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What is a Shiksa?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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In the traditional Jewish community, there are those who can claim a Jewish heritage or there are Gentiles, who cannot. Under certain conditions, a Gentile can convert to Judaism in order to enter into a recognized relationship with a Jewish partner, but some Jewish communities still believe that a Jewish bloodline can only be continued through a Jewish mother. A non-Jewish woman who pursues a romantic relationship with a Jewish man may be considered a shiksa by those who consider the practice to be inherently wrong. A shiksa who does not convert to Judaism can be viewed as a threat to a family's continued lineage, since she is potentially taking a Jewish male away from his traditional role in the community.

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The term shiksa is almost always used as a slur or pejorative against a Gentile woman who uses her femininity to attract a Jewish man. Some may be concerned about the shiksa's intentions, especially if the man is in a lucrative or respected field such as medicine or law. A shiksa in that sense may be considered a gold digger, a woman who intentionally targets affluent men in order to gain access to their fortunes. Some Jewish families will counsel their male offspring to avoid romantic involvement with a Gentile woman because of these concerns. A Gentile woman may find it very difficult to gain acceptance in a traditional Jewish household unless she demonstrates a genuine interest in Jewish traditional and culture. A stereotypical shiksa rarely makes an effort to assimilate into her partner's Jewish culture.

The origins of the word shiksa are not entirely clear, although most etymologists agree the word is a Yiddish slur derived from the original Hebrew. There is a Hebrew word, shekkets, which could be roughly translated as abominable, cursed or loathsome. There are also words similar in pronunciation which suggest a young naive girl or a snot-nosed brat. The expression has been in popular use for several centuries among Yiddish-speaking communities, but it is generally considered so offensive that it is rarely spoken outside of the community. A Gentile woman labeled a shiksa can often feel rejected or shunned by those who strongly disapprove of such relationships.

In one episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry's friend Elaine Benes, a Gentile woman, suddenly finds herself fending off a number of Jewish suitors. She doesn't understand why so many Jewish women have started referring to her as a shiksa. Jerry explains that a shiksa is often seen as an evil temptress who seduces Jewish men. There is a forbidden element about this kind of relationship that also appeals to certain Jewish men who want to date outside of their religion. The term shiksa may be considered a slur against an immoral Gentile woman, but it can also be used informally to describe any woman who is not of Jewish descent.

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