The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a very, very Jewish series. Centering on Midge Maisel, a Jewish housewife who becomes a stand-up comedian after her husband leaves her, the show is bursting with Jewish jokes.
But what is so great about Maisel is how is how spot-on it is about the little Jewish details. The references to everything from the Mi Sheberach prayer to Jewish grandmas playing Mah-Jongg are amazing.
Just for you, we’ve ranked the 20 best Jewish references in the second season. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
20. Turning the prayer books the correct way (episode 5)
Rose, in an effort to get information from her daughter-in-law, Astrid, joins her at prayers. Rose starts flipping the prayer book like a normal English book — and Astrid, helpfully, reminds her that, for Jews, books are read the *other* way.
19. Adam & Eve (episode 10)
In a stand-up bit in the season finale, Midge talks about her best friend giving birth. “You let a human being grow inside your stomach for 9 months till it’s 6 to 12 pounds large, and then you give it an escape route the size fo a change purse.” Indignant, she asks, “Who, in the beginning, when it was getting sorted out, negotiated this deal? Was it Eve? No. I bet it was Adam. He hadn’t eaten from the Tree of Knowledge yet, so he was just like, ‘Yeah, that’ll fit.'” A+ joke about pregnancy, and A+ reference to the biblical tale of Adam and Eve.
18. Kiddush cup (episode 9)
Discussing Midge’s participation in a telethon for arthritis, Rose, Abe, and Midge discuss Great-Aunt Pearl, who suffers from the disease. Rose says, “One day she picked up a Kiddush cup, and she couldn’t set it down for two years.” Obviously this is a very dark joke, but points for the Jewish reference to a Kiddush cup.
17. The Jewish Daily Forward (episode 3)
Midge, bragging about her wedding, tells her friend “it got a write-up in The Jewish Daily Forward, in Yiddish, so it didn’t get a wide readership, but the picture was sensational.” The Forward, as the Jewish Daily Forward is now known, was founded in 1897 as a Yiddish-language paper.
16. Kugel (episode 3)
Joel, who is living with his parents after his separation from Midge, is kinda disheveled throughout the entire season. When his friend Archie visits him, he tries to convince him to stay by saying, “Ma’s making kugel, she makes good kugel, don’t leave before you have some kugel.” Now we want kugel!!
15. Brisket, kishka, Jewish deli (episodes 5 and 8)
And while we’re on the subject of Jewish food, there are so many scenes in season 2 that take place at the fictional Jewish deli “the Stage Deli.”
Here’s Midge and her (non-Jewish) friend Imogene:
And here’s Benjamin (the very nice Jewish doctor) and Midge:
And the screenshots are too many, but Midge’s favorite order? “My dear friend Imogene here will have hot pastrami Reuben on rye, chicken in a pot, potato knish, matzah ball soup, cheese Danish, a lime rickey, and a couple of black-and-whites for dessert.”
14. Wandering the desert (episode 5)
“How the fuck did these people make it out of the desert to begin with?” Susie asks Midge, regarding all the Jews at Steiner’s Mountain Resort. What works about this is that it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of reference to Jews wandering the desert for 40 years — the story of Exodus that forms the basis of Passover — and it’s directly meant for the Jewish audiences. Props, Maisel.
13. Hanukkah (episode 6)
After Abe finds out about Midge’s stand-up career, he bans he from telling Rose — at least until they get through Hanukkah. Even though it’s August, and as Midge points out Hanukkah is “months away,” Abe insists: “You want to spoil your mother’s Hanukkah by telling her you’re pursuing a life as a foul-mouthed comic?” Obviously, this wouldn’t spoil Hanukkah (they haven’t even made it through Rosh Hashanah!) but the Jew-y premise of the joke is fantastic.
12. Dreidel (episode 5)
This is so minor, but during a game of “Simon Says,” the directive “Simon says spin like a dreidel” is ridiculous and absurd and the best type of Jewish reference in a show.
