WTF? Glee and the Jews

The subtext of any pop culture piece on Jewlicious is always the age old question “Is it good for the Jews?” I watched season 2 episode 2 of Glee recently and the answer is… well, not so clear. Glee, the Fox show about Glee Club at William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, does not lack for Jews, both overt and covert. First there’s Brad Falchuk, one of the show’s Executive Producers and writers. His Mom Nancy Falchuk has been the National President of Hadassah since 2007. That’s pretty Jewy, even by Hollywood standards where almost everyone in the biz is a yid. Hadassah… that’s some serious yichus! But who gives a shit about the behind the scenes people, right? There’s plenty of Jewyness on the show itself.

We have the mohawked Puck, aka Noah Puckerman whose family celebrated Simchat Torah by watching Schindler’s List. Do I need to tell you how fucked up that is? I hope not… Puck it seems is also a bit of a prophet. Who can forget his description of one divine exhortation: “When I woke up, I knew it was a message from God. Rachel was a hot Jew and the Good Lord wanted me to get into her pants.” The Rachel in question is Rachel Berry, the other overtly Jewish character in Glee club. With her two gay dads she brings new complexity to the “who is a Jew” debate. She does have a Streisandesque air about her, she is very ambitious and driven (Jew!) and like many of her fellow secular American coreligionists, she is dating a non-Jew (Finn Hudson, the school’s quarterback and a member of the Glee club).

Next we have the crypto Jews… Is Artie Abrams, the nerdy paraplegic a Jew? What about his love-interest, Tina Cohen-Chang? Does that mean her Mom is Jewish? Finally we have Quinn Fabray, head cheerleader and Finn’s former ex. As a hot, blond sexy cheerleader, former head of the school’s Christian abstinence club until she got knocked up by Puck, she has tremendous Sh*ksappeal (I can’t really use that term anymore, can I?), she is actually played by Member of the Tribe, Dianna Agron. Go figure.All of this however, is merely a prelude to the Jew issues raised by the most recent episode of Glee.

Featuring a guest appearance by Britney Spears, the episode was so popular that half an hour after the episode aired, 7 of the 10 trending topics on twitter were Glee-related. One of the trending topics was the term “Jewish Cloud.” See, after getting a shot of Nitrous Oxide at the dentist, Glee club member and cheerleader Brittany caressed Jacob Ben Israel’s Jewfro and said that it looked like “…a Jewish cloud.” She was tripping, get it?

Jacob, played by Josh Sussman, was an important part of this episode. The Glee club’s use of a Britney Spears number at a school assembly seemed to have hypersexualized everyone, and nowhere is that hypersexuality more on display than it was with Jacob. Jacob offered to kill his parents and give Finn his house if he let him have Rachel after she showed up to school in a Britney Spears inspired schoolgirl outfit. Afterward, Jacob was caught in the Library, butt naked and apparently pleasuring himself. But that was restrained compared to Jacob’s behavior at the homecoming assembly when the Glee Club performed “Toxic.” At least at the Library, he was (mostly) alone whereas at the assembly he appeared to be pleasuring himself while moaning and screaming out loud.

This episode had massive ratings. Massive. It drew 13.5 million viewers, even more than the season debut the week before and broke all kinds of records. Glee’s depiction of Jews tries to mirror, at least in some respects, the complexity of modern Jewish America. But Jacob Ben Israel’s cringing, self-loathing, hypersexual character seems to be a Jewish cliche based on a combination of Portnoy’s Complaint and Der Stürmer.

I’m not Abe Foxman and Jewlicious is not the ADL and I am not at all suggesting that Glee’s writers are anti-Semitic. However, Jacob’s over the top behavior is weak, juvenile and ultimately uninteresting. My suggestion? Since Jacob is both Jewish and a blogger, why not model his character more on Nick Denton, the founder of the Gawker media empire? A young Nick Denton (MOT) transplanted from London into Ohio, struggling with his sexuality and whatever… it’s got to be more interesting than the current Jacob Ben Israel tomfoolery.

