A colleague of mine recently told me the story of a couple identified on a restaurant check as "Jew couple." Apparently, some restaurants routinely use descriptions of patrons, rather than table numbers, to identify which table goes with a check. My colleague reported that she has received restaurant checks identifying her as "blond girl" or even "pretty girl." What is so wrong, she wondered, about calling two people "Jew couple" that the New Jersey attorney general would be investigating the story?
First, let me emphasize that the word "Jew" is not an offensive term. I am a Jew. I am Jewish. I use these two phrases interchangeably and see no difference between them, and many other Jews feel the same way. In fact, when the subject came up in the newsgroup soc.culture.jewish, several people were offended by the idea that the word "Jew" is an offensive term, as if being a Jew were such a terrible thing that people should not be reminded of it. One person was also offended by the idea that "Jewish" is better than "Jew," suggesting that the notion reflected the idea that "Jewish" sounded less Jew than "Jew," just like "bluish" is less blue than "blue."
So the the word "Jew" is not necessarily a problem. But there are several problems related to the restaurant's use of the phrase "Jew couple."
First, the word "Jew" is a noun, not an adjective. It is grammatically incorrect to use "Jew" as an adjective, as in the phrase "Jew lawyer," "Jew doctor," "Jew janitor" or more commonly, "Jew bastard." The adjective form is "Jewish," so the more correct form would be "Jewish lawyer," "Jewish doctor," etc. More important than the grammatical technicality, though, is the fact that these misuses are most commonly used by those who are predisposed to hate Jews. It is theoretically possible that someone who calls Shawn Green a "Jew athlete" is simply ignorant, but it is more likely that it is an expression of distaste, more likely that "Jew bastard" was implied if not stated, and Jews recognize that usage for what it is. It would be more accurate and would not be so suggestive of antisemitism to refer to the patrons as a "Jewish couple." The NJ Antidefamation League spokesman recognized this distinction when he told the media, "It doesn't even say 'Jew-ish.' It's indefensible."
But even if the check said "Jewish couple," I'm not sure that this entirely solves the problem. My colleague said that she has been identified as "blond girl" or "pretty girl," terms that are physically descriptive and would help a waiter identify the correct table. How does the phrase "Jewish couple" help the waiter to identify the correct table? The couple apparently weren't wearing any obvious Jewish symbols, such as a necklace with a Chai or Star of David, or a yarmulke (skullcap). Jews don't have any particular physical appearance. Jews come in all shapes, sizes and colors. There are tall Jews and short Jews; fat Jews and thin Jews; Jews with thick hair and Jews with fine hair; blonds, brunettes and red-heads; blue, grey, green, hazel and brown-eyed; light-skinned, darker-skinned and even black Jews; Jews with big hooked noses and Jews with surgically bobbed noses and Jews with noses you would never notice. When people think they know what a Jew "looks like," they are usually thinking in terms of negative stereotypes. So the use of "Jewish couple" as a physical identifier suggests negative stereotypes about Jewish appearance. It is less like "blond girl" and more like "fat girl."
And quite frankly, "Jew couple" or even "Jewish couple" isn't particularly uniquely identifying on the Jersey shore. The restaurant where this occurred is in Allenhurst, NJ. Check any online phone directory and you will see more than a dozen synagogues, Jewish community centers and cemeteries of all movements, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Chasidic, within five miles of Allenhurst. In fact, the term was so incredibly not identifying that the couple in question were able to show the bill to another Jewish couple in the restaurant at the time, who shared their outrage.
Apparently, this is not the first time the restaurant in question has engaged in offensive labeling of their customers. Another former patron reports that her bill once identified her as "Dirty Joanne."
Read more about it:
Table for "Jew"
Attorney General Probe