Talk to Me Like I’m Goyish

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.

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46 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    I know some people who grew up Jewish and in the midwest.

    Many of them seem to have stories where people would tell them that they were “good Christians”. In this case, Christian is seemingly synonymous with person. Based on these stories, I guess being Jewish is a negative asset because the whole worldview of Evangelical/Fundamentalistism is that you need to be Christian to be a good person. If you start admitting that Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, etc can be and are good people than it calls into question the whole being saved thing, doesn’t it?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Basically, they will need to admit that their whole worldview is incorrect and the whole Jesus Saves thing might not be true and probably is not true.

      So cognitive dissonance is seemingly the answer.Report

    • j r in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      You maybe over-thinking this one. Most people who say things like that are making a positive claim about the traits that they associate with being a good Christian and not necessarily a negative claim about not being a Christian.

      It’s a little bit like (not exactly like, but a little like) some person from the Midwest freaking out about being called a mensch.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:

        That might be the intent but it is certainly not the effect.Report

      • ScarletNumber in reply to j r says:


        That might be the intent but it is certainly not the effect.

        You aren’t a disinterested party.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

        You aren’t a disinterested party.

        Doesn’t make him wrong.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to j r says:

        But if we divorce the intent from the effect we can’t ascribe any intentions based on effections. So just because a Jewish person perceives it as anti-semitic it doesn’t follow that it actually is, yes? (Logic and all.)

        And to add onto this a bit more generally in response to @mike-schilling, I don’t think it’s fair to ascribe anti-semitism to the claim your wondering about with a bit more context. It seems to me it’s a political statement, first and foremost, and one thing we’ve learned about politics lately (well…) is that othering others is GOOD BUSINESS. So in one sense I think it simply is equivalent to someone saying the same thing about a Presbyterian candidate. Or the age of a candidate. The art of politics, in at least one sense of that term, is to hew as fine a line as possible between pandering and offense, ideally pandering to everyone without offending anyone.

        On the flip side, I totally get why a Jewish person would perceive this as anti-semitic since the entire purpose of the public statement, at least on a political level, would be to appeal to negative predispositions associated with “Jewishness”.

        And on the flip side of all that, the person may have just been expressing their own personal beliefs without any sense of self-awareness. In which case the accusation of anti-semitism would be perfectly appropriate and justified. But at the end of it, I think politicians in the US are so desensitized to their own views and so hypersensitive to pandering that this is more than likely a case of pander-othering.Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    One can certainly note someone’s Jewishness — or assumed-but-not-actual Jewishness — in a way that is wholly innocuous.

    But when the whisper campaigns begin? Yea, there is something going on.

    It is similar, though not identical, to “accusations” of being gay. An accusation implies that someone has done something wrong. Being gay is not something wrong. Nor is being Jewish.

    When someone makes comments like that, my response is to say, “So?” Not just in a “No big deal” way. But in a “No, explain to me why you think this is relevant” way.

    “Well, you know… (hushed tone) he’s Jewish.”
    “You know.”
    “No. I don’t. Explain it to me.”
    “I mean, he’s Jewish, man. What more do you need to know?”
    “So he might not be available on Saturdays. What else?”
    “And there we have it.”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

      Furthermore, I’d want to know the context in which it comes up.

      “What is Tom’s faith?”
      “I think he’s Jewish.”
      No problem. Even if the person is wrong.

      “Are you voting for Tom?”
      “He’s Jewish.”
      Record stops.

      “Did you hear about this Tom fellow running for governor? He’s Jewish!”
      And the wall come crashing down.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

      Maybe you need to get more specific. Try swapping out “Haredi” for “Jewish” and see how that feels.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


        Can you elaborate? Is this about the posts I’ve written on my Haredi neighbors in town here?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Yes, and I don’t mean to suggest that your distaste for the actions of members of that group once vested with political power are particularly unjustified. I’m more interested in the political groups you’ve described as coalescing more or less overtly to oppose members of this group from wielding political power. Can that be justified and distinguished from the kind of whispering campaign that you condemn in your primary comment above?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


        Perhaps I was less than clear at the time, but I took great issue with those groups coalescing as they did. I think it is one thing to think, “Holy crap… this community is experiencing exponential growth and we need to think about that impact of that environmentally, economically, and on quality of life.” It is quite another to say, “We have to make sure THOSE PEOPLE don’t get power.”

