The Nose Knows Anti-Semitism

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Here's how the Jewish stereotype of the hooked nose represents a greater problem: the resurgence of anti-Semitism.

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Perhaps it is just coincidence, but at this time of rising anti-Semitism once again in the United States and around the world, the nose is coming to the fore in our culture. In Jewish culture, the nose has been of particular anti-Semitic concern since the early middle ages.1 At that time, the stereotypic hook-nosed image came into prominence, and that image singled out Jews for contempt. These surely were micro, if not macro, aggressions.

Much later, the Nazis invoked the “Jewish nose” stereotype. The notorious 1940 Nazi film “The Eternal Jew” repeatedly focused in on Jewish noses. The Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer had a section “How to Tell a Jew,” and in it a teacher told his 7th grade boys’ class:

“One can most easily tell a Jew by his nose. The Jewish nose is bent at this point. It looks like the number six. We call it the ‘Jewish six.’”

By the time of my childhood in the early 1950s, a rhinoplasty procedure to fix what was felt to be an unattractive Jewish nose, especially in girls, was common. That nose job dissipated over time, only to recently increase in Orthodox Jewish girls. One dissenter, who was a few years older than I, was the famed Barbra Streisand, apparently worried it might change her singing voice. Nevertheless, her nose was the target of public criticism off and on, including a 1964 Time magazine cover story where the writer called her nose a “shrine,” causing her face to have “the essence of a hound.”2

Most recently, controversy about the “Jewish nose” took place in the new movie “Maestro” about the famous classical music conductor Leonard Bernstein. Bradley Cooper, who is not Jewish, plays Bernstein and dons a prosthetic facsimile of Bernstein’s nose. Though criticized by some who said it was an anti-Semitic stereotype, Bernstein’s children publicly claimed to like it. I wonder what would have happened if he did not wear the prothesis and thereby would not look as much like Bernstein. That would have seemed more anti-Semitic to me.

Now, as reported in The Free Press article “How U.S. Public Schools Teach Antisemitism,” a public school in Midtown Manhattan has had 4- and 5-year-old students discuss why individuals have differently shaped noses, with one of the 4 types being a hooked nose.3

There have been other famous noses in our cultural history, including those of Cyrano de Bergerac, Pinocchio, and the opera “The Nose” by Shostakovich where a detached nose runs wild. Given that Jews are often the canary in the coal mine of xenophobia, maybe these depictions are offshoots of the historical “Jewish nose.”

Although one might suspect that the Jewish Freud would have interpretations about the nose, that seemed rare, other than as a sexual fetish. Actually, it was his ear, nose, and throat (ENT) colleague, William Fleiss, who developed a theory on “The Nasal Reflex Neurosis” which could cause all kind of physical symptoms, but be helped by the application of cocaine. Fleiss later claimed a special connection between the nose and sexual organs. More currently, research seems to have confirmed that there is a connection between body smell and choice of sexual partners.4 The nose does seem to know.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

References

1. Lipton S. The Invention of the Jewish Nose. The New York Review of Books. November 14, 2014. Accessed December 21, 2023. https://www.nybooks.com/online/2014/11/14/invention-jewish-nose/

2. DeSantis R. Barbra Streisand says fear that surgery would impact her legendary voice made her resist a nose job. People. November 7, 2023. Accessed December 21, 2023. https://people.com/barbra-streisand-feared-nose-job-would-impact-voice-8387431

3. Block F. How U.S. public schools teach antisemitism. The Free Press. December 19, 2023. Accessed December 21, 2023. https://www.thefp.com/p/how-us-public-schools-teach-antisemitism

4. Perkins, P. Fleiss, Freud and the nose. J R Soc Med. 2007;100(9):398.

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