Returning to the original question of this post: Glee. Good for the Jews? I have to make a small confession. The truth is, I don’t really care. Please don’t hate me.

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ck

Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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23 Comments

  1. Dan

    10/3/2010 at 8:23 am

    I agree with you, there are problems with Jacob Ben Israel. Let’s start with the name: Jacob son of Israel– sounds like the stock character of a Nazi propaganda flick. In a show dedicated to accepting everyone, whatever their background, he seems to be the one truly vile person with no redeeming qualities. Even Rachel is disgusted by his physicality. Ultimately I think he’s a result of the creators not wanting to come across as too sympathetic to Jews with Rachel as the protagonist. But I would think her flaws, as well as Puck’s, would be enough to satisfy those concerns. Instead, they throw in this Jewish ‘step’n fetch it.’ I’ve loved Glee so far but this issue has really begun to bug me over the last couple of episodes. Thanks for noticing it.

  2. themiddle

    10/3/2010 at 8:49 am

    Yeah, but apparently this sort of depiction of Jews is good for business.

  3. nettie feldman

    10/3/2010 at 11:16 am

    And maybe the name Puck, from Shakespeare, is a thinly veiled reference to the “shrewd [read Jewish] and knavish sprite.

    Does it really matter? And while we’re on the subject of Jewish, what about the curious fact that in the Big Bang Theory, only one of the geeks is Jewish and is portrayed as a sex fiend? Or all the lawyer shows, and hardly a Jew to be found?

    And I thought Chelsea Clinton was starting a Jewish appreciation trend!

  4. larry

    10/3/2010 at 2:40 pm

    without a doubt, this was the best post in 5771 and perhaps 2010!

  5. themiddle

    10/3/2010 at 3:38 pm

    Hey!!

  6. ck

    10/3/2010 at 9:42 pm

    tm don’t take it badly. It’s just that larry has the hots for anything related to Hadassah.

  7. Tiff

    10/4/2010 at 8:35 am

    Ah Glee…this was my least favorite episode. I’m glad you put it into words…

  8. themicah

    10/4/2010 at 2:16 pm

    The Simchat Torah/Schindler’s List thing (you left out the part about the Puckerman family eating pork from the Chinese restaurant as part of their Simchat Torah/Schindler’s List ritual) was a brilliant commentary on how Holocaustism has supplanted Judaism as the basis of many American Jews’ identities.

    And while I haven’t seen this particular episode, the description here of Jacob Ben Israel seems an awful lot like a caricature of a certain guy I knew in college, right down to the Jewfro, high pitched voice and the son-of-a-patriarch surname (although I’m not aware of any public self-pleasuring stories). I wonder if one of the writers went to high school with him or something…

  9. Dan

    10/4/2010 at 7:15 pm

    @themicah Jewish identity is fluid and it always has been. Absolutely nothing wrong with Holocaust awareness and to stigmatize it with the term “Holocaustism” seems gratuitous to me.
    As to Jacob ben Israel, the keyword in your post is “caricature.” The point is, none of the other characters in Glee are caricatures, they are three dimensional.

  10. Tiff

    10/5/2010 at 9:57 am

    All of the characters on Glee are caricatures.

  11. Dan

    10/5/2010 at 11:05 am

    All the characters on Glee have a mix of positive and negative attributes, except for Jacob ben Israel. He is depicted as wholly vile without one appealing trait. Even the villain of the piece, Sue Sylvester, is shown to be deeply empathic toward the mentally challenged, due to her experience with her sister. Jacob ben Israel has thus far been granted no such humanity.

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  13. Tiff

    10/6/2010 at 9:33 am

    What about his Jew-Cloud? That’s appealing!

  14. Stella

    10/6/2010 at 10:52 am

    I agree that everyone on the show is a stereotype and the Jewish characters on “Glee” reflect challenges that Jewish people face today: a lack of interest in heritage, ignorance about customs and traditions, overwhelming assimilation, separation in families, and so forth. I feel they all tend to bring out the worst in Jews and even self-hating ignorant Jews at times.