        I had no objection to the former; that is how the political process ought to play out regardless of the demographics of the community in question. I have strenuous objections to the latter. And real concern when the latter masks itself as the former. It is why I balk at discussing the community (Kiryas Joel aka KJ) in terms of its primary inhabitants (“the Orthodox” and other such terms).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Also concerning was that none of the candidates at the time were Haredi themselves or otherwise residents of KJ. They were seen as “puppets”. Which plays into all sorts of ugly stereotypes. Did some of them focus exclusively or primarily on the interest of KJ and its residents? It seems that way. But how is that different than any other politician taking care of those who got him in office? We can talk about whether elected officials should represent only their supporters or all of their constituent groups. But we shouldn’t only talk about this when their supporters are of a particular faith.

        That is what I took issue with. A group of people said, “The Jews are bloc voting to get their interests met! We need to form our own bloc to stop them and get our interests met!”Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Got it, @kazzy . I, too, would distinguish between a person’s past political choices and that person’s membership in groupings based upon innate characteristics; I, too, would presumptively approve of making judgments based on the former but presumptively disapprove based on the latter. This much is actually not really all that controversial; I expect we’d get nearly everyone reading these comments to agree with that.

        When you press past the “All members of group X are inherently bad, because they just are” that your initial examples illustrate, you’ll eventually get someone trying to tie membership in group X to some sort of obviously undesirable objective characteristic, which I’ll call Y, and the construction of a syllogism to argue against the particular member of group X. There seem to be only two effective rebuttals to this. We could refute the major premise, which looks like “Membership in group X does not actually correlate with undesirable attribute Y.” Or, we could negate the minor premise, which looks like “Undesirable attribute Y is irrelevant, so your objection must be based on the subject’s membership in group X.”

        The bigot says, “All X’s are Y; candidate Z is X; therefore, candidate Z is Y,” where X is determined by membership in a group identified by an innate characteristic, Y is some sort of undesirable characteristic. E.g., “All Haredi vote to exclude Gentiles from KJ; Candidate Moishe is Haredi; therefore, if elected, Moishe will vote for exclusion” or “Atheists make decisions without regard to morality; Burt is an atheist; therefore if Burt is appointed to a judgeship, he will make amoral rulings.” Logically, the prejudicial syllogism leveled against Moishe is no different than the prejudicial syllogism leveled against Burt.

        The thing with the Haredi seems interesting to me because Undesirable Characteristic Y is a propensity to advocate exclusionary public policies, which is something that seems relevant to the desirability of Candidate X for public office, so we can’t really object to the minor premise — and based on what I recall from your posts about politics in KJ, being Haredi in office seems to very strongly correlate with advocacy of exclusionary policies, which means it will be difficult to object to the major premise.

        The only way out that seems even available to me is to deny that Characteristic Y is undesirable: “What you call ‘exclusionary policies’ really aren’t that. At worst, they’re inconvenient to you. It’s entirely cool if the people who run KJ draw from their religious preferences to form public policies even if those policies wind up being inconvenient to Gentiles. So step off, you bigot.” Or is there some other solution here? Because also if I recall, you described some policies the Haredi-controlled city council adopted which do, in fact, seem pretty objectionable to a Gentile, going beyond mere inconvenience.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


        Interesting analysis. And I think I understood it!

        The problem, for me, is the attempt to link the trait — desirable or otherwise — to the group identifier… with the arrow pointing in either direction.

        So, for instance, if Trait X is only undesirable when performed by members of Group Y… but it is otherwise deemed an acceptable Trait (e.g., bloc voting)… I think we have some bigotry happening.

        But going the other direction is problematic, too. For instance, let’s agree that the Haredi residents of KJ do engage promote exclusionary public policies AND we recognize this as undesirable. There are many other identifiers we could use to describe the residents of that village. They’re almost all white. The majority of them are poor (at least as far as the government is concerned). Many of them are of Hungarian ancestry (I believe they are the most concentrated groups of Hungarian folks in the states). So why are we focusing on the Haredi part? The Haredi part makes them unique, no doubt, but does it necessarily directly interact with the desire for exclusionary public policies? That would require a pretty intimate knowledge of their faith and culture, which I doubt most of my fellow Monrovians (self included) necessarily possess. But because their status as Haredi gives them a marked identity, it is very easy to make that conflation.

