Jewface!

 
Introduction

Jewface refers to the creation and propagation of racist Jewish stereotypes and caricatures. After being forced from their homeland in the Middle East over 2,000 years ago, Jews became a nomadic people who eventually spread throughout Europe. As outsiders they were often viewed with suspicion by the locals and many myths were created about them. Jewish people have been stereotyped throughout the centuries and have often been used as scapegoats for a multitude of societal problems. 

 

Racist Jewish Stereotypes

Jews have been stereotyped as greedy, nit-picky, misers and they have often been depicted counting money or collecting gold and jewels. Anti-Semitism flourished for centuries and reached a climax in Nazi Germany during World War II with the Holocaust, when Hitler tried to exterminate all of the Jews in Europe. Though anti-Semitism is less overt now in polite society than it has been in the past, the underlying stereotypes and attitudes about what it means to be Jewish are still quite prevalent. The following are some common stereotypes:

 

Jewish Mother

The Moneylender/Moneychanger

Jewish Mother

The Jewish mother stereotype generally involves a nagging, overprotective, manipulative, controlling, smothering, and overbearing mother or wife, one who persists in interfering in her children's lives long after they have become adults. This opinionated, pushy matriarch keeps a meticulously tidy home and insists that anyone who enters her home is undernourished and needs to consume more food than is humanly possible. The life of a Jewish mother consists of endless caretaking and boundless self-sacrifice by a mother who demonstrates her love by constant overfeeding and unremitting solicitude about every aspect of her children's and her husband's welfare.
 

The Moneylender/Moneychanger

During the Middle Ages, Christians were not allowed to lend money because the Church believed that collecting interest from loaned money was a sin. At the same time Jews were not allowed to do many of the jobs that Christians did. Since the Jews were able to collect interest from the Christians, many became money lenders and tax collectors. The money-changer stereotype originated in the days when Jews converted the coins of the Roman Empire into the currency accepted by the Jerusalem Temple. Because of their involvement with money and banking, Jews got the reputation of being greedy and it was said that Jews would do anything for money, which led to the idea that Jews have no loyalty to any group other than their own.

Jewish American Princess

Self-hating Jew

Jewish Princess

The Jewish-American Princess stereotype is materialistic and selfish, and comes from a pampered or wealthy background. JAPs enjoy lives of privilege and are often neurotic. The Jewish Princess is bossy, spoiled, whiny, inconsiderate, self-centered, and only minimally interested in sex. In recent years the label has been adopted by some Jewish females who take pride in being a living personification of the stereotype.  

Self-hating Jew

Self-hating Jew is a term used to describe a Jewish person who holds anti-Semitic beliefs or engages in anti-Semitic actions. The term is a bit of a misnomer because the self-hating Jew doesn't hate himself as much as he hates other Jews who are not like him. The concept originated during the mid-nineteenth century feuding between Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews where each side accused the other of betraying Jewish identity. It is most often used today in attempts to silence Jews from criticizing the actions of Israel.

Nice Jewish Boy

Nice Jewish Girl

Nice Jewish Boy

A "nice Jewish boy" is a mensch, roughly defined as a good person or nice guy. He is intellectual, nerdy, socially awkward, physically weak and slightly neurotic. He is very attached to his stereotypical Jewish mother and never outgrows the need for her support and approval. Nice Jewish boys are usually high-earning professionals like dentists, doctors, veterinarians, psychologists, lawyers, or stockbrokers.

Nice Jewish Girl

The "nice Jewish girl" embodies an old-fashioned sense of domesticity and traditionalism. She is a kind, curvy family girl who loves Judaism, her family, and homemaking. She has frizzy hair, a prominent nose, and a nasal way of talking. Well-educated but not intellectually superior, she smiles sweetly and dishes out the kugel to her beaming grandparents while she awaits fulfillment of the American Dream of marrying a nice Jewish boy and moving to a house in the suburbs.

 
 

Jewish Stereotypes in Film and TV

Based on European Jewish folklore, The Golem (1920), tells the story of a Jewish rabbi in the 16th-century who creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem, and using sorcery, brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution.

