Follow TV Tropes


Kosher Nostra

Go To
"I used to tell Lansky that he may've had a Jewish mother, but someplace he must've been wet-nursed by a Sicilian."

The Mafia... but Jewish!!

Organized crime needs some kind of criminal underclass in order to exist. Criminal underclasses need some kind of social underclass in order to exist. And one group, historically, has existed as a social underclass all over the world: the Jews. Jewish mobsters are every bit as nasty as the other kinds, with the addition that they might have Yiddish as a first language.

In fiction, the Kosher Nostra are rare, probably because Jewish organized crime tends to be rolled into other, larger organized criminal groups. In truth, the Jewish community was often too small to be the single dominant organized mob, and Jewish mobsters often made strategic alliances with a larger group, often ending up serving as advisers and technicians. From about Prohibition to some time in the 1960s or 1970s, the main allies were the Italians. Nowadays, the Jewish mob is mostly focused in Israeli or Russian mobs (and as such, are more likely to qualify as Ruthless Foreign Gangsters). Still, they tend to pop up often enough in early-mid 20th century period pieces, particularly in Los Angeles and pre-Castro Cuba. There's also an overlap with London Gangster, as during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century many poor immigrants in London were Jewish, and several real-world London gang leaders of the era, like Isaac "Ikey" Solomon and Jack "Spot" Comer came from that background.

Jewish gangsters are usually distinguished from other, more typical mobsters by focusing their intellect and business acumen on the pragmatic pursuit of profit over more personal concerns. Some works may also juxtapose contrasting stereotypes of Jewish and mobster behavior. These characters, if not outright Badass Israeli, may kvetch, argue and self-deprecate like a typical nebbishy Jew, but also display a surprising Hair-Trigger Temper and Ax-Crazy capacity for violence.

Transparent No Celebrities Were Harmed versions of the most famous Real Life examples, such as Mickey Cohen, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, are particularly common (Lansky's friends joked that he behaved more "Italian" than most Italians). Historically, the Jewish Mob was a dominant force in the brief period between when White America started seeing Irishmen as "white" and the rise of the more numerous Italian Mob. During that period, they were involved in the regularization and "professionalization" of organized crime in the US, with the establishment of The Commission (the Italian-American Mafia's coordination/dispute-resolution body) and Murder, Inc. (organized, professional hitmen) being the brainchildren of Jewish mobsters (the Commission and Murder, Inc.'s parent organization, the National Crime Syndicate, were specifically Lansky's ideas).

Compare The Mafia, The Mafiya, The Cartel, The Triads and the Tongs, Yakuza and The Irish Mob.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Lagoon: Rock name drops the Kosher Nostra as one of the many gangs operating out of Roanapur alongside the Triads and Mafia. Though of all the major factions, they've never received focus in the story.

