Why NBC’s ‘Nurses’ might be spreading antisemitism and poor Yiddish grammar
“I have to see if you’re playing fast and loose with the facts,” a character states in the opening scene in the medical drama “Nurses.” But for the next 42 minutes they proceed to do just that.
The episode originally aired more than a year ago in Canada, but was rebroadcast by NBC for U.S. audiences this month and has been widely criticized by Jewish groups for its portrayal of Haredi Jews in a manner some found to be antisemitic.
Both B’nai Brith Canada and the ADL are calling for the network to take action. (Editor’s note: After this story went to press, NBC removed the episode from its Peacock streaming service.)
The episode’s plot follows the show’s nurses, working in a Toronto hospital, as they attempt to treat an Ultra-Orthodox teenager, Ezriel, who suffered a broken leg in an accident.
What follows from there is a veritable trainwreck of fake beards and falsehoods.
However, one of the most egregious scenes comes when the nurses tell Ezriel’s father that he will need a bone-graft to be able to walk again.
“You want to put a dead leg inside of me?” Ezriel responds in shock, before his father chimes in: “A dead goyim leg! From anyone? An Arab? A woman?”One of the nurses cuts him off with a sarcastic “Or god forbid, an Arab woman!”
I think this is the most antisemitic thing I have ever seen in a TV show pic.twitter.com/oS1hPFIjcj
— Seffi Kogen (@seffikogen) February 24, 2021
The idea that a life-saving medical treatment should be rejected because the donor is a non-Jew has no basis in any codified Jewish law or custom. In fact, Pikuach Nefesh the commandment to safeguard human life is held above nearly all other religious concerns.
The show’s use of the term “goyim” also seemed odd.
The word goy literally means nation in biblical Hebrew. Over the centuries, it has colloquially come to refer to non-Jews, especially in Yiddish, where it often comes with negative connotations.
For a Yiddish speaker, or just someone familiar with American Jewish jargon, the show’s use of the word doesn’t make grammatical sense. Goyim is the plural form of goy — the Hebrew suffix im denotes a masculine noun — but it is not an adjective nor a possessive. (While we’re nitpicking, Ezriel would also probably call his dad “Tati” not “Abba,” because Yiddish.)
Suffice it to say, Orthodox Jews don’t generally speak like that. “A goyishe leg” would have been the proper way to say it. Or maybe “a goy’s leg.”
Television shows frequently get foreign languages wrong. So why does this matter?
While goyim is not the typical word choice for a Jewish speaker, the usage is common amongst another group – white supremacists and antisemites.
In white supremacist communities, both online and elsewhere, the term has become a buzzword for their belief in Jewish world domination.
“The language is typically used in references to antisemitic conspiracy theories depicting Jews as malevolent puppet-masters, manipulating the media, banks, and even entire governments to the benefit of themselves but to the detriment of other peoples” the ADL wrote about one such meme which uses the term.
Where the show’s writers actually came upon the term is anyone’s guess, but almost every scene with an Orthodox Jewish character seems to highlight only the worst stereotypes. The arc throughout the rest of the episode pits medical treatment against prayer.
“The disturbing stereotypes present in this episode of ‘Nurses’ are deeply damaging to Jews, especially Orthodox practitioners,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center added: “The writers of this scene check all the boxes of ignorance and pernicious negative stereotypes.”
Unfortunately, episodes like this are nothing new for Orthodox communities who have frequently criticized their portrayal in popular media.
“When you make up lies about our community and invent things that are not true, creating a rift or negativity about us and other groups that are not true, you put a target on our backs,” said Allison Josephs in a blog about the episode for Jew in the City. “Hasidic Jews are being attacked in the streets with greater frequency every single day. Do better, Hollywood, at not constructing pernicious lies that endanger our community.”
David Ian Klein covers breaking news and international Jewish communities for the Forward. You can reach him at Klein@forward.com and on Twitter @davidianklein