Exploring Elizabeth Taylor's Jewish conversion
Elizabeth Taylor in Beverly Hills, California, in 2007.
March 24th, 2011
04:56 PM ET

Exploring Elizabeth Taylor's Jewish conversion

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

In early April 1959, Time magazine reported that “the most famous and perhaps the most beautiful baby born last week was a Jewish girl named Elisheba Rachel Taylor.”

Explaining that a convert to Judaism is considered "a newborn child," the article recounted the conversion of 27-year-old actress Elizabeth Taylor to the faith. Her newly acquired Hebrew name, used in ceremonies accompanying life cycle events, combined the Hebrew version of Elizabeth with her biblical heroine, Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife.

Raised a Christian Scientist, Taylor’s decision wasn’t sudden. She first thought about converting when she married movie producer Mike Todd, her third husband, who’d been born Avrom Goldbogen and was the grandson of a Polish rabbi, Time reported.

But the theory that Todd - or that her soon-to-be next Jewish husband Eddie Fisher - provided the impetus for her conversion was one she disputed. Taylor's conversion came a year after Todd’s death in a plane crash, Benjamin Ivry wrote Wednesday in The Forward, a Jewish newspaper.

Judaism is not a proselytizing faith. In fact, an ancient practice that some rabbis still follow is to turn away would-be conversion candidates three times before agreeing to work with them as a way to test their commitment.

Taylor reportedly studied for about six months with the late Rabbi Max Nussbaum, a Holocaust survivor affiliated with Judaism's Reform movement and with Hollywood’s Temple Israel. She was assigned books to read and engaged in conversations about traditions and the struggles weighing on Israel, Time reported.

Nussbaum, Ivry of the Forward wrote, “was no star-struck pushover,” even though he’d long been linked to celebrities, performing funerals for people including Al Jolson, Fanny Brice and Sam Goldwyn. Not long after Taylor's conversion, he also would perform the controversial wedding of Taylor to Fisher.

Some gave Taylor a hard time about her decision to convert, but she stood by the choice, Ivry wrote, adding, “Biographer Kitty Kelley quotes Taylor as saying: ‘I felt terribly sorry for the suffering of the Jews during the war. I was attracted to their heritage. I guess I identified with them as underdogs.’”

Last August, The Jewish Journal in southern California published a blog post by Danielle Berrin about Taylor and her Jewish identity. The piece was written soon after the publication of “Furious Love,” which chronicled the actress’s volatile relationship with Richard Burton.

The blog post recounted a scene in the book in which the couple went at it over “who was more ‘Jewish,’” Berrin wrote.

Burton had referred to the Welsh as “the Jews of Britain”, a comment on their self-identity as the outsiders of the United Kingdom. [Note: Burton was Welsh]

“You’re not Jewish at all,” he told Elizabeth in one of their very public fights, “If there’s any Jew in this family, it’s me!”

“I am Jewish,” she answered, “and you can f–k off!”

The JTA, a global Jewish news service, posted Wednesday a blog listing archived stories about Taylor. Among them was a piece about how her 1959 purchase of $100,000 in Israel bonds prompted a ban of her films by authorities of the United Arab Republic.

Another story recounted how Taylor sang in 1961 a Hebrew duet with Fisher in Moscow, while surprising United States servicemen who were stationed in the Soviet capital. And in 1987, she was among those who signed an appeal launched by a Jewish feminist magazine, Lilith, to free Soviet refusenik Ida Nudel.

Taylor, and her films, were barred in 1962 from entering Egypt because she was Jewish and had financially assisted Israel - another hiccup in the already oft-interrupted and financially strapped production of "Cleopatra," which almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox, according to the JTA

But her name was later removed from Egypt’s blacklist, after “officials decided the film was good publicity for Egypt which is mentioned 122 times in the movie,” JTA reported in 1964.

The JTA archives also reveal that Taylor “offered herself as a hostage for the more than 100 Air France hijack victims held by terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda during the tense days before the Israeli rescue raid” on July 4, 1976.

That revelation was reportedly disclosed when Taylor and then-husband John Warner were honored at a June 1977 gala for the Jewish National Fund, an environmental organization best known for its tree plantings in Israel.

Elizabeth Taylor and husband John Warner plant a tree in a forest named for them outside Jerusalem.

Israel’s then-ambassador to the United States, Simcha Dinitz, gave the couple a certificate for a forest planted in their names near Jerusalem. “Taylor’s offer was ‘appreciated’ and ‘the Jewish people will always remember it,’” Dinitiz said, according to the JTA.

In response, Taylor shared these words, the JTA reported: "'The trees we planted with our own hands in Israel symbolize a new hope that the whole world, Christian, Jew and Arab, will live as one in harmony under God.'"

A couple years later, she signed on to narrate "Genocide," a documentary about the Holocaust that went on to win a 1981 Academy Award. Taylor's participation in the project, which was the first film produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and her connection to center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier were recounted in a Jewish Journal piece published Thursday.

