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Old May 21st, 2012 #1
Karl Radl
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Default Was Elvis Presley Jewish?

Was Elvis Presley Jewish?


Recently the argument that Elvis Presley; the icon of twentieth century popular music, was jewish has been brought once again to my attention. I had previously believed that the idea of Elvis' being jewish rested on some actual evidence (as it is so often repeated). However; although I am not a fan of Elvis and as such I have no particular care as to whether he is jewish or not, I am delighted to say that I have been able to reprise that belief upon a little bit of checking.

The mention of Elvis' alleged jewishness does; as with so many historical canards that gain popular acceptance, originally date from a single biography of Elvis: that of Elaine Dundy in 1986. (1) This has been repeated by several sources, but notably by the website 'Elvis Australia' which reproduces the claim of maternal jewish ancestry (2) as does the so-called 'Jewish-American Hall of Fame' (3) without noting that it is not accepted as fact by Elvis biographers beyond Dundy. (4)

Even Dundy herself has subsequently repudiated her own earlier statement that Elvis was jewish (5) although this has not stopped her earlier work being cited without the necessary qualification that she has now updated her opinion and categorically stated that she took the statement of a third cousin as read without checking its evidential grounding. (6)

Given the fact that the only Presley biographer to assert Elvis' alleged jewishness has now corrected herself: we can now begin to see the claim that Elvis was of a maternal jewish line and therefore halakhically jewish collapsing.

I should also add that Elvis father certainly wasn't jewish either as; although the so-called 'Jewish-American Hall of Fame' doesn't discuss this possibility, it is possible to be halakhically jewish if your father is a member of the jewish priestly class (i.e. a member of the Kohanim or a Levite).

With Presley's father there is some controversy as to whether he was Scottish or German (7) although no author has; to my knowledge, actually acknowledged the fact that there was a significant colony of Scots in Silesia as well as in the Kingdom of Poland from the 17th century onward (which would neatly explain the apparently confusing documentary record). (8)

I would add that I do not think the author of the Elvis article in the so-called 'Jewish-American Hall of Fame' is actually jewish as they make a significant mistake that betrays their lack of knowledge of Judaism. For example the author of the piece on Elvis states that:

'According to rabbinic law, a Jew is defined as either a person born of a Jewish mother or one who has been converted to Judaism. Thus Elvis Presley was Jewish the old fashioned way – through maternal descent, while Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis Junior all converted.' (9)

This is superficially accurate to most people who aren't jewish and don't know much about Judaism: the assertion that a jew can be created by conversion (therefore concomitantly stating that Judaism is a confessional religion) and the assertion that a jew can only derived from the jewishness of the mother.

This is incorrect as a convert to Judaism cannot become an actual jew (an 'Israelite' in Halakhah) but is in fact relegated to being a grade lower than the born jew (with a jewish mother and/or a jewish father of the priestly class) as it is held that they are the soul of a jew (i.e. a pure soul) born in a non-jewish body (i.e. an impure vessel) rather the mamzerim (literally 'bastards' who are of comparable status to converts). Thus they will always be less pure than a born Israelite regardless of whether that born Israelite actually adheres to Judaism as his or her faith. (10) The only denomination that shirks this is definition is Reform and even then a born jew is still held in practice; although not so much in theory, to be a higher form of jew than the gentile convert to Judaism as the Mishnah and Gemara clearly state. (11)

So in other words Monroe et al would not be actual jews in Judaism, but rather they would merely be regarded as spiritual oddities housed in inferior beings.

This lack of knowledge of Judaism; as well as claiming that spelling 'Aron' as 'Aaron' is more 'Biblical' ('Aron' is the correct and tradition Hebrew derivation while 'Aaron' is a corruption of that based on how it would be said by a non-Hebrew speaker) indicating someone unfamiliar with Hebrew as well, leads us to the conclusion that the author of the piece on Elvis' jewishness is neither likely jewish or particularly conversant with anything to do with jews (as these are very basic mistakes).

So having dealt with the issue of Dundy and the so-called 'Jewish-American Hall of Fame': we can return to what little remains of the case for a jewish Elvis.

