Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

J. D. Salinger Was Jewish? Who Cares! Or, Who Cares?

J. D. Salinger is dead at 91, and yes, I care — I loved and still love Catcher in the Rye. But the fact that so many Jewish journalists, pundits, etc. are focusing on the fact that he was Jewish or that his father was, is actually pretty weird. I mean who cares if Salinger was Jewish?
Did Salinger’s Jewishness make any difference in his art? Or are we simply obsessed with “taking credit” for his art as a source of ethnic pride? And perhaps most ironically, how many people who are so eager to acknowledge that the author was the grandson of a rabbi, on his father’s side, would disqualify him as a Jew because his mother was Irish Catholic? Let alone the weirdness of Jews focusing on the Jewishness of someone’s grandparents. That’s straight out of the Nuremburg laws!
I am all for ethnic pride, and have no problem with celebrating every possible means of connection to the groups we love. But that same desire to see virtually everything and everyone as connected to “us”, should also translate into how we treat the living –especially those living nearest to us, and not simply the distant and the dead who happen to be famous.
No, this is not a call for all Jews to accept patrilineal descent. I both appreciate and accept the halakhic difficulties with that for many Jews, including myself. It is simply a plea to consider that our impulse for Jewish inclusiveness, should we have one, should include more than establishing bragging rights to other people’s accomplishments. It should obligate us to treat all those who want to be a part of the Jewish people both respectfully and lovingly even if we don’t always agree with their path of connection.

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  • penalcolony

    If Hirschfield had any real interest in this subject, he would know that Salinger’s daughter believed his experience of anti-Semitism had a strong influence on his work: see But as with most clergy of all faiths, Hirschfield is first and foremost driven by his desire to be taken for an authority figure, even when he is playing the ignorant fool.

  • Pringle

    Leaving aside for the moment any comment on his literary works, I would like to point out one potentially enduring legacy of the writer J.D. Salinger, who died this week. He had the guts to admit that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be.
    There is a conspiracy of silence among famous and rich people. They are afraid to say fame and wealth are not all that great. Perhaps they worry that this will reflect poorly on them. After all, why haven’t more famous and rich people spoken up? Maybe there is something wrong with them and so they keep quiet.
    As is well known, Salinger retreated from the world of celebrity and refused all interviews for many years. He stopped publishing long ago. He was belligerent about his privacy, perhaps hypocritically, and he may have been a neurotic crank. But that’s beside the point. He was right about fame. It can ruin everything, destroying your privacy and making it impossible to think.
    How would I know? Look closely at the lives of the rich and famous. It’s plain as day.

  • your name

    as to the charge of being an “ignorant fool,” PENALCOLONY is obviously confusing Rabbi Brad with David Klinghoffer, aka “Mr. I.D.”-
    which, in Klinghoffer’s case, stands for ‘intellectual dishonesty’ more than “intelligenct design”.

  • Susan Katz Miller

    Salinger’s half-Jewishness was not incidental: it was important to him, and important in his writing. “Full-blooded” Jews often do not understand that being an interfaith child is formative in a way that transcends the patrilinial/matrilinial debate. I have an entire blog on this topic, and today’s post remembers Salinger and Howard Zinn…

  • Your Name

    “I didn’t know Abraham Lincoln was Jewish.” – Edith Bunker.
    The Rabbi is right. I am re-reading “Cathcher in the Rye” right now and I think that Salinger’s jewishness did not play a role in his writing. Holden Caulfield seems to come from white, anglo-saxon protestant background but most inportantly for the book he is just a typical (albeit precocious) teenager.

  • Your Name

    I don’t think the fact that J.D.Salinger was jewish had any effect on his writing, just as other jewish authors didn’t. I fail to see that the writings of Herman Wouk, jewish and religious, were affected by his religion. Does it come as a surprise that Salinger was jewish? Not really. If you go through the list of jewish actors and actresses, past and present, in websites such as IMDB, there are plenty of names there that might come as a surprise to some. And there also, I don’t think their religious beliefs have or had any effect on their acting abilities.

  • Your Name

    How did this get started … Abraham wanted children, wife couldn’t conceive, the Law said he could use a surrogate, an Egyptian slave who did produce a son. Then the wife got lucky and bore a son. The first son doesn’t count because the wife wanted the second son to inherit. And today we have zillionth-removed-cousins killing each other in the Middle East because of property rights in the past. So to make it really stick, Abraham was jewish and his first son was only half-jewish (Jewish-Egyptian); the second son was “pure” jewish (Jewish and Jewish). New rules! The mother has to be Jewish if the child is to be deemed Jewish. Of all the cocamamy bending of rules to insure money, property and prestige …

  • Vicki McCarthy

    Please note that it was man’s law that said he could use a surrogate, much like some of our law’s today. I thank God He used (favored, I might add) the Jews to allow us to know Him and why He did send Jesus.
    He’s so patient with us!
    The first son Ishamael counted. He truly benefited from having Abraham as his Dad!
    It was adultry and we had to learn and be taught. Genesis 17:20 tells us he blessed (favored) Ishmael.

  • Zvi

    I don’t think it’s a matter of taking credit by proxy or wishing to see everything as connected to “us”. We Jews, since we first appeared in history, have gone through the most incredible persecution, suffering and dispersal. It is a miracle that we have survived. As such, it is always of interest to know where our ancestry leads. This is a healthy and positive interest in the history of our people.

  • Your Name

    I am more interested in all of the Jews who are neo-cons and helped lie our way into an illegal war and who are still supporting republican lies and deceptions. I am ashamed that they are Jewish. Abramnov, Madoff et al.Lieberman. They are all awful people and many are orthodox. What does their religion say about them.

  • Max

    It certainly mattered. Go back to FRANNY AND ZOOEY and “The Jesus Prayer” that Franny is constantly repeating as she sinks deeper and deeper into depression. And note Zooey’s response when he confronts his sister at last.

  • joe gonzalez

    i totally agree, Rabbi Brad ! i’m not jewish, but : le haim !

  • judaica art

    i think its a great movie.. love it… all the rest.. who care !!

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