Thursday, November 05, 2009

"Synagogue" is Gentile for Shul

The Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity by Sarah Bunin Benor and Steven M. Cohen has some wonderful findings. The main trend is that religiously involved younger Jews are using more distinctively Jewish terms, and are shifting from Yiddish to Hebrew terms.

One development that surprised me is that "synagogue" is not the favored term for Jewish house of worship by any group of American Jews. Reform Jews favor "temple" (50%), while all other denominations favor "shul": Reconstructionist (59%), Conservative (68%), Modern Orthodox (94%), Orthodox (94%), Black Hat (92%).

So what does "synagogue" mean now? For Jews of all denominations, it is the word used when talking to gentiles (80%) or non-observant Jews (62%).

The survey, which was spread virally through the internet, included many non-Jews and non-New Yorkers (including me and my students). They found that the gentiles who use distinctive Jewish words or constructions - "kvetch" or "I don't know from that" - were more likely to have Jewish friends, live in New York, or both.

One fascinating minor puzzle is that gay and lesbian gentiles are more likely to use distinctive Jewish words than heterosexual gentiles are. For example, 64% of gay men say "schmutz" (dirt), vs. only 50% of heterosexual gentile men. This pattern is not found among Jews.

There is much more in this rich study.

1 comment:

randy said...

...and they don't call us non-jews Gentiles, either; not the super orthodox, the lubavitcher, bobover, satmar hasids...we're 'goyim'.

but it's no surprise that yiddish phrases have become common in general american usage(my elderly, very WASPy mom says 'who knew?' and 'nosh', for instance); for the last 40+ years the culture has become more and more yiddischized due to the large numbers of jews in influential media positions; tv, movies, publishing of all kinds. this can't help but have an effect.