What Is a Shiksa?

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Found in songs, TV shows, the theater, and every other pop culture medium on the planet, the term shiksa has come to mean a non-Jewish woman. But what are its actual origins and meaning? 

Meaning and Origins

Shiksa (שיקסע, pronounced shick-suh) is a Yiddish word that refers to a non-Jewish woman who is either romantically interested in a Jewish man or who is a Jewish man's object of affection. The shiksa represents an exotic "other" to the Jewish man, someone who is theoretically forbidden and, thus, incredibly desirable. 

As Yiddish is a melding of German and Hebrewshiksa originates from the Hebrew shekets (שקץ) which roughly translates to "abomination" or "blemish," and was likely first used in the late 19th century. It's also believed to be the feminine form of a similar term for a man: shaygetz (שייגעץ). The term originates from the same Hebrew word meaning "abomination" and is used to refer to a non-Jewish boy or man. 

The antithesis of the shiksa is the shayna maidel, which is slang and means a "pretty girl" and is typically applied to a Jewish woman. 

Shiksas in Pop Culture

Although pop culture has appropriated the term and coined popular phrases like "shiksa goddess," shiksa is not a term of endearment or empowerment. It's considered derogatory across the board and, despite efforts of non-Jewish women to "reclaim" the language, most recommend not identifying with the term.

As Philip Roth said in Portnoy's Complaint:

But the shikses, ah, the shikses are something else again ... How do they get so gorgeous, so healthy, so blonde? My contempt for what they believe in is more than neutralized by my adoration of the way they look, the way they move and laugh and speak.

Some of the most notable appearances of shiksa in pop culture include:

  • The popular quote from George Constanza on the 1990's TV show Seinfeld: "You've got Shiksappeal. Jewish men love the idea of meeting a woman that's not like their mother."
  • The band Say Anything had a well-known song called "Shiksa,in which the lead singer questioned how he landed a non-Jewish girl. The irony is that he converted to Christianity after he married a non-Jewish girl.
  • In Sex in the City, a Jew falls for the very not Jewish Charlotte, and she ends up converting for him.
  • Mad Men, Law & Order, Glee, The Big Bang Theory, and more have all had the 'shiksa goddess' trope running through various storylines.

Because Jewish lineage is traditionally passed from mother to child, the possibility of a non-Jewish woman marrying into a Jewish family has long been seen as a threat. Any children she bore would not be considered Jewish, so that family's line would effectively end with her. For many Jewish men, the shiksa's appeal far outweighs the role of lineage, and the popularity of the 'shiksa goddess' pop culture trope reflects this.

Bonus Fact

In modern times, the rising rate of intermarriage has caused some Jewish denominations to reconsider how lineage is determined. The Reform movement, in a groundbreaking move, decided in 1983 to allow a child's Jewish heritage to be passed down from the father.

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Pelaia, Ariela. "What Is a Shiksa?" Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, learnreligions.com/what-is-a-shiksa-yiddish-word-2076332. Pelaia, Ariela. (2020, August 26). What Is a Shiksa? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-a-shiksa-yiddish-word-2076332 Pelaia, Ariela. "What Is a Shiksa?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-a-shiksa-yiddish-word-2076332 (accessed June 10, 2023).