Glossary of Terms
One of our goals is to help cross-cultural communication. We can increase understanding if we define terms that we use regularly. That is why we include a brief glossary here.
The term “couple,” as used in this context, has in mind two partners who are dating, cohabiting or who are married. In all cases, only one of the partners is Jewish. Some of the information provided is based on research conducted among heterosexual American Jewish-Gentile couples.
In this website, the term “Jew” is an ethnic designation. It refers to the people who are physical descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ethnicity is a genetic factor as distinct from a religious designation. Not all of the people who are Jews practice a “Jewish religion.” The question of “Who is a Jew?” often has religious, political and sociological connotations. In the sense it is utilized here the term is stripped of those implications and used in the purely ethnic sense as of a blood-related people. It is a distinction based upon physical descendents. To illustrate, genetic diseases, like Tay-Sachs disease, are found only among ethnic Jewish people without regard for their religious beliefs, political inclinations or their social status.
The term “Jewish” is a descriptive term for all those things that are distinctive of people who happen to be Jews. They are generally categories of culture (see culture defined below). So, it is possible to speak of “Jewish food,” a “Jewish neighborhood” or “Jewish humor.” It is appropriate to speak of cultural characteristics that are identified with Jews as a description – Jewish.
The term “Gentile” is a common Jewish ethnic designation for anyone who is a non-Jew. From the Jewish perspective, populations are viewed as composed of Jews and everyone else, or the “gentiles.” Gentile comes from the French and Latin word for “pagan” or “heathen,” typically meaning non-Jews. It is derived from the Hebrew concept of goy or “nation,” like the nation (people) of Israel and all the other “nations” or the goyim. The New Testament makes the distinction in Ephesians 2:11, “…the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision’ [Jews].” However, it should be noted that all other nations have specific names for their own people just as do the Jews. It may be obvious to the reader here, but many Gentiles do not ordinarily think of themselves as Gentiles. However, it is a Jewish perspective.
The term “Jewry” is a collective term for Jewish people. It may be a reference in part or in whole. For example, it is used to describe “American Jewry” and “Israeli Jewry” or all of “world Jewry.”
The term “Judaism” has been defined narrowly but is often applied very broadly. It is the designation of the traditional monotheistic religion of the Jewish people. However, the forms of Judaism are many with little agreement as to whose is the authentic version. it has also been used as a broad description that includes categories like Jewish civilization and even culture. Milton Steinberg describe Judaism broadly as “The total actualities, past and present, of the …Jewish people… (embracing) secular as well as sacred elements.” Stephen Wylen defined Judaism as “The way of life of the Jewish people. Culture, customs, ethics, sense of self… are part of Judaism as much as the faith and rituals of the Jewish religion.” (Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism, 1947: 3, and Stephen Wylen, Settings of Silver: An Introduction to Judaism, 1989: 3).
Throughout this site, we use the term “culture” to mean all of those core values, lessons from experience, social expectations and behavioral practices that a person has learned. We view culture as the accumulation of life lessons about “how to” and “should,” “trial-and-error” and basic beliefs about the origin of the world and moral order. We have benefited from the work of Donald K. Smith in this context [See Smith, Donald K. Creating Understanding (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing house) 1992.]
Couples composed of “Jewish” and “Gentile” partners experience cross cultural challenges as they seek to understand the differences in their two ethnicities. Add to that mix a disparity of beliefs and their relational dissatisfaction can increase exponentially.