A Stock Character that makes frequent appearances in Jewish comedy, the stereotypical Jewish Mother is overbearing, emotionally manipulative, and persists on interfering in her children's lives long after they've become adults.
Usually, she'll speak with a Yiddish accent and will often be heard boasting about her offspring ("my son, the doctor...") when she isn't nagging them. The only option in life for her children is college and (for the girls) marrying a nice Jewish boy (often parsed even more with "A nice Ashkenazic boy" or "A nice Ashkenazic doctor" or "A nice Ashkenazic doctor with an apartment in New York and plenty of frequent flier miles to visit your mother whom you never cawl anymore"). Likewise, a Jewish son is expected to bring home a nice Jewish girl. No matter how nice, however, this girl will not be good enough. Heaven forbid he marries a Shiksa Goddess.
A related Stock Character is the stereotypical Jewish Grandmother: just as much meddling and interest in the personal lives of her decendants, but more likely to provide highly caloric snacks (did we mention that being a Supreme Chef is part of the stereotype?). The Jewish Grandmother is the occasional ally of her grandchildren, as she can use on their mother the techniques of guilt and shame that their mother does on them: "Why don't you let the kids play more? Study, study, study all the time is not good for them! And then they're too tired to even visit their grandmother. Are you trying to keep me from seeing them?" "No mama..." "You be quiet! Now bring me that brisket before you ruin it."
Similar stereotypes about mothers and grandmothers are common throughout the Mediterranean Basin among Arabs, Berbers, Turks, Greeks, Italians, and Spaniards, as well as among Latin Americans and Asians. On the other hand, the stereotype is seen as uniquely Polish in Israel itself. Apparently, the other Ashkenazim don't think it applies to them — not that there are all that many non-Polish Ashkenazim — and the first-generation Sephardic Jews just saw it as "isn't that just how all moms are?" because their Muslim and Christian Arab or Iranian neighbors had the same stereotype.
Surprisingly, the otherwise northern European Scots suffer... erm... enjoy a variation on this trope with their own mothers. Poles and Russians (and Ukrainians, and Belorussians) are also in the same camp, because, well, Ashkenazi Jews are just as much Poles/Russians as they are Jews. And any mother of an adult character who hails from New York City will come off this way, whether Jewish or not.
Expect a more passive-aggressive form of Jews Love to Argue with her. Heck, she's a master of Passive-Aggressive Kombat.
A Sub-Trope of My Beloved Smother.
See also I Have No Son, Jewish Complaining, Mommy Issues (when this trope goes way, way over the edge), Drama Queen. Can sometimes overlap with Education Mama.
open/close all folders
Beattie (Maureen Lipman), the middle-aged London Jewish mother in the British Telecom TV ads.
Beattie(Sitting next to the phone, talking to a photo of her son): So you can't phone. You can't pick up a phone and dial. You got maybe something wrong with your finger. It's a phobia. You're telephobic.
The phone rings. Beattie picks up.
Son(VO, phone): Hello, Mum.
Fade out. Fade in on Beattie putting the phone down.
Beattie(to the photo): So you can't visit. You can't call round. You can only phone. Never mind. It's a pleasure to hear your voice. (pause) Little more often wouldn't hurt...
The VHS promo The Invasion of Nintendo has the "invaders" torturing Ken Lobb by bringing in his mother, who nags him mercilessly until he gives them strategies for Killer Instinct.
Plymouth used a stock comic Jewish Mother in late '60s muscle car ads, harping to her son about his 'Bananacuda'.
Vladek Spiegelman from Art Spiegelman's Maus is a male example, and since the comic is autobiographical, was probably also a Real Life one. It's not played for comedy, however, and borderlines on downright emotional abuse.
Alva Strauss Arnheim, the matriarch of Will Eisner`s The Name Of The Game. She is the main reason her sons develop like they do, and she is ready to excuse any behaviour from her eldest son, as long as he keeps the family business up and going. Her attitude gets worse after the death of her husband.
Eisner modeled this story on his wife`s family background. There is good evidence Alva has been a Real Life person.