    Rachel’s belting “Yentl” prayer for a colleague’s father in the hospital just proves the obvious: there are no atheists in the foxholes. But do people dare to count their blessings when things go right?

    Puck does whatever he thinks feels right (he’ll tolerate a one-time visit to Temple) especially when it comes to food, girls, and football. Rachel is a hypocrite. She wants to be open to everyone and everything while insisting her kids will be raised with a Jewish identity. Jacob is as close to a schmuck as you can tolerate. Fictional Jews don’t have be saintly as Sir Walter Scott’s Rebbecca from “Ivanhoe” but surely this show could do better with these 3 characters.

    But you’re right, it’s not worth getting worked up over. This is meant to be a light-hearted show crammed with pop songs and the love of Lady Gaga and Madonna. It’s not broadcasting moral messages everywhere. But if Puck and Rachel are able to squeeze time for Glee club into their busy schedules then why don’t they also get in touch with NSCY, Aish, or Birthright?

  15. themicah

    10/6/2010 at 3:38 pm

    @Dan: There is a difference between Holocaust awareness and Holocaustism. I agree it’s important to learn about the Shoah. I went on the March of the Living as a teenager, for example, and generally consider it to have been a powerful, positive experience.

    Holocaustism, on the other hand, is practically a religion unto itself. It’s a Jewish identity based on an almost perverse obsession with the Holocaust and victimhood, and a lack of interest in the myriad positive aspects of Judaism and Jewish identity.

    Had the Puckerman family developed a tradition of watching Schindler’s List on Yom Hashoah to “make them feel more Jewish” (as Puck explains his mother’s ritual), the scene might have veered into self-hating territory. But by making it a Simchat Torah ritual (of all holidays), they were clearly mocking Holocaustism and not Holocaust awareness, and doing it in their trademark, wink-wink over-the-top style.

    Oh, and pretty much every character on Glee is a one-dimensional caricature, or perhaps a slightly ironic mash-up of two one-dimensional caricatures. The cheerleaders are ALWAYS in their uniforms, for example. The writers occasionally introduce some new struggle or twist to a character’s personality that adds a little depth to a character, but even that is usually superficial.

  16. dahlia

    10/6/2010 at 11:31 pm

    regarding the Puck Jewish bit, as a side note, i’m fairly certain that the ritual described is a Yom Kippur thing, not Simchat Torah.
    But great article ck!

  17. ck

    10/7/2010 at 4:03 am

    Sorry dear, my research is rock solid. It was Simchas Torah. That having been said, when do I get to see you??? I have a piece of paper here saying someone’s gonna be in the custody of a certain armed force quite soon!! Gah!

  18. Modern Girl

    10/12/2010 at 2:39 pm

    Excellent post. Any thoughts about the Season 2 Episode 3 that was more heavily concentrated on faith? I liked Finn’s endorsement of “the hats and that salty orange stuff on bagels.”

  19. grandmuffti

    10/13/2010 at 3:24 pm

    Is it just Muffti or does the guy in the graphic at the top of this post look just like Eli Valley?

  20. reality time

    9/28/2012 at 11:35 pm

    There are 180 Jews TOTAL in Lima Ohio.
    This show is so unrealistic it is pathetic!

  21. glee suck

    4/3/2013 at 12:58 pm

    lol, who can watch that Jewfest anyways. bunch of gay wierdos!

  22. glee123

    12/25/2013 at 3:17 pm

    i dont know i think there are just too many jewish references in general. I mean its soo obvious that the writers are jewish. Not saying its bad but if some one was non-jew (Christan, Muslim, whateverr) then its pretty much up in their face, idk thats what my friend was telling me and i kinda noticed it too

  23. notajew

    12/18/2016 at 8:36 pm

    I agree! Way too many jews it’s ridculous!

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