Last year, I published an article in The Washington Post in which I suggested that people ought to cease comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler because to do so, in my opinion, belittled Hitler.
At least Hitler, I wrote, had a point of view. Trump, I wrote, is just a con man.
Not surprisingly, I heard from quite a few angry neo-Nazis who told me that I was “nothing but a dirty Jew”. I also heard from quite a few angry Jews who told me I was “a no-good Nazi.” It was quite the conundrum. Which was it? Was I a Jew or a Nazi?
I’ll be honest: I went with “Jew”. I have a problem with authority, which is probably a deal-breaker if you’re going with the whole fascism thing. But my identity troubles were far from over, as a number of the Jewish emailers posed a seemingly simple question which complicated the matter even further:
“What kind of a Jew are you,” they asked.
That was a tough one.
What kind of a Jew am I?
The unspoken answer to their question was obviously, “Bad.” I am a Bad Jew. They, of course, are Good Jews.
But bad how? Bad spiritually, bad morally, bad-for-the-Jews bad?
At least the Nazis had been slightly more specific.
I was, according to them, a Dirty Jew.
But dirty how? Physically dirty, sexually dirty, spiritually dirty?
It occurred to me that some sort of a list would be helpful. A Jew Type List. Something to help both Nazis and Jews hone their accusations a bit more pointedly. Specificity is so important in these matters, or we’ll never know who exactly we’re feeling superior to. And so I turned, as I often do, to books. Literature provided me with some Jew types, but not all. Film provided a few more, and TV filled in the blanks.
In the end, I identified 10 types of Jew that appear in culture. The choices are entirely personal, mostly male (as am I, mostly) and I’m certain there are others. I present them here in no particular order, other than beginning with my most hated Jew Type and ending with my most beloved. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start, and if nothing else, perhaps the “Dirty Jew” Nazis (see Jew Type 5 and Jew Type 8) and “Good Jew” Jews (see Jew Type 6) who raised the original question will read this, sense that I am mocking them, and become annoyed (see Jew Type 10).
TYPE 1: The Jesse Eisenberg
l Of all the Jew Types, this is the one I hate the most. The dreaded, loathsome Type 1 Jew. The Jesse Eisenberg. Fast-talking, moderately intelligent, but whose most salient characteristic is a completely unwarranted arrogance and an utterly baseless superiority.
What makes the Type 1 Jesse Eisenberg so irritating is that the very characteristics that make him so hateful are the very one he prides himself upon:
In fiction, Type 1s are often presented as bookish heroes, as lovable super-nerds whose intellect saves the day and wins the girl. No, really. They are, I’m serious.
As I’m sure the Anti-Defamation League will tell you, incidences of antisemitism have gone up in recent years, not just in the US but around the world. They blame Islamic fundamentalism, but they’re wrong.
It’s The Jesse Eisenberg.
TYPE 2: The Nathan Lane
Type 2 Jews are the most oppressed Jews of all, since they are hated by Jews and non-Jews alike. It’s bad enough they’re Jews, but they’re also gay.
At a certain point, though, oppression from without gives way to acceptance from within, and Type 2 Jews don’t give a damn what you or anybody else thinks. It’s glorious, actually, like watching geysers erupt, freeing themselves from the prison of Earth and exploding for just a moment as Themselves. They’re joyful rebels.
They’ve decided to love themselves in the face of hatred. If there is a God, and if he has a thing for Jews, these Jews, I imagine, are his favourites —revelling in life and the wonders of Being, while the rest of their people sit in temples and beg forgiveness for enjoying the very world He gave us.
TYPE 3: The Franz Kafka
The sickly, scared sufferer. The wuss. The Jew who takes it. The flat-footed, flinching Franz, both the writer and his protagonists.
Mort, from Family Guy.
Jews Who Take It.
Along with the Type 9 Jew, this is one of the most common Jews in fiction. The odd thing about the Type 3 Jew — and this is coming from an avowed Kafka fan — is that though I’ve seen them in fiction, I’ve never actually met one. The Jews I’ve known are often the total opposite (see Type 4 below). Jews fight. Always. Over nothing. Jews fight with Jews, we fight with Gentiles, we fight at the Shabbos table, we fight at Barmitzvahs, we fight with politicians, we fight with everyone. You fart in a Jew’s direction and an hour later we’re marching on Washington.
