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Jewish Mother Jokes: Insulting or Not?

Q: What did the waiter ask the group of dining Jewish mothers?

A: "Is anything all right?"

I know, it should aggravate me when I read jokes like this because they perpetuate the idea that Jewish women are loud and demanding. As a Jewish female, I’d certainly like to break the stereotype that all Jewish women are one-dimensional cartoon characters.

But when you think about it, these traits, which are clearly being ridiculed in Jewish mother jokes, are actually something to be proud of. Being “loud” and “demanding” is what it often takes to provoke people into change. Someone has got to shake up the old system; and demure, people pleasers are at a major disadvantage when it comes to shaking things up. Outspoken is where it’s at.

Case in point: Dr. Abby Shevitz served as Resident Physician and one of the first female Chief Residents at Boston City Hospital. Ticked off at the way AIDS patients were being taken care of, Shevitz insisted on a system overhaul that included more warmth and compassion when caring for these patients. Shevitz then went on to develop the first HIV testing protocol at a time when there were no existing guidelines.

Had Shevitz not been demanding and insistent, a whole lot of HIV-infected patients would not have received the emotionally nourishing treatment they deserved.

Case in point: When Barbara Seaman’s aunt died of uterine cancer at age 49, Seaman was told by the doctor never to take Premarin (a conjugated estrogen product used to treat symptoms of menopause) because she might have the same “susceptibilities.” Turns out, Seaman discovered, it had been known for years that estrogen frequently brings on cancer in the endometrium of menopausal women. Infuriated, she became “obsessed with informed consent,” and wrote articles about health from the patient’s point of view. Seaman went on to write a book expose on the dangers of the estrogen levels in the Pill, and then a letter to Senator Gaylord Nelson, describing how the Pill was making women sick. Nelson began to hold hearings in the Senate about the dangers of the Pill in January 1970, and by June, anyone who took the Pill received an FDA warning--the first warning label for any prescription drug.

Had Seaman not been demanding and insistent, a whole lot more women would surely have become extremely sick from the high estrogen levels in the Pill.

So, yes, loud, outspoken Jewish women in restaurants may be a laughing matter to some, but let’s remember that the women who complain that “things are not all right” (see joke above) are often the same women who push to make things a whole lot better for the rest of us.

What do you think?

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9 Comments

You know, it is so ridiculous to hear these common jokes spoken exclusively by the ignorant. Its lame and clichÌÄå© to say but it is jealousy and ignorance that makes people need to joke like that. Last I checked, the Jewish population was not struggling in poverty or illiteracy, not known for bullying or laziness. These afflictions seem prevalent in the populations that may need to make these comments. There is a reason Jews were the ones persecuted in World War II. Peaceful soldiers for change and a better world. A religion motivated by education and achievement and good works. Even though, I come from a loud angry Jewish family, I donÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t believe the loud, demanding, or critical ways are necessarily by virtue of Jewish culture.

ItÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s just generally easy to identify Jewish people when they call attention to themselves. I grew up in the south and spent holidays in the north and live out west now. These behaviors exist in every color and culture,everywhere.

I'm Jewish and have been a foster parent for special needs kids for over 17 years now and being outspoken is what I am. I am an advocate for the children that come into my home and I am loud and determined that they get the help they need to overcome the obsticles that life has thrown their way. My husband and I have paid attorneys to represent some of these children in court so they have a voice and at $5,000.00 a pop it hasn't been cheap. No one can get as angry or be as articulate as a Jewish mama when one of her children is in harm's way. G-d bless us all! Gayle Earnhart

The premise put forth is that to be loud and insistent is good. The writer buttresses her claims by a "case in point" approach. One can document numerous "cases" where being "loud" and "insistent" is quite negative. We can be misguided, immature, ignorant, self-righteous, or stupid. And in such cases, being "loud" and "insistent" just magnifies the aforementioned defects. Can't we all picture in our mind's eye a "loud and insistent" ignoramous?

For the most part "loudness" is just not a good quality. This does not mean that if one is not loud one must be meek. But one can be both humble and prudent which are fine qualities without the negative attribute of "loudness."

Thus in the examlpe above, Dr. Shevitz may have been insistent but that does not mean she was "loud." It does not mean she was obnoxious.

I am a Jewish man who has lived in numerous locales, traveled the world, achieved several advanced degrees and have observed people assiduously. I served in the military as an officer and have rubbed elbows with many folks from the Ozarks, Appalachia, etc. I have rarely if ever seen anti-semitism or heard anti-semitic remarks. My last and first names are not noticably Jewish.

I suspect that much perceived anti-semitism derives from a loud and aggressive approach of many Jewish folks. This is a clash of cultural attributes perhaps as opposed to a deep seated hatred of "the Jew."

This all reminds me of a joke. A Jewish grandmother was watching a football game. She observed half a dozen burly and aggressive men seeking to tackle the Jewish quarterback and exclaims: "Look at these anti-semites trying to attack that Jewish boy!"

There are lots of ways to achieve an end. Being "loud and insistent" can be very destructive on many levels. Frankly, most notable goals have been achieved in the absence of "loudness."

