“Gentile” or “non-Jew”? Or neither?

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We were delighted that The Jerusalem Post picked up one of two JTA stories that emerged from JOI signature program The Mothers Circle, currently being piloted in Atlanta and slated to go national next year. This program helps provide free resources to a group of unsung heroes in our community: non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. But the title which the Post gave to the article—certainly not the one chosen by the reporter or by JOI—is “A Gentile Yiddishe Momma?” To us, this raises the language question once again. At JOI, we are always thinking about language—inclusive language. So we ask the question that is perhaps implicit by the title: Do you prefer the term “Gentile” over “non-Jew”? We don’t like either term and are searching for more inclusive alternatives. What do you think?


  1. as a Muslim I find it fascinating that this debate exists in Judaism, because a corresponding one exists in Islam too. there are differing views on whether we should refer to non-Muslims as “kafirs”. many people in our community, such as myself, believe the use of this term by human beings is derogatory and so prefer “non-Muslim” to denote people of other faiths. i would prefer “non-Jew” I guess simply because of the same reason, I associate - wrongly or rightly - the word “gentile” with inferiority.

    Comment by Rania Ali — May 17, 2005 @ 2:08 am

  2. I think non-Jew is the least of evils in terms of terminology. As a Jew, I would not be offended if a Christian group or individual referred to me as a “non-Christian.” Also, “Gentile” might sound patronizing when used by Jews, but I’m pretty sure it was originally used by — well, non-Jews — to describe Jews in a patronizing way. It has the same roots as “gentle,” a point Shakespeare used repeatedly in Merchant of Venice. According to these roots, a Gentile is honorable and sophisticated, whereas a Jew is not. All the more reason to retire the term.

    Comment by EV — May 17, 2005 @ 6:50 pm

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