“Jew” – The Verb

Jew GoldThose of you who play Scrabble may know that the word “jew” is actually a legal word (and scores high.) However, it isn’t defined as the proper noun, but rather the verb “to bargain,” with “jewed” and “jewing” also counting as words. The Scrabble dictionary has many other derogatory terms, such as “hebe” and “kike,” but giving legitimacy to a negative stereotype certainly stands out.

Offensiveness aside, though, this got me to wonder whether being cheap is a specifically Jewish attribute, to the extent that a word is named after us. Many Jews are cheap, whether haggling for lower prices or not willing to spend at all. How often does a store offer free samples, and you see a bunch of men with beards and women with sheitels carrying the entire load out the door? Maybe it’s a man with a kippa showing the clerk an expired two-for-one coupon, and explaining that it actually means he can buy just one for free.

This past week, Americans (and some Canadians) observed a holiday also named after a group of people, called Black Friday. One needs only to watch videos, though, to see that the riots contain people of all sorts of colours and shapes (although that might be because they’re from Walmart). So, it’s not only Jews that kill for a good deal, even if as a group we’re usually guilty of it.

Rather than trying to figure out how Scrabble can get away with being Anti-Semitic* or why the world hates us so much, maybe we can understand what drives us to be this way, and what perhaps differentiates us from non-Jews. To do so, we might need to rework the definition.  Great Canadian Russell Peters explains in one of his routines that Jews “aren’t actually cheap,” and that we’ll spend if we think it’s “worthwhile.” As I displayed above, I don’t entirely agree with how he intended the statement, but it does work better when interpreted differently. There are two different kinds of cheap, the Jewish kind and the goyish kind (sort of like sushi). They both have the common denominator of wanting to spend less on a product or service, but the distinction is in the mindset behind it.

*(The N-word also counts and can get you extra points when pluralized into a bingo, although you’ll want to try “gingers” for the sake of political correctness and not getting shot)

Statistically, Jews are one of the wealthiest religions in the U.S. in terms of income distribution, so it can’t be that we’re more cheap because we don’t have the money. Well, what about Kollel families or Chassidish communities that clearly live off very little? My belief is that because they specifically choose not to make money due to their lifestyle, they have less value for it. By definition, you can’t call someone cheap if money isn’t their priority, so maybe “economical” or “socialist” would be a better way to describe them.

Moving on to the more “average” folk like myself, I have a different idea of what causes us to be perceived as stingy, and that it is based on our unique values in social acceptability. Frum Jews are more than willing to spend money on what we think is worthwhile, but that usually comes in the form of religious “expenses,” from the hiked-up prices of kosher foods to holiday costs like the esrog or menorah. No one can refer to someone who has ever bought kosher meat a “penny-pincher.” When it comes to the non-essentials, however, it’s as if that willingness to spend turns off, to the extent that those who do pay retail are actually looked down upon in frum circles. The underlying reason for this behaviour is that the frum Jew, in his attempt at striving towards spirituality, will never want to admit that he invested so much in superficial materialistic needs. You are more likely to hear people in shul bragging about how they traveled to the U.S. just to get hundreds of dollars off their new suit, than you would be to hear how they spent thousands on a custom (although this particular example may vary in accuracy based on how snobbish your shul is). While the Goy is seeking to spend less so he can buy as much as he can to satisfy his materialistic needs, the frum Jew only spends less to appear more “frum” and improve social standing.

Another thing that frum Jews don’t want to pay for is something that can be seen as completely “goyish.” They’ll still do whatever it is, they just won’t pay for it. How many Jews illegally stream online, not because they can’t afford it, but because they wouldn’t want their friends to know that they spent money on premium channels, a satellite, let alone a television? In fact, some frum Jews will tell a half-truth that they don’t have internet, because instead of paying, they pick up a wireless signal for free from their neighbours. It used to be big to not have “these things” in the house; now we can show that we’re super-frum and still indulge in whatever we want.

None of this means that there’s a better or worse when it comes to being cheap. Either way, it’s not a good quality to have regardless of the reasoning behind it. That said, it’s not something that we need to worry about. So when someone calls you cheap, just explain that we Jews control all of the money in the world, and if they don’t watch it, we’ll take away theirs, too. That’ll show who’s cheap.

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Posted on December 1, 2011, in Bathurst Street, Cool Links, Current Events, Frummies, Goyim, Jewish, Jewish Community, Kollel, Kosher, Random, Shul, Stereotypes and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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