In The Jazz Singer (1927), Cantor Rabinowitz is upset because his son Jakie (Al Jolson) shows no interest in carrying on the family's traditions and heritage. For five generations, men in the family have been Cantors in the synagogue, but Jakie is more interested in jazz and ragtime music. One day, they have such a bitter argument that Jakie leaves home for good. After a few years on his own, now calling himself Jack Robin, he enjoys a great deal of success. Jakie comes home in time to sing Kol Nidre at Yom Kippur services and reconciles with his dying father. 

The most notorious anti-Semitic film of all time is probably Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew, 1939), a German Nazi propaganda film that presents itself as a documentary. The film attempts to prove that Jews have racial personality traits that, according to the Nazis, make the Jew a wandering cultural parasite. The images couldn't be more heavy-handed -- one of the sequences early in the film shows a pack of rats emerging from a sewer and that is juxtaposed with a crowd of Jews in a bustling street. The film ends with Hitler's notorious speech at the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, where he warned that a future war would lead to the "annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."

Jud Suss or Jude Suss or Jew Suss

Much less heavy-handed but no less effective and notorious as propaganda is the Nazi film Jud Süß, (Jew Suss, 1940) a brilliant work of film propaganda and an very revealing portrayal of Nazi attitudes towards the Jews.  Juden Suss is inspired by the life of Joseph Suss Oppenheimer (1698-1738), Jewish banker and financial planner for Duke Karl Alexander of Wurttemberg. Oppenheimer is portrayed as a greedy manipulator who gains the confidence of the Duke and is appointed his tax collector. Oppenheimer then uses his influence to convince the Duke to disband the local governing council and allow the Jewish rabble who had been previously barred from entering the city unhindered access. As Oppenheimer's influence grows he becomes a rapist, torturer, and murderer. The populace becomes enraged and Oppenheimer is eventually tried for "laying with a German girl" and executed by hanging.

In Gentleman's Agreement (1947) Philip Green (Gregory Peck) is a highly respected writer who is recruited by a magazine to write a series of articles on anti-Semitism in America. He decides to pretend that he is Jewish, so that he can write his story from that perspective. Green soon finds that he won't be invited to certain parties, that he cannot stay in so-called 'restricted' hotels and that his own son is called names in the street. Green gets lost in the assignment, starts seeing himself as a Jew and struggles to maintain his composure amid all the anti-Semitism he experiences.

The Pawnbroker (1964) was one of the first films to deal with the effects of survivor guilt on Jews who endured the Holocaust. Sol Nazerman is the operator of a pawn shop, who is haunted by flashbacks of his life before and during his captivity in the concentration camps where his family was killed by the Nazis. He is emotionally closed off, full of bitterness and self loathing, and harsh and dismissive to those closest to him. When his young assistant dies trying to protect him during a robbery, the pawnbroker finally breaks down in a torrent of emotion.

The Pawnbroker

Fiddler on the Roof (1971) is a musical about trying to maintain strong cultural traditions and identity in the face of a continually changing world. It shows us the harsh realities of Jewish life in pre-Revolutionary Russia through the eyes of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman in the tiny Russian village of Anatevka. The film depicts the close knit village life especially in relation to the threatening external forces like the pogroms of pre-revolutionary Russia. The persecution of Jews in Russia is captured in this story, as Tevye's family must leave their village after an edict from Lenin.

In Annie Hall (1977), Woody Allen's character plays up the difference between his first two wives, both Jewish, and his new uber-WASP girlfriend (played by Diane Keaton), who "looks like the wife of an astronaut." Woody Allen's movie persona is a walking stereotype of a morose self-absorbed intellectual, consumed by introspection and a persecution complex who always manages to sabotage his relationships with women. 

The TV miniseries Holocaust (1978), follows each member of the well-educated and affluent Jewish Family Weiss throughout Hitler's reign in Germany. One by one, the family members suffer a horrible fate under the Nazis until only one son survives at the end of World War II. The movie also follows the transformation of Eric Dorf, a young German lawyer who finds that the power and influence of being a SS officer destroys his humanity.

 

 

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Black Stereotypes
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Arab Stereotypes
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Jewish Stereotypes
 

Racial and Racist Stereotypes in Media


 

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