August 16, 2013, - 7:55 pm

On 36th Anniv of Elvis Presley’s Death, The Final Word on Whether He Was Jewish

By Debbie Schlussel

Today is the 36th anniversary of the death of the great American talent, Elvis Aaron Presley, after his degradation into a life of drugs and unhealthy living. Overweight and with all kinds of substances in his system, on August 16, 1977, the 42-year-old Presley was found dead on the bathroom floor. On this site, I’ve often written that Elvis–according to Jewish law–was Jewish (descending from his Jewish great-grandmother, Martha Tackett) and about his Jewish roots and the things he did that identified with Judaism. There have been some baseless detractors (among them intermarriage promoter Nate Bloom who has nothing to back his detracting and gets a lot of things wrong), who claim that the story isn’t true or has been “debunked,” but in fact it is true and has not been debunked, including the fact of the original tombstone that he had made for his late mother, bearing both a Jewish star and a cross. But Elvis’ third cousin is the original source of the story as told in the well-researched and documented “Elvis and Gladys (Southern Icons Series),” by historian and biographer named Elaine Dundy, and I’ve heard from some of Elvis’ other cousins who’ve confirmed that there were, indeed, Jewish roots in the family. And–since 36 is a good luck number in Judaism*–it’s auspicious that near this 36th anniversary of his death, a new book has been released, that is–as its author says–the final word on Elvis’ Jewish roots, confirming them in detail.



Elvis Wearing Jewish “Chai” (“Life”) Necklace)

Elvis Presley in 1972 Wearing Jewish Star/Star of David

Elvis’ Mother’s Original Tombstone w/ Jewish Star/Star of David

Howard T. Senzel, author of “Elvis Presley and the American Spirit,” has written what he says is “the last word on Elvis and Judaism, not just the symbolic biographical facts but the actual impact Elvis had on the American Jewish Experience.” Howard sent me several excerpts from the book, including this one:

Elvis Presley’s mother, Gladys Love Smith, was born April 25, 1912, the fourth daughter of Bob and Doll Smith. Bob was the son of Obe Smith and Ann Mansell, both of whom were part Native American. Bob made liquor, which was illegal in Mississippi. Octavia Smith, called Doll because she was so small and cute, was born 1876 the second daughter of White Mansell. White Mansell was the son of William Mansell and Morning White Dove, a Cherokee daughter. As White’s sister was the mother of Doll, she and her husband were first cousins. Their father and uncle, William, was a rich planter, an immigrant of Scotch Irish descent. Actually, the Mansells were Normans, who wound up in Scotland, but when they arrived in America, the largest group of ethnics was Scotch Irish, so they were too. White was the son of a rich man. He grew up in a large house, but by 1900, he was living in a tiny shack, in Tupelo, working shares. From the beginning of Southern culture, owning land was a sacred aspect of identity. Farming somebody else’s land for a percentage of the crop when they kept the books was the dreaded fate for victims of slavery or other dire luck, but the South was still in ruins and it was a life. In 1870, White Mansell married Martha Tackett. She was the daughter of a Jewish couple, Abner and Nancy Tackett, who were devoted to her. There were two boys, Sidney and Jerome, both devout and observant Jews, but their sister was not religious. Martha converted for White. They had four daughters, then two sons. All six children grew up knowing their Jewish heritage and doing some of the rituals. Doll Smith was Elvis’ maternal grandmother. She knew she was Jewish and so did her children. In the Diaspora of remote rural America, so far from the centers of rabbinic learning, knowing the story and telling it was a near equivalent of devotion. Gladys knew enough of her mother’s origin to pass along to Elvis a sense of Judaism as something precious and sacred, and part of what made him special. We know from his autopsy that she did not have him circumcised, but she told her little boy about Martha and Nancy and their Jewishness.

The rural south was inhabited by an established minority of Jews. Most of them were peddlers. They arrived in wagons pulled by tired mules. They plied their wares with faces of exhaustion and patience. They dealt with women mostly, trading thread, cloth, forks, spoons, pots, pans, pins, nails, needles, thimbles, and a thousand other things. They had grinding stones that could sharpen anything. They never smiled, never frowned. When there was no money, they traded for eggs, chickens, dried meat, vegetables, berries, corn or hay for the mules. No one was afraid of them or said bad things about them. They served as a reminder that there was a big world out there full of exotic others. But for Elvis, Jews were never aliens, never mysterious, they were family.

Check out Howard’s book, and read my previous column for more details on Elvis’ Jewishness.

Get Yours . . .

Elvis Presley, Rest In Peace and Zichrono LiVrachah [“Blessed Be His Memory,” which is what Jews say about other deceased Jews in place of RIP].

