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An antisemitic caricature from 1873 depicting a Jewish man with prominent exaggerated nose

Jewish nose or Jew's nose[1] is a racial stereotype[2] that refers to a hooked nose with a convex nasal bridge and a downward turn of the tip of the nose[3] that was singled out as a hostile caricature of Jews in mid-13th century in Europe, and has since become a defining element of the Jewish stereotype.[4][5] Although it has been found that this nose type is equally as common in the general population as it is among Jews in countries where this type of nose is most prevalent, such as in the Mediterranean region,[6][7][8] the representation of the Jewish nose has persisted in caricatures and has also been adopted by many Jews as a part of their ethnic identity.



Around the middle of the 19th century, and lasting for more than a century, the term "Jewish nose" was commonly used in scientific literature to describe a particular shape of nose which thought to be a race-based deformity characteristic of people with Jewish ancestry (which by unwitting efforts of plastic surgeons of early 20th century started to be viewed as a pathology to be corrected).[3] Robert Knox, an 18th-century anatomist, described it as "a large, massive, club-shaped, hooked nose."[4] Another anatomist, Jerome Webster, described it in 1914 as having "a very slight hump, somewhat broad near the tip and the tip bends down."[4] A popular[9] 1848 essay "Notes on Noses" written by solicitor George Jabet under pseudonym Eden Warwick[10] offers quite a different description, and specifies that though this nose is popularly identified as Jewish, should be properly defined as a 'Syrian nose'. He writes that it is "very convex, and preserves its convexity like a bow, throughout the whole length from the eyes to the tip. It is thin and sharp."[11] (Jabet prided himself in his lack of connection to ideas of others and condemned scientific proofs.[9])

Joseph Jacobs's explanation of the caricature of a Jewish nose

In the mid-19th century, Jewish folklorist, Joseph Jacobs, wrote: "A curious experiment illustrates this importance of the nostril toward making the Jewish expression. Artists tell us that the best way to make a caricature of the Jewish nose is to write a figure 6 with a long tail (Fig. 1); now remove the turn of the twist as in Figure 2, and much of the Jewishness disappears; it vanishes entirely when we draw the continuation horizontally as in Figure 3. We may conclude, then, as regards the Jewish nose, that it is more the Jewish nostril than the nose itself which goes to form the characteristic Jewish expression."[5]

The statistics cited in the chapter "Nose" of the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1905) by Joseph Jacobs and Maurice Fishberg, demonstrate that, contrary to the stereotype, the "Jewish", or hooked, nose is found with the same frequency among people of Jewish descent as it is among non-Jewish people from the Mediterranean region generally. The data collected by Jacobs and Fishberg showed that this type of nose is found in the minority of Jews (20–30%) and that the vast majority have a straight nose.[5] In 1914, Fishberg examined the noses of 4,000 Jews in New York and found that only 14% could be described as either aquiline or hooked.[12] In 1906, Felix von Luschan suggested that the arched nose in Jews is not a "Semitic" trait, but is a consequence of the intermixture with the "Hittites" in Asia Minor, noting that other races with Hittite blood, such as the Armenians, have similar noses.[5] The same theory was held by the racist Houston Stewart Chamberlain in 1910.[13]

A Roman bust purported to be the Jewish writer Josephus simply on the strength of its similarity to the caricature of a Jewish nose

A Roman statue depicting a hawk nosed figure in the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, and acquired in 1891 from Princess Piombino, lacked an inscription in Latin identifying the subject but was presented by the museum in 1925 as Josephus, an identification defended by Robert Eisler. The grounds for Eisler's inference were simply that a notice in Eusebius stated that Josephus, the most famous Jew of his time, had a statue erected in his honour, and this bust, he thought, corresponded to a ‘crooked’, ‘broken’ ‘Jewish nose’ as distinct from the classic aquiline Roman nose. The identification is still widely used though scholars have rejected the claim. Hebrews in ancient Near Eastern art, like other peoples, Canaanites for example, who lived to the west of the Assyrian empire, have straight protruding noses.[14][15]


An illustration of Psalm 52, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God,'" a detail from the Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, circa 1340, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. One of the earliest examples of a Jewish nose caricature.

