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Why Would Bethenny Frankel Deny Being Jewish?

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Jennifer Ginsberg: I admit it: I am a huge fan of "The Real Housewives of New York City."

bethenny Frankel

While I love the entire "Real Housewives" series, the New York City one is my favorite because I lived in Manhattan and it holds a special place in my heart. I find the women of the show to be an intoxicating combination of vapid and intriguing, which makes for incredible reality television! Also, being a Jewish woman, I am happy to watch successful Jewish women on the show.

Jill Zarin recently coauthored the book "Secrets of a Jewish Mother," and I was thrilled to see a famous woman not only acknowledging, but embracing, her Judaism. I also assumed that Bethenny Frankel was proudly Jewish, but when I recently watched her on the "Real Housewives" after-show hosted by Andy Cohen, I was confused by how she responded to a viewer question. Andy had received an e-mail asking Bethenny if she was Jewish (which I found odd because she is so obviously a Jew). Bethenny responded, "No, I don't consider myself Jewish. My dad was Jewish and my mom converted ... but I don't think of myself as Jewish."

I was stunned. Here is a woman who is as "Jewishy" as they come: She looks Jewish, she sounds Jewish, she has a Jewish name and Yiddish words are peppered throughout her lexicon. Not to mention the fact that she is 100 percent Jewish, given that both of her parents are Jewish (Judaism recognizes converts to be as Jewish as if they had been born Jews). Why would she deny her ethnicity?

Bethenny quickly changed the subject to her new book and talked about all of her successes as an author and celebrity chef. Here is a beautiful, accomplished woman who is riding a hard-earned wave of success, yet she flat-out denied her heritage with no explanation. Had she said, "I was Jewish, but I found Jesus and converted," I would have understood. But her only reason for not affiliating with her religion was, "I'm just spiritual." But how, I wondered, does being Jewish conflict with being "spiritual"?

I found myself feeling a bit like I did when I used to watch "Seinfeld." Here were these characters who were so clearly Jewish, but there were rarely any direct references made to their Judaism. While I thought the show was brilliantly funny, I had a hard time jumping on the "Seinfeld bandwagon" because of the Jewish elephant in the living room. There was something vaguely unsettling and self-hating about the whole thing. I could only speculate that the producers believed that if the characters openly discussed their Judaism, they would have lost a large part of their audience because of anti-Semitism. Perhaps they were right.

I wonder if Bethenny feels the same way. I've always been a fan of hers on the show; she naturally takes on the role of Greek chorus as her sharp wit and moments of vulnerability showcase her magnetic personality. But now I'm not so sure. I'm disappointed that she missed the opportunity to proudly acknowledge her Judaism in front of a mass audience, especially during a time when Jews and the State of Israel need all the support they can get! While people of all creeds and cultures -- from Muslims to African-Americans -- get major kudos for embracing their heritage, it seems as if Jews are all too often reticent to acknowledge theirs.

It has been a long-standing debate as to whether Judaism is a religion or ethnicity. I'm with most American Jews who tend to think of their Jewishness as a matter of culture. There are certain cultural traits that that are shared by many Jews, just as there are distinguishing characteristics shared by Mexican-Americans or Italian-Americans. Jews in many parts of the world share many of those cultural aspects, which only leads to the fact that Judaism is indeed a culture. So while Bethenny may not be a practicing religious Jew, she is still culturally a Jew, just as an Italian-American who doesn't practice Catholicism is still Italian.

I can only imagine the uproar if one of the African-American women from "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" denied being black. Can you imagine Nene saying, "Both of my parents were African-American, but I don't consider myself black"? Not only would it be terribly insulting to the African-American community, it would be ridiculous as well. But it seems to be socially acceptable for Jews to assimilate to the point of denial.

In our society, we celebrate racial and religious diversity, and this is a wonderful thing
-- except, maybe, if you are Jewish. I'm now even more proud of Jill Zarin for valuing her heritage enough to write a book that celebrates everything that Judaism, her rich and beautiful faith, has taught her. And I wish Bethenny had had the chutzpah to at least answer "yes" when asked about hers.

next: Will Facebook Kill the High School Reunion?
112 comments so far | Post a comment now
22candy61 May 18, 2010, 10:40 AM

Also, if you really watched and remembered, Bethenny answered Andy Cohen’s real question, by saying, “But I think I am good for the Jews.” By that, she was saying that even if she wasn’t a practicing Jew, she still represented them well. I think some of you really hit the nail on the head. This reporter is a friend of the JZ!!!

Sam May 18, 2010, 10:59 AM

So how long have you known Jill Zarin?