* Why is 36 a good luck number in Judaism, you might ask? Well, in Hebrew, every letter corresponds to a number. The word “chai” (no, not the tea), which means “life” in Hebrew, is an important word, because it symbolizes the “Tree of Life” in the Garden of Eden in Genesis (and for other reasons). It corresponds to the number 18, and 18 and its multiples are good luck numbers, including and particularly 36, which is double “chai.” Often when people give wedding presents or gifts of money, they’ll give multiples of 18.

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31 Responses

Elvis published at least a half-dozen Gospel and Christmas albums. Would that be allowed for him under Judaism? His discography does not include any albums based solely on Jewish music or lifestyle. Perhaps if he was Jewish, it is possible that he was a Messianic Jew. In my opinion, his lifestyle seemed more of a deep Southern Christian background than anything else (regardless of how he died).

NOTE: being a Christian doesn’t mean staying away from those things that can tear you down, like drugs, alcohol, etc. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. it’s forgiveness that gets us through to the end.

Bob on August 17, 2013 at 10:50 am

It’s too easy to dwell on what ended a person’s life.

All too often, we forget how much of an impact that person had made in life.

For that, Elvis was and will always be “The King”, if only for the legends that were spawned after he had shuffled off this Mortal Coil.

Z”l, Elvis. See you on the Other Side.

The Reverend Jacques on August 17, 2013 at 11:14 am

I saw Elvis on his first and his last tour through Texas. My wife and I are forever and always Elvis fans. I think he was a very good person but not many can handle the life he was forced to live.
I don’t think any entertainer ever gave more of themselves to the fans. Maybe that was his downfall but he never lost the voice.

Joel on August 17, 2013 at 11:15 am

Bob, many famous Christmas songs were written by Jews. Check it out.

Karen on August 17, 2013 at 11:21 am

    why not Karen
    it is without question that

    christ was jewish

    prestigio on August 17, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I do not know his ethnicity or religion; did he ever publically state it? I do find it rather disturbing to see all of those Elvis queers that dress up like Elvis Presley and try to act like him. It is usually some old fat loser hillbilly that has no discernible talent and really is an exact opposite of what Elvis used to be.

I was watching some video of him, in his prime, and he could really bring it. None of the so-called musicians or actors could compare. Of course none of us ever knew him, but by all accounts, he seemed like the genuine article.

AR on August 17, 2013 at 11:25 am

i wonder why there was no mention, of his primary insomnia condition. since this was the initial reason, he began taking drugs to induce sleep in the first place. i think he only wanted to be able to sleep, like normal people.

but even this abnormality would not of caused people to not accept him. which i think is what, most jews are afraid of. and why so many of them, are great entertainers. but i guess what is the greatest attribute to Elvis, is that what was normal to him was not normal for the rest of the world.

yehoshooh adam on August 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

so what if elvis was jewish
a far more interesting question is

was so-called colonel
tom parker jewish

prestigio on August 17, 2013 at 5:09 pm

It has been mentioned so many times over the decades that most assumed he was Jewish and good for Him!!. I Loved his voice as a young man and with Elvis growing up in a climate of near antisemitism in Southern USA it’s not at all surprising his mentor,the colonel , decided to down play his roots.
Parker was German and an illegal immigrant into the USA ,which is why his main income earner never travelled O/S on tours as many others did. He wouldn’t have been allowed back into the US.

Aron B on August 17, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Actually, colonel parker was himself a Dutch Jew who fled after being wanted for murder. His sister saw his photo years later and recognized her brother. Check it out!

    Jeff on August 17, 2013 at 10:43 pm

From what I have been told at Rangemaster, Elvis Presley’s tennis courts on South Mendenhall in Memphis became what is now known as Rangemaster, the leading teaching academy for civilians, military, and policemen in the South.

Even though Elvis’s name is no longer on the building, Elvis unknowingly left a legacy which is now used as an academy where people from all walks of life can learn handgun safety rules, and receive so many types of advanced training in defending yourself.

Rangemaster trains for the Memphis area first and foremost and if Elvis could see Memphis now turning into Rhodesia, he would probably have invested in Blackhawk helicopters, tanks, and Israeli bodyguard training.

I have been told that the earth around Elvis’s grave is a bit uneven, he probably rolled over in his grave a few times with what Memphis has become.

Confederate South on August 17, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    @ Confederate South:

    When I lived in Memphis, I remember shooting at Rangemaster almost 3 times a week! What an AWESOME facility. And all that time, until now, I had NO CLUE of the location’s connection to “The Kang.” It makes sense, though. From what I understand, he also had a farm in Collierville (I grew up in Germantown).

    That part of the South, historically, has always had a very vibrant Jewish community. And, for the most part, Jews there didn’t face the same levels of anti Semitism as they did in other parts of Dixie.

