Jewish guilt is a myth regarding the general nature of Jewish life and culture. The myth appears in a number of different forms, among them the Jewish mother who is adept at creating guilt in her children. The idea is also sometimes presented as the neurotic businessperson who struggles with the application of religious principles to business ethics. In general, the idea of a guilty Jew can be related to any situation where the individual appears to engage in activities that are self indulgent.
While Jewish guilt has provided fodder for comedic routines and characters in television shows and movies for many years, the phenomenon is generally considered to be more of an urban legend than truth. There is nothing in the tenets of Judaism that ingrain guilt to a higher degree than found in most religions. This means Judaism is not any more subject to neuroticism than any other major world faith or ideology.
The idea is sometimes linked to the Jewish concept of repentance or Teshuva. Essentially, this type of remorse is considered the first step toward repentance from taking a wrong action. From this perspective, Teshuva is considered to be a form of positive guilt, as the individual recognizes the error of the action and is therefore ready to make atonement for the wrongful act.
Most of the popular stereotypes tend to present Jewish guilt as an excuse for actions rather than repentance for wrong actions, however. The myth is exemplified by a Jewish person who must shop in certain stores or has a predilection to shame others into doing what he or she wants by making them feel guilty. While there are certainly adherents of Judaism that engage in these and similar activities, there is no evidence that there is anything uniquely Jewish about the ability to create and cultivate guilt in self or in others.
When viewed as nothing more than a cultural stereotype that is useful for entertainment purposes only, the idea of Jewish guilt is relatively innocuous. Some people assume that there is a great deal of truth in these stereotypes, however, which can often lead to many misconceptions about Judaism and Jewish people in general that are simply not indicative of the religion or the culture.