12 Good Jewish Movies

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 11:35 am

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, so what better time to wheel out a list of 12 good Jewish movies? Each of the films below features some element of Jewish life or history, from fighting persecution to kvetching about the world around them. And while I managed to limit my inclusion of Woody Allen films to only one, I’d recommend you catch any of his works for a double dose of Judaism.

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Whatever Works (2009) – Directed by Woody Allen and starring Larry David…it doesn’t get much more Jewish than that! David a plays a chess teacher who loathes most of humanity, but he begins to soften after striking up a friendship with a 21-year-old runaway (Evan Rachel Wood). Like almost all Woody Allen movies, romantic complications ensue.

Fiddler on the Roof (1971) – Taking place in a Jewish village in Russia, this musical remains faithful to the original source material by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein. A simple milkman named Tevye (Chaim Topol) must deal with the changing world around him, mainly in the form of revolution and his daughter’s search for a husband.

A Serious Man (2009) – The Coen brothers directed this Oscar-nominated film and loosely crafted it around the Biblical story of Job. It’s a dark tale of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Jewish college professor beset on all sides by misfortune. As he seeks to deal with his problems, the film takes a sometimes comical, sometimes grim look at the nature of fate, faith, and the importance of F Troop.

The Hebrew Hammer (2003) – When the son of Santa Clause wants to destroy Hanukkah and force everyone to celebrate Christmas, it’s time to call in The Hebrew Hammer (Adam Goldberg), a Jewish hero who looks like a cross between a Hasidic Jew and Huggy Bear. What follows is bizarre beyond belief, with fiendish plots to distribute It’s a Wonderful Life to every Jewish child and drain the energy from the Jewish Atomic Clock located in Jerusalem. Billed as the world’s first “Jewsploitation” movie.

Biloxi Blues (1988) – Based on the play by Neil Simon, Biloxi Blues follows Eugene Morris Jerome (Matthew Broderick), a young Jew who’s drafted into the Army during World War II and sent to basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi. Christopher Walken co-stars as demented drill instructor Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey.

Yentl (1983) – Barbra Streisand stars in this tale of a Jewish girl from Poland who disguises herself as a man in order to study Talmudic Law following the death of her father. Of course, romantic entanglements develop, mainly centered around the characters of Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin) and Hadass (Amy Irving). Streisand also co-produced, directed, and co-wrote the motion picture.

Munich (2005) – After the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics, an intelligence agent named Avner (Eric Bana) is tasked with tracking down the men responsible and killing them. Directed by Steven Spielberg and co-starring Daniel Craig, the film takes a hard look at the price of revenge and the importance of a place to call home.

A Stranger Among Us (1992) – Melanie Griffith stars as a tough San Francisco homicide detective trying to solve the murder of a Hasidic diamond-cutter. To assist in her investigation, she moves in with a Hassidic family and soon experiences a number of cultural and religious differences.

Death in Love (2009) – During WWII, a Jewish woman begins an affair with a concentration camp doctor in order to save her life. Years later, we see the tragic influence this damaged and erratic woman (Jacqueline Bisset) has on her two grown sons (Josh Lucas and Lukas Haas).

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – Sergio Leone, most famous for his spaghetti westerns, turns his directorial talents to this tale of friends growing up in New York’s Jewish ghetto who eventually become major players in the world of organized crime. Starring Robert De Niro, James Woods, William Forsythe, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci and Burt Young. If you have a chance, be sure and watch the original 322-minute cut as opposed to the butchered 139-minute version show to American audiences.

The Quarrel (1991) – Saul Rubinek and R.H. Thomson star as two Jewish friends–one an agnostic writer and the other a rabbi–who meet for the first time since the Holocaust and their falling out over a discussion of God and faith. They renew their previous argument, and the rage of both men over the horrors of war comes spilling out. If you like films heavy on dialogue, then be sure to give this one a look.

The Tollbooth (2004) – While trying to lead a modern life in New York City, a young Jewish artist (Marla Sokoloff) must struggle with her Jewish heritage and her overbearing parents.

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8 Responses to “12 Good Jewish Movies”

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May 12, 2010

Jose Sinclair

add Ang Lee’s 2009 comedy “Taking Woodstock” – which has another incredible performance from Brit IMELDA STAUNTON, as a Russian Jew in the Catskills of NY, in Bethel NY, whose son had the music festival permit that he gave to Mike Lang for the Woodstock festival – that was the name of their production company, btw, NOT the location of the festival! based on a non-fiction book by the “kid” who was prez of the Chamber of Commerce, who had the permit, who ran into Lee as they crossed paths at a SF radio station, each being interviewed – after a 1 minute pitch, Lee got the book, read it, then filmed it! it offers a unique perspective on the era and the festival, and from the viewpoint of a young Jewish teen coming of age at just the right time in history! — the Jman

May 12, 2010


Sounds like a film worth looking at, Jose. Many thanks for the suggestion.

June 1, 2010


Good list. There are 2 omissions that should have been included. “The Chosen” (1981) based upon the novel with the same name that highlights the Hasidic sect of Judaism. “Cast a Giant Shadow” (1966) starring Kirk Douglas as an American Jew who plays a key role in the 1948 Israeli war for independence.

June 1, 2010


Thanks for the recommendations, KNV. Any film with Kirk Douglas is worth a look in my book.

July 24, 2010


Cast a Giant Shadow — has a great cast— look also for Yul Brenner and if I remember correctly, Frank Sinatra. A slice of history any way you look at it!!
I would also add to the list: School Ties with Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck — great movie.

January 20, 2013


Thanks for the write up. I’m a routine contributor within this field, so i appreciate understanding others viewpoints and teachings; finding out how all of us fit together.

September 27, 2013

Ayall Sagi

surprised you didn’t have “School Ties” included in your list.

Brendan Fraser does an excellent job and growing up as a jew in the american education system, this is an excellent example of fighting persecution


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