The stereotype of the cheap Jewish miser is one as old as time — and one that annoyingly lingers to this day. From Shakespeare’s Shylock in the “Merchant of Venice” to Nazi and neo-Nazi propaganda depicting the Jewish people as greedy monsters trying to take over the world through their wallets, images of Jewishness and greed seem to walk hand in hand. Even modern vernacular like to “to Jew someone down,” meaning to bargain crookedly for a lower price, is still being used to this day.
Similarly, for those who identity as biromantic/ bisexual, meaning they are attracted to their own and other genders, the “greedy” label comes up very frequently. For instance, how many times have we seen a horny female character on screen jumping in and out of multiple men and women’s beds for fun (oftentimes played for the male gaze who gets off on queer women’s attractions while erasing the reality of bi men)? There’s Thirteen from the medical drama “House,” a bisexual woman who’s shown as promiscuous and hypersexual, with her attraction to women seen as casual sexual romps in comparison to her relationships with men. When it comes to bisexual men, shows like “Glee” feature such dialogue as, “Bisexual’s a term that gay guys in high school use when they wanna hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change.” For biromantic/bisexual people, their legitimate attraction to multiple genders is often conflated with immorality, a sexual appetite beyond reasonable measure, or implausibility.
So I suppose you can say I’m extra lucky to be a woman who identifies as both bi and Jewish, and by lucky I mean not at all. I am hit with the same awful label twice, over and over again.
As Jewish women, we are used to the antisemitic misogynistic stereotypes such as the spoiled Jewish American Princess used to Daddy’s money, as well as the gold-digger seeking a rich Jewish doctor husband. As a bi woman, I have been told by the media that my orientation makes me the worst kind of partner, too greedy to commit, a cheater waiting to happen because if I’m attracted to multiple genders surely I can’t settle for one person. (For the record, bisexuals can be in healthy monogamous or polyamorous relationships without any cheating involved whatsoever. Likewise, plenty of straight people cheat all the time with nobody implying it’s because of their sexuality.)
As I walk through the world reflecting on these stereotypes, it did not escape my notice the interesting correlation between the concept of greed and its connection to both Jewish and queer identities.
For the Jewish community, a large part of its link to greed and money, like always, is found in historical context. Within the Middle Ages, when the Church forbade Christians from lending money while charging interest, considering the practice of usury to be too sinful for its followers, Jews, who were barred from many occupations because of religious discrimination, took up the position instead. So literally, money-lending, an occupation considered too “dirty” for Christian hands, was instead deemed appropriate enough for Jewish ones, who were financially at the mercy of their Christian dominated societies.
Later, for Jewish families who did gain financial stability and even considerable wealth, such as the Rothschilds, one of the most prominent banking dynasties in European history, these groups were often attacked with conspiracies, as though their very existence provides proof of how Jews were using their money to control global financial institutions.
Yet, I wonder if any of these conspiracy theorists, old and new, have considered that one of the reasons so many Jews have gravitated toward these kind of positions is because of survival. Have they ever thought that maybe, so many Jewish kids are encouraged to becomes lawyers or accountants or bankers because of the financial stability their parents and ancestors, witnesses to pogroms and the Holocaust, hoped they could attain?
And for the bisexual community, why is our attraction to people considered something still so taboo? Something insatiable? One of the many jokes I hear, often laced with hostility, is that bi people are stealing all of the options away from other gay and straight people. Last time I checked, there are over seven billion people in the world, so the chances for finding one’s significant other(s) isn’t exactly hurt by a few bi people looking for love, too. The majority of bi people as I know aren’t looking to hoard attention or sex. They’re hoping to simply exist as they are, through the natural expression of their ability to be attracted to people (be it men, women, or other non-binary babes), without being harassed or targeted for it.
When I walk out into the world, I’m not thinking about how many people I can cheat on or cheat out of their money. I’m not looking to steal anything from other people. I’m simply looking and working for the resources I need to survive: a job that is financially stable and hopefully emotionally satisfying, and a supportive community made of allies and people who understand my experiences.
People need to understand that the word greedy has been weaponized against both communities, used to invalidate our identities while oftentimes putting us in the very real dangers we’re trying to avoid. So the next time you think about jokingly calling a Jewish person or bi person — or a Jewish bi person like me — greedy, think of the weight of the word as it applies to very real and very vulnerable communities.