Well-meaning Christians often use the words “Jew” or “Jews” in reference to a Jewish person or the wider Jewish community. After all, “Mordecai the Jew” is found in the Bible; the Gospels and Paul often mention “the Jews.”
In seeking to share God’s heart for the Jewish people, we often discuss the value of using words that best communicate to our audience. So, why would we make use of “Jews” an issue (ish-ue)?
If you think about it, to append ish can be really helpful in many circumstances. Ish adds descriptive flavor to terms like boorish or stylish.
But we’re talking about appending ish where it adds more than description; it helps the word go to a whole new level.
After all, a dish without ish is a lonely d awaiting a vowel and a consonant or two to help make it into something proper.
Yes, the simple addition of ish transforms the fourth letter of the alphabet into “dish.” Whether it is now a satellite dish, a dog dish, part of a table setting or to be used as a descriptive shape or a wonderful culinary delight, you must agree it is the ish that lifts “d” to such a level.
What is the letter f when standing alone? A negative feeling of failure is associated with “F” – until you add on those letters “ish.” Suddenly the word swims to life as fish. Images spring to mind of savory salmon or beautiful coral reef life. Once again, a letter is lifted by the simple addition of “ish.”
Uplifting, after all, is what Christians aspire to be. Whether in word or deed, we lift up the person who is our Messiah and Savior. We want all humanity to be drawn to Him.
Finally, we come to that letter with the confusing name: w. Yes, it is “double u” (or is it “double you” – or in the case of that famous first cloned sheep Molly, a “double-ewe!”).
With that wonderful addition of ish we see another transformation – from hopeless w to hopeful wish. Suddenly, aspirations and dreams are in view. Birthday cakes and candles and wishes appear – all with the addition of three short letters.
And now we focus on the real “ishue” before us:
“Jew” or “Jewish”?
Have you considered that “Jew” might sound different in a Jewish ear, when spoken by non-Jewish lips? Truth be told, the term “Jew” on a Christian’s lips can sound as jarring as fingernails on a chalkboard to our Jewish friends. “Why so?” you may ask?
Too often in history the word “Jew” has been said with a sneer, or spat out in anger. It often is accompanied by a derogatory adjective: “cheap Jew” or “dirty Jew.” “Christ-killing Jew” dredges up images of “Christian Crusades,” the Inquisition, or pogroms (organized persecutions in Eastern Europe).
So “Jew” spoken by a Gentile can be like sounding an alarm. Emotional walls of protection quickly go up. Ears of receptivity slam shut like a door against an intruder.
On the other hand, “Jewish person” and “Jewish community” elicits a different response in a Jewish ear [in contrast to “the ear of a Jew”]. As when fabric softener is added when washing a favorite towel, the words not only sound nice but also feel nice in our Jewish friend’s ears.
Adding ish to “Jew” simply sounds more pleasant. “Jewish” recognizes the sensitivity and historical suffering of our Lord’s own kindred. The walls built by centuries of anti-Semitism begin to come down. Rather than pointing a finger of accusation or distaste, we offer a kind hand of understanding. All because of the beauty of “ish.”
So, remember: if as a Christian you want your Jewish friends to listen to what you “dish,” and to realize the love associated with our ancient symbol the “fish,” then have the sensitivity and awareness to add the “ish!” This is, well, my “wish!”
– Written by Jeff, LIFE Staff Member
NOTE: If the Bible uses “Jews” why should we substitute “Jewish people”?
First, the writers of Scripture were Jewish. Some terms, like ethnic jokes, may be acceptable for use within that community – but not by others.
Perhaps most importantly, historical and cultural context matters. Word usage and meaning or nuance may change over time. Terms or phrases that were once acceptable can become reminders of ugly historical events. [It’s why we don’t often hear babies being named “Adolph” or “Benedict.”]
So, continue reading God’s word in its context: the gospel is “to the Jew first and also the Greek” (Romans 1:16). But in our conversation with the people chosen and loved by God (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Jeremiah 31:3), let’s add “ish.”