Jewish Problem

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 17 10:37:34 UTC 2012

The term "Jewish Problem", with its entire baggage, is missing from the
OED. There are three quotations that mention it--one under "in-and-out"
and under "problem", from H. G. Wells; the other two appear under Jewish 1.

> 1. Of, belonging to, or characteristic of, the Jews; Israelitish, Hebrew.
> ...
> 1941 Time 24 Feb. 102/3 Alfred Rosenberg last fortnight opened in
> Frankfurt am Main what Nazis call 'the biggest library in the world
> dealing exclusively with the Jewish problem'.
> 1957 Oxf. Dict. Christian Church 1093/2 The Jewish problem arose at a
> later date than in Spain, and it was not until 1536 that, under the
> influence of the civil power, the Inquisition was set up.

I am rather disappointed that these two found their way into this
particular entry rather than creating a separate "Jewish problem" entry
on their own. In these cases, "Jewish" is not "characteristic of the
Jews", but is rather characteristics of people who have a "problem"
/with/ the Jews. This meaning of the "Jewish problem" cannot be
extrapolated from the constituent words. In fact, the only way one can
describe the "Jewish problem" as being "characteristic of the Jews" is
if Jews are taken as the root cause of the problem (compare, for
example, to the "rat problem"). In fact, the term has generated a
snowclonelet that addresses the "problem" with some specific ethnic,
racial, or other group and is usually used either by those who perceive
such a "problem" or, mockingly, by their opponents and critics. Similar
phrasing might have been available before WWII, but it certainly
snowballed after.

In this context, the Wells citation under problem 3.c. is actually

> 3. c. With qualifying noun or adjective: a seemingly insoluble
> quandary affecting a specified group of people or a nation; (also) a
> long-standing personal difficulty./
> drink/, /drinking problem/: see the first element.
> 1851 J. Bigelow /Jamaica in 1850/ 122 Such is the solution of the West
> Indian problem, advocated by one of the most distinguished writers and
> thinkers in England: a restoration of slavery.
> 1879 /Nation/ 2 Jan. 7/2 The theory of certain amiable persons, that
> the real solution of the Indian problem is extermination, ought not
> for a moment to be entertained.
> 1897 E. Ferri /Criminal Sociol./ p. viii, The proper method of
> arriving at a more or less satisfactory solution of the criminal
> problem is to inquire into the causes which are producing the criminal
> population.
> 1936 H. G. Wells /Anat. Frustration/ xv. 178 That does not close the
> Jewish problem for you.
> 1969 'J. Morris' /Fever Grass/ iv. 44 She had the body of a ballet
> dancer with a weight problem.
> 1974 E. Ambler /Doctor Frigo/ i. 41 If Villegas had a health problem
> which could be helped by a change of climate, [etc.].
> 1980 /Dun's Rev./ July 93 If Giscard was indeed delivering a Gaullist
> ‘Non’ to new members until the British problem is straightened out,
> then a whole new saga of EEC dissension has been signaled.
> 2004 /Time Out/ 31 Mar. 180/3 /N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous)/ If you have
> any kind of drug problem then may be we can help.

The "Jewish problem" or the "Indian problem" is not the same as the
"drug problem" or the "weight problem". In fact, the only quotes of this
kind that may be regarded as parallel are 1879, 1897 and 1936, and
perhaps 1980--and I am not sure about the 1879 quote. The rest have a
different structure and a different meaning (more accurately reflected
in the lemma). In fact, I am not even sure that the two definitions
given in the lemma are compatible with each other either. Note, in
particular, that "Jewish problem" (and the listed "problems" that
correspond to the first part of the definition--West Indian problem,
Indian problem, criminal problem, British problem) always appears with
the definite article, while "weight problem", "health problem" and "drug
problem" usually have the indefinite article. (However, I can foresee
some examples where "criminal problem" and "British problem" would be
appearing with an indefinite article and, hence, with different meaning
of "problem". E.g., "Necessity of early orthodontic intervention is a
typically British problem."; "But the News of the World is not just a
British problem. It is an American problem, too."; "Although bright and
well cared for, he developed a criminal problem."; "Criminal Law also
exists because it is my experience that when you have a criminal
problem, you need a criminal lawyer." Note the pragmatic shift.)

"Jewish question" also shows up in a number of quotations, including one
included with etymology (of Manhattanite):

> 1879 /Brooklyn Daily Eagle/ 22 July 2/2 At Coney Island ... there are
> other hotels--one of them, the Brighton, being in direct rivalry with
> the Manhattan. It will be interesting to know if the Brighton people
> believe they will profit by the action of the Manhattanites on the
> Jewish question.

The rest show up under accomplishment 1.a., cleansing (DA 10/2001),
final solution (final 3.b.), propination, intractable A. 2. and
poisonous 2.a. (same quote).

> 1992 R. Harris /Fatherland/ iv. 253 The organisational, technical and
> material measures necessary for the accomplishment of the final
> solution of the Jewish question.

> 1946 tr. A. Rosenberg in /Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression/ (U.S. Chief
> Counsel Prosecution of Axis Criminality) V. 557 The Jewish question
> ... must be solved and ... all nations of Europe will march behind
> this cleansing at the end.

> 1947 /Trial German Major War Criminals/ (H.M.S.O.) xi. p. ix, Final
> solution of the Jewish question.

> 1995 J. Moskalewicz & A. Zieliński in D. B. Heath /Internat. Handbk.
> Alcohol & Culture/ xxi. 225 Propination is strongly associated with
> 'the Jewish question' in Poland. Because of legal and customary
> restrictions, one of the few careers open to Jews was to lease an inn
> from a local landlord.

> 1899 A. White /Mod. Jew/ ii. 37 When Russia became the chief
> accomplice in the murder of Polish liberty ..., the poisonous Jewish
> Question infected her life-blood. She acquired the disease in a
> peculiarly intractable form.

It seems the two should be listed either together or separately as
phrases associated with "Jewish".


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