    Comic Books 
  • The first arc of DC Comics book Caper by Judd Winick was about two brothers in the Jewish Mafia in turn of the century San Francisco.
  • Several Sandman Mystery Theatre stories feature Jewish gangsters, including the very first one.
  • A Blackhawks mini-series in the 80s had Jewish gangsters aiding the heroes against Nazis.
  • In the Argentine comic Savarese (focused on the FBI's fight against organized crime in the 1930s) by screenwriter Robin Wood, there is a story about the beautiful daughter of a Jewish gangster who falls in love with the son of an Italian gangster. His father is not happy, not only because he is the son of a rival, but because he believes that Italians are criminals by nature and tradition, he is a gangster, but he wants his children to be owners of legal businesses. In the end, the lovers end up running away like Romeo and Juliet,but Juliet ends up murdering Romeo.
  • In the horror comic Martin Hel, also by Robin Wood, the protagonist has as a friend a French mafia boss who is Jewish, and dresses as a mix of a Hasidic Jew and a rabbi.
  • In Runaways, Dale and Stacey Yorkes, the token Jewish couple in The Pride, run a number of side hustles throughout history, using time travel to go back and forth through time to make collections from different eras. In the early 1900s, they ran a gang called the Deviant Ones in New York City.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Godfather:
    • The character of Moe Greene in Part I is based on Bugsy Siegel.
    • The character of Hyman Roth in Part II was based on Meyer Lansky.
  • Meyer Lansky (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a bit player in Andy Garcia's film The Lost City.
  • Bugsy about... well, Bugsy Siegel. Lansky is in this one too; understandable, given they were lifelong friends. Until Lansky ordered a hit on him.
  • Bugsy and Lansky also appear in Mobsters, with Lansky shown as Lucky Luciano's number two, and the brains of the team.
  • Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) is one of these in The Long Goodbye.
  • In Snatch., the characters make several references to the involvement of Jews in the diamond trade. There are several crooked Jewish gangsters mixed up in it: Frankie Four Fingers, The Gambling Addict and the man responsible for stealing a diamond and kick-starting the plot: Avi, his foul-mouthed and incompetent boss: Rosebud, Avi's Dumb Muscle: and Doug the Head, a pawnbroker of stolen jewelry, though in Doug's case, he isn't actually Jewish, but acts like it because Jews are the dominant force in the gemstone trade.
  • Once Upon a Time in America: Max, Noodles, Patsy, Cockeye, and Bugsy are Jewish, in full accordance with The Hoods, the novel that served as a source for adaptation. In particular, the character of Maximilian "Max" Bercovicz was inspired by Lansky, and David "Noodles" Aaronson was at least partially based on the author of the novel himself - Harry Grey, born Herschel Goldberg in Odessa (now Ukraine; according to the novel, Noodles' family is from Odessa as well), who used to work for Frank Costello. However, Bugsy is entirely absent from the novel and has little in common with Bugsy Siegel apart from both being Jewish American gangsters known by the nickname of, well, Bugsy.
  • Dutch Schultz in Hoodlum.
  • Lucky Number Slevin features a boss named The Rabbi. Because he's a Rabbi. Several of his enforcers are ex-Mossad. On first meeting the Rabbi, Slevin asks how he reconciles being a rabbi with the shotgun he's holding. The Rabbi answers that killing Slevin in "self-defense" would be acceptable, as far as the religious texts are concerned.
  • Le Grand Pardon is basically a French and Jewish Pied-Noir version of The Godfather.
  • Sam "Ace" Rothstein in Casino, a crooked Jewish casino mogul with ties to the mob. He's based on Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.
  • Nino and Bernie in Drive (2011) are Jewish gangsters. Nino sets the events of the film in motion with his plan to rip off the Italian Mafia.
  • Eight Men Out is about the 1919 White Sox scandal. It features Arnold Rothstein and a few minor gangsters under his employ.
  • Little Odessa is about Jewish Russian mobsters in Brighton Beach.
  • In L.A. Confidential, Mickey Cohen's arrest and fall from power in the opening serves as the instigator of the plot as the criminals of the city try to fill the Evil Power Vacuum.
  • Cohen is also the main antagonist in Gangster Squad.
  • Robert De Niro's character in American Hustle is Italian, but he's said to be the right-hand man of a never-seen Meyer Lansky.
  • In the 2016 Woody Allen offering, Café Society, the protagonist's brother is a Jewish-American gangster.
  • The Great Gatsby (1974) features the character Meyer Wolfsheim, from the original book. He's a Jewish gangster based on Arnold Rothstein who wears human molars as cufflinks.
  • Wolfsheim also features in 2013's The Great Gatsby, this time played by Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan, adding a layer of Ambiguously Brown.
  • Tony Curtis played the title role of Lepke, a biopic of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, a Jewish-American mobster who with Albert Anastasia was one of the founders of the Mafia hit squad later known as Murder Inc.
  • 1960 film Murder, Inc. features Peter Falk in an early role as Jewish hitman Abe Reles.
  • In Holy Rollers, Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Hasidic Jew who is recruited as a mule to smuggle ecstasy from Europe into the United States.
  • Real Life London Gangster Jack Spot is the protagonist of Once Upon A Time In London.