The most cited piece of evidence other than Dundy's; now repudiated, claim for Elvis' jewishness is the Magen Dovid ('Star of David') that adorns his mother's tomb in addition to (the 'Jewish-American Hall of Fame' photograph whitens this out apparently deliberately) a Christian cross. Now there is no reason to suggest that the presence of this symbol indicates any recognition of jewishness what-so-ever as we have no context to that dualistic use of the two symbols to suggest such a conclusion.

On the other hand Elvis' mother was a devout member of the Pentecostal movement: whose theology; according to Hocken, focuses on taking Christianity back to its jewish roots and stresses both the Old Testament (so that the New Testament may fulfill it) as well as the idea that Pentecostal Christianity is the true revival of the true ideas of Jesus as embodied by his earliest jewish disciples. (12)

This theology; that stresses the jewishness of the Christian gospels, can easily explain the presence of both symbols on Gladys Presley's grave without in any way suggesting that she was of jewish ancestry in much the same way that the Magen Dovid has frequently been used in Christian art and architecture, which on the same logic would indicate that all Christians are in reality biologically jewish which is clearly not the case.

Therefore we cannot use the Magen Dovid on Gladys grave as 'evidence' of her or Elvis' jewishness.

As Dundy has since repudiated her claims about Nancy Burdine (the crux of the jewish Elvis argument) being jewish I see no reason to go into Elvis' family tree other than to categorically state that there is absolutely no evidence (other than a bit of hearsay) that Elvis had any jewish ancestors what-so-ever.

Hat tip to Bev of VNN who did a lot the original digging that caused me to write this article.


References


(1) Elaine Dundy, 1986, 'Elvis and Gladys', 1st Edition, Dell: New York.
(2) http://www.elvis.com.au/presley/biog..._history.shtml
(3) http://www.amuseum.org/jahf/nominati...s_article.html
(4) http://www.interfaithfamily.com/arts...ngs_2011.shtml
(5) Elaine Dundy, 2004, 'Elvis and Gladys', 2nd Edition, University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, p. 21
(6) Ibid, pp. 20-22
(7) Walter Kamphoefner, 2010, 'Elvis and Other Germans: Some Reflections and Modest Reflections on the Study of German-American Ethnicity', p. 33 in Cora Kluge, 2010, 'Paths Crossing: Essays in German-American Studies', 1st Edition, Peter Lang: New York
(8) Eric Richards, 2004, 'Britannia's Children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland Since 1600', 1st Edition, Continuum: New York, p. 53
(9) http://www.amuseum.org/jahf/nominati...s_article.html
(10) Jacob Neusner, 2004, 'Making God's Word Work: A Guide to the Mishnah', 1st Edition, Continuum: New York, pp. 64-65
(11) Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 69a; 73
(12) Peter Hocken, 2009, 'The Challenges of the Pentecostal, Charismatic and Messianic Jewish Movements', 1st Edition, Ashgate: Farnham

----------------------


This was originally published at the following address: http://semiticcontroversies.blogspot...ey-jewish.html
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Old May 22nd, 2012 #2
George Mann
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Originally Posted by Karl Radl View Post

This is incorrect as a convert to Judaism cannot become an actual jew (an 'Israelite' in Halakhah) but is in fact relegated to being a grade lower than the born jew (with a jewish mother and/or a jewish father of the priestly class) as it is held that they are the soul of a jew (i.e. a pure soul) born in a non-jewish body (i.e. an impure vessel) rather the mamzerim (literally 'bastards' who are of comparable status to converts). Thus they will always be less pure than a born Israelite regardless of whether that born Israelite actually adheres to Judaism as his or her faith. (10) The only denomination that shirks this is definition is Reform and even then a born jew is still held in practice; although not so much in theory, to be a higher form of jew than the gentile convert to Judaism as the Mishnah and Gemara clearly state. (11)

So in other words Monroe et al would not be actual jews in Judaism, but rather they would merely be regarded as spiritual oddities housed in inferior beings.
Your conclusion on converts is largely incorrect. No mainstream Jewish denomination today regards converts to be in any way inferior.

I'm going to go as far as to say that sincere converts that have loyally gained the trust of the Jewish community have been held up as an example for Jews to follow.

