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How Many Jewish Mothers Does It Take?

How many Jewish mothers does it take to change the Jewish mother stereotype?

I don’t know about you, but the Jewish mothers I knew–my mother and both my grandmothers–were loving individuals who gave unstintingly of themselves to their children in a way that was guilt-free and empowering. Yes, Jewish mothers are usually pretty clear they want their children to do well in school (perhaps another contributor to the Jewish intelligence quotient). They want their children to succeed financially so they will not to have to worry about having enough money to put food on the table and a roof over their heads (something that we, who did not live through European famines or the Depression, find hard to fully appreciate).


I am not a fan of any stereotypical humor: such humor made at the expense of others is equally offensive whether the focus of the joke is a Jewish mother or someone of Polish, Irish, Chinese, or (you get the picture) extraction. Much of the talk radio debate about the firing of Don Imus over the sexist and racist remarks he made about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team focused on whether the only ones who can use derogatory humor about a group of people is a member of that particular group. But stereotyping is never OK. Jewish mother jokes are a sad and sexist way to respond to the women who gave us birth and would have done almost anything it took to help us succeed in life.

–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

Read the Full Debate: Is Jewish Mother Humor Harmful or Harmless?

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posted May 15, 2007 at 11:29 pm

Rabbi, the problem is that those of us who grew up with the Sereotype can’t leave it behind. My mom is a jewish mom, and she sells Mary Kay, she’s an Executive director type, who one time spent ONE WHOLE HOUR on the phone with one of MY friends on the subject of why *I*, her son, did not want to sell MK, but would rather sell Cooking supplies. Even when faced with reality that someone actually does not believe in her product, she didn’t want to give up. We had to agree to an unofficial Detente where I don’t talk about it and neither does she.

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posted May 16, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Left-wing Jews are bubbies. Right-wing Jews are saftas.

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posted May 16, 2007 at 7:33 pm

It seems as though women are particularly vulnerable to steriotyping. (Think “dumb blondes,” “Jewish-American Princesses” and, of course, Jewish Mothers.) As for the image Don Imus projected on to a group of student-athletes, well, that is one of the most vile. Sometimes the jokes are funny and harmless but the problem is, many people really believe them. I love telling people my own Jewish mother is an attorney who drives a one ton pick-up truck, and my nice, little Jewish grandmother was an IRS agent!

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posted May 16, 2007 at 7:56 pm

Lucy, you are so right about women’s being especially targeted by stereotypes. But I will tell you this: the Jewish Mother stereotype is also an ideal to which many of us aspire. Who doesn’t want to rear successful, well-mannered, well-fed children? Who doesn’t want her children to respect their elders and have a sense of their history? Who doesn’t worry when things don’t go right? Who doesn’t think her children are God’s gift to humanity? And what woman doesn’t have the right to express her opinions to her own kids? The Jewish mother archetype is the original Super Mom. She should be revered, not ridiculed.

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posted May 16, 2007 at 11:02 pm

Hali, You are right and you aren’t. I know someone in my congregaipn who is a very left wing mom, very relaxed and one day I said to her:”I wish you had been my mom”. I love my mom, but she tends to be VERY determined at times, almost to the point where conversations can and are hard to have. At times i just wish she were a little less high maintenance, less demanding of things, but its her and not me, and i accept that. I can joke about Jewish mom’s because I have one, and in some ways I’m just like her.

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posted May 17, 2007 at 5:15 am

Quite frankly, I would have loved to have a Jewish Mother. My mom was cold and manipulative, and after seeing Jewish stereotypes on TV and in the movies for years, I say, Darn! Bring the Jewish Mothers on! I love them! I would have loved to have one, myself! These sweet ladies stereotypically depicted are warm, loving, self-sacrificing and so lovable as to warm anybodies heart!

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posted May 17, 2007 at 5:36 pm

When did jokes stop being jokes?

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posted May 17, 2007 at 5:57 pm

get a grip! If a joke is said in a loving frame of mind by one of our/your own it is far different from the same joke said by someone who is saying it to be mean. These type of jokes are not understood as well as they used to be so we end up with an Imus instead of a Don Rickles. That is the difference. As a Jewish Mother who is also mother-in-law and had both I laugh as much as anyone when the joke is done right. Laura

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posted May 17, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Of course the jokes can be cute and harmless if told in the proper spirit. I guess I just find the always-sacrificing, smothering mother steriotype a bit unsettling and find joking about my mother, all of 5’2″ and 115 lbs, driving around in that giant truck a lot more fun. My husband once pointed out, you don’t need to be Jewish, a mother or even a woman, to be a Jewish mother! He is right: many people have that nuturing aspect within their psyches, which explains the love many of us lavish on our pets. Speaking of which, I have a horse who is impatiently waiting to get out and I need to pack a box of homemade cookies to mail to my brother, who is having a tough time on the job. Lucky me, I escaped the Jewish mother gene! :-) Lucy

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posted May 28, 2007 at 9:00 pm

Dear Rabbi, I am a Jewish mother who was raised by a Jewish mother and “Bubbie”. My husband and I have two daughters. My “Yiddishkite” was engrained and I tried to pass on the gift to our children. I am a successful attorney with my own law firm. Currently, our daughters are not the people that we rasied. They are selfish, disrespectful and entitled. Our eldest daughter has not spoken to us for months because we dared to comment on her boyfriend’s father’s demeanor, specifically how disrespectful he was to his wife in our presence. Our younger daugter is also not speaking to us because we do not approve of her “quitting college” and her newly found rock and roll lifestyle.In order to have a relationship,must we choke on words and walk on egg shells? We are devasted. Do you think my roles as a Jewish mother and business woman were confusing for the girls? I have always tried to be a good role model for them. Maybe I tried too hard. Please let me know your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks so much.

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Rick Abrams

posted June 3, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Dear Andrea, Who could have the wisdom to answer your question? All I can observe is that your kids are young and their life stories are far from over. Give it 10 to 12 years. My mother would say in English, but I bet it was from the Yiddish, “Just wait … just wait until you have children of your own — then you’ll see — you’ll see.” She was right. Give it time.

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