August 16, 2012, - 4:45 pm
I’m not that into Elvis, but today is the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis Aron Presley, back in 1977. Yes, the guy had a lot of talent and sang some good songs. But, ultimately, he was a bloated drug addict who left a daughter without a dad after dying on a toilet from years of drug abuse and overeating. Still, in his professional life, he’s a an American icon and his legend, we are told, is the epitome of cool. As a proud Jewish-American, my main interest in Elvis, aside from his place in American pop culture, is that he symbolizes the Jewish heritage of America, our contribution to America even before it gained independence, and the fact that many gentile Americans today descend from Jews who were here on American soil long ago. Yes, as I’ve noted on this site before, Elvis was Jewish. Judaism is determined by matrilineal descent, and Elvis’ great-grandmother, Martha Tackett, was Jewish, as was her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, who was Elvis mother, Gladys Love Smith.
Elvis Wearing Jewish “Chai” (“Life”) Necklace)
No, Elvis didn’t publicly self-identify as a Jew . . . well, not exactly. But he knew he was Jewish. It’s just that his parents told him to keep it quiet. It wouldn’t be good for business. But his Jewish identity is indicated by several stark cues in his life. He regularly wore a “Chai” necklace. Chai is the Hebrew word for life and is good luck because the Hebrew letters stand for the number 18, which is a Jewish good luck number. And when he first buried his mother, he had a Jewish Star (Star of David) put on her gravestone. He also donated lots of money to Jewish charities and carried a yarmulke–the Jewish religious skullcap. Not that this is any indication of being Jewish, but Elvis also got a nose job (for the record, neither I nor anyone in my immediate family has had one, despite rumors to the contrary) and regularly hung out with his rabbi neighbor when he was growing up in Memphis. While he was outwardly a practicing Christian, “The King” was clearly proud of his heritage in Judaism.
I’m reposting, below, an excerpt of a Jewish Week article on Elvis’ Jewish heritage, which was reposted on Jeff Swope’s my space page. The original, to which I used to link, is no longer online.
Elvis Presley has Jewish Heritage through direct descent from the Jewess Martha Tacket.
Elvis’s mother, Gladys Love Smith’s mother was named Octavia “Doll” Marsell by her mother who was a Jewess named Martha Tacket who lived from 1852-1887.
Under Jewish law, a person is of Jewish descent if his mother is Jewish. All Jews come through the lineage of their mothers.
All mothers in Elvis Presley’s birth line run uninterrupted from the Jewish grandmother, Ms. Tacket, and then through all of his descending mothers and grandmothers. Therefore, Elvis himself is legally Jewish under the Jewish law of succession through mothers.
This information is found in the book entitled “Elvis and Gladys (Southern Icons Series),” by historian and biographer named Elaine Dundy.
Dundy writes in her book, “… Nancy Burdine was married to Abner Tacket. Nancy was of particular interest to Gladys for her Jewish heritage, often remembering Nancy’s sons for their Jewish names Sidney and Jerome. Nancy and Abner had a daughter, Martha (Tacket), who married White Mansell. The daughter which they named Octavia nicknamed Doll who was Elvis’ maternal grandmother.”
After Elvis’ mother, Gladys, died, the King designed her tombstone with a Star of David on it to honor her Jewish ancestry, which was something Gladys was proud of.
After a break in on August 29, 1977 to steal both Elvis’ and Gladys’ bodies, they were buried in Graceland where their security could be guaranteed.
Elvis learned the Hebrew alphabet and wore a piece of jewelry called a “Chai” which contained Hebrew words and the Star of David during 1977, the last year of his life. When asked why he wore both a Christian Cross and the Star of David, Elvis said he didn’t want to miss out on Heaven thru a technicality.
Elvis was told by his parents not to mention his Jewish ancestry as many persons hated Jews. At one point in his life, Elvis lived in an apartment below a Jewish Rabbi with whom he would meet and confer on occasion.
Elvis gave money each year to Memphis charities. One year, Memphis Jewish Welfare sent a delegation to Elvis. He wrote them a check for $150,000. Elvis also donated a room to the old Memphis Jewish Community Center.
It’s unfortunate that few big Elvis fans know that when they are mourning Elvis Aron Presley, they are also mourning an American who was proud to be a Jew.
Shalom to The King.
If Elvis were alive today, would he go public about his Jewish roots? I think he would. What do you think? I believe Lisa Marie and Priscilla know about it. But they probably don’t care.
Tags: chai, Elvis, Elvis Aron Presley, Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley Jewish, Gladys Love Smith, Jewish, Jewish Star, Martha Tackett, mother, Nancy Burdine, Star of David