Mama Lipsky is already one in Kim Possible. But in Ronman the Barbarian, this trope comes full blast, in addition to being evil, due to Mama King wanting her son to marry Kimila to secure the throne.
In Slipping Between Worlds, Fusilier Jonathan "Tailor" Cohen joined the British Army against his parents' wishes. Born in Wales, he has the right birth qualifications to be sent to a Welsh regiment, where he is accepted by Seven Platoon largely because of his skills with tape measure, needle and cotton. However, his distraught mother fires off a barrage of letters to the Colonel commanding, full of heartfelt questions such as ''Is he keeping well? Does the Army allow him a kosher diet? Is he allowed to respect the Sabbath? Please tell me he hasn't been drinking and smoking and getting involved with the sort of women who hang around Army barracks?" The Colonel passes the letters down the line to Cohen's platoon commander, Lieutenant Philip Holtack, who is curtly told "Deal with this, Philip".
Mother Gothel from Tangled has an air of this trope to herself. However, the cut verse of "Mother Knows Best" is basically a tribute to Jewish mothers is fiction.
Go ahead, get trampled by a rhino! Go ahead, get mugged and left for dead! Me, I'm just your mother, what do I know? I only bathed and changed and nursed you! Go ahead and leave me. I deserve it. Let me die alone here. Be my guest. When it's too late you'll see, just wait. Mooooooother knows best!
Films — Live-Action
Karen's mom in Goodfellas, right down to berating Henry for staying out too late. When they first meet, the first thing she says to Henry is "Karen tells me you're only half-Jewish." Henry is half-Italian, half-Irish, and was wearing a cross before Karen hurriedly made him cover it up so she wouldn't see it.
Seymour's mother from the original The Little Shop of Horrors. On top of the usual stereotypes, she's also an extreme hypochondriac, to the point where Seymour has been led to believe that all normal food is prepared by adding medicines to it.
Although she doesn't have much screentime, the protagonist's mother in Next Stop, Greenwich Village (played by Shelley Winters) somehow manages to dominate the movie (and of course she manages to drive her son up the walls when she drops by)
A Catholic version in Saturday Night Fever: Mrs. Manero is always criticizing and guilt-tripping Tony and dotes on her older son Frankie the Priest. She is absolutely crushed when she finds out Frankie is leaving the priesthood, and ends up disowning him for "disgracing the family."
In Monty Pythons Life Of Brian, the title character's mother guilt-trips him while he's on the cross: "Go ahead, be crucified. See if I care."
In La Vérité si je mens, a comedy set in the French Sephardic Jewish community, a couple is in bed late at night when they hear the doorbell ring. "Who could show up at such an hour?" the husband asks. "Your mother?" the wife suggests. "No," the husband retorts, "my mother has her own set of keys!"
Seymour's mother in The Cannonball Run, who despairs that her son is running around pretending to be "some goy movie star named Roger Moore".
There's an old joke about the first Jewish President of the United States. At his swearing-in ceremony, his mother leans over to the person next to her and says, "His brother's a doctor."
What's the difference between a Jewish Mother and a rabid rottweiler? A rottweiler eventually lets go.
Some people have parodied this trope by telling jokes about gentile mothers, who are this trope but inverted:
Gentile: "Mom, unfortunately I can't come to your 60th birthday as I promised, because I have some very important business to do at that time."
Mother: "Okay, I'm fine with that."
A Jewish mother buys her son two neckties for his birthday, so the next time he goes to see her, he wears one of them. She opens the door and says, "What's the matter, you didn't like the other one?"
The next time he sees her he wears the other one and she says, "What, the first one isn't good enough anymore?"
A Jewish mother fiercely rebukes and berates her son for his inability to find a nice Jewish girl to settle down with and that he has been with a highly unsuitable series of Gentile women. She criticises their promiscuity, tendency to take too much strong drink, swear, dress inappropriately and not be Jewish. Her son thinks about this and then informs her about his new girlfriend. his mother gets on the phone to her best friend. "Well, I hold some hope for this latest girlfriend of Nathan's. Apparently she's a Goldberg!" (beat) "But what sort of a first name is Whoopi, already?"
