The English term
Jew originates in the
Biblical Hebrew word Yehudi,
meaning "from the Tribe of Judah", "from the Kingdom of Judah", or
"Jew". It passed into Greek as
Ioudaios and Latin as Iudaeus, which
evolved into the
Old French giu after the letter "d" was dropped. A
variety of related forms are found in early English from about the
year 1000, including Iudea, Gyu, Giu, Iuu, Iuw, and Iew, which
eventually developed into the modern word.
1.1 Yehudi in the Hebrew Bible
1.2 Development in European languages
2 Modern use
3 See also
Further information: Ioudaios
Hasmonean coin of
John Hyrcanus (134 to 104 BCE) with the inscription
"Hayehudim" (of the Jews).
Obv: Double cornucopia.
Rev: Five lines of ancient Hebrew script; reading "Yehochanan Kohen
Gadol, Chever Hayehudim" (Yehochanan the High Priest, Council of the
Map of the region in the 9th century BCE
Yehudi in the Hebrew Bible
According to the
Book of Genesis, Judah (יְהוּדָה, Yehudah)
was the name of the fourth son of the patriarch Jacob. During the
Exodus, the name was given to the Tribe of Judah, descended from the
patriarch Judah. After the conquest and settlement of the land of
Canaan, Judah also referred to the territory allocated to the tribe.
After the splitting of the united Kingdom of Israel, the name was used
for the southern kingdom of Judah. The kingdom now encompassed the
tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Simeon, along with some of the cities of
the Levites. With the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel
(Samaria), the kingdom of Judah became the sole Jewish state and the
term y'hudi (יהודי) was applied to all Israelites. When the
word makes its first appearance in writing (in the book of Esther) its
meaning has already expanded to include converts to the Jewish
religion as well as descendants of Israelites.
The term Yehudi (יְהוּדִי) occurs 74 times in the Masoretic
text of the Hebrew Bible. The plural, Yehudim
(הַיְּהוּדִים) first appears in 2 Kings 16:6 where it
refers to a defeat for the Yehudi army or nation, and in 2 Chronicles
32:18, where it refers to the language of the Yehudim
(יְהוּדִית). Jeremiah 34:9 has the earliest singular usage
of the word Yehudi. In Esther 2:5-6, the name "Yehudi"
(יְהוּדִי) has a generic aspect, in this case referring to
a man from the tribe of Benjamin:
"There was a man a Yehudi (Jewish man) in
Shushan the capital, whose
Mordecai the son of Jair the son of
Shimei the son of Kish, a
Benjamite; who had been exiled from
Jerusalem with the exile that was
exiled with Jeconiah, king of Judah, which Nebuchadnezzar, king of
Babylon, had exiled."
The name appears in the Bible as a verb in Esther 8:17 which states:
"Many of the people of the land became Yehudim (in the generic sense)
(מִתְיַהֲדִים, mityahadim) because the fear of the
Yehudim fell on them."
In some places in the
Talmud the word Israel(ite) refers to somebody
who is Jewish but does not necessarily practice
Judaism as a religion:
"An Israel(ite) even though he has sinned is still an Israel(ite)"
Sanhedrin 44a). More commonly the
Talmud uses the term Bnei
Yisrael, i.e. "Children of Israel", ("Israel" being the name of the
third patriarch Jacob, father of the sons that would form the twelve
tribes of Israel, which he was given and took after wrestling with an
angel, see Genesis 32:28-29) to refer to Jews. According to the
Talmud then, there is no distinction between "religious Jews" and
In modern Hebrew, the same word is still used to mean both
Judeans ("of Judea"). In
Arabic the terms are yahūdī (sg.),
al-yahūd (pl.), and بَنُو اِسرَائِيل banū isrāʼīl.
The Aramaic term is Y'hūdāi.
