The Jews of “Glee”

imagesA ruthless high school vocalist who will do anything to become a star, with a flighty over-dramatic moody side that gets her into constant boy trouble. A jerk of a varsity football player, whose well-hidden conscience only pesters him briefly between womanizing jags and throwing dweebs into dumpsters with his meathead buddies.

These, you call Jewish TV show characters?

250px-rachel_berrySo far as I can tell — and I’ve only been a fan of “Glee” for the past few months — the extent of the Jewish character content on the show is limited to elements like these: 1. Rachel Berry‘s got a rabbi she wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about sex to. 2. Noah “Puck” Puckerman‘s mom won’t let his live-in pregnant ex-girlfriend bring bacon into the house. 3. One of the cheerleaders tells Rachel she should move out of town — to Israel. 4. Puck tries to get into the pants of the newest popular girl in school, an African-American girl, by telling her “Jews and Blacks have a history of helping each other out.”

No bagels, no lox, no awkward Woody Allen neuroses (other than the high school kind), no outsider perspective (do Rachel’s two gay dads count?), no shysterism, no intellectualism, no kink, no classic Jewish stereotypical tropes.

Does this mean Jews really are so “white” in America now that being a Jew isn’t enough of an identity to set a TV character apart anymore? That random quick throw-away references to real Jewish culture (as opposed to stereotypes) are an easy way to spice up a figure who’s really just a generic Jock or Theater Star archetype, anyway?

200px-noah_puckermanIs there anything distinctively Jewish to the characters of Rachel or Puck that might say something about newer stereotypes of Jewish Americans? Maybe Puck is a tough-guy Sabra, or Rachel’s interracial, queer family is a reflection of Jewish social progressivism. At least they both have Mediterranean features — one point for non-Ashkenazi visibility?

And what to make of the characters named Artie Abrams (“the wheelchair guy”) and Tina Cohen-Chang (“the Asian punk-goth girl”)?

This is clearly not a serious sociological analysis. But like a good Jewish boy, I notice these things and start to wonder. You are invited to gleek out in the comments. Comments on multi-focal post-modern identity are encouraged to be written in verse.

7 Responses to “The Jews of “Glee””

  1. Oh, you missed Puck’s mother weeping during Schindler’s List and telling him, “You’re just like them!” for only bringing home shiksas.

    autrement qu'etre · May 14th, 2010 at 1:16 pm
  2. Haven’t seen Glee, but this reminds me of Willow’s character in Buffy – aside from a couple of references to dreidel and her father not being cool with a cross in his daughter’s bedroom, Willow seems basically unmarked white. (Of course, I stopped watching the show halfway through season five, so maybe there’s some scene in a mikveh or something that I don’t know about.)

    Of course, until I really got revved up about Jewishness in college, I saw myself as the same way – I was only really Jewish when I had a reason to mention it to someone. I think these character portrayals are pretty accurate for a lot of young Jews.

    Julie · May 14th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
  3. Or Dolph from The Simpsons!

    BZ · May 14th, 2010 at 3:32 pm
  4. No bagels, no lox, no ackward Woody Allen neuroses (other than the high school kind), no outsider perspective (do Rachel’s two gay dads count?), no shysterism, no intellectualism, no kink, no classic Jewish stereotypical tropes.


    The entire show is about being the other, trying to fit in and trying to balance one’s identity with that of the group while signing fabulous (and horrible) music all at the same time.

    There was another post on Jspot this week about Jews being the new WASPs. This is just so untrue it hurts my head. Anyone who lives outside of NYC, Chicago or LA (not that far outside of those places either) will tell you that Jews are not the new WASPs. Fine we have money and power but there is no way after we expose our last names, lack of bacon eating (for those that keep the Kosher) and need for a few days off of work in the early Fall months that Jews are the same as WASPs. Sorry.

    However, at the same time, the effects of the ethnic awakening over the past three generations have put Jews and other “others” into the main stream in a way that this outsider problem has become a quality.

    With all of this said, can’t we just be thankful that there is a show on TV that shows Jews to be normal? You know kids with egos and hurt feelings and football scholarships and good voices and striking good looks are Jews. We are different, but we are simply people, like WASPs but with fewer yachts.

    dcc · May 14th, 2010 at 4:14 pm
  5. I want to see a Jew on the show who is struggling with himself over whether to start wearing a kippa to high school.

    Anonymouse · May 14th, 2010 at 6:39 pm
  6. at one point the glee kids were divided into two groups, in which the minorities (the wheelchair-bound kid, the asians, the black girl, and the gay kid) were in one group and the white people in the other.

    puck and rachel were filed in the non-minority group the other two vanilla-white students (Finn and Quinn), even though by that point they had both been identified as Jewish. i found this fascinating–it is clear that Jews are seen as white in the US today, which was not always the case.

    ben · May 16th, 2010 at 2:09 am
  7. this tv show is going to be around for a long time and Im so happy i found a place that always has every episode available

    Deane Schatt · June 8th, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Leave a Reply

If your comment does not immediately appear, do not freak out and repost your message a dozen times. Please note that all new visitors must have their first comment approved by the editor, and you must provide a legitimate e-mail address and use the same username for the system to "remember" you. The editor maintains the right to refuse comments deemed inappropriate or unhelpful. Users who repeatedly delve into ad hominem attacks or other troll-like behavior will be banned.

Trackback (Right-click & 'Copy Link...') | Comments RSS

"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik