Torah from Simpsons

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

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Reprinted with permission from The Gospel According to The Simpsons (Westminster John Knox Press).

The many jokes squeezed into each episode of The Simpsons weave together two distinct strands of humor: On the one hand, the snarky, icon­oclastic nastiness embodied by Harvard Universty's Lampoon magazine; and on the other, the dark, rapid-fire, angst of Borscht Belt tummlers ("roisterers") and shpritzers ("sprayers") such as Lenny Bruce and Don Rickles.

None is more typical of this Jewish strain of humor than the exchange between Bart's friend Milhouse and Lisa in the Exodus segment of the episode, "Simpson Bible Stories." In this dream sequence, Milhouse is Moses. He has just led the Israelite slaves across the Red Sea, only to learn that what lies ahead is 40 years of wandering in the desert. But after that, he asks Lisa hopefully, "it's clear sailing for the Jews, isn't that right?" Lisa, unwilling to break the news of what the next 3,000 years holds for the Chosen People, smiles tightly and says, "Well, more or less."jewish humor quiz

Jewish Springfield

There is an Orthodox synagogue in town, with the improbable name of Temple Beth Springfield, located not far from Rev­erend Lovejoy's First Church of Springfield. The two houses of worship are so close, in fact, that once the church marquee carried the decidedly non-ecumenical message: "No Synagogue Parking."

Otherwise, relations between Lovejoy and Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky are cordial. The rabbi, bearded and dressed in the black garb of the Hasidim, is a regular on the minister's weekly call-in radio show, "Gabbin' about God." Ortho­dox rabbis are often wary of such interfaith dialogues, but Krustofsky does not conform to this stereotype. According to The Simpsons' Guide to Springfield, the rabbi plays basketball against Lovejoy in the annual "Springfield Two-Man Interfaith Jimmy Jam." Each Friday, according to the same guide, the synagogue offers a regular Friday Sabbath dinner that includes gefilte fish and Manischewitz wine....

Jewish references thread through The Simpsons, and they sometimes reinforce stereotypes. The local Jewish hospital is considered the best, if the most pricey, according to an ambulance driver. An unnamed Jewish child can be seen in an occasional suburban crowd scene, called in from the playground to practice his music.

There is still an "old neighborhood" downtown, Springfield's Lower East Side, where Jews lived before mov­ing to the suburbs. This is where Krustofsky's synagogue is located and where visitors can dine at restaurants such as Tannen's Fatty Meats and Izzy's Deli. In real life, if there were enough Jews in Springfield, the syn­agogue would have followed the migration from the urban center to the suburbs, the pattern in most American cities of any size. Thus, the town's small Jewish community is marginalized and often misunderstood in ways that are still common in small Protestant communities in the Americanheartland.

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Mark I. Pinsky

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