        And even still… even if we could look at their religious teachings or cultural traditions and say, “No, the Haredi people are an insular, exclusive group,”… there is still a way to talk about that constructively that steers clear of anti-semitism*.

        Case in point… the residents of KJ built a park that is only accessible to residents of KJ. My understanding is that this wasn’t so much motivated by a simple refusal to interact with non-Haredi townspeople, but rather has to do with religious prescriptions about the mingling of the sexes. The park actually has four playgrounds, as I understand: one for young boys accompanied by their parents; one for young girls accompanied by their parents; one for young boys without parents; one for young girls without parents. I don’t know if those are legal prescriptions as I doubt they would stand up to constitutional muster (you could probably weigh in on that) but are probably just ‘understood’ by all the people. And they keep out the regular townsfolk because we are unlikely to understand and/or respect that component of their faith and would muss up something very important to them. So, they used their funds to build their park and made it their own**. This has led to all manner of fist shaking. And yet, just down the road, in the village of Tuxedo Park (where I work), the entire town is gated off to outsiders (as I’ve written about). Yet not only does this generate relatively little fist shaking, but no one wants to attach it to the faith or other key identifiers of the residents therein.

        So, yea, I get that all this is tricky. I get that part of what makes people a member of a group are certain shared characteristics. I just think — in most cases — we can tell whether people are engaging in a substantive conversation about members of a particular group that holds merit and people who are engaged in bigotry. A small percentage fall into the grey area in between wherein it is must harder to make a judgement call.

        I haven’t read up on the particulars of this case but I struggle to see how discussion of this particular candidate’s faith was of any relevance to the legitimacy of his candidacy. I mean, even if the guy was a “secret Jew”, do people think we was suddenly going to don a yarmulke on inauguration day and ban pork products?

        In essence, my question remains what I said in the initial post there… Why did these people care about his faith? If they can answer that for me, I’d be very interested to hear it.

        * Which doesn’t mean you might not still be accused of anti-semitism.
        ** People have raised questions about where exactly the funding came from given that the village is quite literally the poorest in the nation and receives boatloads of county, state, and federal funds accordingly. Given the fungibility of money, it is very likely that funding from various, non-village sources helped contribute to the park but I have read that they passed an external audit and kept their books sufficiently in order that they park was deemed build with village funds and thus can be restricted accordingly.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        As for what to do about a potentially Heredi-controlled city council… well, isn’t there where things like town charters or state constitutions come into play? Have certain things in place such that no matter who runs the city, certain rights and privileges will remain.

        Most of the potential issues caused by a theoretically Haredi-controlled city council are of the sort that Group X wants A and Group Y wants B. KJ wants to expand. Town of Monroe residents want to maintain green space. Both legitimate claims, both legitimate concerns. Absent some sort of binding charter agreed to in advance (or amended through proper, previously-agreed-upon procedures), don’t you sort of have to let democracy just run its course at that point?Report

  3. Damon says:

    Here’s how I would react to being whispered that a political candidate was “jewish”.

    1) I wouldn’t care about his personal religious beliefs unless he had made a point of stating how his beliefs would influence his voting.

    2) I’d wonder, if indeed the guy was jewish, and I’d want to confirm that, how this might influence his actions in office. Most of the jews I’ve known/know were either atheists religiously or rabid political supporters of Israel. The first interests me not. The second very much so. Politicians should serve one master-their electorate.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


      Re: #2

      What if you heard he was Catholic? Protestant? Muslim? Would you want to know how that’d influence his actions in office? Or is that concern unique to Jews?Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        That’s covered in 1.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Then why was #2 necessary?

        You seem to be saying, “I don’t care what someone’s faith is unless they make clear it will impact their decision making. Because, you know, those Jews and their feelings on Israel…!” By singling out Jews in that second part, you seemed to be setting them apart from people of other faiths.

        In addition to painting with enormously broad brushstrokes.Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, this topic is on Jews, not on other religious persons / politicians. And as I said in 2, MY experience with my jewish friends and acquaintances is that some are “rabid political supporters of Israel…Politicians should serve one master-their electorate.”

        I’m unaware of any Christians or Muslims who are rabid supporters of Israel or other countries, but I’m sure they exist. My thinking would apply to them. THE priority is their local electorate.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        one presumes that Damon would be just as alarmed if someone voted a particular way because the Pope told him to (or to give favors to the pope), or something-something Mormon.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Many Christians are rabid defenders of Israel, for reasons both political and religious.

