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April 01 2006

Should Jews save the werewolves from extinction? Apparently Oz was the last in a long line of Jewish werewolves.

"Although few people in the Jewish community noticed, on May 2, 2000 a watershed event occurred: The last in a long line of Jewish werewolves disappeared when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the wildly popular vampire dramedy series, said goodbye to Oz, the character played by Seth Green. Oz left the show explaining that he had to go off to learn how to "control the wolf within." With this, a 60-year-long thematic liaison between Jews and werewolves ended. In fact, the whole werewolf myth seems to be in jeopardy. In this age of sophisticated computer graphics, werewolves have become steroid-bulked but ultimately vapid monsters second fiddles to vampires. (Witness 2004's pitiable "Van Helsing," the year's 16th place box office finisher.)"

""Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was the apex of the trend that saw adolescence and monstrosity play off each other. Unfortunately, "Buffy," though marvelous in many ways, shied away from questions of ethnicity. The fictional Sunnydale, Calif., was a multi-hued but ultimately pareve town, except for the higher-than-average number of supernatural creatures that lived there. And Oz was the kind of Jewish werewolf that Birthright Israel might be aimed at attracting: If his character was meant to be Jewish, it was strictly an accident of birth. His Jewishness seems to have extended only as far as being sensitive, smart and short. He was good looking, a guitar player and un-Jewishly laconic. And being Jewish no longer qualified him as an outsider. Oz would never have had nightmares of antisemitic violence. Therein lies his failure as a werewolf: North American Jews of the "Buffy" generation are so comfortable in their skins, they don't need to put on fur. At least not in the presence of non-Jews."

While I find this to be wonderfully amusing and quite an interesting observation, I'm not entirely sure "Daniel Osbourne" is a Jewish name, regardless of the kosherosity of his portrayer.
Obviously missed both Underworld and Underworld: Evolution...if the Jew as werewolf metaphor is applied then the evolution of a creature with the blood of both the vampire and werewolf but stronger than both becomes rather interesting!
Um...WTF? OK, I'm Jewish, and I adore metatextual analysis, but this one completely misses the boat, in my opinion.

Also, the name Osbourne? not so Jewish. From where the assumption that Oz was Jewish? Beats the hell out of me.
Huh? I don't get it.
Very interesting take on Jews-as-werewolves, but kinda out of left field. Osbourne isn't recognizably Jewish, but then it could have been changed on arrival from Oshmanskiy or the like . . . stranger things have happened. I'm guessing the author brings in Oz because (a) he's a fan of BtVS, and (b) because Seth is Jewish. Nothing more, and a rather weak reed to hang the thesis on. Interesting, nonetheless.
My guess is he wanted a more recent pop culture staple to draw from to make his point a bit more valid?

Or maybe it's the assumption that because Willow was Jewish, that her first boyfriend must be too? I do remember when trying to make her parents angry she didn't bring up that her boyfriend was... whatever Oz was-- but the fact that he was in a band. I'm not actually sure which would be more horrifying to a parent but normally you go for the bigger one when making a point.
With this, a 60-year-long thematic liaison between Jews and werewolves ended...


What's this guy mean? Ended? I'm still lobbying for Oz The Series. Y'know I've recently said "what more can be said about BtVS that hasn't already been said?" This link may have proven me wrong, but it doesn't rule out the fact that maybe we've run out of VALID things to say about this series, cuz I got like three paragraphs into this guy's thesis before I'd had my fill of it.
Werewolves are Jewish? Who knew?

Actually, I thought this was sort of interesting, though definitely a bit or a reach, as is usual with this kind of things.

In any case, to me the most explicitly Jewish wolfperson story I know is not "An American Werewolf" but a very funny/silly episode of the long forgotten eighties anthology show, "Monsters" which had Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara as a couple of kvetching werewolves whose daughter brings home -- oy gevalt -- a were-hyena.

Great stuff.

[ edited by bobster on 2006-04-01 08:48 ]
The whole article is far-fetched and beside the point (which Neil Jordan hits nicely in THE COMPANY OF WOLVES). And the Buffy reference is useless, since it's Willow who is the Jew there.

If there _were_ a Jew -> werewolf cliche, Buffy would undermine it by making the girlfriend Jewish.

