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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 19.6:
What does "shiksa" and "shaygetz" mean? How offensive are they?


There are two possible etymologies. The first is from the German "Schikse" and thus related to the English "chique". The other possibility is where the notion that the word is pejorative comes from. The term "sheiketz" is used by the Torah uses to describe non-kosher fish and animals, as well as the rodents and house-lizards that live in our homes and impart tum'ah (the idea usually mis-translated impurity). The Hebrew origin better explains the existence of distinct male (sheigetz, probably a Yiddish slurring of "sheketz") and female (shiksa, probably from "shiktzah") forms.

The only sense in which shiksa is used derogitorily is in that it implies woman-as-temptation, not as a being in and of herself and a mind of her own. Kind of like the the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine learned she had "shiksappeal". The appellations are also sometimes applied to gentiles who do things inimical to Jewish interests, such as vandalizing Jewish buildings, robbing Jewish kids of their lunch money, or becoming romantically involved with Jews :-). This is based on the "sheketz" sense, which refers to house rodents and lizards. They impart ritual impurity, and therefore the term lends itself to the same kind of idea. Some have taken to using the term to refer to Christian women in general. If Christians were using the term against Jews in English, they would be saying "Filthy Jews" or "Dirty Jews", and we Jews would rightly be offended. Regardless of actual history, enough people believe the derogitory nature of the word that at this point, so it is better avoided. At least, when speaking English, switching to Yiddish for the one word can lead to misunderstanding. This is true if no bad intent was behind the usage. It is always better to use neutral, less pejorative (judgemental) terms, such as non-Jew or Christian.

Note: In Israel, shaygetz is sometimes used to refer to a misbehaving child.

Note: There are other words for non-Jewish women, "nachriah", and "goyah", that are more properly used in less judgemental situations.

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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