Life & Culture

What is 'Jewish Lightning'? and is it an antisemitic term?

The term was referenced in a recent episode of the hit Hulu show The Bear


The Bear, a TV show set in Chicago, and depicting the lives of a rag-tag bunch of chefs trying to save their restaurant, became an instant hit when it debuted in the summer of 2022.

Starring Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri and Canadian chef-turned-actor Matty Matheson, the Bear's gritty underworld of gambling debts, gangster turf wars and failed health inspections is far from politically correct.

In the first episode of the newly released second series of the show, one of the main characters, Richie, played by Jewish actor Ebon Moss Bachrach uses the term "Jewish lightning" to describe damage to the restaurant caused by an insurance scam.

In this context, "Jewish Lightning" refers to deliberately burning down a property or business to collect the insurance payout.

In the scene, the staff of the restaurant is discussing ways to pass a gas safety examination, when Ayo Edebiri's character Sydney accidentally puts her hand through a hole in a wall covered up by a baseball poster.

Richie, then explains that the hole was originally made in a failed case of "Jewish Lightning."

The American Jewish Committee describes "Jewish Lightning" as a slur rooted in the stereotype of Jews as stingy business owners. In a dictionary on their website, the AJC say: "The faulty reasoning argues that because Jews love money and are unwilling to spend it, they will commit insurance fraud."

It's not clear where the term originated, but its use has been widely documented for decades. In 2019, when the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burned down, some people on social media accused the owners of orchestrating "Jewish Lightning" on the historic building.

In The Bear, the problematic nature of the term is recognised, with other characters in the scene imploring Richie to stop calling insurance fraud the antisemitic term.

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