    One of the other things I remember about living in Memphis was the dreaded (for locals)Elvis week.

    Cicero's Ghost (NB) on August 18, 2013 at 9:01 am

      I count my blessings that Lynn Givens taught me the correct way to hold a handgun and I am very thankful that Tom Givens decided to use Elvis’s building as his teaching academy. Tom is one of the late Jeff Cooper’s disciples and is one of the foremost authorities on handguns in the United States. Tom is also an Expert Witness to the courts in 48 of the 50 states.

      Tom also has the most experienced staff and best teachers in the country.

      I enjoy a number of Elvis’s songs but his songs pale in comparison to the teaching and saving of an innocent person’s life by someone from the Rangemaster community when a hoodlum is on the prowl.

      Confederate South on August 18, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Debbie, what I find very interesting where you said at the bottom and very end of this piece was that the corresponds to the 18 and 18 & its multiple numbers which all adds up to the number 36, as you explained, in Judiasm’s teaching, the number 36 means “chai” or “double chai”, this is very interesting what you wrote at the bottom of the article DS!

“A nation is defined by its borders, language & culture!”

Sean R. on August 17, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Ahmed Moussa, a prominent Egyptian television personality on the Tahrir TV channel as well as a former officer in Egyptian State Security Intelligence (SSI), went public on July 30 with a remarkable piece of information.

Moussa said, addressing U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson (in absentia) on his show:

Ambassador Stevens was killed in Benghazi, and you know who killed him, the U.S. administration knows who killed him, and you know how he was killed and it was a major strike against the U.S. administration, and all of you.

The assassin is now present at Rabia Al-Adawiya [mosque protest] His name is, do you know it or you would like me to inform you? He’s affiliated with Al Qaeda in Libya, his name is Mohsen Al-Azazi, his passport was found in the house of Khairat El-Shater.

That killer is in Rabia Al-Adawiya now, with Safwat Hegazy and Mohammed El-Beltagy, whom you and your administration support and aid. Your administration aids terrorism.

In the course of this statement, Moussa announced three facts:

1. Ambassador Chris Stevens’ assassin in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, is named Mohsen Al-Azazi.

2. Azizi associates with Mohammed El-Beltagy, the general secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and with Safwat Hegazy, a leading MB cleric.

3. The police found Azizi’s passport in the house of leading MB strategist Khairat El-Shater, presumbably when Shater was arrested on July 5.

If true, this is sensational news, for it directly ties the MB to anti-American terrorism and repudiates the Obama administration policy of trying to work with the MB. It also further confirms that the MB is a terrorist organization.

It might explain why the Obama administration is mediating in talks with Egypt’s interim government for a “reconciliation process” that would permit a safe exist for Morsi and other MB leaders outside Egypt without a trial that likely would disclose more embarrassing details about Benghazi.

But is the news that Moussa announced true? Several indications point to its veracity.

First, Moussa is a well-regarded source who often interviews intelligence agents and high-ranking military personnel on his show and is renowned for breaking intelligence-related news.

In March, for example, he broke the news that Egyptian intelligence stopped sending Mohammed Morsi written briefings and limited its reports to verbal communication, a reflection of its fear that his affiliation to an international Islamist organization (with over seventy branches worldwide) would compromise the information. As well as revealing some of the details of the meeting that took place on 30 July between Morsi and Catherine Ashton, British Labour politician and diplomat.

Second, as I reported in March, in a video shot during the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Egyptian jihadists approaching the U.S. installations said in Egyptian colloquial Arabic, “Don’t shoot, Dr. Morsi sent us.”

Moussa further went on to say, still addressing Patterson on this TV show:

Ask the Muslim Brotherhood to hand Azizi to U.S. authorities. — And of course they will not, as he is there to wage terrorist attacks against Egyptian citizens, as he hides there in the protection in Rabia, among killers with massive amounts of weapons … Why doesn’t the MB, which you often praise, hand him to you?

That question has yet to be answered by either Amb. Patterson, President Obama or the U.S. government.

jerry1800 on August 18, 2013 at 3:22 am

I think I just stood behind Elvis about an hour ago at the 15-items-or-less register at Ralph’s supermarket in Simi Valley.

He was buying a 12-pack of Natty Ice, a box of Twinkies (they’re back and I just sighted them too) and a copy of every tabloid and glossy gossip rag at the checkstand.

And I forgot my cameraphone!

DS_ROCKS! on August 18, 2013 at 5:53 am

So since Matha Tackett converted, she is a no good apostate. Right? Is Elvis an apostate too as he was obviously a Christian. His favorite pastor was Rex Humbard who also officiated at Elvis’ funeral. Elvis also had a deep love for gospel music.

