This season brought us Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) on tour with Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain); Susie (Alex Borstein) figuring out her new career path; Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose (Marin Hinkle) moving in with Moishe (Kevin Pollak) and Shirley (Caroline Aaron); and a (kinda) redeemed Joel (Michael Zegen, who we talked to!) opening a new nightclub.
Overall, the show continues to not be super great when it comes to history, but a true delight when it comes to Jewish references and moments.
Two honorable (Midge) mentions:
- “If there’s one thing a Jewish girl knows, it’s when to see a doctor” – Midge (episode 6)
- “His dick was so big the mohel had to bring a machete” — Midge (episode 1)
And now, the best Jewish jokes, in descending order:
9. Not knowing “White Christmas” (episode 1)
In the opening episode of season three, Midge performs at a USO show. (Fun fact: The USO, an organization that provides live entertainment to troops, launched in 1941, a collaboration between six organizations including the National Jewish Welfare Board!) As a military man is prepping Midge ahead of the performance, he tells her after everyone performs, they will all get on stage to sing “White Christmas.”
“What if I don’t know White Christmas?” she asks
“Who doesn’t know White Christmas?”
“Well, me. I’m Jewish. We don’t celebrate—”
This turns into Midge, on stage later in the episode, trying to sing along to “White Christmas” and failing. It’s a funny gag that serves to remind the audience of Midge’s Jewishness (as if we could forget!), and is a nice nod to all the Jewish performers who have worked with USO. (Of course, there was one Jew who definitely knew the words to “White Christmas”: Irving Berlin, who wrote it.)
8. Abe at dinner (episode 6)
While not explicitly Jewish, I saw my own grandparents reflected back at me in this Abe scene. Abe and Rose are in Miami, and Midge asks them to come watch her show. When Rose shows up wasted, she has Susie sit with them. After the set, Susie (who tried to out-drink Rose and failed) comes up to Midge and says, “Your dad, he’s not doing too good, either, but that’s mainly because everything’s too loud, and the air conditioner’s blowing right on him.” Is that not your grandfather? Your mom? Your aunt? Your grandma? Every single Jewish person you know?! When the scene pans back to their table, Abe is asking the waiter for a warm blanket. Points for authentic Jewish representation!
7. Brisket on tour (episode 3)
In the first episode of Midge on tour with Shy, they’re in Las Vegas. She’s feeling homesick, so naturally, she makes a brisket. When Shy walks in and asks what everyone is doing slash why they’re not rehearsing, Midge replies, “[It’s] my famous Passover brisket. It’s the reason the Angel of Death spared us.”
Which is a great line for a few reasons: (1) knowing that brisket is a classic Passover food; (2) the Angel of Death is the 10th plague on Passover, who passed over Israelites after they smeared lamb’s blood on their doorposts; and (3) brisket is obviously not the reason Jews were spared, so combining (1) and (2) makes it a layered joke filled with Jewish references.
“So Midge makes a brisket, and no one invites me?!” Shy replies.
6. Moishe tenement (episode 8)
It cannot be a best Jewish moments list without Moishe Maisel, played by Kevin Pollack. Truly, Moishe steals most scenes he’s in — (the “tush” test in episode 3!!) – but I am choosing to highlight this one due to the nod at Jewish history.
“You know, Abe, when my father came over here from the old country, he wanted a little goat farm. Who knows why. The man was convinced goats were the future. We lived in a tenement on Rivington — 12 people, two rooms and yet this man wanted goats. He pushed a cart. He sold pickles. But he wanted goats… In the end, the man dies out on a sidewalk, pickle in his hand, nothing in his pocket. No goats… Sometimes what you want, what you get, two very different things.”
Moishe’s backstory lines up with many poor Jews who fled eastern Europe for America at the turn of the 20th century. And, Moishe works in the garment district — which originated on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (where the tenements were). And, yes, pickle street cart sellers existed. Also, Moishe’s worldview feels especially Jewish: You can’t always get what you want.
5. Rose becomes a matchmaker (episode 7/8)
A fun twist in Rose’s storyline: She accidentally becomes a matchmaker! And she’s quite good at it! This isn’t exactly a “Jewish joke,” but we appreciate the power of Jewish moms matchmaking.
