You all know I’m a bit of a yenta who likes to give sometimes unsolicited dating advice to my friends and Oy! So from time to time, dating/self-help books like Avi Roseman’s come across my desk. While I get that some of the advice is meant to be tongue-in-check, after a while lines like…
This number breaks down as follows: Jews were the targeted victims in 52 of those incidents; LGBT community, 26; blacks, 24; Muslims, 6; 21 other minorities were victimized a cumulative 65 times; and, to round things off, there was a single instance of a hate crime targeting a member of a group recorded as “Non-Jewish.” This last bit is highly unusual: non-Jews have not historically been persecuted for their non-Jewishness.
The report doesn’t go into any detail we’d much care about except the epithet thrown: “shiksa,” a word of Yiddish origin, commonly defined as a female gentile, with some undefined measure of pejorative connotation. One day in 2009, in Toronto’s heavily-but-not-exclusively-Jewish 53rd District, one (presumably Jewish) person called another (presumably non-Jewish female) a “shiksa,” an incident that, in the eyes of the offended, the police, and the judiciary, apparently met the qualifications of a hate crime, interpreted by Ontario law as an “offence […] motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, based on the victim’s race, nationality or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor.” (As neither “non-religion” nor “non-ethnicity” is an option, the incident was classified under “similar factor.”) Which if nothing else is a semantically big deal — isn’t usually thought to be so potent a slur.
Indeed, even the pejorative connotation of “shiksa” is fuzzy at best. The word has been in use for so long in so many shifting contexts that your dictionary is useless here even as a spelling guide.
( have all had their moment.) The common understanding of “shiksa” (i.e., “a vaguely-pejorative term for gentile woman”) might be technically right, but it sieves out everything interesting about the word: the complex and layered notions of sexuality, its containment of both self-righteousness and self-loathing, the embedded yearning for and guilt of assimilation — in short, all the accrued (if often discarded) cultural valency of a word whose meaning has increasingly strayed from its Old World origin.
She never worried that my love for them would seriously jeopardize the nature of my religious observance.