And I’m not just talking about secular Jews. Chassidim are insane, and every other Jew knows it; if you’ve ever gotten into a fight with a Chasid, you know what I’m talking about. You never fight with one Chasid, there’s always a thousand of them chasing you down the street, throwing rocks and shouting in Yiddish.
So I know the Type 3 Jew well, but he seems to me a sort of a relic. In my own admittedly modern experience, I’m more familiar with the Type 4 Jew: The Samson.
TYPE 4: The Samson
Tough Jews, working Jews, farmer Jews, builder Jews. Isaac Babel wrote of these Jews. Jews who worked hard, Jews with thick hands and rough fingers. Lower East Side Jews. Boxer Jews. Casino Boss Jews. Oddly, it’s a type of Jew other Jews seem uncomfortable with. Moses was punished for hitting; Samson died beneath a pile of rubble; the Golem was chased and turned to dust.
In narrative fiction — I include the Bible here — their power tends to corrupt (King David) or destroy them (Samson), or they suffer other “goyish” problems along with their “goyish” strength (the alcoholic, abusive father in Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep).
Type 4 Jews, alas, are a rarity in modern fiction. There’s Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds, and Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, but both are comedic precisely because they’re so “not Jewish”. In America, more often than not, the Type 4 Jew has been replaced by the Type 5.
TYPE 5: The Mickey Sabbath
The inverse of the Jesse Eisenberg, and possibly a reaction to it. The protagonist of Philip Roth’s freest, wildest work, Sabbath’s Theater. Lustful, wanton, overwhelmed by desire, the Type 5 Jew is somewhat obsessed with his or her own genitals, trying to find meaning in their success and/or failure. They f***, therefore they are. I was surprised when I left the Jewish community that the non-Jewish friends I made were so interested in meeting Jewish girls. I assumed it had to do with money.
“No, no,” I was told with a wink. “Jewish girls f***, man. Everyone knows that.”
I didn’t want to tell them that hadn’t been my experience — quite the opposite, in fact—but I was just relieved it wasn’t the money thing (see Type 8).
When I was younger, the Mickey Sabbath comforted me. The Penthouse letters I had read seemed to include every race and religion but my own—“Dear Penthouse; Shabbos was just ending…” and it was a relief to know that Jews had desires as well. Now, though, as an adult, I find the Type 5 almost cautionary —“Give in to these desires, young man, and you will surely drown in them”— which is ironic given that the impetus for writing these characters was no doubt a reaction to repression, but the warning they contain is one with which the repressors would wholeheartedly agree.
TYPE 6: The GJB
l The Good Jewish Boy. A mythical beast (and the myth responsible for many Type 3s and Type 5s), the Type 6 Jew is a purely fictional character created by suffocating Jewish parents for whom their child’s obedience was more important than their happiness. That’s my theory, anyway.
The Jewish version of The Stepford Wives, the GJB is observant, servile, incorruptible and utterly innocent. He loves his mother, respects his father, prays to his god and has no genitalia.
When he desires women, it is because they keep a kosher kitchen. Found almost exclusively in Jewish children’s books, Orthodox Haggadahs, songs by the Miami Boys Choir and the twisted imaginations of eternally disappointed Jewish mothers. Interestingly, many GJBs, or those who aim to be, wind up being horrible people, eg Benjamin Netanyahu (the model Israeli GJB, who never met a non-Jew he didn’t want to bomb).
TYPE 7: The Amy Winehouse, or BJG
l I don’t know why this isn’t discussed more, but the biblical matriarchs always struck me as the real bad-asses of the Old Testament. While their husbands were running around trying to please God or save their own necks, Girlfriend was causing trouble. Sarah laughed in God’s face. Eve got Adam to eat her “apple”. Rebecca, tricking blind old Isaac into blessing Jacob. Lot’s wife, looking back when she was told not to.
Biblical women were a handful—Bad-ass Jewish Girls—and I loved them for it. The rabbis told me the men were the heroes, but it was a hard sell I never bought. You mean the man trying to slit his son’s throat, or the one out gathering foreskins, or the one saying, “My wife? No, she’s not my wife, of course you can have sex with her.” Those heroes?
