Names, my friends, are often lost in translation, and it is a good show of sensitivity to names to attempt to render them as loyal to their language of origin as possible. One simple example is that what are today known as ‘Muslims’ in English were once known as Muhamadeans, or ‘followers of Muhammad’ (a word which even the spell check today doesn’t pick up), but after prolonged interactions between the British and the Arabs the former became more aware of how absurd a name Muhamadeans was, and ultimately called the Arabs as they call themselves, ‘Muslims’ (in today’s day the American president is known to be setting precedents in regards to pronouncing names more correctly, such as pronounciations of ‘Iraq’ and ‘Iran’ in which they don’t rhyme with ‘rack’ and ‘ran’).
I bring this up, friends, because the word to describe my own religion is not the word with the most exquisite intonation in the English language. In fact it’s a monosyllable name: ‘Jew’. In my mind there is no question that the way this word evolved in Romance, Germanic and other European languages had a lot to do with how Jews were seen for time immemorial, namely hated beyond all hate and despised beyond all spite. I think it’s quite possible the name could have been rendered ‘Judean’ or ‘Israelite’ or something along those lines, had the original transliteratiors of that name not had a disposition towards us, especially considering they gave themselves the long, flowery two syllable name of ‘Christians’.
That is without mentioning that in the English language the word ‘Jew’ has become a byword for every vice and degeneracy that one may conjure up. To call a Jew a ‘Jew’ is slander enough. And not the word ‘Jew’ alone, but also the English title for our holy sages the bearers of the tradition and authors of the Mishna and Talmud has become a despicable word. A ‘Pharisee’ is the most acute kind of hypocrite.
Yet our own hands are not completely clean of this behavior, since in our literature we give ourselves the flattering name of ‘Yisrael’, whereas a member of the nations gets the one syllable title which has become a byword for unruliness and ung-dliness in its own right: ‘Goy’.
Should we then, as the Muslims, demand we be called by a more flattering name? Our ancestors in Germany two hundred years ago tried a similar thing; they demanded to be called ‘Germans of the Mosaic Faith’. The name worked for a while, but anytime the Western European powers were in the Jew-hating mood they passed legislation that they should officially be called ‘Jews’.
One current approach to the issue that I’ve been hearing since I was young is to use the word ‘Yehudi’ in English as opposed to ‘Jew’ (which seems to be the approach our friend Ehav Ever has taken). My own approach has been similar, which is to at least call ourselves by the name of Yisrael if we’re speaking in a religious context. Though as far as official linguistic usages are concerned, I usually feel far more comfortable using a name that’s already found in the dictionary, even if it has a ‘goolis-yeed’, bourgeoisie sort of swindling connotation to it which is the epitome of every ill ever associated with our nation.