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From what I've seen many non-Jews have a stereotype of Jewish people as being rude and greedy.

Is there a Jewish source (from the bible,talmud, midrash, zohar, or classic torah commentators) that there is some truth to this? (other than "stiff-necked" Ex.32:9)

If yes, why did God choose such a people to give the torah to.

(this is a serious question, please no jokes or derogatory remarks.)

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commentless downvote? how rude. – ray May 7 '14 at 10:30
"If yes, why did God choose such a people to give the torah to." Chicken and egg argument. Maybe giving of the torah created the rudeness. – Danno May 7 '14 at 10:31
@Danno maybe not. that's why i'm looking for sources – ray May 7 '14 at 10:33
@ray According to the hagada of R shmuel hanagid grandson of the rambam, Balaam said to pharaoh Jewish people are greedy and that is how he fooled them into making them slaves – preferred May 7 '14 at 11:13
Rudeness is culturally dependent. So I don't understand the question. In which culture is the question being asked? – avi May 8 '14 at 12:17

8 Answers 8

the Talmud in Beitza 25b says:

"Why was the Torah given to the Jewish People? Because they are the most brazen of all nations."

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That was before the torah was given, but after the torah was given they are mostly shy, companionate, and kindness doers – hazoriz Aug 19 at 10:33

First of all, I think it's important to point out that, like all stereotypes, the proliferation of the stereotype is generally a result of bigotry and ignorance. One can just look at the overwhelming number of hospitals and community centers donated by Jews, disproportionate to other religions, as a proof that we aren't greedy. This is even with excluding 'Jewish' causes i.e. Yeshivos, Jewish orphanages, etc. as one can argue that those are intended to help 'only other Jews', which still shows a lack of greed, yet might nevertheless not be realized by the outside world as lack of greed. Granted, that might lead into an argument that Jews have all the money, but that's a different stereotype.

But like with any effective lie, it's usually based on a grain of truth, so I'll try to give a reason why I believe some of the stereotypes you've mentioned exist.

Rudeness: Historically, and possibly for good reason, Jews wanted to keep themselves separate from the rest of the world. We have always discouraged intermarriage, and there are many other laws designed to keep our interaction with non-Jews to a minimum. Examples include laws like Yayin Nesech* (wine that was handled by a non-Jew; must be discarded), Pas Akum (literally 'bread of a non-Jew'; Jews are forbidden from eating bread made by a non Jew), among others.

In Megillas Esther (3:8-9), Haman argues to King Achashveirosh that it would be good to kill the Jews. One of his arguments (based on the commentary of the Vilna Gaon, I believe) was "If a fly touches a cup of wine, the Jews would remove the fly and drink the wine, yet if the king touched the wine, they would discard the wine". When examples like this are taken out of context and portrayed to the world in a disparaging light, it would spread the belief that Jews are rude and don't want to associate with 'other guys'.

(On a similar note, I always found it amusing that Haman seems to contradict himself in two of his arguments against the Jews. At one point he says that Jews don't pay taxes anyways, so the king wouldn't lose out on money by killing them, yet he also says that he'll give 10,000 silver pieces to cover the tax money the king would lose by not having the Jews around. So which one is it, did the Jews pay taxes or didn't they? Like some stereotypes nowadays too, they seem to be contradicting themselves)

Greed: In the middle ages in Europe, Jews were very limited in their job choices due to Christian persecution. They couldn't own land, and they were 'discouraged' discouraged from other businesses. However, there was one business that was open exclusively to the Jews. While Christians got rid of most of the commandments in the Torah (to them the Old Testament'), there were select few commandments that they kept. One of them was the prohibition against lending with interest. In this case, they followed the law according to Halachah, which says that you are not allowed to lend with interest to your 'brother'. They believed this meant that Christians couldn't lend money to other Christians. In truth, that is what the Halachah is, and similarly, Jews can't lend to other Jews with interest. But since banks are needed for society to exist, and Jews were locked out form other professions, Jews became the bankers for Christians.

As a result of being the only ones 'legally' allowed to be bankers, the stereotype of 'greedy Jewish moneylender' began, and continues through to this day.

To end off on a light note, I remember reading an article on The Onion a while back making fun of the stereotype that Jews control the world. It was titled 'Local Jew Feels Left Out of Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy'. I agree with that guy, I wouldn't mind the Jews that control the world throwing me a few bucks here and there :)

*Disclaimer on the examples: I'm giving the really shorthand version of those laws. As with just about everything else, there are many more finer details in each case.