11. Mah-Jongg (episode 6)
Shirley, Joel’s mom, is a Mah-Jongg fiend, who stayed up all night playing for thousands of dollars while on vacation in the Catskills. The specificity of all this is incredible: According to My Jewish Learning, “From the tenements of New York City to the bungalows of the Catskills and the vast American suburbs, Jewish women have kept alive a game that otherwise fell out of fashion in the 1920s.” Middle-aged Jewish women in the Catskills (a.k.a. Shirley) are the reason the Chinese parlor game became popular in America.
10. Mohel (episode 6)
Moishe and Shirley are joking about Abe’s exercise romper. They make fun of how formfitting it is, commenting, “Every cut of the mohel’s knife on vivid display.” Referencing a mohel – a Jew who performs the ritual of circumcision — is a way to heighten the specificity of the joke, and it works so well.
9. Embroidered yarmulkes (episode 8)
Abe tells Midge that if she ever gets remarried, her second wedding will be nothing like her first — no fake snow, no papier-mâché reindeer, and no embroidered yarmulkes. The embroidered yarmulkes is what makes this Jewish reference land.
8. “From your lips…” (episode 4)
While at the hair salon, Rose tells Midge about Joel’s “surprisingly manly” reaction to all the rumors about the breakup of his marriage. Midge’s responds, “From your lips…” which is actually from a very Jewish saying, “from your lips to God’s ears.” This phrase is “common among at least some Jews as a reply to an expression of hope or good wishes” and it’s a translation of the Yiddish phrase, “fun dayn moyl in gots oyern.”
7. Tisha B’Av (episode 6)
Astrid, Midge’s sister-in-law, converted from Catholicism to Judaism to marry Noah. She’s really leaned into Judaism, including fasting for Tisha B’Av, a communal day of mourning. The entire plotline around Astrid’s Tisha B’Av fast was filled with Jewish references — there was a mention of kinot, the mourning prayers for Tisha B’Av, and the visuals of Astrid sitting on the floor praying (which is also part of the ritual of the day). Again: we are so impressed with how well Maisel captures this little-known Jewish holiday.
6. Mi Sheberach prayer (episode 3)
Midge recites the first line of the Jewish prayer for the sick, in an effort to help her friend Mary get a better reception room for her wedding. (It’s a whole thing, we wrote about it.) The Hebrew prayer getting such a major moment in a mainstream TV show — and it not being the Mourner’s Kaddish! — is remarkable.
5. New York bagels & lox (episode 8)
“I’m really glad to be back in New York City, my home,” Midge begins a stand-up set in episode 8, “where I have so many friends who hate me, so much family who are disappointed in me, where my children live until they abandon me.” But the punchline is the best part: “That’s why New York is so great, though. Everyone you care about can despise you, and you can still find a bagel so good, nothing else matters. Who needs love when you’ve got lox? They both stink but only one tastes good.” Amen, Midge.
4. Aramaic/Hebrew/Yiddish (episode 2)
Joel and his secretary are trying to decipher Shirley’s books. His secretary tells him, “At first, I thought it was in Hebrew, but then I realized parts are in Yiddish. And this is ancient Aramaic, which has been a dead language for 2,000 years.” Great reference to all three Jewish languages!
3. Yom Kippur service (episode 7)
Everything about this Yom Kippur scene is a Jewish reference. Mainly, there’s the viddui, the confessional prayer, happening in the background. And we’re impressed.
2. Bar mitzvah (episode 9)
Joel and Moishe reminisce on Joel’s bar mitzvah, where there were 200 guests, “chopped liver shaped like Michelangelo’s David,” and all the cash Joel received was immediately used to pay for the hall rental. It’s a masterful dialogue between father and son, and filled with cultural references that any Jewish parent who has thrown a bar mitzvah can understand.
1. The Yiddish (most episodes)
There’s plotzing, kvelling, kvetching, shayna punims, and tuchuses… the Yiddish is peppered throughout the entire season of Maisel. Some examples:
“Your parents must be kvelling” Lenny Bruce tells Midge, on her dating a doctor.
“Why would a fakata bank in the tuchus of Brooklyn try to compete with the Pope?” Moishe asks, indignant at the grandeur of a bank.
We can keep going… all these Yiddish-isms together are the top Jewish reference. Mazel tov, Maisel. Ya did good.