Art historian Sarah Lipton traces the association of a hooked nose with Jews to the 13th century.[16] Prior to that time, representations of Jews in art and iconography showed no specific facial features. "By the later thirteenth century, however, a move toward realism in art and an increased interest in physiognomy spurred artists to devise visual signs of ethnicity. The range of features assigned to Jews consolidated into one fairly narrowly construed, simultaneously grotesque and naturalistic face, and the hook-nosed, pointy-bearded Jewish caricature was born."[16]

While the hooked nose became associated with Jews in the 13th century, the Jewish nose stereotype only became firmly established in the European imagination several centuries later. One early literary use of it is Francisco de Quevedo's A un hombre de gran nariz (To a man with a big nose) written against his rival in poetry, Luis de Góngora. The point of his sonnet was to mock his rival by suggesting his large nose was proof he was, not a 'pure blooded Spaniard', but the descendent of conversos, Jews who had converted to Catholicism to avoid expulsion. In particular, the reference to una nariz sayón y escriba (Spanish for 'a nose of a hangman and scribe') associates such a nose maliciously with the Pharisees and the Scribes responsible for Christ's death according to the New Testament.[17][18]

"The so-called Jewish nose, bent at the top, jutting hawk-like from the face, existed already as a caricature in the sixteenth century […] It became firmly established as a so-called Jewish trademark only by the mid-eighteenth century, however […]"[19]

The hooked nose became a key feature in antisemitic Nazi propaganda. "One can most easily tell a Jew by his nose," wrote Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher in a children's story. "The Jewish nose is bent at its point. It looks like the number six. We call it the 'Jewish six.' Many Gentiles also have bent noses. But their noses bend upwards, not downwards. Such a nose is a hook nose or an eagle nose. It is not at all like a Jewish nose."[20]

According to writer Naomi Zeveloff, "in prewar Berlin, where the modern nose job was first developed, Jews sought the procedure to hide their ethnic identity."[21] The inventor of rhinoplasty, Jacques Joseph, had "a large Jewish clientele seeking nose jobs that would allow them to pass as gentiles in Berlin", wrote Zeveloff.

Barbra Streisand in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

But this negative view of the Jewish nose was not shared by all Jews; Jewish Kabbalistic texts consider a large nose as a sign of character. In his book "The Secrets of the Face" (Hebrew: חכמת הפרצוף‎), Kabbalistic Rabbi Aharon Leib Biska wrote in 1888 that Jews have "the eagle's nose". "A nose that is curved down […] with a small hump in the middle attests to a character that seeks to discover the secrets of wisdom, who shall govern fairly, be merciful by nature, joyful, wise and insightful."[22]

Among those seeking surgery to make their noses smaller were many American Jewish film actresses of the 1920s to 1950s. "Changing one's name is to Jewish males what fixing one's nose is to Jewish females, a way of passing,"[23] writes film historian Patricia Erens. One of the actresses to undergo surgery was Fanny Brice, inspiring commentator Dorothy Parker to comment that she "cut off her nose to spite her race."[24] According to Erens, this fashion ended with Barbra Streisand, whose nose is a signature feature. "Unlike characters in the films of the 1930s and 1940s, she is not a Jew in name only, and certainly she is the first major female star in the history of motion pictures to leave her name and her nose intact and to command major roles as a Jewish actress."[25] Streisand told Playboy magazine in 1977, "When I was young, everyone would say, 'You gonna have your nose done?' It was like a fad, all the Jewish girls having their noses done every week at Erasmus Hall High School, taking perfectly good noses and whittling them down to nothing. The first thing someone would have done would be to cut my bump off. But I love my bump, I wouldn't cut my bump off."[26]