        Again, I saw little reason to include #2 when it was, as you insist, necessarily included in #1. But whatevs… to each their own.Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        Bingo! But this post isn’t talking about politics and religion in general. We’re talking about Jews and politics. A fine line….Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Well, this topic is on Jews, not on other religious persons / politicians. And as I said in 2, MY experience with my jewish friends and acquaintances is that some are “rabid political supporters of Israel…Politicians should serve one master-their electorate.”

        It’s not necessary to assume. It’s usually pretty easy to determine a politician’s position on Israel. A brief trip to their website or simply asking them will probably elicit the appropriate answer, especially if the position the politician is standing for has anything even remotely at all to do with the topic and especially if they are in any shade “pro-Israel” (a questionable phrase, because it seems to imply that anyone who criticizes Israel is “anti-Israel,” but I’ll use it as a shorthand). At that point, if the issue is important enough, you can vote or criticize/praise accordingly.

        An anecdatum: When Rahm Emmanuel ran for mayor the first time (4 years ago), my wife, who has kept her last name and whose last name is obviously “Jewish,” received an advertisement in the mail addressed to her from his campaign explaining how Mr.Emmanuel is a true friend of Israel. I received no such advertisement addressed to me, and it’s probably no coincidence that I have kept my last name and and it is wasp-ish sounding (even though I was raised Catholic). Which is ironic. While my wife and I both find much to criticize in what Israel does when it comes to how its leaders handle its relations with the Palestinians, she’s much more critical than I am.Report

  4. Tod Kelly says:

    Well I’m a goy, so I’ll go ahead take a shot at this.

    I think what we need to first and foremost keep in mind is that, at least thus far and to my knowledge, we are not talking about a campaign to smear someone as being Jewish so much as we are a clearly mentally unstable man having told people that there was such a smear campaign. The difference here is important, I think.

    Consider that there are three likely scenarios here:

    A. It might turn out that there was no conspiracy to falsely out Schweich as a close Jew, and that even though he was a nice guy and an exemplary public servant Schweich suffered from some kind pathology that made him take his own life which may well have included paranoia as a symptom.

    B. Or, it might turn out that there was one guy who was anti-Semitic who told everyone who would listen that Schweich was a Jew because that was really important to that one guy, but everyone he told thought he was a bigoted crank.

    C. Or, of course, it might turn out that Schweich lived in a place where anti-Semitism is quite rampant and being named a closet Jew in 2015 is similar to a whisper campaign in 1890 Missouri that you had “negro blood.”

    Right now, the places that are reporting it nationally tend to be liberal outlets (I know about the story from TPM, which has new posts on it multiple times a day), and I suspect that because of this (and because of the party affiliations of the dead and the accused) that it’s being covered in a way that implies C is what happened. And again, C might well end up being the case.

    But FWIW, my goy privilege makes me suspect that A or B are more likely true.Report

    • Ken S. in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      True, there is much we do not know. But we do know this: John Danforth takes the accusation seriously. Danforth is neither a liberal nor a fool.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Ken S. says:

        That’s why this story has traction. Without that, it’s purely local, and we’ve never heard of any of the participants, but Danforth is a national figure.

        One thing Danforth is, of course, is a very loyal friend, which is one reasons he so vehemently defended another friend of his from accusations of sexual harassment.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      There is the possibility of a cross between A and B – there was a real whisper campaign promoted by a crank or cranks that the voting public would have completely dismissed, but something in Schweich’s psyche made him think it was a big deal

      The first I heard of the story was on Meet the Press, which mostly covered the press angle that Schweich called a reporter from the St Louis Post-Dispatch minutes before he killed himself.Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    There was some speculation at the time it happened that Eric Cantor lost his job partly because he was Jewish. It’s not that anyone voted against him *because* he was Jewish, but the fact that he wasn’t Christian made it easier for people to buy the narrative that he was an out of touch Washington insider more interested in serving his own political ambition instead of the interests of rural & ex-urban Virginia and conservative/tea party ideology. And in a low turnout primary, every marginal differentiation counted.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

      I’d say this about that: from the perspective of a straight, white, Christian-descended male (hoka-hay!), folks who’ve been on the marginalized-to-discriminated against side of things will tend to view all adverse outcomes as evidence of the discriminatory practices they are in fact victims of. But that attributes a bit too much anti-ism to just about everyone else, at a level I tend to think isn’t descriptively accurate. Sometimes things work out as they do in contradiction to an oppressed groups dominant paradigm.

