J E W I S H A L M A N A C
The text below is copied from page three of the 1980 Jewish Almanac.
|J E W I S
|| A L M A N A
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TERMS FOR
Strictly speaking, it is incorrect
to call an ancient Israelite a "Jew" or to call a contemporary Jew an
"Israelite" or a "Hebrew." The first Hebrews may not have been
Jews at all, and contemporary Palestinians, by their own definition of the term
"Palestinian," have to include Jews among their own people--although in choosing
the name "Palestine" for their homeland, they have picked a name that originally
signified the opposite: an enclave of foreigners. A "Zionist'' in the strict sense is
not an expansionist: the original "Zion" was only a single hill in Jerusalem,
not a whole land, much less "from the Nile to the Euphrates," as the maximalists
How these curiosities of
terminology evolved is a complicated and interesting bit of history. In a general sense
all of these terms---"Hebrew," "Israelite," "Jew,"
"Palestinian," and "Zionist" -- are essential ingredients in both
Jewish and world history, and understanding their knotty interrelation can shed much light
on contemporary events in the Middle East. But let the definer beware: original meanings
of these loaded words are no guide
to subsequent meanings. How people misconstrue a word is as much a part of its meaning as
the "correct" meaning, and the history of these five terms has included a number
of creative--and sometimes tragic--misconstruals.
The word "Hebrew" ('Ivri)
occurs in the early narratives of the Pentateuch to refer to an Israelite, but only in
those narratives, such as the Joseph story (Gen. 39--48) and the Exodus story (Exod 3-10),
that are set in Egypt, where Israelites are regarded as foreigners. There
"Hebrew" is either used by Egyptians to refer to Israelites or by Israelites to
refer to themselves in the presence of Egyptians--among themselves, the
is bene Yisrael, "children of Israel," or "Israelites." A
similar usage of "Hebrew" is found in the stories of the interaction between
Israelites and Philistines in 1 Samuel and the interaction of Abram (Abraham) with
Canaanites and other non-Israelites in Gen. 14 (see Gen. 14:13, where the Greek translator
renders the term 'lvri by a word meaning "man of the yonder region''). Jonah,
likewise, at sea with a crew of non-Israelites, refers to himself in their presence as a
Since the term 'lvri is possibly based on the common preposition ever,
meaning "across, beyond, yonder" (the suffix i is an adjectival ending called a
gentilic, with the sense of "-ite"), the meaning of the term could have the
general sense of "yonder-ite," i. e., "foreigner.'' But since a number of
regions in the Middle East are designated by the term Ever (e. g., t~ver ha-Yarden,
"Transjordan," Ever ha-Yarden, "Trans-riverine," i, e.,
Trans-Euphrates), the term 'Ivri could just as well designate a dweller of one of
these familiar neighboring "Trans-" regions, with no connotation of
foreignness--merely regional particularity. Confusion on the Matter is compounded by the
additional ambiguity in the frame of reference in which the designation "Hebrew"
originated: were the "Hebrews" thought of as "those out yonder" from
the standpoint of Mesopotamians or "those from out yonder" from the standï¿½point
To complicate the matter further, a word similar in sound and meaning, apiru, habiru,
or khapiru, occurs in extrabiblical ancient Near Eastern sources, where it may or
may not designate an Israelite. The kings of the Canaanite city-states, in the land that
was to become Israel, wrote many .letters to the Egyptian Pharaohs, in the era just
preceding the Israelite exodus from Egypt, complaining ...
c.1175 (in plural, giwis), from Anglo-Fr. iuw,
from O.Fr. giu, from L. Judaeum (nom. Judaeus),
from Gk. Ioudaios, from Aramaic jehudhai (Heb.
y'hudi "Jew," from Y'hudah
"Judah," lit. "celebrated," name of Jacob's fourth son and of the
tribe descended from him. Replaced O.E. Iudeas "the Jews."
Originally, "Hebrew of the kingdom of Judah." Jews' harp
"simple mouth harp" is from 1584, earlier Jews' trump
(1545); the connection with Jewishness is obscure. Jew-baiting first
recorded 1853, in ref. to Ger. Judenhetze. In uneducated times,
inexplicable ancient artifacts were credited to Jews, based on the biblical chronology of
history: e.g. Jews' money (1577) "Roman coins found in
England." In Greece, after Christianity had erased the memory of classical glory,
ruins of pagan temples were called "Jews' castles."
"to cheat, to drive a hard bargain," 1824, from Jew
(n.) (cf. gyp, welsh, etc.). The campaign to eliminate
it in early 20c. was so successful that people began to avoid the noun and adj., too, and
started using Hebrew instead.
"Now I'll say 'a Jew' and just the word Jew
sounds like a dirty word and people don't know whether to laugh or not." [Lenny Bruce
the letter is a late modification of Roman -i-,
originally a scribal creation in continental M.L. to distinguish small -i-
in cursive writing from the strokes of other letters, especially in the final positions of
words. But in Eng., -y- was used for this, and -j-
was introduced c.1600-1640 to take up the consonantal sound that had
evolved from -i- since L.L. times. This usage first was attested in
Sp., where it was in place before 1600. Eng. dictionaries continued to lump together words
beginning in -i- and -j- until 19c.