  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union takes place in an alternate history where Jews settled in an Alaskan city after Israel lost in the Independence War. There's plenty of crime and intrigue in the almost exclusively Jewish metropolis. The most notable criminal organization is an ultra-Orthodox religious sect called the Verboven. The sect's head rabbi is The Don.
  • In A Conspiracy of Paper, one of the characters is Abraham Mendes, a historical figure, who in reality, as in the novels, is the chief lieutenant of the gangster Jonathan Wild. The novels have a definite hardboiled detective feel (despite the 18th-century setting), and likewise, Mendes fits a lot of the 20th century (Jewish) gangster stereotypes. He's a violent thug in professional life, but when not engaged in crime, is a pleasant man who goes to synagogue regularly. He also fits the erratic temper part. The second novel shows him to be an animal lover, and he brutally attacks someone who had harmed a dog.
  • The gangsters in Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy are used to confound the expectation that all American gangsters are or were Italian-American. "Dutch Schultz" and Weissmann are clearly Jewish.
  • The Great Gatsby has Gatsby's shady business partner Meyer Wolfsheim, who is a pretty obvious No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Arnold Rothstein, right down to "rumored to have fixed the 1919 World Series".
  • EL Doctorow's Billy Bathgate is about Dutch Schultz, real life Jewish mobster. (Played by Dustin Hoffman in The Film of the Book).
  • Fictional Ur-Example: Fagin in Oliver Twist. Believed to have been inspired by real Jewish London Gangster Isaac "Ikey" Solomon.
  • The Godfather: In the original novel, Don Vincent Forlenza, Don of the Cleveland family, earned his organization the nickname of "the Jewish mob" by surrounding himself with Jewish associates.
  • The kingpin of '50s Los Angeles, Mickey Cohen, plays a prominent role in L.A. Confidential.
  • In the Andrew Vachss Burke book Mask Market what initially seem to be The Mafiya turn out to be these.
  • The Russian-Jewish author Isaac Babel wrote a series of picaresque stories called "The Odessa Tales", set in the Jewish underworld of Odessa in the early 20th century. The stories revolve around the bandit "King" Benya Krik, who is somewhat based on Mishka Yaponchik, including an ultimate violent end/status as a Revolutionary hero.
  • The Power has the Monke family, a Jewish crime family in the UK. Once women start developing the titular power to shoot electricity from their hands, the Mafia Princess Roxanne "Roxy" Monke rises up to take over the family, forging ties to Allie/Mother Eve's religious organization and distributing a Fantastic Drug that amplifies women's electrical power (which Bessapara uses to create an army of female supersoldiers) while pushing her crime boss father Bernie into early retirement after finding out that he had her mother killed. One unfortunate side effect of Roxy's power in the criminal underworld is that it provides fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, who claim that the Jews were responsible for women developing electrical powers as part of a plot to destroy Christianity and enslave men.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jewish gangsters feature prominently in Boardwalk Empire. Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Seigel, and Waxy Gordon are all characters of varying importance. Manny Horvitz is a (fictional) kosher butcher who is vying with Gordon over control of Philadelphia. One of few works of fiction to address Rothstein's poker habit, which eventually put him in debt to a better gambler, who had him murdered in 1928.
  • The Life And Adventures Of Mishka Yaponchik was a Russian TV Series about one prominent Russian-Jewish gangster from Odessa. The later-famous Red commander Kotovsky was also a gang member and there was a TV series produced about him.
  • The West Wing: Toby's father, Julie, was a hitman for Murder, Inc.. He justifies his past work as both providing for his family and only affecting fellow criminals. Though Julie served time for his crimes and later had a normal career making ladies' raincoats, Toby has long resented him, both for his criminal acts and the emotional distance the family suffered by his job and time in prison.
  • The Sopranos had Hesh Rabkin, Jewish music producer who did business with the show's Italian mafia. He may have been based on music mogul Morris "Mo" Levy, a real-life Jewish producer with mafia ties.
  • Oz features Nikolai Stanislofsky, a Russian Jewish gangster.
  • Also from HBO, Rome has Timon/Tevye, a bodyguard working for gentile Romans in an Older Than Feudalism example.
  • In Sons of Anarchy, Bobby Elvis is a Jewish member of the gun-running Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club. He moonlights as an Elvis impersonator for bar mitzvahs and such. His father was a bookie for the mob; he does the books for the motorcycle club and some of their other businesses. When he leaves the club and a couple of other members struggle with the bookkeeping, one of them sighs, "We need to patch in another Jew."
  • Michael Weston has run into the modern version of these guys once or twice on Burn Notice, the most notable case being the Zamar family from season 1. The Zamar patriarch is an ex-Mossad officer who has turned Arms Dealer and is teaching the trade to his sons as well.
  • Peaky Blinders has Alfie Solomons (played by Tom Hardy) and his gang, based in London's Camden Town neighbourhood and operating a sizable brewing operation. Uncharacteristic for the trope, Alfie and his gang are noticeably blue-collar, with Alfie sporting a thick cockney accent. The London underworld has (or had) a strong Jewish influence in real life, and the character's name was taken from a real Jewish gangster whose name appeared many times in court transcripts during the era.
  • Crime Story had another Lansky Expy in the form of Manny Weisboard. His protege and representative with the Italian mob was Max Goldman.
  • Downtown Precinct, an Israeli Police Procedural, showcases cops going up against Jewish gangs.
  • Season 2 of Fargo features the Ambiguously Jewish Kansas City mob, which features a number of gangsters who occasionally spout Yiddish, have a very dim view of Germans, and are played by very Jewish actors.
    • The beginning of Season 4 offers a potted history of the city's organised crime:
      1900: Kansas City, Missouri. In the beginning were the Hebrews, and they ran the underworld...
  • Daredevil (2015): One Jewish mob boss is among those that Wilson Fisk has his crooked FBI agents round up for a parley so he can extort protection money from them.
  • The Plot Against America: Jewish gangs are still pretty powerful in the 1940s. The local New Jersey outfit is led by Waxy Gordon.
  • Penny Dreadful: City of Angels: After he stumbles upon the Nazi presence in LA, Lewis calls in local gangster Benny Berman, namedropping both Murder, Inc. and Meyer Lansky as people Berman works for/with.
  • S.W.A.T. (2017): In "Never Again" the targets of the diamond robbers are an Israeli criminal syndicate that is operating in both the US and Israel.
  • The Power (2023): The Monkes are a Jewish crime family operating in London. Roxy wants to be a part of it, but Bernie, her dad who's the boss, resists this.
  • One faction of the two warring ecstasy rings in Season 5 of Third Watch was made up of Hassidic Jews who operated out of a front called Finklestein Silver & Diamonds.

