Torah from Simpsons

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

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There are other in-jokes that were obviously written by Jews for other Jews. A casino boat travels from Springfield beyond the territorial limit to allow activities forbidden by U.S. law. In a fleeting shot, a man in a tuxedo, under a canopy, is seen marrying a cow in what is clearly a Jewish wedding ceremony--then the groom smashes with his foot a glass wrapped in a napkin.

The Jewish content of The Simpsons inspired one fan, Brian Rosman, a health policy researcher at a Brandeis University think tank, to create a website that features still shots from the episode "Like Father, Like Clown" under the heading, "Jewish Life in Springfield."

Rosman believes that: "The Simpsons does the funniest, most authentic parodies of Jewish life among all the comedy shows on TV, certainly compared to shows that are considered more 'Jewish,' like Seinfeld. The Simpsons demonstrates a more intuitive understanding of American Jewish history, Jewish reli­gion and culture, and Judaism's place among all the other varieties of belief and identity in America. I only wish there was more Jewish con­tent on the show, because when they do it, they do it very well."

Crypto-Jewish Springfield

Actually, there may be more than Rosman realizes. Apart from Krusty, The Simpsons from time to time suggests an underlying element of what might be called "crypto-Judaism." In one of the opening chalkboard sequences, Bart writes, "I am not the reincarnation of Sammy Davis Jr." While watching the "Rapping Rabbis" on television, Homer asks Marge, "Are we Jewish?" Sight gags in the series also extend this conceit. A meno­rah--the Hanukkah candelabra--is seen in the Simpsons' family storage closet, without comment on how or why it got there.

Several other char­acters in the show, ostensibly not Jewish, can be read by their names and their view of life as otherwise distinctly Jewish: Homer's father, Abe, and Marge's twin sisters, Selma and Patty Bouvier.

In manner and disposition, Abe, a child immigrant from "the old country," is every alte kocker (old fart) sitting around a swimming pool in Miami Beach, complaining about his declining health and the ungrateful younger generation. His absent wife, Penelope Olsen, Homer's mother, is a '60s radical and free spirit whose anti-germ warfare activities forced her underground for 25 years. Her Scandinavian name notwithstanding, she could be Jewish; she fits the profile.

The Bouvier sisters are also familiar types: sharp-tongued unmarried aunts and sisters-in-law, their dialogue taken directly from the late Selma Diamond or Fran Leibowitz or Sandra Bernhard. And accord­ing to Matt Groening's The Simpsons Uncensored Family Album, Mont­gomery Burns's sister, Cornelia, has five grandsons named Bernstein: David, Levi, Moshe, Murray, and Saul.

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Mark I. Pinsky

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