Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
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.
and biographer Elaine Dundy writes about Elvis Aron Presley’s
Jewish heritage in her book "Elvis and Gladys":
Burdine was married to Abner Tackett (Elvis’ great great
maternal grandmother). Nancy was of particular interest to Gladys
for her Jewish heritage, often remembering Nancy's sons for their
Jewish names Sidney and Jerome. Nancy and Abner had a daughter
Martha who married White Mansell. The daughter which they named
Octavia, nick-named Doll, who was Elvis' maternal grandmother."
and Robert had nine children. Gladys Love was the fifth daughter
born followed by 3 more brothers and one sister. After his mother
died, Elvis personally sought to design his beloved mother’s
gravesite which included a Star of David on Gladys Love Presley's
tombstone. The decision was made by him in honor of his Jewish
heritage. Something his mother was proud of and acknowledged to
Elvis at a very early age.
life, when Elvis discovered the teachings of Judaism, Zen Buddhism
and the occult teachings through his hairdresser Larry Geller
he became familiar with the Hebrew alphabet and its symbols. From
then on part of his on-stage wardrobe throughout most of 1977
Elvis wore a "Chai" necklace. When Charlie Hodge asked
Elvis why this particular piece of jewelry was so important, Elvis
replied, "I don’t want to miss out on goin' to heaven
on a technicality." Note that two letters form Chai, the
Hebrew word for “life.”
Star of David on Gladys Love Presley’s tombstone
was the spelling the Presley's chose, to resemble his twin brother's
middle name "Garon". Toward the end of his life Elvis
sought to change the spelling to the traditional and biblical
"Aaron", in the process he learned that the official
state records had listed it as "Aaron" anyway, and not
"Aron" as on his original birth records. "Aaron"
is the spelling his family chose for his tombstone.
Elvis Presley Medal
prolific Jewish playwright Arthur Miller initially met Marilyn
Monroe at a cocktail party in Hollywood. When they met some years
some years later, after her divorce from Joe DiMaggio, love blossomed.
But when a dinner discussion regarding marriage plans cropped
up, Marilyn made an unusual request: "I think I'd like to
have a rabbi."
converted in June of 1956, flanked by Rabbi Robert Goldberg, Miller,
and his family. She even got a musical menorah that played Hatikvah
as a gift.
to The Jewish Times of Brookline, Massachusetts:
it of your own free will that you seek admittance into the Jewish
fold?" the rabbi asked.
"Yes", Marilyn said.
"Do you renounce your former faith?"
She had had none so she renounced her lack of faith. "Yes".
"Do you pledge you loyalty to Judaism? Do you promise to
cast in your lot with the people of Israel amid all circumstances?"
It is good, she remembered, to suffer — if you share with
others … "Yes."
"Do you promise to lead a Jewish life?"
She thought of her new family, holding each other close in a bond
of love. "Yes."
"Should you be blessed with children do you agree to rear
your children according to the Jewish faith?"
Her children, who would forever know who they were, who would
have an answer to their questions. "Oh, yes," she said.
The Rabbi smiled at her. "Repeat after me," he said,
and together they spoke the ancient words of the convert.
"I do herewith declare in the presence of God and the witnesses
here assembled that I … seek the fellowship of Israel.
"I believe that God is one Almighty, Allwise, Most Holy …
The Rabbi took her hand and gave her solemnly a name chosen from
the Bible — a name which she keeps entirely to herself.
"With this name as token you are now a member of the household
of Israel and have assumed all its rights, privileges and responsibilities."
His hand was on her head.
On June 29th,
1956 she married Arthur Miller. On July 1st, 1956 they had another,
Jewish, wedding ceremony.
Marilyn Monroe’s Certificate of Conversion to Judaism
Marilyn Monroe coin issued in 2011 by Cook Islands.
Taylor (born 1932)
Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher
On the January 15, 2001 "Larry King Live" show, Elizabeth Taylor was asked "You are Jewish, are you not?" and she replied "I am, I am."(She had converted after the death of her husband Michael Todd, the producer and impresario, and before her marriage to singer Eddie Fisher.)
Taylor narrated portions of “Genocide,” produced by
the Simon Wiesenthal Center, that went on to received the 1981
Academy Award® for best feature documentary, the first Holocaust
documentary to be given this honor.
Hier, Director of the Wisenthal Center, describes how he “
flew to Washington, D.C., to ask United States Senator John Warner
if he would show the script to his then wife, Elizabeth Taylor.
Warner, a good friend of the Center, had worked closely with us
on a number of social action issues; he promised he would take
the script home to Elizabeth, but cautioned me against overoptimism.
"You know stars; you can't tell which scripts they will accept.
I'll call on Monday either way," Senator Warner promised.
Monday, Warner called excitedly. "Rabbi, I've got both good
and bad news. The good news is that Elizabeth will do it without
remuneration. The bad news is you ruined my weekend-she couldn’t
stop crying from Friday to Sunday night."
week later, Elizabeth Taylor and I had lunch at the Polo Lounge
in the Beverly Hills Hotel. A Greyhound bus driver spotted her
coming in and alerted his bus load of tourists, who soon found
the secluded window table where we were seated. When Elizabeth
noticed them and turned around to wave, I told her that they did
not come to see her, but that what attracted them was the sight
of an Orthodox rabbi at the Polo Lounge! At this meeting, Elizabeth
made it clear that this project was very special to her, since
she regarded the Jewish people as her people, and wanted to identify
personally with the tragedy of the Holocaust. She asked if we
could record in London while she was filming Agatha Christie's
The Mirror Cracked. She also asked if I could coach her in the
correct Yiddish and Hebrew pronunciations that were part of her
narration. We agreed to record in London in June with two days
set aside for rehearsal.
I flew to
London to record Elizabeth Taylor's segments. Elizabeth Taylor
pronounced "Mir velen zei iberleben " ("We shall
outlive them") like a Jewess from Warsaw, and her perfectly
accented "Hazak F' Ainatz" ("Be Strong and Brave")
drew compliments from Israel's ambassador to the United States.
She was deeply moved during the recording of one of the stories.
She wept and could not continue recording Leon Kahn's description
of the murder of the residents of Elsiskes at the hands of their
Elizabeth Taylor coin issued in 2011 by Cook Islands.
Davis, Jr. (1925-1990)
In 1954, entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. almost died in a car accident where he lost his left eye. While in the hospital, his friend Eddie Cantor enlightened him on the similarities between the Jewish and black cultures. While he convalesced, Davis had time to reflect and to engage in long conversations with a rabbi at the hospital. Davis later said that he found many parallels between the challenges Jews and black Americans faced, both historically and contemporarily. This deep reflection led Davis to convert to Judaism, a calling he embraced throughout his life--and characteristically worked in as fodder for his act, joking that he was entertainment's only one-eyed Jewish black man.
It was not
long after his conversion, and he refused to work on Yom Kippur.
The director of the movie “Porgy and Bess” got angry
and called the legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn immediately
called Sammy and wanted to know if it was true about his refusing
to work. Sammy said that, as a Jew he could not work on the Day
of Atonement. There was silence for a moment, with Goldwyn no
doubt noting that stopping production would cost $30,000, a large
sum then. Finally, Goldwyn (who was also Jewish) said, "Bless
you." Production on the film was stopped for Yom Kippur.
Sierra Leone issued stamps commemorating the 75th birthday of Sammy Davis Jr.