A variant on this joke is that after being berated for a series of slutty, boozy, sleazy, girlfriends, and why can you not find a Jewish girl, the son brings home Amy Winehouse...
Q: How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: None. "That's all right, I'll just sit here in the dark..."
A Jewish mother's dilemma: Finding out that her gay son's boyfriend is a doctor.
Gene Simmons (né Chaim Witz) relates this one in his memoir Kiss and Make-Up: "What's the difference between a Jewish mother and an Italian mother? The Italian mother says, 'If you don't do what I tell you, I'll kill youse.' The Jewish mother says, 'If you don't do what I tell you, I'll kill myself.'"
Harlan Ellison's "Mom" is about a Jewish Mother so overbearing that she comes back as a ghost after she dies just so she can continue nagging her son.
How To Be A Jewish Mother by Dan Greenberg is the definitive text on the subject. One of the first things noted it is not necessary to be either Jewish or a mother to be a Jewish Mother.
Constance Temple from the GONE series is a "non-observant Jew".
Sophie Portnoy repeatedly nags young Alexander to finish everything on his plate, once even threatening him with a knife when he refuses to eat.
During the controversy following Portnoy's publication, a journalist asked Roth's mother if she thought she was a "Jewish Mother". Her reply was "All mothers are Jewish Mothers." Jewish writer/humourist Howard Jacobson has observed that this is certainly true of all comedy mothers.
The Destroyer: Chiun, Master of Sinanju, is male. And Korean. And the world's deadliest martial artist/professional assassin. And he's still a Jewish mother to poor, poor Remo...
In one Destroyer fanfic, it's stated that when he's not on the job, Chiun spends his time in Florida retirement communities with the Jewish grandmothers.
The short story "Pushing the Envelope" by Desmond Warzel begins and ends with arguments between the protagonist and his Jewish Mother.
Waldo Butters in The Dresden Files has one and Bob, who is his temporary Companion Cube, imitates her. Complete with Yiddish accent. Harry finds this hilarious.
Isaac Babel usually portraits Russian Jewish mothers (as well as any "mother figure", which includes aunts and grandmothers) as being kind, devoted, conservative and very fat.
Mrs. Helen Seinfeld and Mrs. Estelle Costanza from Seinfeld.
Used in an episode of Frasier involving Frasier's new Jewish girlfriend and her mother. The mother is so involved in her daughter's life that arguments on the subject have apparently become routine. When one such fight breaks out and Frasier asks if he should leave the room, the mother casually answers, "Sit, we're nearly finished."
The Nanny: Nanny Fine's mother Silvia Fine and Silvia's mother Yetta, who acts as both Jewish Grandmother to Fran and the Sheffield children and the occasional Jewish Mother to Silvia.
In some ways, Grace's mother from Will and Grace is like this - Grace remembers being told "...the classic Dr Seuss story; One Fish, Two Fish, Goy Fish, Jew Fish" by her mother.
Cuddy's mother in House. Made all the more annoying by the fact that she's a convert.
In British sitcom So Haunt Me a Gentile family moves into a house haunted by its previous owner Yetta Feldman (Miriam Karlin), who treats a Christian exorcism with scorn ("Gevalt, have you got the wrong sort of ghost!") and then becomes Jewish Mother from beyond the grave to the entire family.
British TV has very recently upped the ante on this. Channel Four is running a reality show/contest called The Jewish Mother of the Year. And in Episode Two, where they have to act as matchmakers to unhitched Jewish girls...oy vey and gevalt, my life already.
Marie Barone, in Everybody Loves Raymond, is a Jewish Mother in everything but religion and ethnicity (she's Italian-American. Connoisseurs say Catholic mothers of Latin or Irish extraction are their spiritual sisters, though). She counts, as ELR is co-written by Philip Rosenthal, whose Jewish Mother helped inspire the character.
