Ben Stiller And The Patrilineal’s Lament

Ben Stiller And The Patrilineal’s Lament

Has anyone ever articulated the dilemma of life as a patrilineal (Jewish dad, gentile mom) Jew as succinctly as Ben Stiller on this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live”?

“My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Irish-Catholic, which means according to the Torah I’m not actually Jewish, but according to all mirrors I am,” he said during his opening monologue as the show’s guest host.

He then proceeded to explain how woozy he was from fasting all day, segueing (with Andy Samberg) into “Jewish Food Hallucination,” a delightful parody of the “World of Your Imagination” scene in the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

As I’m sure Stiller already knows (since presumably he observed Yom Kippur), not everyone interprets the Torah to mean he’s “not actually Jewish”: the Reform and Reconstructionist movements accept him as Jewish — and not just because he’s a celebrity.

And I’m sure most Conservative congregations wouldn’t give him much trouble if he agreed to a quickie dunk in the mikveh and a symbolic drop of blood taken from a critical part of the anatomy. (Note to Stiller: Don’t try the mikveh that woman from The Huffington Post wrote about.)

What stands out for me, however is that, despite feeling rejected by traditionalists, Stiller (like another famous Jewish-identifying patrilineal, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) continues to embrace his Jewishness and feel connected to the Tribe.

In any event, check out the video. Since the Gene Wilder (nee Jerome Silberman) version of “Willy Wonka” was one of the films my children watched at least 20 times last year, second only to “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Sound of Music,” I particularly enjoyed this segment.

And, if you’re interested in learning more about patrilineal descent issues, check out the three-part series I wrote about it two years ago here, here and here.

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