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JWA's Greatest Hits: Fetishizing the Jewess

Jewish women are hot right now. According to an article in the men’s magazine Details, “Jewish women have become the ethnic fetish du jour.”  And in true men’s magazine fashion, Christopher Noxon revels in the opportunity to eroticize and exoticize Jewish women; using dehumanizing terms like “cultural mutt” and “JILF,” meaning “Jew I’d like to…”—you get the idea. 

This article does little more than call attention to the misogynistic trend it then goes on to abuse for shock value, and Irin Carmon does a great job of breaking it down at Jezebel.  Yet the use of the word “Jewess” in the article was particularly troubling for me, as a Jewesses with Attitude blogger.  Given the continued derogatory use of the word “Jewess,” can the term ever really be reclaimed?  And how do Jewish women feel about being the object of a sexual fetish?

I walked away from “The Rise of the Hot Jewish Girl” infuriated with Noxon’s liberal use of the word “Jewess.”  On a second read-through I was surprised to find that he only used the word twice in the whole piece!  While Noxon did not actually favor the term “Jewess,” I heard it repeating inside my own head as I read through the objectifying, dehumanizing drivel that categorized women like me as objects of a sexual fetish.  Why?  Because this type of ethno-exoticism is what the word “Jewess” has represented for centuries, and is exactly what this blog is trying to change.

In our very first post, we explain our reasoning for embracing the word “Jewess,” which had to do with the revolutionary 19th century magazine The American Jewess, edited by Rosa Sonneschein: “the first English-language periodical aimed at American Jewish women, hitting on everything from women's place in the synagogue (we should be able to 'drink directly from the fountain of religion') to whether women should ride bicycles.”

We decided to reclaim “Jewess,” despite the reactions of many who found the term to be weird, old-fashioned, or reminiscent of the unflattering JAP stereotype.  We did not address the idea of the Jewess as an ethnically exoticized object of sexual fetish, though some commenters did.  This article reminds us that this discussion is far from over.

As Judith candidly put it in our conversation about this article, “Anything that fetishizes or stereotypes a whole category of people is never a good starting point.”  In the piece, Noxon attempts to explain the attraction to Jewish women.  He notes the “double mitzvah” of sex on Shabbat as evidence that Judaism encourages women to be sexually open and adventurous.  That, plus there is the added appeal of defiling a “nice Jewish girl.”  But that is not the whole story.  

All minority women share the experience of being exoticized.  This refers to the over-emphasis of ethnicity to the point where women are no longer human beings, but “creatures” of wild or foreign beauty.  The media constantly fetishizes women of color in this way.  Perhaps the real attraction to the “sultry Jewess” is that she is ethnic and exotic, but still white.  

There was a time in American history when Jews were not considered white, a notion common in Europe as well.  Today, American Jews occupy a fuzzy space between power and marginalization, and between whiteness and “the exotic.”  Noxon’s piece embodies that bridge of identities.

Not everyone was repulsed by this article.  Tamar Fox of Mixed Multitudes was somewhere in between being offended and flattered. This is interesting, because even Noxon recognizes the fact that Jewish women have had to overcome a few unflattering stereotypes, such as “frigidity, whininess, and big hair.”  We have discussed this quite a bit at Jewesses with Attitude.  Traditional American ideals of beauty (tall, thin and blonde) do not always match up with Jewish genetics, and body issues leading to damaging hair-straightening treatments, rhinoplasty, and eating disorders are not uncommon for Jewish women. To see an article lauding Jewish women as beautiful and sexy could be considered a triumph, in a bizarre, "fun house mirror" sort of way.

Yet, to see “Jewishness” accepted as beautiful is not exactly the same thing as being the object of a fetish.  A good friend of mine, who is Chinese-American, once told me that she was nervous to date white men because she could never be sure if they liked her for who she was, or if they just wanted to date “an Asian girl.”  Noxon mentions the rise of non-Jewish men (he calls them “goyfriends”) trolling on Jewish dating sites for Jewish women.  Why do they want to date Jewish women?  Is it because we’re awesome, or because we have become the object of their fetish?  Is the cultural obsession with Jewish women a testament to our greatness, or a sign of our marginalization?  

Where do you stand?

17 Comments

As a person of mixed Jewish and non Jewish "blood", I know that the term "Jewess" in the past was often a negative, but today I see that as a term transforming Jewish women (at least some of them) into liberated sexual people who defy the more recent labeling of the "JAP -- Jewish American Princess" and get a little more "evil" and open minded under the covers as well as out and about, and are willing to role play and break free of other stereotypes. I know of women who use the term not as a perjorative but as a positive, much in the way Homosexuals use "Gay" and other previously detrimental terms, or the way blacks (I'm not so PC as to use the term "people of color", since everyone has a color -- can turn around the N word. Anyway, just my two cents. To me a jew-ish temptr-ess who seduces me right or wrong, well, is a Jewess! And I mean a super hot woman who is Jewish making someone cave in because she exudes raw sexuality and attitude. Anyway, I'm married now so I'm pulling out of this discussion.