Mara May 18, 2010, 11:22 AM

Of course she can’t say she’s Jewish withthe maount of anger and prejudice towards Jews in this country! No one has to deny being a Christian - in fact leagues will come out against non-Christians. I’m defnitely picing up on the angry vibe from most of these posters who seem irritated that the writer is disappointed that a Jewish woman is denying her Jewishness - like they are looking for reasons to prove she really isn’t a Jew. Sorry, her mom’s a Jew, so is she.

She is Jewish, regardless if she practices the religious part of her heritage or not. I’m Jewish, but I’m also Irish and Polish. I can’t just say - “eh, I don’t practice the living in Ireland part, so I’m not Irish” - I am. Denying being Jewish is the same. It’s NOT the same as being a Christian since bloodlines, culture, etc. are all part of being Jewish, not just beliving/not believing in Christ

Michael, NY May 18, 2010, 11:28 AM

Read Bethenny’s words: “No, I don’t consider myself Jewish. My dad was Jewish and my mom converted … but I don’t think of myself as Jewish.”

She answered the question very clearly and honestly and was open about her feelings. What’s the problem? If you want to pry into her business even more, it’s also not difficult to see that she had a really rough relationship with her father and was forced to emotionally detach herself from him…perhaps that explains why she doesn’t cling onto his heritage. It’s none of our business, but she STILL answered the questions as openly as one could have.

Anonymous May 18, 2010, 12:01 PM

“dad was Jewish and my mom converted “

If her mother converted to Judaism then Bethenny is Jewish.

alicia witt May 18, 2010, 12:01 PM

Clearly…Bethenny is NOT a Jew! Christian bloodlines through her Welsh mother. Sorry…Your stuck with Jill Zarin!!

Kate May 18, 2010, 1:24 PM

I agree with all the above. She doesn’t owe you or anyone else license to control her sense of self, or religion, or cultural ethnicity. What’s your problem? I too was born & raised in NYC, I am not Jewish but I use many jewish phrases…so what? Have I disappointed you too???

Anonymous May 18, 2010, 1:31 PM

I’m 100% with Bethanny on this one. My mom is Jewish, dad, well who knows. I’m not. Now according to my mom and her “Jewish law” stuff I’m still Jewish and fine, let her think what she wants. Doesn’t mean I have to. I have my own mind and apparently Bethanny does too. She chooses her own religious philosophy and principals and is very WISE to keep that part of her life private. There is too much controversy over religion and if she owned up to her heritage she’s looked down on and if she doesn’t own up to it, she’s looked down on by people like you. It’s a lose/lose proposition for her so she was smart to change the subject. Leave her alone. What’s pride got to do with it anyway? Isn’t pride a supposed sin?

Anonymous May 18, 2010, 1:39 PM

If according to “Jewish Law” if your mom was Jewish, then you are, then every Christian would be Jewish since Jesus’s mom was Jewish and all the converted Christian’s were Jewish and so on and so on. That law is almost silly when you think about it. Why would any religion need a law to force people to remain in the religion?

Anonymous May 18, 2010, 2:15 PM

Please - drop it and shut up already with disecting and ripping Bethenny apart for anything the young woman does or says. Perhaps you should join “Team Kelly” and “Team Jill” and your days will be filled happily (while making others around you miserable) with your gossiping ways and tweaked philosophies. Blech! Get a life!

Sara May 18, 2010, 3:20 PM

I was born Mexican-American and my family is Catholic. I am no longer Catholic and I don’t practice Mexican customs or speak Spanish. I am perfectly happy with not identifying strongly with my culture but I respect those who choose to. According to you—it is off with my head!

JNIC May 18, 2010, 3:50 PM

May I remind you it was socially acceptable for Tiger Woods to state he described himself as cablanasian (not found in Webster). I was watching the program when Bethenny stated her father is Jewish and her mother converted. She also stated she didn’t consider herself Jewish but she was spiritual. Whether or not her feeling Jewish has to do with the religious or cultural aspect I’m not sure, but I view it as a failure for her parents. It’s the responsibility of your parents to set the foundation of religion and cultural identity. Bethenny has stated in many interviews she didn’t have a loving childhood. So I’m making the assumption her parents didn’t take the time to lay the foundation of religion & cultural identity. In spite of that Bethenny seems to be a healthy and loving individual. I’m willing to accept her on those grounds and so should you. Maybe we need to stop defining others. We are so quick to define one another so we can put them in the box we choose. Allow people to define themselves and learn to be comfortable with that. Bethenny is a good person with a wonderful sense of humor and I enjoy her presence. I think I just defined her. Oops ;)

Veronica May 18, 2010, 4:19 PM

“Clearly Bethenny is NOT a Jew! Christian bloodlines through her Welsh mother. Sorry…Your stuck with Jill Zarin!!”

