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Stuff Christians Say that Makes Jewish People Cringe

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With a name like Aaron Abramson, I don’t exactly fly under the radar. I’m Jewish. I also believe in Jesus. Because of this, I interact with a lot of non-Jewish Christians, who, though well intentioned, have said some pretty astonishing things to me over the years. American evangelicals often view Jewish people as fascinating specimens of biblical history. Some recognize their interlaced association with the Jewish people; others seem to ignore it altogether. Regardless, the broader context of history shows a tumultuous connection between Christians and Jews. Christians persecuted Jewish people. Jewish people feared Christians. Even to this day, there are self-proclaimed Christians around the world who continue to persecute Jews. Anti-Semitism still exists in extreme forms. But it can also quietly seethe beneath the surface, popping up occasionally in the way of racial stereotypes. Of course, stereotypes may simply be born of ignorance and not hate. As the Jewish people remain a minority, they are often seen as an enigma to outsiders — and where there is a lack of understanding about other cultures, stereotypes abound. Where there are stereotypes, offenses abound. Here are a few offensive things I’ve heard firsthand from the mouths of Christians: 1. “So, you’re a Jew?” When that term is used to label someone, my mind conjures up images of surly Dickensian characters like Oliver Twist’s Fagin. Pejorative references throughout history have loaded this word with too much baggage. Calling someone a “Jew” or “Jewess” is like calling someone a “Polack” or a “Chinaman.” Is this appropriate? But, being called “Jewish” is different. Like “Chinese” or “African,” it is an ethnic designation. If you must ask (perhaps first take a moment to make sure it’s appropriate to ask at all), try, “Are you Jewish?” not, “Are you a Jew?” 2. “Jews love money.” This one makes me nauseous. It stems from the same lunatic, anti-Semitic rhetoric that precedes the burning of synagogues and rounding up of Jewish people. It can also take the form of: “Jews control the media,” “Jews run all the banks,” etc. Once, while visiting a church, a man from Mississippi asked me why Jews are so good with finances. “They just can’t get enough of that money, can they?” he said. Before I could respond, a pastor interjected, asking him why there was so much inbreeding in Mississippi. The man turned red with irritation, and neither question needed answering. 3. “I always wanted to be Jewish!” First of all, how should I respond to that? “I’m sorry you aren’t Jewish?” That’s always an awkward interaction. Secondly (and more importantly), it diminishes the individual’s unique identity. Each family and ethnicity is special to God. He put us on this earth in a strategic place: each born into different cultures, backgrounds, and families. God’s plan of redemption extends to all peoples of the world, not just Jewish people. Our ethnic backgrounds factor into his plan. But also, being Jewish isn’t easy. It can feel like both a burden and a blessing. I can’t visit most Arab countries today because of my identity, and many of my relatives experienced anti-Semitism. 4. “Old Testament.” This one isn’t as much offensive as it is loaded. Most Jewish people do not believe in the Old and New Testament. The scriptures contained within the Old Testament comprise their entire holy book. So labeling it “old” makes it sound, well, antiquated. Replaced. Passé. More appropriate terms to use would be “Tanach” (an acronym of the first Hebrew letters of: Torah or law, Nevi’im or prophets, and Ketuvim or writings), “Hebrew Bible” (even though Daniel is partially in Aramaic), or even, simply, “Jewish scriptures.” Using one of these terms not only shows respect, but cultural awareness. Other mistakes Christians make that can cause Jewish people to cringe include: Assuming a person does or doesn’t keep Kosher. It’s always better to sensitively ask than it is to make someone feel awkward by serving pork if they keep Kosher or serving a completely different kosher meal if they don’t. Assuming anything is dangerous — that goes for political affiliation and attitudes about Israel, the Middle East conflict, etc. Not all Jewish people feel similarly. Comparing Christmas and Hanukkah. They are completely different holidays. And let’s be honest, how can anything be compared to Christmas? I recommend asking Jewish friends to tell you more about Hanukkah and inviting them to your Christmas dinner or party (assuming it isn’t too over the top) as Jewish people rarely have family events or parties to attend. Just be careful to give a heads up if Christmas ham is on the menu. When it comes down to it, we all do and say inappropriate things. But working to dissolve harmful attitudes and stereotypes can change our relationships with those around us. Why alienate people? Why cause offense? The gospel itself does enough of that. Let’s not create more.