"As Jews assimilated into the American mainstream in the 1950s and ’60s, nose jobs became a rite of passage for Jewish teens who wanted a more Aryan look," wrote Zeveloff. By 2014, the number of rhinoplasty operations had declined by 44 percent, and "in many cases the procedure has little bearing on […] religious identity."[21]

In Western non-Jewish literatureEdit

In The American Scene (1905), Henry James alluded to the stereotype in a description of the Jewish slums in New York City's Lower East Side by comparing Jews to a "sallow aquarium [with] innumerable fish, of over-developed proboscis".[27] The Jewish nose stereotype was a common motif in the work of Thomas Mann, who described it as "too flat, fleshy, down-pressed". In his 1909 novel Königliche Hoheit (Royal Highness), for example, Mann invents a Jewish doctor, Sammet, whose nose is described as giving away his origins, being "too broad at the bottom".[28] In The Great Gatsby (1925), F. Scott Fitzgerald's portrayal of the gangster Meyer Wolfshiem focused on his "expressive nose", a reference Fitzgerald later denied was antisemitic, despite privately expressing bias against Jews.[29] In The Sun Also Rises (1926), Ernest Hemingway's character Robert Cohn flattened his nose while attending Princeton University, an alteration that was symbolic of the perceived sacrifices required to fit in with a predominantly Anglo-Saxon peer group at a university with a strongly antisemitic atmosphere.[30]

In Jewish literature and cinemaEdit

Heinrich Heine in his 'The Baths of Lucca' creates a satiric portrait of the Jewish upstart figure Gumpel trying, under false aristocratic pretenses, to ingratiate his way into high society, while waiting for God to restore the Jews to their ancestral homeland. The problem is his nose, which is so long it almost pokes out the narrator’s eyes when they meet. God must eventually make good on his promise of a return to Israel, the narrator reflects: ’a promise which has been leading them by the nose for two thousand years. Is this being led by the nose the reason, perhaps, why their noses have grown so long? Or are these long noses a kind of uniform, by which the divine old king Jehovah recognizes his palace guards even when they have deserted?’.[31][32]

In American Jewish literature and cinema, the Jewish nose has been a defining characteristic – for better or for worse – of the American Jewish identity. "The nose is […] a physical symbol of otherness, definitely for Jews as Philip Roth" and other artists note, writes literary critic Roy Goldblatt.[33] Big noses for Jews, small noses for non-Jews, and the frequent appearance of rhinoplasty "as an instrument of (attempted) Americanization" all appear in Jewish literature as showing "the special significance attached to the nose as a factor marking the otherness of Jews – historically, in print, on stage, and on the screen," writes Goldblatt.

Goldblatt cites numerous examples of Jewish writers discussing the Jewish nose. "Goyim" (Non-Jews), writes Philip Roth in Portnoy's Complaint, "are the people for whom Nat 'King' Cole sings every Christmastime, 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose' […] 'No, no, theirs are the noses whereof he speaks. Not his flat black one or my long bumpy one, but those tiny bridgeless wonders whose nostrils point northward automatically at birth."[33]

Joshua Louis Moss cites Woody Allen 's movie Sleeper as another example of the Jewish nose as an element of the American Jewish identity.[34] "The historical and ethnoreligious connections are made palpable in the film's main structuring comedy motif, one of the central tropes of twentieth-century anti-Semitism: the contested landscape of the Jewish nose […] Nose jokes recur throughout the film in both dialogue and sight gags." For example, in one scene two robots with outlandishly large noses speak with heavy Yiddish accents. In another scene, Allen assassinates the dictator in the movie by throwing the tyrant's distinctly non-Jewish-looking nose under a steamroller.