I am a not a native English speaker (you will notice it immediately) and the lack of explicit gender in English nouns and adjectives makes us terribly difficult to understand some sentences. For this reason, I thank the duality actor-actress, lion-lioness and, of course, Jew-Jewess.



As there is no way to know so far my gender, I confess that I am a Latinamerican old male mestizo. With this racial and cultural background, I do not have any pro or con attitude toward Jews but, sorry for being PI, I find Jewesses attractive and desirable more than it would be expect by random.

You said: "Is the cultural obsession with Jewish women a testament to our greatness, or a sign of our marginalization?"Cultural obsession? You must be dreaming. This "obsession" you speak of is purely fictional. It exists solely in the minds of Jewish bloggers, Jewish journalists, and Jewish writers. These are the daydreams of a small group of Jews writing stories for other Jews and for an even smaller philo-semitic constituency. Your very blog entry is the epitome of the type of incestuous intellectual schlock I describe: Chris Noxon writes a story, Member of the Tribe Leah Berkenwald responds with a story, and it soon dominoes into 4,000 other Jewish or philo-semitic stories trumpeting the validity of the initial fairy-tale. It's both incestuous and masturbatory, not to mention completely delusional.So where is this "obsession" with ethnic Jewish women? In my 28 years on the planet I have never seen it. Please, let's be honest here. Ethnic Jewish chicks from Long Island or Staten Island are some of the least desirable creatures on the planet. I don't know a single soul who has a burning "obsession" for these ethnic LI and SI women.Non-ethnic Jewish women are a different story. Non-ethnic Jewish women such as Scarlett Johansson, Kate Hudson, or Rachel Bilson are sometimes attractive and desirable. But, we all know their level of physical attractiveness has nothing to do with how Jewish they are. These "Jewish" starlets are over hyped precisely because they are so phenotypically different due to their recent mixed ancestry. That being said, women with comely faces and nicely shaped bodies are desirable regardless of ethnicity. If we are all being honest here, without reverting to the knee-jerk reaction of accusing me of Antisemitism, we can agree there are very few poor souls fetishizing ethnic Long Island Jews. And for Jews to take the Danish Scarlett Johansson or Kate Hudson as examples of the world craving Jewish women, only makes Jews look desperately stupid. Comparing these non-ethnics to what comes out of LI and SI is moronic and ludicrous. Sad but true, in the U.S. the less ethnic the more attractive.As a side note, right out of college I lived in Israel for a year working for Intel. OH MY GOSH! The women in Israel are smoking hot. I couldn't believe it. They are the hottest women on the planet next to Brazilian women. There are no fat chicks there, save a few Russian Jews. The ethnic rule DOES NOT apply in Israel. The more ethnic the sabra is the hotter. Especially the Sephardi and Mizrahi girls, 9 out of 10 of these women are sheer perfection. The worst looking girls are a few Russians and the bulk are 1st generation Americans whose parents were from New York, Florida, or Michigan, almost exclusively Ashkenazi (think LI/SI). The great looking Ashkenazi sabras have been there since 1948 or before and have mixed in well. The two best looking girls I have ever seen in my life were in Israel. 1 was pure Sephardi/Mizrahi of Iraqi and Egyptian Jewish stock. The other was Ashkenazi/Mizrahi of Romanian and Kurdish Jewish stock. The girl with Romanian ancestry had the most amazing black hair, tan/light-brown complexion, and freckles I have ever seen. Freckles... I miss Israeli freckles.

"Perhaps the real attraction to the “sultry Jewess” is that she is ethnic and exotic, but still white."
You got it! That sentence just about sums it up.