Development in European languages
A page from Elia Levita's Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary (16th
century) contains a list of nations, including an entry for Jew:
Hebrew: יְהוּדִי Yiddish: יוּד German: Jud Latin:
Septuagint (reputedly a product of Hellenistic Jewish scholarship)
and other Greek documents translated יְהוּדִי, Yehudi and
the Aramaic Y'hūdāi using the
Koine Greek term
Ἰουδαῖος; pl. Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi), which had lost
the 'h' sound. The Latin term, following the Greek version, is
Iudaeus, and from these sources the term passed to other European
Old French giu, earlier juieu, had elided (dropped) the
letter "d" from the Latin Iudaeus. The
Middle English word
from Old English where the word is attested as early as 1000 in
various forms, such as Iudeas, Gyu, Giu, Iuu, Iuw, Iew. The Old
English name is derived from Old French. The modern French the term is
Most European languages have retained the letter "d" in the word for
Jew. Etymological equivalents are in use in other languages, e.g.,
"Jude" in German, "judeu" in Portuguese, "jøde" in Danish and
Norwegian, "judío" in Spanish, "jood" in Dutch, etc. In some
languages, derivations of the word "Hebrew" are also in use to
describe a Jew, e.g., Ebreo in Italian, Ebri/Ebrani (Persian:
عبری/عبرانی) in Persian and Еврей, Yevrey in
Jewish ethnonyms for a full overview.)
The German word "Jude" is pronounced [ˈjuːdə], the corresponding
adjective "jüdisch" [ˈjyːdɪʃ] (Jewish), and is cognate with the
Yiddish word for "Jew", "Yid".
Further information: Who is a Jew?
Obverse of a Jewish silver Yehud coin from the Persian era, with
falcon or eagle and Aramaic inscription "יהד" "Yehud" (Judaea)
In modern English, the term "Israelite" was used to refer to
Jews as well as to
Jews of antiquity until the
mid-20th-century. Since the foundation of the State of Israel, it has
become less common to use "Israelite" of
Jews in general. Instead,
citizens of the state of Israel, whether Jewish or not, are called
"Israeli", while "Jew" is used as an ethno-religious designation.
Further information: Antisemitism
Jew has been used often enough in a disparaging manner by
antisemites that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was
frequently avoided altogether, and the term Hebrew was substituted
instead (e.g. Young Men's Hebrew Association). Even today some people
are wary of its use, and prefer to use "Jewish". Indeed, when used as
an adjective (e.g. "
Jew lawyer") or verb (e.g. "to jew someone"),
Jew is purely pejorative. According to The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000):
It is widely recognized that the attributive use of the noun Jew, in
phrases such as
Jew lawyer or
Jew ethics, is both vulgar and highly
offensive. In such contexts Jewish is the only acceptable possibility.
Some people, however, have become so wary of this construction that
they have extended the stigma to any use of
Jew as a noun, a practice
that carries risks of its own. In a sentence such as There are now
Jews on the council, which is unobjectionable, the
substitution of a circumlocution like Jewish people or persons of
Jewish background may in itself cause offense for seeming to imply
Jew has a negative connotation when used as a noun.
In much the same manner, the
Yiddish term for
Yid, (singular), ייִדן Yidn (plural)) — originally a benign
term — was once used as an ethnic slur, but now is often used by
Jews in praise, to describe an upstanding religiously observant Jew
(e.g., "He's such a Yid, giving up his time like that") or to
distinguish upstanding religiously observant
Jews from non-observant,
with the implication that the latter would be better people if they
were stricter in their observance (e.g., "Yidn wouldn't do such a
Jewish ethnonym in various languages
^ Falk, Avner (1996). A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews. Madison,
N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 131.
^ "Yiddish". Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).
Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster. 2004. p. 1453.
^ "Notes". The Nation. New York: E. L. Godkin & Co. 14 (348): 137.
February 29, 1872. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved December 7,
^ "Jew". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Archived from the original on 2011-08-05. Retrieved 2012-04-02.
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