There are of course a small group of individuals (mainly ultra-orthodox) that view some converts as being Jews in name only.
 
Old May 22nd, 2012 #3
Karl Radl
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Your conclusion on converts is largely incorrect. No mainstream Jewish denomination today regards converts to be in any way inferior.
Actually: it is completely correct. Orthodoxy (modern and traditional), the Hasidim, ultra-Orthodoxy, Conservatives and so forth all hold to the very specific injunctions in the Mishnah and the Gemara. I am not even going to bring up Rambam's or Caro's attitude to it. Even Schechter in 'Studies in Judaism' (you know the foundational document of Conservative Judaism) made it quite clear there was a distinction. That's of course unless you can demonstrate that Orthodoxy; the most populous jewish religion sect as far as I am aware, explicitly rejects the rulings of the Mishnah (on which all its halakahic interpretations are based).

Reform is odd, but it doesn't do away with the distinction in practice as I have even found it hinted at; although not explicitly stated, in Reform Judaism conversion manuals.

Quote:
I'm going to go as far as to say that sincere converts
And just what is a 'sincere convert'? That is kind of the problem isn't it? A 'sincere convert' in most forms of Judaism; yes even Reform, is someone who specifically convinces a panel (usually three but I've heard of more) of specially appointed rabbis that one is a jewish soul born into a non-jewish body.

Note the direct biological implication of that or are you going to play dumb?

Or to quote Noah Feldman:

'I didn’t want to seem paranoid, especially in front of my girlfriend, to whom I was by that time engaged. So I called my oldest school friend, who appeared in the photo, and asked for her explanation. “You’re kidding, right?” she said. My fiancée was Korean-American. Her presence implied the prospect of something that from the standpoint of Orthodox Jewish law could not be recognized: marriage to someone who was not Jewish. That hint was reason enough to keep us out.'

Source

Oh and before you claim it: jewishness is always defined in terms of lineage even in relation to converts. Converts are not exclusions to the rule, but rather are part of the rule as they are held to only be able to marry inferior classes of jew.

Or to quote Emmanuel Feldman:

'These are legitimate descriptions of the Jewish condition. God explicitly tells us in Leviticus 20:26, va'avdil etchem; "I have separated you from among the peoples to be Mine..." Yes, it is part of God's overall plan for mankind that the Jewish people should remain separate. The fact is that to be a holy people in a world that disdains holiness means to be a separate people.

It's interesting that the world seem to recognize this Jewish differentness intuitively. Even the assimilating Jew - who does not wear distinctively Jewish dress and does not practice anything distinctively Jewish, who is a citizen of the world and faithfully lives be the ways of society around him - even he is nevertheless pointed to as a Jew, as someone different from "the rest of us". This makes the assimilator very unhappy, but it probably makes God very happy, because jewish otherness is all part of His plan.' *

And

'The fact is that certain nations are superior to others in specific areas of endeavor. Yes, we believe that the Jewish people is chosen for its mission by God because it possesses certain God given talents; a clear vision and knowledge of God and how He wants mankind to live on His earth, and the ability to connect with God and with the sacred in life... The Jewish people was seen by God as having certain qualities – steadfastness, spiritual resilience, courage, faith, self-discipline – which made us the most suitable agent for bringing the concepts of God and holiness into the world. That is to say our national character.' **

* Emanuel Feldman, 1998, ’On Judaism: Conversations on being Jewish in Today's World’, 2nd Edition, Shaar Press: New York, p. 259
** Ibid, pp. 269-270

Oh and before you say it Feldman is a fairly significant orthodox jewish authority.

Quote:
that have loyally gained the trust of the Jewish community
Translation: they are prepared to serve the jews. After all that is what jews and Judaism directly demand: thou shalt serve no gods before me.

Quote:
have been held up as an example for Jews to follow.
Like who? Ruth the Moabitess? Have you forgotten the story of Hagar or Moses? Let alone the Prophets Ezra and Nehemiah.

Quote:
There are of course a small group of individuals (mainly ultra-orthodox) that view some converts as being Jews in name only.
You do realise that some of said 'small group of individuals' are huge like the various Chabad not least the Lubavitchers?

