By the 16th century, this Jewish archetype had a name: edelkayt.The Yiddish word—which derives from edel, or noble—referred to “a quality of gentleness, almost softness,” says Boyarin.Be always occupied in your love towards her.”But it wasn’t until the Babylonian Talmud that Jews came up with a blueprint for the ideal man, says Daniel Boyarin, historian of religion at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Unheroic Conduct.
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Yet this “ideal Jewish male femme” was also the pinnacle of manliness, a sexual force to be reckoned with. Other cultures twisted the feminized edelkayt into something negative.
An early anti-Semitic myth of medieval Europe was that Jewish men menstruated, perhaps as a result of their womanly excesses or dealings with the devil. In the 1890s, the Austrian-Jewish therapist put forth the idea of homosexuality as mental illness.
At the time, homosexuals were identified by their feminine traits—and who better fit that description than the Jewish man?
“The most manly Jew is more feminine than the least manly Aryan,” wrote the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger.
The story begins in the Bible, where the best men are portrayed as more brain than brawn (see: the bookish Jacob, who outsmarts his burly brother Esau).
In the Book of Proverbs, a man is instructed to treat his wife with respect: “Have joy with your wife…
The Yid has accepted submission and, therefore, the Hebrew ought to learn how to command…
“Our starting point is to take the typical Yid of today and to imagine his diametrical opposite,” wrote Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
“Because the Yid is ugly, sickly, and lacks decorum, we shall endow the ideal image of the Hebrew with masculine beauty.