Torah from Simpsons

Jews & Judaism pervade this animated sitcom and its fictional town of Springfield.

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Related problems facing modern American Jewry in such towns--assimilation and how to fit into an overwhelmingly Christian society--are raised in various ways in The Simpsons. Thus, we learn that Kent Brockman, the local television news anchor and member of Spring­field Community Church, started his broadcasting career as Kenny Brockelstein and still wears a pendant around his neck with the Hebrew word chai (life).

This environment gives rise to a kind of unconscious anti-Semitism. For example, Lovejoy keeps the rabbi's address and phone number on his "non-Christian Rolodex." At the elementary school, Principal Skinner is heard fielding an angry call from the superintendent. "I know Weinstein's parents were upset," he stammers. "But, but, ah, I was sure it was a phony excuse. I mean, it sounds so made-up: 'Yom Kip-pur." The Day of Atone­ment, the holiest day of the year for Jews, is completely unfamiliar to the school principal.

When Homer needs $50,000 for a heart bypass, he goes to the rabbi, pretending to be Jewish in the only way he knows how. "Now, I know I haven't been the best Jew, but I have rented Fiddler on the Roof and I will watch it," he says. All he gets from the rabbi is a dreidel. In another episode, while visiting New York City, Homer mis­takes several Hasidic rabbis--black-clad and bearded--for the Texas rock group ZZ Top, who favor the same attire plus sunglasses. Finally, Bart works a sympathy scam in the shopping mall wearing a yarmulke, pre­tending that his bar mitzvah cake has just been smashed.

Krusty the Jewish Clown

Just as Ned Flanders and Reverend Lovejoy embody Protestant Chris­tianity on The Simpsons, the character Krusty the Clown represents the Jews. The host of a popular children's show on the local television station, Krusty was introduced during the 1989-1990 season in a short for The Tracey Ullman Show. Series creator Matt Groening, who wrote the episode, said in an interview that Krusty came as "a sudden inspiration on the part of a couple of writers" for the show....

Krusty's show on The Simpsons features live gags and routines before an audience of kids, along with violent cartoons starring a cat and mouse named Itchy and Scratchy. And Krusty is Jewish, very Jewish. His picture forms a stylized Jewish star on his dressing room door. Yet Dalton, Mazur, and Siems, in their book God in the Details, see Krusty as "a gross caricature of a stereotypical secularized Jew corrupted by wealth and fame" who "dislikes children (and) finances his lavish debt-ridden lifestyle by over-marketing his own image unabashedly."...

Yiddish expressions, usually voiced by Krusty, abound: tucchus (butt) and yutz (empty head), plotz (burst), bupkes (nothing), ferkakteh (execrable), schlemiel (bungler), and schmutz (mess). The clown refers to his long-lost daughter as "my lucky little hamentaschen," a reference to triangular pastry eaten on the holiday of Purim. Other Yiddish words and puns and double entendres also pop up. Springfield's miniature golf course is sometimes (but not always) called "Sir Putts-a-Lot." The Yiddish word putz means penis. Krusty's middle name is "Schmoikel," which sounds like the diminutive of another Yiddish term for penis.

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Mark I. Pinsky

Mark I. Pinsky is the religion reporter for The Orlando Sentinel.