click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​



Catholics are Catholics, never Catholic-ish, and Protestants are Protestants, never Protestant-ish. So why are we hedging our bets?


There’s a slightly less than divine logic behind my being “Jewish.” In a way, our Hebrew handle speaks to how sensitive our people are to nuance and zeroing in on the tiny picture, the nooks and crannies of life. Notice I didn’t say “divine logic.” I was more nuanced than that. Make that slightly more nuanced.

“Jewish” sounds like a slightly more nuanced assessment of “Jew” in the way “smallish” is a slightly more nuanced assessment of “small” or “greenish” a slightly more nuanced assessment of green. If you’re slightly jealous of your friend’s smallish raise, you’re greenish with envy. Not totally green, mind you, since the raise is still smallish. But if it were small without the “ish,” you’d neither be green nor greenish. It’s not that easy being greenish. I hope you’re taking notes.

We Jews are all about the little picture: “Who serves Miracle Whip over mustard?”

“Jewish” reflects various levels of identity, from strictly cultural to Orthodox. Catholics are Catholics, never Catholic-ish, and Protestants are Protestants, never Protestant-ish. They’re all about the big picture: “The party was awesome.” “The band was amazing.” We’re all about the little picture: “Who serves Miracle Whip over mustard?”

Not that we’re incapable of seeing the glass half full. It’s just that we’re uniquely capable of also seeing the fingerprints on the half glass full that appear the same diminutive size as the fingers of the host’s lovely young daughter who covered her mouth while sneezing, or more accurately, after sneezing. Thirsty for knowledge? Definitely. For water? Pass.

Some people and phenomena might be considered Jewish-ish. Kind of Jewish. Not full-blown (as in the shofar) tribe members, but in the non Kosher franks-serving ballpark of, but not really. (There’s that nuance again.)

Joy Behar is Jewish-ish.

The Barones on Everybody Loves Raymond were Jewish-ish.

The Costanzas on Seinfeld were Jewish-ish. (Wait. Italian heritage or not, that’s ridicul-ish. I’m changing my vote to Jewish.)

Curb Your Enthusiasm – Jewish. Reign in Your Zeal – Jewish-ish.

Mother curbing the curbing of her enthusiasm over her son, the doctor – Jewish. Mother reigning in the reigning in of her zeal over her son, the script doctor – Jewish-ish.

Bagel – Jewish. Soft pretzel – Jewish-ish.

Knish – Jewish. Dumpling – Jewish-ish. (Or Knish-ish)

Kreplach – Jewish. Wonton – Jewish-ish. (Perform “ish-ectomy” when ingested on Christmas Eve.)

Circumcision – Jewish. Circumspection – Jewish-ish

Erica Jong – Jewish. Mahjong – Jewish-ish.

As I zero in on the tiny pictures, I realize that our propensity to discern details others might not necessarily pick up is somewhat ironically akin to a large screen picture. Jews tend to have HDTV – High Definition Tsuris Vision. What if non-Jews could don special glasses that simulated an extra dimension . . .

David Letterman: (a Jewish-ish sounding name, by the way) “Top ten signs Rick Perry isn’t George W. Bush… Number ten… (Switches to HDTV glasses) … Perry and W don’t know bupkis, whereas W also doesn’t know squat.”

Simon Cowell: “If I may be honest… (Dons HDTV glasses) After crushing the dreams of the deluded for hundreds of millions of dollars, you’d think I could afford to wear less ratty looking shirts.”

Conan O’Brien: “Keep cool, my babies… (Dons HDTV glasses) … I am the least Jewish looking person on the planet.” (He’s Irish. I’m Ire-ish. Kinda mad.)

Appropriate for a religion that ends with “ish,” being Jewish isn’t about one size fitting all, unlike a Snuggie. But like a Snuggie, it warms me… to know that I have company when it comes to wondering why the heck stale hard cookies get soft, and stale soft cookies get hard.

September 17, 2011

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 12

(9) Sheila Novitz, December 23, 2014 3:29 PM


My head is whirling. Until recently I'd not even thought of a wordplay on being Jewish. One was either Jewish or not. End of story. Then I read that Stephen Fry (dilettante at everything) has been told by his friends that he is Jew-ish. Fits him, as he is more English than the Queen - in unconscious self-defence, I imagine. And his friends seem to be right: Stephen is no more than Jew-ish. Talks about it a lot, pre-emptively, but somehow manages to denigrate us at the same time. Such a pity; such cowardice.

(8) Anonymous, May 29, 2013 2:30 AM


As a young adult, a broad minded Catholic Nun who knew me well told me "You think like a Jew" . Of course , she meant it as a complement.
20 years later I am studying Judaism. How right she was!
But I never expected a member of the Clergy to tell me that. Life is funny like that.

Rivka, April 18, 2016 2:59 AM

Wow. Good luck with your studies! I'm glad you're joining us!

(7) laurie, April 1, 2012 2:00 AM


Funny you should mention Simon Cowell, His father is a Jew, his mother is Scottish.

(6) Barada, September 29, 2011 4:39 PM

"Jewish" is not disrespectful

I was raised in a Protestant family in California. We always used the word "Jewish". My parents were fairly enlightened and the reason why they insisted on this usage was because the word "Jew" was so often used in anti-semitic slurs that it seemed like a pejorative to us. I had a problem with this when I went to graduate school and most of my colleagues were New York and Mid-western Jews. ( I even, now, had a problem writing that!) So, please know that we mean no disrespect to you when we call you "Jewish"

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment