Jewish Journal


October 18, 2007

Springfield: sister-city of Chelm


The Simpsons are a typical Middle-American Protestant family in a typical city, Springfield (named after another famous television city from the 1954-1960 series, Fathers Knows Best). They say grace at meals, read and refer to the Bible, pray out loud and, on Sundays, dutifully attend services at the First Church of Springfield, part of an invented denomination called the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism Church.

But running beneath the Father Knows Best veneer is a busy, ever-moving religious world in which there is much to explore. One noteworthy path, albeit circuitous, through this world is the Jewish one, which, like much of the show, holds surprises. One Sunday evening, when a door to the cluttered storage closet in the Simpsons’ house swings open, it reveals, for just a fleeting moment, a shiny object seemingly out of place amid the suburban detritus: a Hanukkah menorah. What is this ritual candelabrum doing in the home of a Gentile, lower-middle-class family in a small, overwhelmingly Christian city? A home we thought we knew so well …

Moment magazine gets its “Simpsons” fantasizing on, Chelm reference and all, courtesy of Mark I. Pinsky, the Jewish author of “The Gospel According to the Simpsons.” (Hat tip: DMN religion blog.)

The town’s small Jewish community is misunderstood in ways that are still common in small Protestant communities. Homer, for instance—our bald and overweight, “D’oh”-spouting everyman—laughs when he first hears Hebrew, thinking it’s a made-up language. In another episode, when he needs $50,000 for a heart bypass, he goes to the rabbi, pretending to be Jewish in the only way he knows how. “Now, I know I haven’t been the best Jew, but I have rented Fiddler on the Roof and I will watch it.” (All he gets from the rabbi is a dreidel.) And at the elementary school, Principal Skinner fields an angry call from Superintendent Chalmers. “I know Weinstein’s parents were upset,” he stammers. “But, but, ah, I was sure it was a phony excuse. I mean, it sounds so made up: ‘Yom Kip-pur.’”

Then there is Bart, the ever-scheming son, who in one Simpsons comic book is drawn to Judaism, like a moth to a menorah, for the eight nights of Hannukah presents. He visits a rabbi and argues that if he became Jewish, he’d be a “trash-talkin’ spiky-haired Seinfeld with a Fox attitude.” But the rabbi predicts the boy won’t like the religion because “so much Judaism is like opera, the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Atkins Diet, all rolled into one.” Bart gives it a shot nonetheless, especially pleased that he no longer has to do chores during Shabbat. But eventually, Bart decides not to convert, reporting to his sister Lisa: “Love the religion but, oy … I can’t handle the guilt.”


I never saw that comic book. I didn’t even know there was a “Simpsons” comic book. Anyway, the Moment article goes on to talk about Springfield’s “model Jew”—Krusty the-heavy-drinking-gambling-money-squandering-and-womanizing Clown. D’Oh!

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