The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The latest 'Twilight' mystery: Why vampires aren't Jews

November 18, 2009 | 12:41 pm

With "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" due out Friday, the media have been pretty much frothing at the mouth. Everyone's trying to cash in on every crumb of fascination with the mega-hit franchise based on Stephenie Meyer's phenonemally successful series of novels about a high school girl who falls for a hunky young vampire. Judging from the tsunami of stories, you'd have to say that every utterance from "Twilight" stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson has been recorded for posterity, no matter how dopey or forgettable.

But one "Twilight"-themed story did grab my attention, since it offered up an intriguing meditation, from a religious authority no less, on an angle that I can't imagine ever having been seriously pursued until "Twlight" hit the bigtime: Five Reasons Vampires Aren't Jews. The article, half serious religious analysis, half tongue-in-cheek humor, was penned for the Jewish Journal by L.A.'s Sinai Temple senior rabbi David Wolpe. It opens with what we journalists refer to as a killer lead: "Their day begins at night, they show a certain aversion to the sign of the cross and they dress in black. Of course, I'm talking about Jews."

Wolper explains that some historical sources hint at the existence of Jewish vampires -- apparently there are a number of obscure medieval tales in Jewish literature that chronicle the exploits of Estrie, a bloodsucking demon who can assume different forms. But Wolpe argues that there are many persuasive reasons why vampires can't be Jewish. Here's a few brief excerpts from his essay:

1) Proselytizing: Vampires are made by each other, using what Wolpe calls "fangs over persuasion." But he says that "Jews have for most of their history been content to accept those who convert, but not seek them." Wolpe offers a wry circumcision quip: "When men, in particular, converted to Judaism, if often did involve a small amount of blood, but not from the neck."

2) Blood: Vampires, of course, live on blood. But, Wolpe writes, "Jews abhor eating blood ... and generations of salted meat are our culinary legacy. Jews overcook and oversalt. It is what we do. My mother, God bless her, thought meat undone if it could not double as a club for batting practice. Moistness was the enemy."

3) Nightlife: Vampires avoid daylight, preferring to live in darkness and shadows. Wolpe says that Jews love light. " 'Let there be light' is God's initial declaration in the creation of the world. We light candles on Shabbat, for Havdahlah, on Chanukah. Jews rise for the Shacharit prayer, greeting the shining new day. A Jewish vampire would never be awake to make the minyan."

4) Immortality: Vampires live forever, or as Wolpe puts it: "They don't die. Or at least, not before the end of the movie. Then someone drives a stake into the heart, and they expire amid swelling music." But he explains that "Judaism believes in death. Yes, it believes in immortal life. But death comes first. ... We shovel earth on the grave to remind ourselves of the finality of death."

5) Imaginary Creatures: Vampires are not real. As Wolpe writes: "They have a long and startling history springing from the depths of the human imagination, drawing from our fears and from real-world creatures (bats, mostly), but they live in books and movies as powerful projections of our minds." Jews, on the other hand, know real monsters. As Wolpe puts it: "We have known the kind of monsters that turn day into night and have a thirst for blood that puts Nosferatu to shame. ... These days, the world's demons have a different but terrifying aspect. Once you have encountered true monsters, the imaginary ones seem not quite so vivid or frightening."

While we're on the subject, I was puzzling over which Jewish actors would make the best movie vampires. If anyone has any clever ideas, I'd like to hear them. But I definitely have my own choice: Jeff Goldblum.

Photo: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon". Credit: Summit Entertainment