And so, among Jews, Braun now becomes a familiar figure: a shanda fur die Goyim. The Yiddish phrase translates, roughly, to “a shame before the non-Jews.” The idea is sort of two-fold: That more is expected of Jews, specifically by Jews; and that when a famous Jew fails to live up to those high standards, it makes us all look bad in the eyes of the rest of the world. Madoff is a shanda. Maybe Weiner and Spitzer. You get the idea. And Braun, now, will surely join their ranks.
This is something relatively assimilated Jewish people still say, and still mean sincerely; it’s not just, like, a Twitter thing. But it is interesting that the phrase persists in the original Yiddish. That language, essentially a German dialect written in Hebrew script which is now spoken only by a handful of native speakers from Eastern Europe as well as by members of several Hasidic sects, is explicitly ethnic (yid is Yiddish for “Jew”) and as such unavoidably paints the world in expressly ethnic, tribal terms. To call someone a shanda, in other words, is to think in ethnic terms doubly.