The most glorious iteration of the BJG is Amy Winehouse. Naomi Klein also fits this type, as well as Kathy Acker, and, fictionally speaking, Allison Portchnik from Annie Hall. Annie was interesting, but Allison was the one for me.
When Type 7s die and the Jewish community begins to argue that in hindsight, she or he was actually a GJB (Type 6, above), with strong ties to their Jewish roots. Please stop doing that.
They’ve all but turned Kafka into a yeshiva bocher by now, who wrote Metamorphosis right after Havdalah, as a metaphor for how bad he felt when Shabbos was over. What will they say about poor Amy Winehouse in 10 years? That she died from a kugel overdose?
TYPE 8: The Shylock
Every so often, I have what I call a “Please don’t be a Jew” moment. This is when I hear of someone doing something utterly despicable, and all I can think is “Please don’t be a Jew, please don’t be a Jew, please don’t be a Jew…” and then the person telling me the story says, for example, “Bernie Madoff, he’s a Jew,” and I wince. Much of this comes from my own awareness of the Type 8 Jew, the Shylock, or, if you’re in a less Elizabethan mood, the Fagin, or, if you’re in a more American mood, the Sammy Glick, characters who embody every antisemitic trope.
So f*** you, Shakespeare, and f*** you Dickens, and f*** you Schulberg. It’s because of the prevalence of the Type 8, and my fear of being one, that I over-tip at restaurants. I never haggle over prices, not with cars, not with anything. I can drop a five-dollar bill on the floor and won’t pick it up, for fear of someone seeing a Type 8 Jew chasing money.
My most recent “Please don’t be a Jew” moment, incidentally, came when I heard a crass, rich, loudmouthed boor was running for President.
“Is Trump Jewish?” I asked.
“You sure? Not even a little?”
“No, no — he hates Jews.”
“His son-in-law is, though. Jared Kushner”
TYPE 9: The Herschel Krustofsky
I was speaking with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman once, and he was describing the ordeal of playing Willy Loman on Broadway. The role, he said, was so emotional, so painful, so searing, that it exhausted him in every way. My reaction, if I remember correctly, was, “Oh, f*** Arthur Miller.”
I don’t admire tragedy. I don’t hold it in any great esteem to be able to make people cry. I wake up feeling tragic, Arthur. The challenge is not weeping, it’s laughing. It’s looking into Nietzsche’s abyss and saying, “I think someone farted.” It’s laughing at death because crying is easy. Thus, the Type 8 Jew.
The Alvy Singer. The Joseph Heller. The Sid Caesar. The Mel Brooks.
Jews and comedy go back a long way. Perhaps it comes from having an abusive Parent in the sky, and needing to recover.
Or perhaps, as Voltaire once said, “God is a comedian telling jokes to a room full of people who are too afraid to laugh.” And the Type 9 Jew is the guy in the back, laughing his ass off.
TYPE 10: The Bugs Bunny
My favourite Jew of all, fictional and non-fictional. First of all, yes — Bugs Bunny is a Jew. How do I know? Well, he’s smart, he’s from New York City, and someone is always chasing him with a gun. He also has a tendency to declare war, and he doesn’t like pigs. And most of all, Bugs Bunny was a troublemaker. A shit-stirrer. A Type 10 Jew, the best Jew of all. Like Bugs Bunny, the Type 10 Jew had a complete disdain for authority. If everyone else believes it, it’s probably wrong. He questions, incessantly, that which others hold dear. Abraham, our forefather, was a Type 10 Jew when he smashed his father’s idols and ran away from home (this was before he lost his mind and tried murdering his son). Moses was a Type 10 Jew, too — not just telling Pharaoh to piss off, but telling God to find someone else to lead the crazy Jews across the desert. The Jewish tradition of trouble-making is a long and noble one that runs from Abraham, through history, right to Lenny Bruce and Jon Stewart.
My experience with the Orthodox Judaism with which I was raised was almost entirely negative. But within that, there emerged this thin but stubborn tradition of shit-stirring that has inspired me, and comforted me, and it’s the one thing about Judaism I teach my sons.
Make trouble, kids. It’s in your blood.
So then: what kind of a Jew am I? Well, obviously I’m a Type 10, with a strong streak of Type 5, who despite it all, feels guilty about not being a Type 6 which I try to hide by being a Type 9.
I hope that clears things up.