Remembering Elizabeth Taylor, Jewish by choice
Taylor may be remembered most for her award winning film roles and long list of husbands, but the star was also a Jewish convert who took her chosen religion very seriously.
Judaism, unlike some other religions, discourages conversions, but there has always been a certain amount of giddy excitement when a star, from Marilyn Monroe to Sammy Davis Jr., converts to the Jewish faith.
Few celebrity conversions, however, have garnered the lasting impact that the ceremony at Hollywood’s Temple Israel on March 27, 1959 did, at which a 27-year old Elizabeth Taylor took on the Hebrew name Elisheva Rachel and converted to Judaism.
Tellingly, Taylor had not converted before or during her marriage to Jewish film producer Mike Todd (born Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen), but instead achieved her goal nearly one year after Todd’s premature death in an airplane crash. In order to do so, she studied with Temple Israel’s Rabbi Max Nussbaum, a Bukovina-born Holocaust survivor who had led that congregation from 1942 onward.
Although some ridiculed this decision by Taylor, who died in the early morning of March 23 at age 79, she took it extremely seriously. Biographer Kitty Kelley quotes Taylor saying that she “felt terribly sorry for the suffering of the Jews during the war. I was attracted to their heritage. I guess I identified with them as underdogs."