Stereotyping is rampant throughout the world and people worldwide are stereotyped based on many factors. Stereotypes are generalities about a specific group of people that can be positive; however most stereotypes are distinctly negative. When a group is stereotyped, a definite and distinct set of characteristics attributed to that group of people based on a preconceived appearance of that group. Stereotyping is particularly problematic since it can lead to further discrimination and prejudice. Obviously, the stereotyped group is left with feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and a sense of being ostracized. While race and gender are some of the most common factors of stereotyping, there is another factor that leads to stereotyping, religion. Most religions and their followers are stereotyped in some form or another, but the stereotyping of Judaism prevalent. Often we wonder where these stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination stem from and how they were originally established. Many times stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice are a result a myths and misconceptions; frequently these misconceptions and myths are historically established and then passed down to other generations. There is such a long history of discrimination of Jews, that there is even a label used to describe it, Anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is the label for the prejudice and discrimination of Jews, the term dating back to the 19th Century by those that thought that Jews a separate and inferior race (Confronting Anti-Semitism, 2008). Anti-Semitism is the most extreme form of stereotyping and prejudice toward Jews; many stereotypes are far milder, a simple result of myths purported about Jews. Yet, even the mildest stereotypes can be hurtful as was found during an interview with Mary Cohen, a Jewish woman interviewed for the purpose of this report. Perhaps one the most professed myths about Judaism are that Jews are cheap and wealthy. This stereotype is one that many people believe or have at least heard as a “harmless joke”. Upon discussion with Cohen with regard to this myth, it was discovered that the myth dates back to the New Testament and the “cleansing of the Temple” (personal communication, December 2, 2012). According to the publication Confronting Anti-Semitism, Jews were unfairly judged since they were the people that lent money and collected taxes during a time that Christians were forbidden to do so (2008).
Amazingly, this stereotype stuck throughout the ages and even today, Jews are stereotyped as wealthy and cheap. Although this stereotype has been fixed against the Jews, there is no evidence to support this. Are some Jews wealthy and cheap? Yes, just as some people from many race, religion, gender or culture can be cheap and wealthy. Contrary to the myth of being wealthy, there close to one million American Jews which live in a low income household (Confronting Anti-Semitism, 2008). This is only a survey of American Jews, which already discredits the myth, but doesn’t even consider the Jews living in other countries that are also living in a low income household. All Jews, regardless of being wealthy or living in poverty adhere to a kosher living. The aspect surrounding eating kosher is also a common myth about Jews. Many people believe that eating kosher is simply the choice to not eat pork, but this is absolutely incorrect. Eating kosher entails much more as Cohen describes in her interview. Cohen refers to eating kosher as “kashrut”, which are a set of dietary laws that are followed by Jews and is dominant to the identity of the religion (personal communication, December 1, 2012).
This law is traditional Jewish practice and involves not only the avoidance of some foods, but also combinations of specific foods. In addition, kashrut law requires that meat from animals is butchered for consumption in a specific way that abides by the law. The kashrut requires that Jews do not eat particular animals and the animals that are approved, must be butchered according to law. Further, there is a prohibition the consumption of blood which means that meat eaten is salted and saturated with water to remove all blood. The other special consideration when “keeping kosher” is to avoid the mixing of meat and dairy products says Cohen (personal communication, December 1, 2012). In order to ensure accordance with kashrut, Cohen has separate sets of cooking pans and dishes for use with either meat or dairy products and apparently this is not unusual for many Jewish families.
Another common myth about Judaism is that a person must be born a Jew. While it may be more common to be a child born into a Jewish family by having a Jewish mother or father, it is possible for an adult to convert to Judaism. People have many reasons for choosing to convert to Judaism just as one would have specific reasons to convert to any religion. Often, a person may choose to convert when developing a relationship with a Jew. If a person were to choose to convert, that person must undergo a lengthy conversion process. Until this conversion is complete, a person born to non-Jewish parents would not be considered Jewish. Upon speaking with Cohen about conversion, she stated that conversion to Judaism is a serious commitment and it would be imperative to be involved with the Jewish community to truly adopt the faith. (personal communication, December 1, 2012). There is a series of lessons, classes and studying, in addition to maintaining a close relationship with a synagogue and a Rabbi. There are four main assemblies within Judaism and a potential convert should understand the differences before choosing which to join.
According to Cohen, the assemblies are Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform each of these assemblies may have their own specific process for conversion (personal communication, December 1, 2012). The myth of having to be born Jewish directly correlates with another myth, that Jews are a race of people rather than a religion and culture. The myth that Jews are a race of people seems to be one of the more hurtful myths. Not in the overall conviction, but in the foundation of the myth. This myth dates back to the Holocaust and was first purported by the Nazi’s. The Nazi’s used this indication that Jew’s were a race of people to substantiate their horrendous actions against the Jews. The Nazi’s believed that not only were the Jewish a race, but a deficient race that should be eradicated and even Jews who had converted to Christianity were executed, still being considered a member of the Jewish “race” (Confronting Anti-Semitism, 2008). The terminology of race speaks of specific physical characteristics inherited through from one’s parents.
There are not standard characteristics for a Jewish person. As previously mentioned, there are Jewish people found worldwide and it is the location of someone’s origin that speaks to their race, not their religious beliefs. In the publication Confronting Anti-Semitism it states that, “Jews resemble their non-Jewish neighbors in the countries from which they originate. Through centuries of intermarriage and conversion, Jews from Eastern Europe tend to look like Eastern Europeans; Jews from Ethiopia tend to look like Ethiopians; Jews from Turkey tend to look like Turks; Jews from India tend to look like Indians” (2008). From this viewpoint, there is absolutely no validity to this myth; just as a Christian can be of any race, so can a Jew. This brings us to the final myth to be discussed, that Jewish people believe they are somehow superior to people that are not Jewish. Confronting Anti-Semitism cites the reasoning behind this misconception as the wording from the Torah that the Jewish are God’s “Chosen People” (2008).
This wording and belief from the Torah in no way signifies that Jews are better than anyone else. Rather, as stated by Mary Cohen, the purpose is to remind followers of Judaism that they have a duty and calling to follow the teachings in the Torah (personal communication, December 1, 2012). This belief was never meant to separate Jews from everyone else or put the Jewish on a pedestal. “Everyone, regardless of religion, is chosen for something”, says Cohen, “for me being chosen is about accepting the responsibilities placed upon me from the Torah” (personal communication, December 1, 2012). Further Cohen contemplates that this unassuming wording from the Torah could have been the original myth about Judaism and she wouldn’t doubt that this was the foundation of Anti-Semitism (personal communication, December 1, 2012).
It is truly sad to think that a belief meant to simply remind people of their faith could be twisted into a source of discrimination that would alienate an entire group of people. All people, regardless of religion are extremely proud of their traditions as shown in a recent virtual attendance of a Judaism service. It was obvious from the service that Jews are spiritual and passionate about their faith. In addition, from the interview with Mary Cohen, a real sense of conviction for the Jewish heritage was felt. It is unfair to view the Jewish through the eyes of various myths and misconceptions. People have a moral obligation to give someone from a different religion respect and compassion regardless of the difference in faith. Perhaps if someone with these misconceptions would take a moment to truly understand someone of the Jewish faith, they would discover that these fallacies are unfounded and false. Developing a mutual understanding and respect for someone else’s religion is an important step in ridding the world of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.
Confronting Anti-Seminism (2008). Retrieved November 24, 2012, from http://www.adl.org/education/Myths%20and%20Facts.pdf