Call the Midwife: The Patient of the Week in Series 3, Episode 4 is Jewish, and lives with her mother. On account of what seems to be a combination of Ménière's Disease and PTSD (the family rode out the Holocaust by living in a cellar), the mother gets physically ill if she attempts to leave her flat. When, in response to Dr Turner's news that her condition can be treated, her daughter and son-in-law announce a plan to move them all to Golders Green, she gets a bit passive-aggressive (understandably, since it's a big shock). However, once her granddaughter is born, she drums up the courage to leave the house...to nag her daughter about the inadequacy of the baby's clothing.
Many interpretations of Demeter turn her into this. Perhaps most notably in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
You could've married the god of doctors or the god of lawyers, but noooo. You had to eat the pomegranate.
Aase, mother of Peer Gynt. Constantly dissatisfied with her son, and for good reason, and complaining that he didn`t marry the wealthy girl who actually wanted him. Subverted because she is a Norwegian christian, not a jew, but her attitude fits the trope.
Arnold's mother Mrs. Beckoff in Torch Song Trilogy (a role written for Estelle Getty), is a sympathetic version. Still annoying, and can't understand the gay thing, but she means well underneath.
Harley's mother in Boy Meets Boy. She doesn't show up much, but she notably nagged Harley about his boyfriend Mik for a pretty long time, trying to get him to date her friend's son (who was a doctor) instead.
Elizabeth's mother in Better Days constantly voices her disapproval of Fisk and tries to hook Elizabeth up with nerdy Jewish boys.
"And when is that lesbian separatist coven of yours going to give me some grandchildren, hmmm?"
Sabra Klein's mother in PreTeena is proud, protective and smothering to her Adorkable daughter. It is hinted that Sabra's multiple allergies and food-phobias are down to over-protective parents. Mrs Klein also dissaproves of her daughter's nickname "Stick", even though everyone calls her this.
In The Onion's news videos, one ticker item read, "Jewish Scientists Discover New Way to Disappoint Parents".
In the Nostalgia Critic review of Man of Steel, the Critic likens Clark's father to this. This is followed by a skit where a Jewish mother starts rambling on the phone about her amazing son Clark is - to a 911 operator.
From The Simpsons: "A grizzly bear stands 7 feet tall, weighs like a Mazda Miata, and can tear through a tree like a Jewish mother through self-esteem."
In Futurama, Dr. Zoidberg's aunt first criticizes him for wanting to become a comedian instead of a doctor, then for giving up his dream of becoming a comedian to go to medical school.
Snot's mom in American Dad! appears to be this in her appearance in "Moon Over Isla Island", but when Steve and Snot actually talk about her in other episodes it's reveiled that she's actually an alcoholic slut who steals money from her son.
A minor character on Drawn Together once described her mother as an "incredibly Jewish woman." Definitely Informed Judaism, since it's the one and only time in the episode the character brings up her (alleged) Jewishness.
The Real Ghostbusters: Although initially established as being descended from a line of Christian Jews, when Egon's mother is eventually introduced, she's revealed as being one of these, to the extent where she'll mother the entire team including the secretary, Janine. Of course, Janine is used to it, given that her mother is one as well.
Averted with Deedee Pickles on Rugrats, but Deedee's mother Minka fits the Jewish Grandmother mold.
Some believe that Peter Sellers' overbearing mother was partly responsible for his personal issues. The biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers makes it look like she was almost single-handedly responsible.
The Israeli Merkava tank, was once described as "A cross between a mass of rumbling destruction and a Jewish mother".
Which is scarier?
The Merkava has a spacious crew compartment with rear-opening doors that can, in extremis, welcome an entire infantry section into its loving bosom and keep them safe....
Einstein's mother was like this. She went so far, that she was against him marrying his first wife Mileva Marić, just because she was other nationality(Serbian). Einstein disobeyed her and had two sons with Mileva Marić.
The famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin's mother who "ruled her children with a rod of iron".
The more positive side of the trope is revealed with a Jewish grandmother's warning to her gay grandson (who was traveling) not to go to Russia for the 2014 Olympic Games, because she doesn't want anything to happen to him. Turns out he wasn't going anywhere near Russia, but still, awww....