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Stereotypes and Predjudices
By Jeffrey A. Singer
The stereotype is a printer's aid. This one-piece plate, cast in type
from a mold taken of a printing surface, produces an unvarying form or
pattern, having no individuality. It speeds the process of producing
People use stereotyping to speed up thought processes in their daily
lives only they use a cognitive matrix instead of type metal. They
a set of complex characteristics to individuals they barely know based on
preconceived notions. This saves time anticipating the conduct of
their responses to ideas and actions.
But this racial or ethnic stereotyping is a collectivist way of thinking.
judges a person, not by his own character and actions, but by the
and actions of a collective of ancestors as if values and character are
determined before one is born. It is based implicitly on the irrational
discredited doctrine of inherited, innate knowledge. So while stereotyping
may provide cognitive shortcuts, it leads to false conclusions. It is an
obstacle to human thought and social progress.
Still, most stereotypes did not arise in a vacuum. They usually developed
after a behavior pattern or trait was seen with great frequency and
consistency among several members of a racial or ethnic group. The mental
process of generalization produced the stereotype. Some stereotypes are
positive and some are negative. All are irrational and anti-individualist.
Thomas Sowell, economist and historian at Stanford University's Hoover
Institution, investigated the roots of ethnic and racial stereotypes in
1981 book ETHNIC AMERICA. Many Jewish stereotypes are understood by
Jews have been stereotyped as being adept money handlers. In medieval
many governments restricted usury and money handling to Jews and Arabs,
believing it a practice morally inappropriate for Christians. Jews were
barred entry into many other fields. Those who were competent financiers
most likely to succeed in a society where they were essentially persona
Jews learned by experience to develop skills in professions dependent on
intellectual talents teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants. In a
where Jews were always considered resident-aliens, subject to expulsion or
expropriation at the whim of the political class, it made sense to have a
livelihood not tied to the ground. Thus, a Jew in exile can resume his
profession and offer a scarce and valuable service wherever expulsion
These money handling and intellectual skills often gained favor with
political power holders, bringing individual or group protection. Many
actually became tax collectors or other government officials and advisors.
But it also made Jews hated by enemies of the regime, and especially
to become targets in the event of an overthrow.
For much of European history, dangers of popular resentment made it
inadvisable for Jews to display any wealth or even evidence of prosperity.
The need to flee at a moment's notice made it a bad idea to keep
they had accumulated in immobile forms, and more sensible to have it in
Viewed in this light, it is easy to understand the origins of the
of Jews as being miserly, as cunning and opportunistic money handlers, and
making excellent doctors, lawyers and teachers.
One stereotype that is difficult to explain, however, is that of Jews
politically on the Left. Since the late 1800s, American Jews, for example,
have supported political parties and candidates of the "progressive" bent.
the early part of the twentieth century, this meant supporting
Jews voted predominantly Republican into the 1920s. As Roosevelt's New
and the Democratic Party took on the cause of the Left, Jews switched
parties, with over 90% voting for Roosevelt. A 1972 survey of Jews in New
York called THE ETHNIC FACTOR, by Mark Levy and Michael Kramer, found
quarters to be registered as Democrats. Half described themselves as
"liberal," and over a quarter called themselves "moderate." Jews are
over-represented among the radical Left. Sociologist Ernest Van den Haag,
THE JEWISH MYSTIQUE, reports, "Out of one hundred Jews, five may be
Out of ten radicals, five are likely to be Jewish."
To be sure, not all Jews favor a powerful, activist, intrusive government.
Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman, as well as laissez-faire
(and libertarian icons) Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, and Israel
are powerful intellectual forces, antithetical to the Left. Legal scholars
Richard Epstein and Steven Posner favor minimalist government as well.
Individualist psychologist Nathaniel Branden, and iconoclastic
Thomas Szasz are leaders of the modern libertarian movement. And Federal
Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, once part of the "inner circle" of
individualist philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand (born Alissa Rosenbaum, a
Russian Jew), can hardly be called a liberal. Yet the stereotype is based
indisputable political data.
While the stereotypes mentioned earlier make sense when viewed through an
historical lens, this one does not. True, Jews for centuries have
identified themselves as underdogs. This might make them more receptive to
political movements purporting to fight for society's underdogs. And in
earlier time, sycophantic pandering to the governing class was an act of
self-defense. But these are inadequate explanations.
If any ethnic group should stereotypically exhibit an intense distrust for
strong, intrusive, activist government it should be the Jews. The Jewish
experience with government has been one of repeated expropriation,
quota-based restrictions on economic and personal activity, and even
systematic genocide. Despite these immense obstacles, the Jews have
to succeed and even flourish in modern Western society. Under the modern
"progressive" programs of wealth redistribution, high-taxation, and
"Affirmative Action's" racial quotas and set-asides, they stand to lose
much of what they struggled to obtain.
Jews should embrace the spirits of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George
Mason and Patrick Henry in their fervent commitment to a limited,
government whose sole mission is protecting individuals' equal rights.
The political stereotype assigned to modern Western Jews is understandable
when viewing political and electoral statistics. Attempts to reconcile the
statistics with history leave many questions unanswered. It just doesn't
Dr. Singer practices general surgery in Phoenix, Arizona, is a Director of
the Maricopa County Medical Society, and is a member of the Maimonides
Society of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix
from the February 2000 High holiday Edition of the Jewish Magazine