“If according to “Jewish Law” if your mom was Jewish, then you are, then every Christain would be Jewish since Jesus’s mom was Jewish and all the converted Christian’s were Jewish and so on and so on. That law is almost silly when you think about it. Why would any religion need a low to force people to remain in the religion?”

***I never knew there were so many ignorant people on Mom Logic. Seriously… do these people think they are qualified to comment on “jewish law”? Sounds like it scares them that their Christian heritage might make them Jewish.

Here’s the point - it’s OK to be proud of who you are and what you stand for, regardless of your religious beliefs. And your own belief is far more important than what other people think about your beliefs.

I agree with the author - and the majority of the comments on this article reinforce the point that the article is making!

JNIC May 18, 2010, 4:21 PM

In response to>>> Mara May 18, 2010, 11:22 AM
I’m reading the same post and I don’t think you’re mistaken. We’re not angry because Bethenny won’t admit being a Jew. I think many if not most of us are disappointed that the writer of the article feels she knows Bethenny thoughts because she gave a quick answer to Andy’s question. Let’s stop trying to make people over. Allow people to be who they know themselves to be.

Michelle May 18, 2010, 6:29 PM

I want to clarify something. I am a jew- a member of a reform jewish congregation and according to reform judaism, you can be considered jewish and welcomed into the templie if either parent is jewish.
The idea about only the mother counting is sexist and old fashioned.
However, bethenny Frankel can call herself whatever she wants. There is sucha thing as freedom of speech and jews have many other celebrities to look to- adam sandler, jerry seinfeld,barbara streisand. They dont need Bethenny Frankel or anyother housewife.

Shelly May 18, 2010, 9:42 PM

This is really a huge debate isn’t it?
By religous law, I am not Jewish. My mothers father was Jewish, his entire family was Jewish. My mothers mother was
Catholic. My fathers entire family is Jewish. When questioned, I say I am a “Cajew”. I go to church with my son but I identify strongly with the Jewish culture. I celebrate Passover, Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kipur and Hanakuah. I do not keep Kosher during Passover or anytime of the year. I also celebrate Christmas and Easter. I CANNOT not celebrate the holidays. As mixed up as it is, it is part of me. I feel that it is important to pass this on to my son. I have experienced prejudice though on both sides of my family; for being a shitska and a Jew. Maybe Bethany took the easy way out but it is a personal choice either way. By the way, just because she “talks” Jewish it doesn’t mean a thing. The precher in Church last Sunday said “Oy Vay” during the sermon!!

Chrissy May 19, 2010, 12:56 AM

I hope these posts answer Jennifer Ginsburg question.
I think some legitimate points were made.

Gia May 19, 2010, 7:33 AM

Bethenny probably does not want to be labeled as being Jewish because of her extremely contentious relationship with her father. Since she said her father was Jewish and her mother converted, I would assume that her mother would not have converted if it wasn’t for her father, giving her further reason to dislike being referred to as Jewish.

Elizabeth May 19, 2010, 7:36 AM

I was born to a Jewish mother, adopted and raised by Christians.

I don’t consider myself Jewish even though my friends who are Jewish tell me I am technically considered so because of my birth mother.

I would feel silly and hypocritical referring to myself as Jewish since I’ve not so much as stepped foot into a temple in my life and I know very little about the holy days or shabbat, etc.

That said, I am studying and reading about Judaism and learning a lot.

Jill Zarin might be a proud representative of Judaism in your eyes, but she’s not a good person. Vindictiveness, gossiping, grudge-holding, and hypocrisy are not becoming personality traits, no matter what religion you identify with.

Seth May 19, 2010, 7:55 AM

WOW so many people on here really don’t want this clearly JEWISH woman (Jewish mom equals Jewish kid and her mom is Jewish) to be Jewish. So it makes real easy to see why she’d deny it. Easy to get by in American society if you’re not Jewish.

Also to clear up the misconception that another commentor posted - Jewish laws do not force people to be in the religion, but rather are used to define the ethnicity/bloodline of the Jewish culture. Regardless if one practices the religious aspect if they are born of a Jewish mother then they are Jewish. The same poster was also confused saying Christians were just Jews who converted. Actually most of the converts were Romans, Astrozorians and other pagan based religions (and most of them were forced) so no, not all Chrisitians have semetic bloodlines

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