tension between the Jews and the shvartzas.” The comment broke my heart and my impression of him plummeted.
 
      A friend with whom I discussed the incident told me that I judged the young man too harshly, that he might have meant nothing by it, and that it was just an expression to which he had been acclimated. He asked that, rather than judge this student, I lend him the benefit of the doubt and attempt instead to educate him as to why the term ought never be used.
 
      I wrote a column last year about how the word “shvartza” must be retired forever (“The ‘S’ Word Has No Place In a Religious Jew’s Vocabulary,” op-ed, Feb. 2, 2007). It is an insulting, offensive, and derogatory term that has no place in the mouths of people committed to ethics. And since we Jews have a faith that demands the highest moral standards, it simply can never be part of our lexicon.
 
      In the wake of that column, I was surprised to find that a number of people – religious and secular alike – wrote that I was exaggerating. Shvartza, they said, was an innocent and benign term that simply meant “black person.”
 
      It doesn’t. It’s a pejorative, a term with a distinctly condescending connotation. My purpose in addressing this issue again is not to sound holier-than-thou or to be self-righteous. But when I hear the term, I feel pain. Pain that we Jews who have suffered so much persecution can be so callous as to speak condescendingly, however unintentionally, of other human beings. And pain that we religious Jews in particular can so betray our core values by inadvertently coming across as bigots.
 
      I once found myself in a polite argument with a fellow Orthodox Jew after I had politely shared with him why the term shvartza is offensive. “It’s OK for you to criticize, Shmuley,” he said, “because you don’t live in a neighborhood where you have to be afraid to walk the streets or where your car gets vandalized every night. We don’t mean anything bad with the term, but we are the victims here.”
 
      But why must an entire population be criminalized because of the sins of a few? And isn’t blaming an entire community not only racist but exactly the tactic used against Jews by the worst anti-Semites? How many Jew-haters harp on a few high profile white-collar criminals who are Jewish to reinforce anti-Semitic stereotypes?
 

      Jews are called by the Torah to be a light unto the nations, and it is religious Jews in particular, who live lives openly committed to Jewish ritual and values, upon whom this responsibility first devolves. But what light is it that we impart when we use a term that betrays the Torah’s most sacred value – that there is only one God in heaven who created every human being in His likeness?

 
      Just think how people who are unfamiliar with Jews must react when they hear any of us using an unpleasant expression about a fellow human being.
 
      We Jews, a righteous and generous people, whose Torah calls us to the mighty ideal of loving our neighbor as ourselves, must never speak of another person contemptuously. How much more so that Orthodox Jews in particular, who are renowned the world over for their charity, humility, and loving-kindness, must be extra vigilant never to offer even a hint of discriminatory language.
 
      Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has expressed the need for America to transcend red state and blue state divisiveness and come together for shared national purpose. But his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has given speeches that places rifts over reconciliation and generates heat rather than healing. The same is true of Louis Farrakhan, whom Rev. Wright has praised, even though he is guilty of hate speech against Jews and Judaism.
 
      Our moral authority to condemn such insensitive and inflammatory rhetoric is dependent upon us being utterly different in thought, speech, and action.
 

      Who better than Jews and blacks know what is to suffer? And who better than Jews and blacks know that there can be no tolerance for intolerance? And who better than Jews and blacks need to come together to battle bigotry, defeat discrimination, and generate goodwill among all mankind?

 

      Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts a daily national radio show on “Oprah and Friends” and is the author most recently of “The Broken American Male.” Visit his website at  www.shmuley.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Time To Retire A Derogatory Term”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
"Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah." That's his Jihad. What's yours? - An ad campaign sponsored by  the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
MTA Hopes to Change Rule, Ban ‘Killing Jews’ Anti-Jihad Ad
Latest Indepth Stories
israeli-american flags

All GOP candidates will continue seeking – and praying – for Jewish money with greater success.

New immigrants from USA and Canada arriving at Ben Gurion Airport.

The one reason to make Aliyah outweighs all the arguments not to move to Israel.

Keeping-Jerusalem

“We returned to this Land not in order to be murdered, or uprooted. We came here to be replanted!”

Ambassador Danny Ayalon

I don’t fear for the future of our people because I believe Yeshiva University has created an “Iron Dome” of Jewish leadership

Poland’s great Jewish cities where Jewish life had once flourished and thrived, were now desolate

Chief rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau, stated that the Torah community’s turnout in the WZO election is vital.

Iran has at its core the same ideology as that of ISIS but, inaccurately, is thought a lesser threat

An early Yom Ha’atzmaut gathering for Israel’s 67th birthday with Pres. Rivlin of Israel and guests

Israel’s Memorial Day shouldn’t be a day of mourning, it’s a day to honor, not another Holocaust Day

God’s 3 part promise for Israel: to the Avot; a plentiful land; the eventual return home by all Jews

A committed Religious Zionist, he was a sought-after adviser on Zionist affairs around the world.

More important, Mr. Obama is simply acceding to Iran’s position on the timing of the lifting of sanctions.

“Texans share a lot of the same attitude as Israelis, that we say what we think and we think what we say, and that makes it much easier to communicate,” he says.

The fight against terror is a case in point…. The establishment of a collective forum for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region…is long overdue….

More Articles from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meet in the Kremlin, Nov. 20, 2013.

On the one hand, Putin has been a friend to Chabad and to Israel. On the other hand, Putin is a brutal dictator.

The gradual trickle of self-hatred into the Jewish soul is evidencing itself in the American Jewish public.

Rabbi Schochet wrote the Johannesburg Beis Din: It is totally prohibited and unacceptable to hear someone like Boteach.

If you’re feeling down, stop reading right now. You’re only going to be more depressed.

The world and the United State continue to give Rouhani a pass.

American Jews – especially those working on campus – don’t accept that we have a battle on our hands.

But the most painful part of an otherwise illuminating and extraordinary Forum was Iranian President Rouhani’s speech.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/time-to-retire-a-derogatory-term/2008/05/14/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: