words that Jews (literally) invented

I'm getting a little bit sick and tired of people denying our history by weaponizing words and phrases that we invented to describe our own experience.



The word “diaspora” comes from the Greek διασπείρω (diaspeirō), which means “I scatter, I spread about,” and is how the Greeks translated “galut” when they read the Tanakh.

The word “galut,” in Hebrew, describes the concept of the Jewish perception of the “condition and feelings of a nation uprooted from its homeland,” forced to live under foreign rule. It’s a word that appears time and time again in the Tanakh (“Hebrew Bible”), and as such, it’s at least around 2500 years old.

The word was used during the time of the Babylonian Exile, when Jews were forcibly displaced from the Kingdom of Judah in 587/6 BCE. However, it’s likely the word and/or its root existed in Hebrew beforehand. 

Though the word “galut” describes the physical dispersion of the Jewish People, it also encompasses the Jewish emotion and pain of being forcefully exiled from the Land of Israel. As such, it does have a negative connotation. It’s a concept that is quite difficult  to translate neatly into a Western paradigm, as it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual state of being.



Our exile from our homeland was so painful — because it was involuntary! — that we had to describe a whole new word to describe that pain. We are a people from the Land of Israel. We did not leave by choice. 



Okay, so we did not invent the word tribe. But its earliest use was to refer to us. 



The conception of Jews as merely a “religion” or a “religious” group is a relatively new invention, specifically dating to the nineteenth century. We are a people — a nation formed out of a confederation of Hebrew tribes. 



The word “genocide” was coined by a Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin in 1944 to describe the actions that the Nazis were carrying out in Eastern Europe. In 1948, genocide was first designated as a crime in the Geneva Convention; however, the Convention retroactively described a number of prior events as genocides, including, of course, the Holocaust. 

Under Article 6 of the Geneva Convention, genocide" means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.



This doesn’t mean that, theoretically, Jews are incapable of perpetrating a genocide. Anyone is capable of perpetrating a genocide. But something about accusing us of genocide — something that we know intimately — makes people froth at the mouth (keep in mind, Israel has been accused of genocide for 75 years, as the Palestinian population has skyrocketed, not just since October 7). Whether it’s to absolve themselves from their own generational guilt (see, you do it too!) or because they feel better minimizing the severity of the historical injustices done onto the Jewish people, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a bit of both. 



While the phrase “never again” is most often associated with the Holocaust, it actually predates it. Not only that, but it’s an explicitly Zionist phrase.

In fact, the phrase comes from a 1927 epic Zionist poem, titled “Masada,” by Yitzhak Lamdan. It alludes to the Siege of Masada, when, at the tail end of the First Jewish Revolt against the Roman occupation of Judea, the Romans besieged a thousand Jews, including children, in 73 CE. According to the traditional narrative,  the Jews took their lives to avoid capture, but archeologists today dispute that, believing that they were actually killed by the Romans.

The original phrase in Lamdan’s poem is “never again shall Masada fall.” After the Allies liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, Jewish survivors wrote the phrase on handmade signs in a number of languages. 



Among other things, it’s really infuriating when the phrase is appropriated by anti-Zionists (“never again for anyone”). 



The phrase “none of us are free until all of us are free” comes from an 1883 letter by Sephardic Jew, activist, and Zionist Emma Lazarus, who wrote, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

This quote has widely been appropriated by anti-Zionist Jews and those who ascribe to the paradigm of “collective liberation,” which is incredibly ironic, because what Lazarus was writing about, specifically, was about what she perceived to be American Jews’ apathy toward the plight of Jews being slaughtered in pogroms Eastern Europe. What she was actually saying was “until [all Jews] are free, [no Jews] are free.”

In the letter, she chastised American Jews for not being “tribal” enough, for prioritizing the plight of other groups in the United States all the while ignoring their Jewish siblings suffering on the other side of the world. 



Using this quote to gaslight Diaspora Jews who are centering the experiences of Israeli Jews affected by October 7 is quite literally the opposite of what Lazarus meant. Telling Jews to disavow Zionism because our “liberation” can only be found through the liberation of others, as though others don’t have a track record of raging antisemitism, is not only gaslighting, but it’s also plainly wrong. 

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about the liberation of others, of course, but rather, that we shouldn’t be gaslit into sacrificing our well-being for the so-called greater good. 



Yep! Really. 

For hundreds of years, the term “Palestinian” was virtually synonymous with “Jew.” In the eighteenth century, for example, Immanuel Kant described the Jews in Europe as “the Palestinians among us.” In the early twentieth century, Jews used “free Palestine” as a rallying call to establish a Jewish state. 

The first Arab Palestinian to identify as Palestinian was Khalil Beidas in 1898. However, the term was not used universally until the 1960s. Until 1920, early Palestinian nationalists wanted Palestine to become a province of the pan-Arabist Greater Syria, which would include Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. 

At the first Palestinian Arab Congress 1919, the resolutions included statements such as, “We consider Palestine nothing but part of Arab Syria and it has never been separated from it at any stage…Our district Southern Syria or Palestine should be not separated from the Independent Arab Syrian Government and be free from all foreign influence and protection.”

During the 1937 Peel Commission, Palestinian Arab nationalist Anwi Abd al-Hadi told the British, “Palestine is a term the Zionists invented!” 



The Zionist movement did not at all consider itself an extension of British imperialism, nor did they see themselves as foreign to the Land of Israel; rather, until they recovered sovereignty, they saw Palestine as not free.  

For a full bibliography of my sources, please head over to my Instagram and  Patreon

Back to blog