A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 27, 2014
“Two Jews, three opinions”

Jews often disagree with other Jews. “Two Jews three opinions”—that is, if you ask two Jews about something, you’;ll get three opinions—is a popular saying.

“Some one has said that ‘wherever you have two Russians you have three opinions.’” was cited in print in 1905. “Zangwill is credited with saying two Jews you will find three opinions” was cited in 1923. “Schecter is credited with having said, ‘Where there are two Jews, there are three opinions’” was cited in 1934. The versions involving Russians and Jews are probably related; it’s not known who first made the observation.

A related joke goes that if you have two Jews stranded on a desert island, they will build three synagogues—one for each of them, and one synagogue that no one will visit on principle. This joke has been cited in print since at least 1957 and 1984.


25 November 1905, New York (NY) Times, “White on Russia’s Peril,” pg. 4, col. 2:
“Some one has said that ‘wherever you have two Russians you have three opinions.’”
(Andrew D. White, former ambassador to Russia.—ed.)

Google Books
Peace and Bread in Time of War
By Jane Addams
New York, NY: The Macmillan Company
1922
Pg. 104:
With our Anglo-Saxon crispness of expression we are prone to be amused at the Russian’s inveterate habit of discussion and to quote with tolerant contempt the old saying: “Two Russians — three opinions,” without stopping to reflect that the method has in practice worked out excellently for the self-governing administration of village affairs throughout an enormous territory.

Google Books
12 January 1923, The Canadian Jewish Chronicle, “Marginal Notes” by I. G., pg. 17, col. 2:
When Two Are One.
Zangwill is credited with saying two Jews you will find three opinions. I suppose the other fellow’s wife agrees with her lord and master.

Google Books
The Future of Judaism in America.
A Syllabus for Study Groups

By Eugene Kohn
New York, NY: National Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs of the United Synagogue of America
1934
Pg. 166:
Schecter is credited with having said, “Where there are two Jews, there are three opinions.”

25 May 1934, The Canadian Jewish Chronicle, “Greetings from Mount Royal Lodge No. 729,” pg. 2, col. 2:
The proverbial: “Where there are two Jews, there are three opinions” belies the assertion that we are a united people.

Google Books
The American Mercury
Volume 50
1940
Pg. 298:
Israel Zangwill once observed that when two Jews meet, three opinions are bound to prevail.

Google News Archive
7 November 1947, The Canadian Jewish Chronicle, “The Jewish Quiz Box” by Rabbi Samuel J. Fox, pg. 12, col. 3:
Of course it’s like the old cliche which ex pressed the truism that when we come across two Jews we find three opinions.

Google Books
Pioneers, Peddlers, and Tsadikim
By Ida Libert Uchill
Denver, CP: Sage Books
1957
Pg. 204:
The Jews had a universal failing best expressed by the venerable story of two Jews on a desert island who built three synagogues, one for each of them. The third? “That’s the one we don’t go to.”

Google Books
Pontius Pilate:
A Novel

By Paul L. Maier
Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications
1968
Pg. 241:
“Two Jews, three opinions,” went the aphorism, and Pilate thought it sober truth.

OCLC WorldCat record
Arguing with God : a Jewish Tradition.
Author: Anson Laytner
Publisher: Lanham : Jason Aronson, Inc., 1977.
Edition/Format: eBook : Document : English
Database: WorldCat
Summary:
As an old proverb puts it, ‘Two Jews, three opinions.’ In the long, rich, tumultuous history of the Jewish people, this characteristic contentiousness has often been extended even unto Heaven. Arguing with God is a highly original and utterly absorbing study that skates along the edge of this theological thin ice_at times verging dangerously close to blasphemy_yet also a source of some of the most poignant and deeply soulful expressions of human anguish and yearning.

Google Books
Heritage:
Civilization and the Jews

By Abba Solomon Eban
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster
1984
Pg. 205:
It has often been said that wherever you have two Jews together, you are likely to hear three opinions. There is a popular jest about two Jews who were stranded for many decades on a desert island. By the time they were rescued, they had built three magnificent synagogues, one for each of them to pray in, and a third which both refused ,on principle, to attend.

OCLC WorldCat record
Two Jews, three opinions : a collection of twentieth-century American Jewish quotations
Author: Sandee Brawarsky; Deborah Mark
Publisher: New York : Perigee Books, 1998.
Edition/Format: Book : English : 1st ed
Database: WorldCat
Summary:
History or humor, the diaspora or deli, the topics covered in this wide-ranging compendium of quotations (many never before published) provide a remarkable view of Jewish life in America - in all its variety and contradiction - during the past 100 years. It has been a century in which Jews have had a tremendous impact on America - and in which America has had a great impact on the Jewish community.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, October 27, 2014 • Permalink