While large noses are a sign of Jewishness, Jewish authors take small noses as a sign of the Gentile. "Neither Sarah's way of speaking nor her manner was that of a daughter of Israel. Suddenly they remembered she didn't look Jewish, that she had a snub nose, high cheekbones, teeth that were strangely white […] unlike those found among the Jews," writes Isaac Bashevis Singer in his novel The Slave.[35] "'Don't you know what that girl is who is asleep beside you? Just look at that nose.' 'What nose?' 'That's the point – it's hardly even there […] Schmuck, this is the real McCoy. A Shikse! (non-Jewish woman)'" writes Philip Roth in Portnoy's Complaint.[36] "We started out with short beards and straight noses – you can look at the wall paintings – and who knows? With a slightly different genetic break in our wanderings and couplings, we might all be as blond and gorgeous today as Danish Schoolchildren," writes Joseph Heller in God Knows.[37]

Bernice Schrank notes that Jewish attitudes toward the Jewish nose has changed from negative in the 1950s to positive today. "The change from unacceptability to acceptability is based on an increasingly successful challenge to the American myth of melting pot sameness by the politics of ethnic difference."[38]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sander Gilman, Love+marriage: And Other Essays on Representing Difference, Stanford University Press, 1998 p.180
  2. ^ Schrenk, Bernice (2007), "'Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Race': Jewish Stereotypes, Media Images, Cultural Hybridity", Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, 25 (4): 18, doi:10.1353/sho.2007.0121
  3. ^ a b Patai, Raphael (1989), The Myth of the Jewish Race, Wayne University Press, p. 208, ISBN 978-0814319482
  4. ^ a b c Preminger, Beth (2001), "The "Jewish Nose" and Plastic Surgery: Origins and Implications", Journal of the American Medical Association, 286 (17): 2161, doi:10.1001/jama.286.17.2161-JMS1107-5-1
  5. ^ a b c d Jacobs, Joseph; Fishberg, Maurice (1906), "Nose", Jewish Encyclopedia
  6. ^ Helmreich, William B (1982), The Things They Say Behind Your Back: Stereotypes and the Myths Behind Them, Transaction Publishers, pp. 36–37, ISBN 9781412839334
  7. ^ Holden, Harold Miller (1950), Noses, World Publishing Company, p. 69, A considerable study has been made on the "Jewish" nose. It has been found that this nose is far less prevalent among Jews than popularly supposed. Furthermore, it is most prevalent among Jews when it is also prevalent among the general population, as among Mediterranean or Bavarian people.
  8. ^ Silbiger, Steve (2000), The Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People, Longstreet Press, p. 13, ISBN 9781563525667, Sociologists have shown that the "Jewish nose" is no more common to Jews than to Mediterranean people.
  9. ^ a b About Faces: Physiognomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain, p. 49
  10. ^ Notes and Queries,9th series, vol. X, July–December 1902, Oxford University Press, p. 150
  11. ^ Gilman, Sander (2013) [1991]. "The Jewish Nose". The Jew's Body. Routledge. p. 179. ISBN 9781136038785.
  12. ^ Silbiger, Steve (2000), The Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People, Taylor Trade Publications, p. 13, ISBN 9781563525667
  13. ^ Chamberlain, Houston Stewart (1910). "The Entrance of the Jews into the History of the West". The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. London: John Lane, the Bodley Head. p. 394. Archived from the original on 2007-12-23.
  14. ^ P.Roth, ‘Distinguishing Jewishness I n Antiquity,’ in Jean-Jacques Aubert, Zsuzsanna Várhelyi(eds.), A Tall Order. Writing the Social History of the Ancient World: Essays in honor of William V. Harris, Walter de Gruyter, 2005 pp.37-58 p.54.