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Haman used the Vilna Gaon for his arguments?! – Scimonster Jun 6 '14 at 10:33
"One of his arguments (based on the commentary of the Vilna Gaon, I believe) was "If a fly touches a cup of wine, the Jews would remove the fly and drink the wine, yet if the king touched the wine, they would discard the wine". This dialogue is presented in Tractate Megillah (12b or thereabouts) – mevaqesh Aug 19 at 4:12

As far as I am aware, there is no Jewish rabbinical or Torah source that Jews are any ruder or greedier than any other nation. On the contrary, the Talmud states that kindness is a fundamental characteristic of the Jewish people:

"The Jewish nation is distinguished by three characteristics: they are merciful, they are modest, and they perform acts of loving-kindness." (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 79a).

We even suspect someone is not Jewish, or not descended from Avraham Avinu, if he is cruel:

"Whenever a person is cruel and does not show mercy, his lineage is suspect, for cruelty is found only among the gentiles, as [Jeremiah] 3:42] states: 'They are cruel and will not show mercy.'"

"Whenever one does not show mercy to the created beings, it can be recognized that he is not from the seed of Abraham our patriarch" (Beitzah 32b).

As an empirical matter, it would be impossible to measure objectively whether Jews are ruder or greedier than average. Israelis are sometimes perceived as rude, but many disagree with this, and say that they are kinder in practice than non-Israelis. I have personally never heard the stereotype that Jews are rude, and in my own experience I think Jews (whether religious or non-religious) are if anything kinder than non-Jews, and at the very least are just as kind and generous as average non-Jewish Americans.

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could be kindness,merciful etc. refers only to interior but not to the exterior. Israelis definitely can be rude. no question about this. I think this due to all tension from the wars and strife though. both without (arabs) and within (secular/religious, ashkenazi/sefardi for example) – ray May 8 '14 at 10:45
Whats the connection between rudeness and kindness? Rudeness is an question of social ettiquete. What is rude in one county may not be in another. – avi May 8 '14 at 12:13
Rudeness may have connotations related to ettiquete but also is generally used to mean unpleasant or "not nice." Kindness, among other things, means being pleasant and nice. – Kordovero May 8 '14 at 13:43
see the answer i posted below – ray Mar 25 at 8:01

Ray, not sure if I can provide what you are looking for directly, but I might be able to offer some pointers from both experience and some texts that could enlighten the conversation.

1) This stereotype is extremely real. Many non-Jews I grew up with had this mindset, wherever it came from (hope to show more on that in a min), even though our community had lots of Jews as well. I heard remarks about greediness, about Jews being an "unhappy" people, about their "owning the world" etc. To some point, perhaps this arises out of a sort of jealousy. As we know, people tend to get funny against any kind of exclusivity that excludes them (thus, modest women, for example, are ridiculed for being set apart and showing their love for G-d).

2) There is a direct precedent for this thinking at least as far back as the Quran. For one particular reference, cf. Quran 2.96:

"And thou wilt find them [the Jews] greediest of mankind for life and (greedier) than the idolaters. (Each) one of them would like to be allowed to live a thousand years. And to live (a thousand years) would be no means remove him from the doom. Allah is Seer of what they do."

A short survey of Muhammad's life shows that his "tolerance" of Jews started off on a great foot but devoloved quickly into these sorts of claims (especially after moving to Medina and having conflict with a Jewish group there).

3) A very important early Christian Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, was a wonderful teacher/preacher, but a terrible anti-Semite. His influence can not be overestimated. For one, he wrote a series of eight homilies "against the Jews." Beyond this, check out this page, here, for a great overview of some of the anti-Semitism of the early Christians.

4) Lastly, although this could go on for a long time, there was a strong anti-Semite energy behind the Reformation. Martin Luther wrote a tract "On the Jews and their Lies" (selections here) and Jean Calvin taught "replacement theology," his theory that G-d rejected the Jews after the advent of Jesus (he uses the image of a divorce to illustrate).

5) One last note! Depending on how the Christian Testament is read and interpreted, it also contains statements that may or may not support these individuals. (when I get a moment I will edit in some of these!).

So, my answer is: it is a stereotype that has always been a part of (at least) Western culture and is a reactionary response to the perceived difference of the Jews, a sort of jealousy at the perceived audacity that G-d would choose a special people for Himself. It is a part of the very underlying theses of each of these major non-Jewish religions, especially those that take from Judaism.