4. “Every Jew must live in Florida” (episode 5)
The return of Lenny Bruce was undeniably my favorite part of season three. Luke Kirby as Lenny is just… *chefs kiss*
When Lenny shows up in the hotel bar where Midge is working on her jokes, she is shocked he lives in Florida. He replies, “At some point, every Jew must live in Florida. It’s in the Torah.” I believe him!
They go on to have a night together (their chemistry is electric) and the episode only confirms my love for Luke Kirby’s Lenny Bruce. It also makes me nervous — since Lenny is the one real historical character in the show (no, Shy Baldwin didn’t exist), so we know what’s coming. (Lenny Bruce died in 1966 from an overdose, something I am sure that Maisel will address when they get there.)
Anyway, this got dark, but don’t let that distract you from my real point: Luke-Kirby-as-Lenny-Bruce can get it. And Jews live in Florida, yes.
3. Hanging mezuzahs (episode 4)
Abe calls Midge in a panic — explaining he and Rose got into a huge fight over mezuzahs. Yes, that’s right: mezuzahs.
Abe: Moishe was hanging them wrong. I told him the letter Shin should be on top, facing the doorway, and he wouldn’t listen.
Midge: So he was hanging them upside down?
Abe: And having Ethan help him. My own grandson learning to hang mezuzahs, like a schmuck.
Rose: He told us to butt out.
Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle’s delivery is what make this scene so great; you can feel their indignant attitudes regarding Moishe’s hanging of mezuzahs — and Ethan being a “schmuck” for learning to hang them upside down. An immediate classic, and perhaps a callback to the “giant mezuzahs” joke in the first season.
2. A primer to the Jewish people (episode 4)
We see one of Midge’s stand-up sets from Las Vegas, and it’s all about being a New York Jew. Actually, shall we just put her entire bit here?
“Now I’m Jewish, I’m from New York, and perhaps exotic to some of you, so I thought it would be helpful for me to present for you a primer to the Jewish people.
First of all, we are always ready to talk about food. Seeing you all eating dinner, I just want to ask what you’re eating, if it’s good, and tell you what you should have ordered.
Complaining. This is big with us. What repressing your emotions is to WASPs, complaining is to Jews. It’s second nature. But the key is, the complaints should never be about big important things, only little things like, it’s hot out; this restaurant is so far; the line is so long. You know, things nobody can do anything about. Remember, you’re not trying to fix anything. You’re just trying to be heard.
Guilt is big with us, and we use it wisely. And it’s not for making yourself feel bad about something you did. It’s for making someone else feel bad about something they didn’t do.
Jewish parents. Yell at your sons for not eating enough, yell at your daughters for eating too much.
And there’s the saying often attributed to our great prophet Abraham: ‘Anything you can do isn’t all that interesting to me.'”
It has everything! A true primer to the Jewish people! Jewish food, complaining (see Abe in #8 on this list, I told you it was Jewish!), Jewish guilt, Jewish parents, and a mention of the Jewish patriarch Abraham. How is it not number one? Well…
1. Astrid’s son’s bris (episode 7)
This, my friends, wins the season. Astrid (who deserves better!!) has given birth to a son, and they are hosting the bris, or ritual circumcision, at Moishe and Shirley’s house. Astrid’s husband, Noah, is not present (likely he is doing something with the CIA). And Abe acts as sandek, holding his grandson during the ceremony.
But before the actual circumcision takes places, there is a very comical lead-up. There’s a mohel making jokes — “I’m hoping this goes better than my last one,” he says. “There’s nothing funny about a mohel with hiccups.” — and Shirley then whispering, “We’ve had funnier mohels, I can tell you that.” (Shirley, my forever queen.) And there’s a bet between Joel and Moishe on which person will faint. Plus, there’s this exchange when the rabbi announces they are three short of a minyan. It made me legitimately laugh out loud:
Joel: We’ll round up some Jews for you, Rabbi.
Moishe: Don’t say, “Round up Jews.”
Joel: I know. It sounded wrong.
Thank you, Maisel, for delivering quality Jewish moments. (And Luke Kirby’s Lenny Bruce.)