    Video Games 
  • L.A. Noire has a couple of these, as you might guess from the page quote. The first is Mickey Cohen, based on the real-life gangster who was something of a celebrity in L.A. during the '40s and '50s. The second is Lenny Finklestein, a drug dealer whom you wind up killing while investigating morphine trafficking.
  • The 3rd Street Saints in Saints Row might be channeling the Purple Gang, a prohibition-era crew of alcohol runners. Like the old Gang, The Saints all wear purple, the default car is "The Bootlegger," and they're known for openly violent crimes and intra-gang violence.
  • Subverted in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with Ken Rosenberg, the neurotic manager of a mob-run casino. He couldn't harm anyone if he tried, has a cocaine addiction, lives in constant fear that he's going to be killed... and as a result, no one takes him seriously, especially not his bosses.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV has the Jewish Mob responsible for the diamond deal that serves as the focus of a major subplot. The boss and his right-hand man (Isaac Roth and Mori Green, respectively) are Shout-Outs to the famous Godfather characters.
  • The Big Bad of The Shivah is one of these, running a small Loan Shark racket out of a synagogue on the western side of Manhattan and allied with more traditional mafioso. The surprising part is that he's the rabbi of the synagogue.
  • The Mafiya group featured in Watch_Dogs 2 has many Russian-Jewish members, putting them into conflict with the local white supremacist biker gang.

    Web Comics 
  • Lackadaisy: Mordecai Heller, who looks more like an accountant than the most cold-blooded hitman in St. Louis.note 
  • The Blutenstein clan in DocRat has shades of this, being a family with a seemingly Jewish last name and a great deal of influence and no qualms about kidnapping and hogtying members of rival clans.

    Western Animation 
  • Zalmie Belinksy in American Pop.
  • The Penguin in Harley Quinn is revealed to be Jewish when he treats his nephew to a lavish bar mitzvah, stating it was at his own bar mitzvah that he decided to become a crime boss, and hopes his nephew will follow in his footsteps.

    Real Life 
  • The Purple Gang were probably the most well-known example from the Roaring Twenties. They controlled bootlegging and union extortion in Detroit, and were so feared that even Al Capone didn't dare mess with them, instead forming a partnership to distribute the Canadian liquor they imported into Chicago, which just goes to show that you don't have to be Jewish to love real Jewish rye. But by 1931, the Purple Gang's fortunes dwindled as years of infighting (with three of their top members killed off for challenging the leadership) and a brief war with The Mafia decimated them. Also, police found it easier to trace crimes to the gang because its members attracted too much heat. The gang continued in a weakened capacity for a few years before the Italians took over the Detroit underworld.
  • Israeli organized crime gangs.
  • The real-life Murder Inc. was a gang of Jewish and Italian hitmen in the 1930s who acted as enforcers for the New York underworld.
  • London, like New York, had its own Jewish population during the late nineteenth and early 20th century, which gave rise to local Jewish gangs. The Jewish influence is still echoed in a few Yiddish words that percolated into the criminal argot, such as "keep schtum," meaning "keep quiet." One of the most famous Jewish London Gangsters of the period was Isaac "Ikey" Solomon, rumoured to have been the original inspiration Charles Dickens used for Fagin in Oliver Twist.
  • Joseph Silver, notorious Johannesburg gangster at the turn of the twentieth century, who was alleged by one subsequent biography to have been Jack the Ripper.
  • A Hassidic gang smuggled drugs, which was the inspiration for Holy Rollers.
  • Edward G. Robinson (born Emmanuel Goldenberg) was a Jewish actor best known for playing tough guy mobsters in Golden Age Hollywood movies like Little Caesar and Key Largo, although most of his characters were implied to be Italian-American.
  • In 2013-2015, a group of Hasidic men led by Mendel Epstein were arrested for kidnapping and torturing other Hasidic men to force them to grant their wives a gittin (divorce).