Hipster Tees: Pride or Prejudice?

A few years ago, Urban Outfitters launched their “Everyone loves a . . .” line of t-shirts. Whether you were an Irish girl or a Jewish boy, embracing your ethnicity on a t-shirt suddenly became trendy. And while I personally don’t embrace this trend, some of the t-shirts being sold on websites like, and are cute. (Admit it, the “Yo Semite” shirt on is pretty clever.)

While most of the clothing items being sold are harmless (although some may be considered immodest), a few of the designs may be derogatory to non-Jews. The “Shiksa Goddess” and “Shiksa” shirts seems to perpetuate an unpleasant stereotype about non-Jewish women. This feels like a step backward to those of us at JOI who encourage welcoming the non-Jewish partners of Jews into the Jewish community. I don’t know many non-Jewish women who would gladly display “Shiksa” — the Yiddish work for non-Jew, but that more accurately translates to “abomination” — across their chests.

There could be three things at play here: first, the creators of these shirts did not realize they were being offensive, or didn’t care; second, there is a market for these shirts because women wearing them don’t realize they are wearing a slur, or don’t care; and finally, it’s possible that non-Jewish women know full well that the word is a slur and they are “reclaiming” it as a word of pride the way the gay and lesbian movement reclaimed the word “queer.” If it is the latter, then it would be okay for such folks to refer to themselves as “Shiksa” but I think it would still be offensive when others (especially born-Jews) refer to them as such. At JOI we’ve long said it’s time to remove negative words like “Shiksa” (and the male counterpart, “Shegetz”) from our communal vocabulary.


  1. I couldn’t agree more about not using the words, which originate in the “abomination” language. But it’s a hard battle, since as you note, the word is in play in contemporary language, and most people don’t know the word’s origins. I would say that the word “goy” is the same problem, in the way it’s used today. I make an effort not to use either term.

    Comment by Esther Kustanowitz — February 1, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  2. There are indeed a strange set of rules today about who can use what terms, and under what circumstances, without offending.

    It seems to me that if I am truly offended by a term that someone uses to describe me, than I am granting the offender far more power than he deserves!

    Comment by Jeff — February 2, 2007 @ 5:06 pm

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