August 2, 2007
The Talmud according to Bart Simpson
While attending a Jewish day school, Noah Gradofsky, a young fan of the long-running cartoon series, "The Simpsons," had a passing idea to turn an episode into a mock page of Talmud. Years later, in rabbinical school, Gradofsky first put the idea on paper or, more accurately, on a Web site. "The Simpsons Talmud," based on the "Simpsons" episode, "Like Father, Like Clown," was born.|
So, while millions of Americans flocked to see the Simpsons on the silver screen last week, a small but devoted group of Jewish "Simpsons" fans continued their work in a thriving Internet community dedicated to connections between their favorite television show and their faith.
Of this niche there are humorous fan sites, such as "The Simpsons Talmud" and jvibe.com's "Homer Calendar" (a Simpsons-decorated calendar for counting the Omer); serious essays, including Richard Kalman and Josh Belkin's "Sephardic Tradition and 'The Simpsons' Connections" (a long and in-depth discussion of traditions from Sephardic Judaism in "The Simpsons"), and more amusing articles, like Robert Schneider's "The Simpsons, Jewish?" a look at Jewish traits of each character in the show.
But why does this Jewish "Simpsons" fan base exist? "Simpsons" fan Zev Hurwich, a sophomore at Abraham Joshua Heschel High School in Manhattan, said, "The themes in a lot of the shows can be described as ones relating to Jewish philosophy." He referred to the "Like Father, Like Clown" episode (based on the 1927 film, "The Jazz Singer"), in which Krusty the Clown is revealed to be the estranged son of Rabbi Krustofsky, voiced by Jackie Mason. Hurwich also referred to episodes that have no seemingly direct connection to Judaism, such as one in which the devout Christian Ned Flanders compares himself to Job.
Sites such as the Simpsons Talmud "certainly helped me write my chapter about Judaism," said Mark I. Pinsky, author of "The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family" (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), which was recently released in a second edition. "In many ways, Krusty represents what I call 'Hollywood Judaism' or 'Show Business Judaism.' My Jewish commitment is basically religious, but deeply influenced by history and politics. It's almost impossible to start a revolution without us."
This article originally appeared in the Forward (www.forward.com) and is reprinted with permission. Aaron Freedman writes about technology for the Web site, MacUser.com, and co-hosts the Teen Tech Buzz podcast. Visit him on the Web at aaronfreedman.com.