I first heard this joke several years ago - and the diners were simply Jews - not Jewish mothers. I'd be curious about how the misogyny crept in.

But in both cases, there is nothing said about the diners being loud. The implication is, rather, that they are hyper-critical. Hyper-vigilance, a quality taken on by any oppressed group that wants to survive - being obsessively critical is a domesticated variant. It's not that we see the glass as half-empty -- we see the smudges on the glass! It's part of a collective post traumatic stress syndrome that many of us can't let go of the vigilance, even when the coast is clear.

As with all Jewish jokes, if others laugh at it, it smacks of stereotyping; if we laugh, it is a laughter of self-recognition. The daughter of a German-Jewish refugee, I indeed laughed.

I am a recovering Republican male married with kids White Catholic /Episcopalean background a Reagan/Bush voter. I understand your sentiment as the non liberterian right is using it now to vilify critics. Humor is a clever technique to discredit an idea or a person. I am not a liberterian, but it does seem as though the right wing machine has successfully used this for years. Remember, after 9/11, the women in NJ who called for the 9/11 Commission were subtley (derisively IMO) referrred to by Right wing Radio Rush & Sean Hannity as the "Jersey Girls". Now to defend protecting a pedofile Congreesman they are invoking Ted Kennedy's problems many years ago. The problem now is that MY party has protected a pedofile while speaking out against Gays (I am pro marriage ammendment conservative) and covering up for pedophilia while saying they are pro family values is over the top. I googled Jewish Mother as I have a male Christian friend who married a nice Jewish Girl and they just had a Kid and it is funny to see SHE is definitely in control (though my mom was that way and she was from North Carolina, though her Grandmother always used Yiddish words like, Tush, which they all thought was odd for the South . However, records indicate that they came from Germany to New Bern, NC in the mid 19th Century and changed name and religion to Baptist.

Also I was NYC in June and I saw an advertisement for a PLAY called Jewtopia--The plot was a Christian Man seeks to marry a Jewish Women so he will never have to make a decision for the rest of his life. Given my observation of my Friend's new marriage..it struck me as slightly true.

All the Best

Sometimes I am deeply offended by Jewish jokes. Yet one must consider that laughter is the best medicine and after years of cruelty and pain we Jews have survived it helps to laugh at our faults, stereotypes, and faux paus.

My mother fits the description of a Jewish mother --she's loud, demanding, clingy, manipulative, etc. but she is also loving, warm hearted and cares about her family. G-d knows that she annoys the hell out of me at times but no one can replace her either. So go on make one liner jokes about my mom see if I care!

This comment is not directly related to the original post, but it does have to do with the way the world sees young Jewish girls and the price we pay...

Yesterday's NY Times brought news of the death of Judith Moore, author of "Fat Girl" in which she calls herself "a short, squat road of a woman. My arms are as big as those maroon-skinned bolognas that hand from butchers' ceilings. My belly juts out. The skin on my thighs is pocked."

I haven't read Judith Moore's book, nor do I think she was Jewish, but these quotes stopped me in my tracks. They brought me right back to the self-hate, the loathing, the disgust that I have often felt for myself in the past. Fat. I HATE the word itself. I hate what emotional torture that word has put so many of us through during our lives. I hate the cost in thousands of dollars spent in therapy to overcome the scars of that word.

As a Jewish woman, I deeply resent the premium some sectors of our community (oh yes, I know, it's all over the place...but) put on little girls being slim, teenagers being sylph-like, on young women looking pencil-thin, and on older women being neat and trim. And I hate that on J-date so many men insist on their potential dates being thin. Pot-bellied, balding, messy, unkempt, sloppy, unfit men who demand perfection in their women.

Mostly, I hate what this does to little girls. I want to let every cute, plain, bespectacled, boyish, plump, lonely little girl know that they are special, worthy, that they will find their own way to beauty, and that loving themselves is job #1.

How can we help our little sisters, our neices, our friends' kids understand this? I think the responsibility is all ours, and I'd like to hear what others think, too.

It's true that one of our greatest strengths as Jewish women is our determination to speak up and set things right in the world.

Jewish mother jokes, like the one about Jewish women in a restaurant, put us down for that strength. Those jokes make us look kvetchy and small, not strong and smart. I think on an unconscious level Jewish women jokes make us feel bad about who we are and can cause us to pause or second guess ourselves as we move towards speaking up about the issues we truly care about.

Jewish women jokes also affect non-Jewish women because the underlying message is, "If you are bold and speak up a lot, (like those Jewish women) you are not okay. You are not acting the way a woman should act." Any joke that puts down one group of women puts down all women and enourages us to distance ourselves from the targeted group.

I admit it, the joke made me laugh too. And you can say that the loud Jewish abrasive mother is a stereotype but the last time I went out to eat with my mom and her friend, we had to change tables three times. First it was the heat, then the volume, and then the draft.

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How to cite this page

Cove, Michelle. "Jewish Mother Jokes: Insulting or Not?." 2 May 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 17, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/jewishmotherjokes>.

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