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The Jews of Downton

A few suggestions for future seasons

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Lady Grantham.(Nick Briggs)

A sharp-eyed Tablet reader pointed out that according to an official bio for Cora, the character played by Elizabeth McGovern on the smash hit show Downton Abbey, the countess of Grantham was the daughter of one Isidore Levinson from Cincinnati, and, therefore, a Jew. Which also means that her daughters—the ladies Mary, Edith, and Sybil—are Jewish as well. Jonathan Sarna has since confirmed the plausibility of such a character, noting that “even if Isidore Levinson isn’t real, he’s based on reality.”

To those of us who are deeply immersed in Downton’s intrigues and romances, this is huge news. If you’re not among the converted, the following will mean little to you, and you should probably skip ahead to another piece. And since we know the series’ creator, Julian Fellowes, is currently writing its third season, now is an excellent time to suggest a few plotlines in accordance with the new religious epiphany:

• Having gotten a taste of sharing their estate with the needy when they turned Downton into a military hospital for the wounded veterans of World War I, Lady Cora should offer to put up a Chabad shaliach, and designate Branson, the chauffeur, as a driver of a mitzvah tank to roam around Yorkshire and convince countryside Jews to put on teffilin.

• Speaking of Branson, he’s more than welcome to marry Lady Sybil. The class differences don’t bother us at all, but it would be nice if he went ahead and converted. You know, continuity! Peoplehood!

• As for Mrs. Patmore, the cook, she seems to be doing much better after her eye surgery, but we still haven’t seen even a shtickle of challah in her kitchen. Braid, Mrs. Patmore, braid!

• As Jews, the Granthams can’t stay away from politics for much longer. With the Balfour Declaration having just been given, it would be nice if Lady Edith decided to move to Palestine. We already know she’s fond of farms, and maybe the Holy Land’s soil is all it would take for her to lay down roots and team up with early Zionist pioneers. She could forthwith be referred to by the staff as an Israel Firster.

• Finally, someone show Violet, the dowager countess, how to be a bubbe. Joining Hadassah may be a good first step in the right direction.

Any more suggestions? Post them in the comments, and we’ll pass them along to Fellowes…

Related: The Aristocrats
Earlier: How Jewish is Lady Grantham?
The Jewish Character in Downton Abbey

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In all seriousness, things got really bad for the Jews of Eastern Europe after WWI. It would be nice if their newfound charitable impulses were directed toward their newfound co-religionists…

1. Downton Abbey starts on the eve of WW1. It’s now 1918. Five years in, what, 13 (?) episodes. Certainly the Balfour Declaration can come up.

2. But what about the 1930s, the Cliveden Set and WW2? It’s possible. According to Julian Fellowes. “The series will go on as long as people want it to.” See

3. Bear in mind that Fellowes is an active, practicing Catholic (link above; he is Vice President of the British Catholic Association of Performing Arts.) The link states that “Catholicism would be entering the storyline…at some point in the near future.”

So I suggest that Lady Cora will convert to Catholicism.

Maybe in the third season Cora can have an adult bat mitzvah, once the first American bat mitzvah happens in 1922!

Rather than marrying their daughters to the British aristocracy like “Isidore Levinson,” I found that today’s Jewish millionaires tend to side more with the Occupy movement, e.g. Jewish millionaires were disproportionately represented on the Patriotic Millionaires “tax us” petition.

how about Matthew changing his name to Moses? After all his Mother is the all time Jewish Mother with her having to know everything!Need a Jewish Butler also,I mean what vintage is the kiddush wine?Lady’s maid well that would be fine for one of Tevya’s daughters as they know how to sew and could alter clothes for the latest fashions!

jameson says:

Wait…was Cora’s mother Jewish or just her father? A whole subplot about whether or not she is accepted as an MOT by the other Jews of Yorkshire.

Shirley MacLaine will appear next season as Lady Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson. Will Ms. MacLaine reprise the affectations of her Madame Sousatzka performance as a stereotypical Jewish mother or come across trying to be haughtier than the real aristocrats? Certainly her arrival will rock the household. We don’t know if Lady Cora’s MOTHER is Jewish. If she goes down to the kitchen to teach Mrs. Patmore her challah recipe or follows Ethel around with a feather cleaning for Passover, we’ll know!

Bubbe is coming to Downton Abbey! According to many news sources Lady Cora’s mother Martha Levinson, arrives from Cincinnati next season. She’ll by played by the indomitable Shirley MacClaine. The bigger question is whether she’ll bring strudel?

The latest nws is that Shirley McLaine will be playing Mrs. Levinson next season, who will be coming from America. We do know her maiden name and exactly what her Yichus(lineage) is and if she is more of a Bube than Violet.
The most jewish like character politically is Warren’s Mom Lady? who is the ultimate Tikun Olam proponent.
jewsih or not , it is a great show!

Edy Reidman says:

If only her fictional father is Jewish, then according to halacha, she’s not Jewish.

Richard says:

Very funny post. I don’t think it is common knowledge that Cora is the daughter of “Isidore Levinson, a dry goods multi millionaire from Cincinnati” this quoted from her biography from the PBS website for Downton Abbey. I don’t remember if this bit of information was ever part of an episode for if it were her Jewish background wouldn’t come as such as surprise.
Not to burst your bubble, but you know as well I do that having a Jewish father does not make her Jewish and certainly therefore does not make her daughters Jewish. This flight of fancy would have been more fun if we knew or thought her mother was also Jewish. This is probably not the case as she, Cora, would have been a real Jewess and no doubt not a candidate for countess of Grantham. Cora may not have been brought up with a strong Christian background but she certainly was brought up with no Jewish background beyond her father’s name.
The piece was fun, anyway.
I heard in the next season that Shirley Maclaine will be playing her mother.
Now Shirley has played Jewish, so who knows?

I have yet to see this show though I’ve certainly heard all about it. BUT — Lady Cora Grantham’s mother may not have been Jewish and therefore, according to strict Jewish law, she herself would not be deemed as such. I don’t need to tell Liel that the matrilineal line determines it.

Beth, shiksa wife says:

Carlisle ferrets this out in the process of exposing Mary, creating further scandal in her dalliance with the Muslim Turk, whose father is horrified. Matthew must choose yet again and marries her anyways. A slew of rabbis and prominent American Jews visit the property, one of them, Untermyer, successfully pleads the case for unity, invites them all to his magnificent gardens in Yonkers, the Turk is so impressed with the Ottoman design that he allies with the British and Americans as World War II breaks out. One of them is trapped behind enemy lines.

Beth, shiksa wife says:

OK, so I was wrong about the Turks.

Marcea Austin says:

New character Shirley Maclaine coming from America could bring scandalous social issues/ stories based on African-American subjects, back home. The Granthams, daughters sponsoring lecturers in England on speaking engagements. Military liberations, etc.

Selma Golub says:

How about Lady Cora performing a “mitzvah” by organizing something along the lines of “Meals on Wheels”. Putting together Passover baskets for the poor Jewish families in the Golders Green neighborhood in London? Lady Cora has several recipes handed down to her for sure. Matzah Brie, Matzah balls, Sweet and sour brisket, and the ever delicious Chopped liver and Chicken soup. Roll up your sleeves, Mrs. Pattmore and don’t forget the endorsement of the UO on the groceries. Gut Yomtov to all!!!!!!!

If this so-called “sharp-eyed Tablet reader” knew anything about Jews, she would know that unless Cora’s mother was also Jewish, then neither she nor her daughters would be Jewish. In order to be a Jew, one’s mother — not one’s father — must be Jewish.


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The Jews of Downton

A few suggestions for future seasons

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