If an alien from outer space were to land on Earth, it might be difficult to explain to such a newcomer the current composition of the Jewish people.  Technically speaking, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Practically speaking, however, many Jews put themselves or others into different groups with special names, labels and designations.  

Some Jews consider themselves either Ashkenazic or Sephardic, while other Jews classify themselves as Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. Some Jewish delis consider themselves kosher, while other Jewish delis style themselves as kosher-style. Some bookstores consider themselves as Jewish bookstores, while others simply sell some Jewish books.

Inevitably, if you have to explain the Jewish People to the uninformed, you might have to field some unanticipated questions. For instance:

• When a Jew wears tzizzit and a tallis, isn’t that redundant?

• When a Jew wears a kipah and a hat, isn’t that also redundant?

• When a Jew celebrates a simcha with a lavish kiddish and then a separate sit-down luncheon, isn’t that redundant too?

Someone who knows nothing about the Jewish people might get hung up on official titles and designations. They also might wonder about whether, for each category of Jew, there is a corresponding opposite. That is tricky because even when it comes to something as basic as Jewish food, identifying the corresponding opposite can be a bit confusing. For example, to some, the opposite of a bagel is a roll because a roll has no hole. To others, the opposite of a bagel is cream cheese because one is bread and the other is a spread. 

Yet to others, the opposite of a bagel is the matzah because one has a solid crust and the other can easily be crumbled into dust.

Let’s address some other potentially confusing opposites in the Jewish world.

To some, the opposite of Modern Orthodox might be ancient Orthodox, but the term ancient arguably has a less-than-flattering connotation. A more accurate and less controversial opposite of Modern Orthodox might be something like pre-modern Orthodox.

To some, a Conservative Jew might sound like a Jew who is risk-averse, e.g., someone who refuses to enter a casino or the stock market, skydive or bungee jump or eat jalapeño or ghost peppers. On Passover, an extremely risk-averse Jew would not eat mandel bread, even if it is certified by the highest authorities as kosher for Passover because its name contains the word bread.

To some, a Reconstructionist Jew might sound like someone who enjoys synagogue renovations. To them, the opposite of a Reconstructionist Jew might be a demolition Jew. One could argue that a demolition Jew more aptly describes a ravenous Jew with a bottomless appetite who sets out to conquer a buffet.   

To some, a Jew who keeps shabbos might sound like someone who is satisfied with a transaction. To that person, the opposite of a Jew who keeps shabbos might be a Jew who returns shabbos. Of course, no Jew should try or even want to return shabbos because it is a blessing and honor for all Jews to keep it. There are other things in life that a Jew should not try to return including anything that is half-eaten, gifts that are custom-made and monogrammed, or your spouse. That said, other things in life should, if possible, be returned like a tennis serve, a letter with insufficient postage or a favor.      

Final thought: Technically, the opposite of stuffed cabbage is empty roughage and the opposite of chopped liver is intact intestine.


Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

How do you feel about this article?

Choose from the options below.