      But like I said, I’m a SWC-DM, so what the hell do I know?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        One other thing I’ll say: if a person expects or perceives the worst in people they will be rewarded by perceiving the bad behavior they are expecting.Report

  6. Rufus F. says:

    Wagner, Max, Wagner. So, I knew what he was saying.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

      I’m also always taken aback to find out that someone’s antisemitic. It’s like finding out they’re a flat earther or something. The weird thing is I never really encountered anyone who was until I moved to Canada and I think I’ve met about five since I came here. Maybe it’s a luxury that the states never had the same level of antisemitism as Europe, but Canada??Report

      • Glyph in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Well, Canada is the Europe of North America.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @rufus-f The seminal book about the attitude of the Canadian government towards Jewish immigrants in the early and mid-20th century is called “None is Too Many.” Make of that what you will.

        Canada really only became the liberal place we all know and love in the mid-20th century. During the first part of Canadian history, it had a reputation of being a deeply conservative place. Quebec was a determinably Catholic and peasant place before the Quiet Revolution with all the social conservatism and parochialism this applies. The English speaking provinces were very self-consciously Anglo-Saxon even after receiving many Eastern and Southern European immigrants, including a 100,000 Jews. Until the mid-20th century, it was basically a requirement for whoever wanted to be Mayor of Toronto to be an Orangemen. That says a lot about the society of English speaking Canada at the time. This made Canada a not particularly welcoming place for Jewish Canadians at the time. In Quebec, this took a rawer form than it did in the English speaking provinces but a WASPy kind of genteel anti-Semitism was common.

        Most of this has disappeared after the changes of the mid-20th century but like a lot of social ills, lingers on.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Thanks! Someone else told me I should read that book and I forgot about it!Report

  7. So this is my question: in the United States, in the year 2015, is “He’s Jewish” in itself an anti-Semitic attack (whether accurate or not)? Is it genuinely less neutral than “He’s Presbyterian”? Or is Danforth, who is almost 80, assuming that opinions he might have grown up with are still prevalent?

    First question: not necessarily.

    Second question: Yes, if we’re speaking comparatively (as you are.

    Third question: Maybe, or maybe not. My gut instinct is to believe the assumptions are still prevalent, but probably not as much so as in Danforth’s past. My evidence is only anecdotal.

    Comment: As someone on the outskirts of Jewish culture but who isn’t Jewish (by creed or birth) himself, I hate the word “goy” or “goyish.” (However, I must admit I almost never hear anyone use it at all and have never heard it applied to me personally.)Report

  8. LeeEsq says:

    In related news, a Jewish student seeking a seat on UCLA’s Judicial Board is asked questions on dual loyalties:

  9. ScarletNumber says:

    In the NYC DMA, referring to someone as Jewish is neutral. However, I concede that it is probably different in other parts of the country.

    This reminds me of when a guy I knew in passing asked me what “nebbish” meant. I normally would have said “Jew-y” but instead I said “like Woody Allen”. He then laughed because he read the word reading a magazine article on Woody Allen.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to ScarletNumber says:

      A nebbish is a nothing, a nobody. So, the characters Woody Allen plays, but not the man himself. Or to say it another way, George Constanza was a nebbish but Jerry Seinfeld was not.Report

      • ScarletNumber in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Yes, you are right, by Woody Allen I mean the Woody Allen character from his movies, i.e. Fielding Mellish, not Allen himself.

        It is funny that you mention George Costanza, since Jason Alexander has stated that before he knew that George was based on Larry David, he was doing a bad Woody Allen impression.Report

  10. ScarletNumber says:

    I was at Rutgers yesterday, and by coincidence I drove past the construction site of the new Hillel House. On the fence was a sign that read “Rutgers: / A Great Place to / Be Jewish!”

    This got me to think. I can’t think of a place in the NYC DMA where someone who is a white Christian would feel comfortable living and someone who is Jewish would feel uncomfortable living.

    However, the converse isn’t true. I can think of enclaves where a white Christian would feel uncomfortable living but someone Jewish would feel comfortable living.Report

  11. Will H. says:

    Is this a comment box?*

    * Part of my smear campaign against comment boxes.Report