So much so they have a significant political party just for the Sephardim (let alone the Ashkenazim) ultra-Orthodox and Hasidim in Israel (Shas)?
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Last edited by Karl Radl; May 22nd, 2012 at 01:39 PM.
 
Old May 22nd, 2012 #4
Hans Norling
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Originally Posted by George Mann View Post
Your conclusion on converts is largely incorrect. No mainstream Jewish denomination today regards converts to be in any way inferior.
By that you mean; e.g we should define Judaism historically up until the quite recent past by some cultural offshots like Reform Judaism? No, to tell you the truth I've covered this bit of demonstrably obviousness in an older article (which I posted on this forum):

* 'A Critical Look at Jewish Law: Legal Inequality between Jews and Gentiles'

Being "jew" or "jewish" is not a case of strictly racial ancestry nor religious creed. Historically, it has been a mixture of both, however ashkenazi jews for example are certainly within the realm of being definable, in general, as a clustered ethnic/racial group. The jewish identity for jews is also, in general, dependant on ancestry rather than choice of creed (secular, non-religious jews et al). Orthodox Judaism accepts Reform Jews as jewish, based on ancestry, but not the converts to Reform Judaism who otherwise are not jewish. It sounds confusing unless one takes into account the aspect and traditional importance of blood (race/ethniticity) in the jewish identity, regardless of religious denomination or beliefs. Maimonides ruled that anyone who has inherited mamzerism is not allowed to marry a born jew, while a convert to Judaism is permitted to marry some born jews. A mamzer can marry a gentile bondsmaid, gentile slave or a convert to judaism, but not a born jew. What evidence exists to this rather unequal treatment of supposedly recognized members of the jewish congregation? In the Babylonian Talmud it is established that a proselyte may marry a mamzer or he may marry a shetuki (a potential mamzer or a jew whose ancestral lineage is in doubt):
Quote:
‘A proselyte, a freed slave and a halal are permitted to [marry] a priest's daughter.’ This supports Rab. For Rab Judah said in Rab's name: Fit women [sc. daughters of priests] were not admonished against being married to the unfit.(see footnote 11)

R. Zera lectured in Mahuza: A proselyte may marry a mamzereth. Thereupon everyone pelted him with stones. Said Raba: Is there anyone who lectures thus in a place where proselytes abound!'

-- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, 73.
Footnote 11 says:
Quote:
‘11) I.E., to those who may not marry into the priesthood. Thus, whereas a priest may not marry the daughter of a halal, freedman or proselyte, the daughter of a priest may marry one of these. This does not refer to the ordinary unfit, such as mamzerim or Nethinim.’
Another quote, where the legality is of the decision is cited directly from the Mishnah (one of the basic sources of jewish law of halakha):
Quote:
‘MISHNAH. TEN GENEALOGICAL CLASSES WENT UP FROM BABYLON: PRIESTS, LEVITES, ISRAELITES, HALALIM, PROSELYTES, FREEDMEN, MAMZERIM, NETHINIM, SHETHUKI AND FOUNDLINGS.

Priests, Levites and Israelites may intermarry with each other.

Levites, Israelites, Halalim, Proselytes and freedmen may intermarry.

Proselytes and freedmen, mamzerism and nethinim, shetuki and foundlings, are all permitted may intermarry.'

-- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, 69a.
More jewish law prohibiting of marriage/union with mamzer/bastards of jews is found in another tractate in the Babylonian Talmud (on both a and b folios: I have only cited the b folio below for the sake of simplicity):
Quote:
‘MISHNAH. BASTARDS AND NETHINIM ARE INELIGIBLE, AND THEIR
INELIGIBILITY IS FOR ALL TIME, WHETHER THEY BE MALES OR FEMALES'

-- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yebamoth, 78b.
We also see this in the online edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia under: ‘Illegitimacy’. I quote:
Quote:
‘The real mamzer ("waddai"), who may not intermarry with Israelites; "even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord" (Deut. xxiii. 2). He may, however, marry a woman who is of the same status or a proselyte.’
But but... you might retort with, the minority Jewry of Reform and some other snippets of traditional judaism have modernized themselves. Well, the above is a few thousands years of applied law.

Last edited by Hans Norling; May 22nd, 2012 at 02:48 PM.
 
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