Is Bob Dylan Jewish?

Yes, Bob Dylan is a Jew. He is a strange and famous musician whose personal views on things have always been hard to figure out.

Dylan turned 74 on his birthday, May 24, 2015.

Dylan was born a Jew named Robert Allen Zimmerman (Hebrew - Shabtai Zisel (or Zushe) ben Avraham) in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, and raised there and in Hibbing, Minnesota. His paternal grandparents, Zigman and Anna Zimmerman, emigrated from Odessa, Russia around 1905. His mother's grandparents, Benjamin and Lybba Edelstein, were Lithuanian Jews who arrived in America in 1902. His paternal grandmother's maiden name was Kyrgyz and her family originated from Istanbul.

Dylan’s parents were Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice "Beatty" Stone. When Dylan was six, his father was stricken with polio. The family returned to Hibbing, where Zimmerman grew up.

A few years back Dylan recorded a Christmas album. Ryan McDuff, from the blog Bully! Pulpit reported:
LOS ANGELES, Calif -- Bob Dylan is recording his first Christmas album, Bullypulpit.com has exclusively learned and has been quietly compiling a collection that includes both Christmas carols and modern songs. At least four songs have reportedly been recorded for the album including, “Must Be Santa,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas" and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

The recording sessions have been taking place at fellow recording artist Jackson Browne's Groove Master’s Studios in Santa Monica, California, where Browne produced his album, "I’m Alive."

Prominent media expert and best-selling author Michael Levine said the move by Dylan was "completely consistent with his longstanding tradition of doing the unexpected. Concerning Bob Dylan literally nothing would surprise me which of course is part of his lasting appeal. He confounds like no other pop artist ever."

The inclusion of “O Little Town of Bethlehem," written by an Episcopal priest named Phillips Brooks in 1867 after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, is likely to fuel speculation about Dylan's religious beliefs that have swirled ever since he publicly converted to Christianity in 1979, recorded explicitly religious material on three subsequent albums and for a time refused to play his old songs. Religious references on subsequent recordings became less overt after 1981's "Shot of Love."

The other three songs, “Must Be Santa” by Hal Moore and Bill Fredricks, “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Buck Ram, Kim Gannon and Walter Kent were all written between 1943 and 1960.

"A Christmas album by Bob Dylan in the pipeline doesn't really shock me," said Scott Marshall, author of a forthcoming book on the singer, "God and Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life". "At first glance it may sound bizarre, but I don't think Dylan cares much about what his detractors might make of it. Dylan still sings songs from "Slow Train Coming" to this day and he's both never renounced being Jewish or renounced his experience with Jesus some three decades ago. He remains enigmatic and this will probably be talked about for years to come."
Dylan's spiritual pendulum swings back and forth. In 2007 Dylan went to Chabad Lubavitch for Yom Kippur, where he got an aliyah to the Torah. JTA Reported back then:
Bob Dylan's religious odyssey took a turn home on Yom Kippur.

The folk legend attended services at the Chabad-Lubavitch of Atlanta... Dylan was born Jewish but has dabbled in several faiths.

He arrived at morning services wearing a ski cap and a tallit, and stayed for the duration, the Web site said. Dylan was called to the Torah for an aliyah by his Hebrew name, Zushe ben Avraham, according to the Chabad outpost's rabbi, Yossi Lew.

Dylan was in Atlanta for a concert following the holiday.
As always be sure to see my friend Larry Yudelson's Tangled Up In Jews site for more background on the Jews and Jewishness connected with Bob Dylan.


Reb Yudel said...

Alas, I haven't yet updated Tangled Up in Jews with this news; more details from Atlanta can be found on my YudelLine blog.

Anonymous said...

Is Dylan a Christian? In 2009 he released a Christmas album and in a (very bizarre) interview in Rolling Stone in 2012 he described Jesus as "our Lord".

Is Dylan a Jew? Since the end of his "born again" period, Dylan has had a strong association with Chabad and Hassidic Judaism. From telethons in 1984, 1986, 1989 and 1991, to hanging out with rabbis in the mid-1990s (http://bobdylanencyclopedia.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/bob-unloads-his-head-in-paris.html), then in 2007 Chabad reported his attendance at a Yom Kippur service (www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/533841/jewish/Briefs.htm). In 2010 the head of Chabad, Rabbi Krinsky stated "Bob Dylan comes to the Lubavitch outpost from time to time. Did you know that? He was at my house for dinner a couple of times" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/magazine/08fob-q4-t.html). And In 2011 Dylan was photographed allegedly attending shul (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1370546/Bob-Dylans-Blues-Ashen-faced-singers-synagogue-trip-death-soulmate.html).

I would therefore draw a distinction between his words (occasionally Christian) and a religious practice that seems to be entirely orthodox Jewish. While only Dylan himself may know, I suggest that the latter is the better indicator of his spiritual views. Perhaps the odd Christian flavour is more to do with his musical interests and in presenting a certain image?