[ edited by bschnell on 2006-04-01 15:10 ]
The article seems very muddled on the issue of Oz. It isn't saying he is necessarily Jewish. In fact, the direct quote is "If his character was meant to be Jewish..." Then, he goes on to give the signs that he is being coded as Jewish: he's "sensitive, smart, and short." But then he goes on to say how there are more ways in which he's not coded Jewish: "He was good looking, a guitar player and un-Jewishly laconic." Now, I'm not going to get offended by that, even though I know Jewish people who are good-looking, can play the guitar, and are laconic, because he's dealing with stereotypes here. But he's just made an argument for why Oz is not a Jewish stereotype. I would add to that his hair color(s!), and his last name, which is decidedly not Jewish. So I don't understand why he continues to insist that Oz, whether literally or just metaphorically, is Jewish. Oz fits perfectly into the "adolescent angst" mold he lauded in "Teen Wolf" and "Ginger Snaps," so I don't see why he doesn't see Oz as more representative of that allegory than the Jewish one.

[ edited by Rob on 2006-04-01 18:00 ]

[ edited by Rob on 2006-04-01 18:02 ]

[ edited by Rob on 2006-04-01 18:02 ]
Well, he also has the blood drinking werewolf in love with a blond girl and they can never be together. So we have a real mix and match of characters here. I think he left out Xander though.
Any reference to Willow being "the Jew" is beside the point, I think, since I continue to maintain that she was the least Jewish Jew ever seen on TV, and really the only false note, IMO, that BtVS sounded. The issue was barely raised, and not at all for most of the latter seasons.
I don't think Willow's Jewishness was particularly false. There are lots of Jews who are just as if not more unreligious as she. But she did have moments of acknowledging her heritage, such as putting stones on Tara's grave, which was such a perfect detail.
It's hard to make the case that Oz is Jewish for the aforementioned reason that Osborne is not a traditionally Jewish last name. As was said the author is assuming this because Seth Green is Jewish (if not by religion, then by heritage).

However, I don't this article off the wall when it comes to what he says about the traditions of werewolf stories before he gets to Oz and more recent movies. The article reminds me of similar observations that because in the golden age, the vast majority of comics creators were Jewish and therefore the Superhero was seen as more than just than a subconscious metaphor for an outsider with a secret trying to assimilate, but that this was the intention of Siegel and Schuster and other creators. If I'm remembering this correctly this is a major part character trait in Michael Chabon's THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY.

Well, I didn't intend this post to be so much comics but I thing the author gives some good examples of a storytelling traditon which parallels the tale of the werewolf with the Jewish experience.
Any reference to Willow being "the Jew" is beside the point, I think, since I continue to maintain that she was the least Jewish Jew ever seen on TV, and really the only false note, IMO, that BtVS sounded. The issue was barely raised, and not at all for most of the latter seasons.

Maybe Willow's religion not being mentioned a lot is actual realistic compared to most other television characters of religious minorities, for whom religion is one of their defining attributes. In the real world, religion does not play a large role in the lives of a many people, and Willow reflected this.
I always thought that Willow was Jewish because of her ethnicity and not her religion,especially in later seasons.

[ edited by ilanit on 2006-04-02 08:18 ]
I'm Jewish, senstive, smart and not short. Osborn is most definitely not a Jewish name, notwithstanding whether his folks came over from Russia or something. Willow was a cultural Jew, not a religious Jew, and she reflected that part of Jewish life rather well- she knows the rituals, but does not practice them (ie, the stones on the grave being one ritual she did practice). Interestingly, in Buffy, the vampire rituals were always circulating around Catholic ritual in the main, with just a few deviations here and there (ie, Janus and Ethan Rayne, Willow and Hindu gods and the like).
I enjoyed the essay even though I didn't agree with the basic argument. It was clever and it was witty. As has already been pointed out by several members, Oz was not Jewish. There was never any referrence to his being so and, given his relationship with Willow, I'm sure it would have been been brought into the writing had he been thought of as Jewish too. So the writer of the essay has made the very basic error of confusing the actor with the role.

Willow's Jewishness was not of major importance in BtVS except for a couple of specific moments. The writers wanted to point up how vampire mythology is tied specifically to Christianity and this was at complete odds with the "real" world of Sunnydale with, for instance, Willow being a secular Jew and Buffy being very much a secularist (remember "Note to self: religion freaky"?). In addition, it was usefully brought in to show up humorously the anomalies that have been built into the celebration of Christmas: "Being Jewish. Remember, people? Not everybody worships Santa." and "Hello, still Jewish. Chanukah spirit, I believe that was?"

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