I blogged the Details article last week (http://blogs.forward.com/binte... and some of the surrounding nonsense as part of an earlier blog too (http://blogs.forward.com/binte....
Just to get away from Nolan and Details specifically though, there are a couple of inherent difficulties in the vocabularies we use to discuss vacuous fetishized celebrity nonsense like those glossy magazine spreads.
First we are to some extent caught up in the words that are in circulation in the world we are discussing. We can use JILF it is funny because of its newness, artificialness and irony but it still rankles at least a little and it's hard to argue that MILF — used however ironically — does not radically objectify women (specifically mothers qua mothers).
Second, if we want to distinguish between Jewish men and Jewish women our range is limited. You often see "Jewish girls" or "girls" in general used to infantilize women as eye-candy or go straight to the other extreme of balabustas and tedious stereotypes of the Jewish mother (one can easily imagine the image of Rebekah Kohut on The American Jewess on this page being misused in that second way).
So in the end, I think the term Jewess is caught in two battles. Does it want to be a general term that's accessible for people to misuse? That's the price of circulation in a sexist world at the moment, but is it a price worth paying and is it even a choice that Jewish women are still able to make (has the mare bolted?).
And, on the other hand, does "Jewess" want to be an alternative term for a female Jew that then leaves "Jew" as a marker for maleness: Jews and Jewesses, lads and lasses, actors and actresses.

Honestly this issue is not Jewish exclusive in the least. White Latina, Armenian, Greek, Italian, Spanish, white Lebanese and other white ethnic women pretty much experience this universally

and would we consider Kat Dennings, for example, in her lewdness on "Two Broke Girls" a positive version of a Jewess? Wonder what Camille Paglia would think.

Coming to this discussion very lateÌ¢‰âÂå_.

I am a non-Jewish male and am inclined to see Jewish women as hot. Not because they're "white exotics," but because they tend to be dark-haired (which I prefer) and I associate them with smart, sassy, and funny personalities like Sarah Silverman and Carrie Brownstein. Also, a Jewish girl at my high school had amazing legs. These few things, taken together, have helped to form a pattern (or "stereotype") in my mind. As Louis CK says, why can't we have racism that's ignorant but nice?

I honestly did not know that the term Jewess was offensive. I thought it was a mash up of the words "Jewish" and "Princess". After reading this I feel kind of bad for telling my friends I went out with a Jewess. I never meant it in a derogatory or offensive way.

I understand your concern about being simply a "fetish". I am a non-Jewish white male, and I feel an instant attraction to Jewish women. Most of my life I was unaware of this, but slowly discovered it as the common link between several women I've dated and been interested in. I believe it's not only their beauty, but also personality and intelligence. Being labeled as exotic is a good thing that many men find irresistible.

Jews are not white. Crypto-Jews appear to be white to the untrained eye.

Great article. We posted a piece on the same topic on our blog, Alef, last week. Such an interesting conversation. Check it out: http://www.alefnext.com/the-se...

By the way, the photo accompanying the article is particularly disturbing. A flattish amorphous behind, coupled with pudgy sides, and cheesy tinseled underwear that look like they were hand sewn by someone's great aunt. Not-to-mention the underwear are sagging toward the middle, which even further highlights the allusive or nonexistent buttocks. It looks more like the ass of a 12 year-old boy, than a woman. Very unsexy. Could you not have found a more suitable photo? Something more congruent with the notion of hotness? This cannot be the ideal of the much "obsessed" over and "fetishized" Jewish hottie, can it? Or perhaps, as I stated in my earlier post, it's all just imaginary.

I vote for holding onto the term "Jewess" although, as others note, this is an era in which women on stage and screen are opting to be called "actors" not "actresses." I like the terms roots -- descriptive rather than abusive.

Labeling for gender and racial purposes is a good subject not just for discussion, but perhaps a dissertation or two. Thanks for the provocative discussion.

I admit I think there are some very positive aspects of Jewish women being considered "hot". Our tradition embraces sex for enjoyment. The frumpy, whiney, pushy, frigid images that have been visible (think South Park, Lenny Bruce) need some balance. While the luridness of some of Detail's details are eyebrow popping, I can live with it. Gilda Ratner and SophieTucker had it right. We rock!

Sexy, sultry, worthy of lust? Maybe I should be ashamed of myself, but this does not bother me. I'd rather be worshipped a la The Song of Songs than stereotyped as a Jewish mother, uptight bitch, or money-grubbing materialist.What really bugs me about this fetish business is that it boils us Jewish women down to just another exotic ethnic with nice boobs and throws the whole religion/culture thing by the wayside. Good old garden variety sexism with a lovely gloss. That's just plain obnoxious.

When something is rare and exotic it often becomes desirable. Jews are a such a tiny percentage of the world's population, yet have such an outsized reputation, that it is no wonder that some men would be curious about the mystery and somewhat forbidden Jewess. Forbidden because of long held cultural prejudices from both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.

"The Rise of the Hot Jewish Girl" in Details Magazine, 2009
Full image
"The Rise of the Hot Jewish Girl" in Details Magazine, 2009.

How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "JWA's Greatest Hits: Fetishizing the Jewess." 2 December 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 25, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/fetishizing-the-jewess>.

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