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Just to add on to what a lot of your points were hinting to: Both Christianity and Islam believed the Jews were the original monotheistic religion. However, they both claimed at some point that G-D decided to change his chosen religion from Judaism to Christianity/Islam. Therefore, it would only make sense that they would try to degrade their religion's origin, to encourage people to join their faction. – Salmononius2 May 7 '14 at 13:56
@Salmononius2, you definitely got my point! – Yochanan Michael May 7 '14 at 14:13
@Salmononius2 maybe that would explain the vehement hatred of israel by the arabs. according to them God should not be helping the jews. but of course, the secular politicians just can't see this. – ray May 7 '14 at 17:46
nice answer. was also looking for sources as to why it may be true. – ray May 7 '14 at 17:47
@ray, certainly. Just offering my two cents. However, I must admit that I am uncertain there is a definitive answer for this question outside of a historical-sociological dimension. Hope to see! – Yochanan Michael May 7 '14 at 19:11

Note: I'm not Jewish, but I have studied the relevant subjects enough to be able to answer the question, at least to some extent. The explanation for these ugly accusations against Jews is not related to Jewish scripture. It is the result of a combination of factors, most of which are much more closely related to Christian scriptures and the political environment of Europe prior to the 19th and 20th centuries.

The most important factor in bigotry against Jews is a history thousands of years long of deliberate oppression, slander, and libel against the Jews. The worst culprit in this regard is the Christian church.

Of course, Jewish people have flaws just like everyone else, but these flaws have nothing to do with Jewishness, and everything to do with being human.

Why are these specific claims - greediness and rudeness - directed at Jews? This can be explained by reference to long term policies regarding Jews.

In Europe, until fairly recently, Jews were oppressed and restricted by widespread, highly discriminatory laws and customs. These laws and customs included, but were not limited to, the following:

  • The resentment of the persistence of Judaism. Early Christians were very sensitive to the reaction of Jews to their claims of Jesus' messianic status, and later, his supposed divinity. They knew that Jews were better informed about Jewish laws and messianic expectations than themselves. This made them extremely touchy about rejections of Jesus by Jews. There were only two ways for them to interpret the Jews' rejection of Jesus:

    • The Jews were right, and Jesus wasn't really the messiah. Obviously, this was highly problematic for Christians. They would rather believe literally anything else.

    • The Jews were wrong, and they rejected Jesus because they were either ignorant, foolish, blinded by satan, or wicked. This made sense to the early Christians, because it was the only explanation of why the Jews would shun the long awaited messiah. It had the addition advantage of conforming to the predetermined beliefs of Christians, and thus, the Christians took this idea and ran with it.

  • Christian propaganda. As mentioned above, the early Christians were highly offended by what they saw as the stubborn refusal by Jews to accept Jesus as the messiah. This is obviously a ridiculous way to view the situation, but nevertheless, it is how most Christians interpreted the continued existence of Judaism. The gospels support this view, to a significant degree, although it is clear that as time passed, each new gospel was more anti-Semitic than the last. The oldest gospel, Mark, attributes Jesus' crucifixion to the Sanhedrin, not the Jewish people as a whole. Matthew and Luke blame the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. John, the last gospel to be written, blames the Jews as a whole, and claims that the Jews openly accepted responsibility for the crucifixion, saying "let his blood be upon us and our children". This was the first germ of the vicious anti-Semitism which was to follow.

  • On a related note, the Christian bible blurs the lines between the Jewish people and the Sanhedrin. The incident which led to Jesus' crucifixion - his outburst at the Temple during Passover - is especially important here. It is widely accepted by scholars that Jesus did in fact attack the moneychangers and animal vendors in the Temple courtyard. Jesus' primary complaint was that the priests were more interested in profits than salvation and piety. Whether or not this complaint is valid is irrelevant; it represents the beliefs of the early Christians. Over time, the accusation that the priests were immoral and greedy was expanded to encompass the Jews as a whole.

  • Jews were not allowed to settle in most areas. This had the effect of making Jews even more separate from the rest of society than would otherwise be the case. It made it very easy for non-Jews to adopt a strict us-and-them mentality. In every us and them, the "Thems" are painted as the bad guys.

  • Jews were not allowed to own land. This meant that agriculture was out of the question. Agriculture was the most common occupation worldwide until very recently, so Jews were made more "different" by virtue of the fact that they couldn't do the same job that almost everyone else did.

  • Jews were not allowed to enter most other occupations. To become a tradesman, you had to go through a lengthy apprenticeship, and apprentice positions were controlled by the guilds. These guilds were in turn controlled by the Christians, and being a Christian was one of the prerequisites for apprenticeship. Thus, Jews couldn't be tradesmen.

  • Among the very few options left open to Jews was working in the financial industry. The primary branches of the financial industry were usury institutions (i.e., places in which you could get a loan), banking institutions, and pawn shops. Obviously, people tend to dislike the people who offer loans and take interest on them, and it is in a pawn broker's best interests to pay as little as possible and charge as much as possible. It is only natural that a person who deals with a pawn broker thinks he or she is getting ripped off. Thus, non-Jews began to accuse Jews of being greedy. This is not a reflection of greed on the part of the Jews, it is actually a symptom of the harsh restrictions placed on Jews by the Christian authorities.