Pretty much settles it. Elvis the apostate.

The Other Debbie on August 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Oh and my husband is not Jewish although I am so I guess that makes me an apostate too. Cool.

The Other Debbie on August 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Elvis would praise Jesus on a regular basis. No Jew would ever do that.

Howard Fine on August 18, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I live in Louisiana and Elvis grew up a few miles away and started his career here. He may have some Jewish blood in his mix as Jews were a large part of the South, the primary brokers of cotton and slaves and integral to our economy. But at the end of the day, Elvis is what is called a Redbone. Look it up.

david7134 on August 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm

My GOD, Really are we still on this subject every years of this cretin death anniversary. He openly worshipped as a jew so who knows who cares, either way he’s not a sterling example of Judism. I would be more interested in the anniversary of Sammie Davis Jr’s death at least he practiced openly and he was a better dancer and singer.

MANGOG on August 18, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Please forgive my misspellings I’ve been driving all night long.

MANGOG on August 18, 2013 at 6:45 pm

First, Col. Parker was neither Dutch nor Jewish, to the woman who claimed he was a Dutch Jew.

Second, Elvis was descended from a Jew, but as she converted, neither she nor Elvis was Jewish.

HOWEVER, Elvis’ best friend, who never ever asked anything of Elvis, was a Jewish man named Klein.

Elvis was a Shabbos Goy to a religious Jewish couple. A Shabbos goy is an honored person who does those things that religious Jews are forbidden to do on the Sabbath.

The South had many Jews. Judah Benjamin, a Secretary of War under Jeff Davis (Confederate President), was Jewish. One of my distant relatives came from Kentucky, and served in the Union Army (as Kentucky was in the South, but stayed in the Union).

Another man named Green had a 300 acre plantation in South Carolina, going back to the 17th Century.

Unlike Muslims, we Jews actually had a hand in building this (once) great country before the liberals destroyed it in two generations.

Jonathan E. Grant on August 18, 2013 at 8:08 pm

y r u automaticaly called an anti semite if u don’t support israel u want ppl to boycott products of iran so ur an islamaphobe i dont support israel n neither do the majority of the ppl if tht makes me an anti semite im proud to be one israel is treatin the palistinians like shit not allowing aid to reach them if israel was hit by an earthquake u wont see me donating aid hahahaha

jaydon on August 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm


    Mario on August 20, 2013 at 3:42 am

The King’s home that he lived in as a boy is well preserved in Tupelo MS.

It is a little white home in the old section of town. I passed by it at night, on my way to a local bar to meet a friend. I had stopped in Tupelo on my motorcycle trip to St. Louis. I made a point to see Elvis home. It was lit up so I could see most of the outside of the building.

I would say it had three rooms and was not more than 20’x30′ in floor plan. I thought to myself how great this country was, so that a young boy with talent could live in such a home and then move on to become an internationally recognized star.

From now on I recommend we think of that little white house rather than Graceland as the symbol of The King. I will.

May he continue to rest in peace.

Panhandle on August 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm

JEG: “Elvis was descended from a Jew, but as she converted, neither she nor Elvis was Jewish.”

What? So the whole matriarchal thing is a myth? I thought that as long as bloodline between mothers was not broken, then one was considered a Jew regardless of knowledge thereof, deeds or declarations otherwise.

DS_ROCKS! on August 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Who cares if he was Jewish or not? He is DEAD, so this is moot!

Lee on August 19, 2013 at 3:09 pm

It is an interesting story. This adds a dimension to his life that was not well known.

Worry on August 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I’m Jewish, but I think whether Elvis is Jewish or not is irrelevent, however interesting. What is more important is that privately he was a great philanthropist who gave money to both Jewish and Christian charities and many other people. He had a philanthropist’s soul and spirit. This is lacking in many famous people today. He signifys to me how America has fallen in terms of social mobility, entertainment and spiritually.

I agree with someone who said that there is too much focus on his drug use. I have suffered from insomnia and been addicted to prescribed drugs for sleep, though at a much smaller level. So I can sympathise how a person under pressure to perform can get addicted with doctors connivance.

To the person way back – the Colonel was definitely not Jewish. He was Christian and an illegal immigrant from Holland.

Leah on August 20, 2013 at 11:08 am

Whoa. Debbie is really pushing hard to make Elvis a jew when the only source for that claim ever was Elvis’ third cousin. There is no other source for that. Debbie talks of “other cousins” it would be nice if she actually quoted them with names and historical data. The Tackett family association has also done some research and come up with nothing pointing to the supposed Jewish heritage claim. Stop with your lying and wishful appropriation of Elvis, Debbie.

Ramiro on November 25, 2013 at 7:44 pm

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