Created by David Chase and starring Jewish actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler in the role of Tony Soprano’s daughter Meadow, “The Sopranos” is widely regarded as one of the best shows of all time.
The show managed to make the audience sympathize with a villain who loves his family but doesn’t have a problem cheating on his wife or killing people. Here are some interesting Jewish moments from the show which aired on HBO from January 1999 to 2007.
Meadow’s Jewish boyfriend stands up to Tony without consequences
Insulting a mafia boss to his face while you are dating his daughter is a serious gamble. Columbia University student Noah Tannenbaum becomes enraged when Tony uses racist language against him.
Noah, who has a Black mother and white Jewish father working as an entertainment lawyer, confronts Tony despite not having full knowledge of Tony’s criminal activities.
It’s a dangerous move that could have easily cost him his life. But Noah’s conflict with Tony is likely a significant factor in his later decision to break up with Meadow. It is odd that Tony asks Noah if he is Jewish or African American, to which Noah responds that such inquiries are not permitted.
Hesh tells Tony to “finish his bris”
Hesh (Jerry Adler) warns Tony to not get involved in a dispute between a Hasidic family and a hotel. Tony dispatches Paulie Walnuts and Silvio Dante to intimidate the man, Ariel, who is reluctant to agree to a financial settlement and grant a divorce to his wife. In the face of physical coercion, Ariel appears ready to die rather than compromise.
Tony jokes that most people would be happy to get a divorce from their wife, mocking Ariel’s stubbornness. Ariel references the historical example of Masada, where Jews chose to die rather than be enslaved.
During a phone conversation, Hesh advises Tony to “finish his bris,” meaning to threaten Ariel in a sensitive area that he will need to have unharmed. Tony refers to the man as a “non-shellfish eating friend.” In the end, the father-in-law argues with Tony and calls him a “paskunyak,” Yiddish for a deceitful and crooked person.
“Hasidim but I don’t believe ‘em”
Throughout the show, there is a level of antisemitism within the mob, despite their use of Jewish men for loan sharking. In one scene, Paulie blurts out: “Hasidim but I don’t believe ‘em.” It’s meant to be lighthearted.
Carmela’s therapy session with a Jewish psychiatrist
During her therapy session with Dr. Krakower, Tony’s wife Carmela mentions seeking guidance from her priest, who suggested she try to work things out with Tony. Realizing that Dr. Krakower is Jewish, she implies that he might not understand her situation. Krakower responds that Tony’s infidelities are likely the least of his misdeeds.
He explains that “many patients want to be excused from their current predicament.”
Carmela, astonishingly, admits her husband’s involvement in organized crime, which, if found out, could put both her and Tony’s lives at risk.
Dr. Krakower declines to take her money, citing it as “blood money,” and advises her not to accept it either. He says that she is enabling Tony’s behavior and encourages her to leave and take her children with her. “One thing you can never say is that you haven’t been told,” he tells her.
Hesh’s concerns over the $200,000 loan to Tony
The Jewish character Hesh, a trusted figure in Tony’s life, becomes uneasy over the $200,000 he extended to Tony.
Tony initially pretends to forget about the loan but eventually relents, agreeing to make weekly payments totaling $3,000 as interest.
However, tensions arise when Tony, in a moment of frustration, calls Hesh “Shylock,” a reference to William Shakespeare’s character in “The Merchant of Venice,” a Jewish moneylender who faces dire consequences.
Perhaps due to nerves, Hesh makes a Jewish joke that isn’t good. Hesh begins to fear for his life, worried that Tony might resort to violence rather than settle the debt.
The Jewish mistress linked to Tony’s father
Tony discovers that Fran Felstein was once his father Johnny Boy’s mistress. During their encounter, Fran reveals that she continued to smoke despite Johnny Boy’s emphysema.
In a very odd scene, she serenades Tony with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” as Marilyn Monroe did for John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had an affair with Monroe, and Tony gives her a hat believed to have been worn by JFK.
Fran tells Tony about unfulfilled promises of money from her father related to the racetrack, acknowledging she won’t be included in his will. Tony gives her some cash but is ultimately left feeling bewildered by their interaction.