  • Even in cases where Jews were treated relatively well, it was noticed that they tended to remain apart from the Christian majority. One of the most important reasons for this was the long history of Christians slaughtering Jews for no reason, which had the effect of teaching Jews that the less they interacted with Christians, the safer they would be. For example, the venomous hatred represented by the "blood libel" led to the massacre of tens of thousands of innocent people. Every time a Christian child disappeared or was killed, it immediately provoked an orgy of violence and bloodshed against all the Jews in the area. For this and other reasons, Jews quickly learned that it was best to avoid Christians, and in the interest of self preservation, it was best to avoid drawing attention to the Jewish community. Again, this encouraged the old "us and them" dynamic, and again, the "Thems" are always painted as the bad guys relative to the "Us" group. It encourages people to find the differences between themselves and the "others", and to interpret these differences as indicative of "Our" superiority to "Them".

  • Once it became easier for Jews to live where they chose and work in whatever field they preferred, large numbers of Jews moved into major cities around Europe and North America. The vast majority of these people were poor and relatively uneducated, aside from religious instruction, and it is common for poor, uneducated people to come across as rude, uncouth, and crude. This is not unique to Jews, of course, and every group of immigrants is initially treated with contempt by the so-called "natives". My own ancestors, most of whom were Irish, were treated like uncivilized savages upon their arrival in the U.S. Of course, the whole reason that these Jews who were moving into the major cities were poor and uneducated was the result of the millennia of oppression and discrimination against them - they had deliberately been kept poor and uneducated by the powers that be.

So the main reason for the bigoted accusations against Jews is the long history of mistreatment of the Jews by the Christians. This doesn't mean that Jews can't be rude or greedy - they can, just like the rest of the human race - but it does mean that the largest part of the accusations are unfounded, and they reflect the biases of the people making the accusations, not the character of the accused.

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Rabbi Natan Cordoza points out that the jewish people are indeed the most difficult of all nations. see 34:01 of this audio

the Tzants Rebbe in the Divrei Chaim writes: "the torah was given to israel because they are infatuous, tenacious people. By nature, the jews are an obstinate nation, so the torah was given to break their obstinacy with prohibitions and restrictions against arrogance, adultery, robbery, [I don't want to translate the rest]. To put them on the middle path. Because they have by nature a tendency towards these kinds of things. Therefore, the torah restricted them by additional prohibitions. Other nations do not need extra restrictions. Because they are not tenacious by nature. It is enough for them the 7 laws of Noach." I nearly fainted when I read this...

he goes on to say there that these problematic traits are actually the cause of their greatness.

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This means "rude and greedy" to you? I'm glad you found your holy grail but -1. – user6591 Mar 25 at 11:14
@user6591 thanks for the rude comment – ray Mar 25 at 12:04
It was the best response to a rude question and and your rude answer, which as i noted does not answer you're own question. Something you the OP should have realized. – user6591 Mar 25 at 12:10
And for future reference, stop being such a self hating, self doubting Jew. Simply search for the rudest greediest peoples and ethnicity. You won't find Jews or Israelis on the list. This in light of the clear anti Semitic slant on the internet in general. Embrace your co-religionists as the Rachmanim Bayshanim & Gomlei Chassadim that they are. Sinaas Yisrael is why we are still in Galus. – user6591 Mar 25 at 12:14
@user6591 the talmud itself thinks its worth mentioning. were they also jew haters? – ray Mar 25 at 12:19

I think that what non-Jews consider to be rude behavior by Jews can be attributed to different customs. For example, most white Christians would not dream of talking during religious services or charging a buffet line as if ordered by Stonewall Jackson. In ancient days, non-Jews didn't understand our customs either, some of which seemed rude to them. For example, Mordechai's refusal to bow to Haman struck Haman as not just rude and a personal affront, but treasonous. He then tells the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws...." Esther 3:8.

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How is charging a buffet line or talking during services ok by Jewish custom? That people do it doesn't mean it's appropriate behavior. We're not talking about the case where, e.g., it would seem rude to not acknowledge a greeting, except someone in the midst of the 'amidah is required to not interrupt, so that's a mis-impression based on incomplete information. – Monica Cellio Mar 25 at 18:16
@MonicaCellio When parents and their children charge the table, and no one corrects them, it becomes accepted behavior. I have not been to a shul or a Jewish event of any size where this wasn't the common behavior. – Bruce James Mar 30 at 17:15

If I have understood correctly, in addition to learning Gemara, yeshiva bochurim learn Mussar-literature daily (at least litvaks). So there's serious soul searching and contemplating ethical behaviour. Considering the OP's question against this fact, it would be strange if these people turned out to be rude.

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thnx but was looking for sources as to why it may be true not why it isn't – ray May 8 '14 at 13:12
Stranger things have happened – Double AA May 8 '14 at 17:24

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