  15. ^ Magen Broshi, Bread, Wine, Walls and Scrolls, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001 pp.53-54.
  16. ^ a b Lipton, Sara (14 November 2014). "The Invention of the Jewish Nose". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2016-05-29.
  17. ^ Lee, Christina H. (2015), The anxiety of sameness in early modern Spain, Manchester University Press, pp. 134–135ff, ISBN 9781784991203
  18. ^ Pinedo, Jorge Salavert, 'To a man with a big nose': a new translation (PDF)
  19. ^ Kroha, Lucienne (2014). The Drama of the Assimilated Jew: Giorgio Bassani's Romanzo di Ferrara. University of Toronto Press. p. 284. ISBN 978-1-4426-4616-2.
  20. ^ Streicher, Julius (c. 1939). "How to Tell a Jew". Translated by Randall Bytwerk, 1999. from Der Giftpilz, an anti-Semitic children’s book published by Julius Streicher, the publisher of Der Stürmer. Translated for the Calvin Archive of Nazi Propaganda. Retrieved 2016-05-29.
  21. ^ a b Zeveloff, Naomi. "How the All-American Nose Job Got a Makeover". The Forward. Retrieved 2016-05-29.
  22. ^ Biska, Rabbi Aharon Leib (1888). Secrets of the Face. Warsaw, Poland. p. 18.
  23. ^ Erens, Patricia (1984). The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0253204936.
  24. ^ Miller, Nina (1999). Making Love Modern. Oxford University Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-19-511604-5.
  25. ^ Erens, p. 269
  26. ^ "Barbra Streisand Archives | Her Profile, Nose". Retrieved 2016-05-29.
  27. ^ Haralson, Eric L; Johnson, Kendall (2009), Critical Companion to Henry James: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Infobase Publishing, p. 434, ISBN 9781438117270
  28. ^ 'Seine Nase, zu flach auf den Schnurrbart abfallend, deutete auf seine Herkunft hin'. Cited Yahye Elsaghe ‘German Film Adaptations of Jewish Characters in Thomass Mann,’ in Christiane Schönfeld, Hermann Rasche, Processes of Transposition: German Literature and Film, Rodopi, 2007 pp.133ff.
  29. ^ Mangum, Bryant (2013), F.Scott Fitzgerald in Context, Cambridge University Press, p. 231, ISBN 9781107009196
  30. ^ Marcus, Lisa (2008), "May Jews Go To College?", in Phyllis Lassner and Lara Trubowitz (eds.), Antisemitism and Philosemitism in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, Rosemont Publishing, p. 141CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  31. ^ :'Sind vielleicht ihre Nasen eben durch dieses lange an der Nase Herumgeführtwerden so lang geworden? Oder sind diese langen Nasen eine Art Uniform, woran der Gottkönig Jehova seine alten Leibgardisten erkennt, selbst wenn sie desertiert sind?' 'Die Bäder vom Lukka', ch 2 Christa Stöcker (hrsg), Reisebilder II. 1828-1831, Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 1986 p.77
  32. ^ S.S. Prawer, ‘’Heine’s Jewish Comedy,’’ Clarendon Press, Oxford (1983) 1985 pp.132-3, p.133.
  33. ^ a b Goildblatt, Roy (2003). "As Plain as the Nose on Your Face: The Nose as the Organ of Othering". Amerikastudien / American Studies. 48 (4): 563–576. JSTOR 41157893.
  34. ^ Joshua Louis Moss, "'Woody the Gentile': Christian-Jewish Interplay in Allen's Films" in Vincent Brook and Marat Grinberg (eds), Woody on Rye: Jewishness in the films and plays of Woody Allen (2014, Brandeis University Press) ISBN 978-1-61168-479-7
  35. ^ Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1988). The Slave. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 234. ISBN 978-0374506803.
  36. ^ Roth, Philip. Portnoy's Complaint. p. 127.
  37. ^ Heller, Joseph (1997). God Knows. Simon and Schuster. p. 31. ISBN 978-0374532543.
  38. ^ Schrank, Bernice (Summer 2007). ""Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Race": Jewish Stereotypes, Media Images, CulturalHybridity". Shofar. 25 (4): 18–42. doi:10.1353/sho.2007.0121. JSTOR 42944413.

Further readingEdit