Life & Culture

How Jewish is Jack Black?

The comedian, actor and musician has a proud connection to his faith


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 01: Jack Black attends a Special Screening of Universal Pictures' "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" at Regal LA Live on April 01, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Jack Black is a comedian, actor and musician best known for starring in the films School of Rock, King Kong, Gulliver’s Travels, Kung Fu Panda and Jumanji. He is also the lead vocalist for the rock band Tenacious D.

Born in California in 1969, his birthname was Thomas Jacob Black. His mother Judith Love Cohen was an impressive ballerina-turned-scientist who worked on the nuclear missile guidance system Minuteman, the Apollo lunar module guidance system and the ground station for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Jack was the product of her second marriage and he had three half-siblings. When she retired from science, she set up a publishing company with her third husband creating books to get young girls interested in science.

Jack’s older brother Neil Siegel, also a scientist, later recalled how she worked almost until the very minute Jack was born. ‘She actually went to her office on the day Jack was born,’ he revealed. ‘When it was time to go to the hospital, she took with her a computer printout of the problem she was working on. Later that day, she called her boss and told him that she had solved the problem. And…oh yes…the baby was born too.’

His father Thomas Black, was also an engineer. Thomas was born a Protestant but converted to Judaism with Jack later saying: "It wasn’t just because he loved my mum but he was into Judaism but since they divorced, he is no longer a practicing Jew."

Jack was devastated when his half-brother Howard, a huge influence on his life and musical tastes, died when he was 21, aged just 31 of Aids. He later recalled: "Death didn’t happen quickly. We all saw the deterioration. He was only 31. So very young. We were robbed of something precious. It was hardest for my mum when we lost Howard. She’s never really recovered."


He had a Jewish upbringing but said he was pleased that part of his education finished when he’d done his bar mitzvah. "It was a celebration because I no longer had to go to Hebrew school," he joked on the H3 podcast. "I got my bar mitzvah and then I bailed on the whole enterprise."

He struggled with his parents' divorce when he was just 10 – and moving between his parents’ new homes - and was taking drugs by the age of 14. He ended up going to Poseidon School, a private secondary designed for students struggling with traditional school.

While there, he found some solace with a school therapist, telling Parade magazine: ‘Being raised a Jew, I didn’t have any kind of confessional. I couldn’t talk to my parents about the things I was most guilty about.

"I spilled my guts [to the therapist], telling him I felt guilty about stealing from my mom to get money for cocaine. I cried like a baby. It was a huge release and a huge relief. It changed me."

Drama was something he excelled in from a young age and he quit his degree at UCLA when he started getting more and more work although it wasn’t until his scene-stealing part in the film High Fidelity that he became a household name and leading man.

Black describes himself as an atheist Jew but is proud of his heritage and sent his two children to a Jewish nursery revealing, hilariously, in a 2012 interview with Conan O’Brien how he sang the Passover song Chad Gadya. In the same interview, he said the family used his wife’s grandfather’s Haggadah for their Passover seders. He's also married to Jewish American artist Tanya Haden Black.

He later released a video of him singing Chad Gadya which he calls ‘the original heavy metal song’ adding: ‘I was obsessed with the Angel of Death. It was very Black Sabbath’.

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