How much Judaism played into Taylor's life in recent years is unclear. But the Jewish Journal reported in its obituary that Taylor had been a supporter of the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles. And Ivry of the Forward suggested that Taylor's relentless campaigning on behalf of AIDS research and treatment reflected a deep understanding of the Jewish commitment to tzedakah, or charity.

In the Jewish tradition, a person is laid to rest as soon as possible after death. A small funeral service for Taylor was scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Rabbi Jerry Cutler of Creative Arts Temple conducted the service. He describes his community as "unorthodox," and the temple website says it is one that seeks "the joy of Judaism through the creative arts."

Out of respect for Taylor's family, Cutler would not comment Friday morning on the late actress.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Celebrity • Culture & Science • Judaism • Movies • Uncategorized

soundoff (443 Responses)
  1. `rob

    she's dead now, so she cannot deny that she is not jewish therefor the jew get publicity and now everyone wonders, wow she was jewish man those jews are nice people. but really they are playing america like thier little puppets, making americans work hard so the jews in the government can feed the profits to israel so they can continue trying to steal the country from palestine ( jordan ) because it once belonged to them 2000 years ago, well the indians were here first why do we not give them back the land.. just remember this, in the bible judas betrayed jesus and therefor he got all the fame and riches ( judas was jewish ) now jews own the banks and the media. So to conclude my little rant.. you are all screwed you moght aswell convert to being a jew because if you want to make it in america passed being a manager at walmart be a jew.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Raevyn

      If you want to be successful in America get an education and learn how to write a proper sentence. Perhaps if one did that they would quit blaming everything they don't have and don't know on the Jews.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  2. Gregory Heath


    March 24, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  3. Hammam

    That was for Pete Samson.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  4. JoAnn

    I just finished reading the posts-my only comment is this: Why can't we discuss an issue in a civil, kind way? Some did, but many did not. Good Night.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  5. Doug

    Bunk–all of it. Re-read all these posts to realize how religion doesn't contribute to world peace. Science is the answer......and Scientology

    March 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  6. steph

    I am a christain women and some of the stuff ib the bible i dont fully agree with due to jesus state thou shall not judge for you will be judged in the end. What that means to me is no matter what you belive in the end you answer to god so who am i or anyone else to say who is going To heaven or hell... And for you who dont belive its better to have something to belive in then nothing at all

    March 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Wendy

      You do not understand this passage and shoud study it more in depth. It is simply warning us that we will be judged the same measure we judge others. Make sure you have pulled the planks out of your own eyes before trying to pull splinters out of others.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • george in texas

      so why do we so many lawyers and judges in the country? for most part they the ones telling us how to live our lives by legislating in congress and throwing book at us in courts. aren't they also the hostile folks who telll us state and bible don't mix? it is hard to be christian when you get paid so handosmely as a judge or a lawyer.

      March 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  7. george in texas

    she changed her religion out of sympathy for the jewish people. i do not know any jewish person who is poor. the ones i know are fun loving hillarious folks who are great to have around. i don't get sympathy thing.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  8. nik green

    Folks...most Jewish people are working class *and* liberal, and do not have humongous bank balances. It is true that a large proportion of top people in the banking and mercantile industry happen to be Jewish, but that is because the Jewish people have cultivated skills over centuries, in those areas of business... someone had to! It is totally wrong to pick on anyone because of their racial heritage and/or religious faith...

    .....oh wait a minute.... as you were... I forgot Muslims. Muslim baiting and demonization has been the US national sport, which accelerated dramatically on 9/11, and making wars against nations whose demographic makeup is largely Muslims and Arabs has become a central plank of US foreign policy for decades, even when there is no cause, and the reasons given are a pack of lies.... regardless of who is in the White House.

    So, next time you think about a racial epithet against the Jewish people, don't. However, if you do the same thing as regards the Muslim and Arab peoples... you will be amongst illustrious company, and nobody will complain.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  9. george in texas

    writing god as g-d is disresepctful to heavenly father. he could get mad for trying to change his form or description. you might as well call him ralph if you are into introducing your distortions. i have a feeling some people are just trying to start an argument by challenging accepted time honored practice.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • trumod

      You mean like you? Son, it doesn't get any more goyisch or shiksa than with me and even I know about the Jewish tradtion of writing G-d. Why do you go hang with people of like mind to you: the Westboro Baptist Church.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Caracoles

      And do you really think that god cares about spelling or capital and low case? Do you know how many names that fellow has?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Wendy

      The oldest Jewish texts refer to God's personal name as YHVH or YHWH. An unspeakable name for the one true God. In Hebrew the vowels do not exist so doe shtta mean that by insisting upon adding vowels to God's name that YOU are in fact the one that is changing and disrespecting God?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Mel

      I'm sorry George but you're an idiot. Jews write the world god G-d as a sign of respect to god.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Chaim

      But what does "he" say about it? He might get mad and make you act like fascists.

      March 25, 2011 at 1:54 am |
  10. educated

    bobby – what does a jew look like? There are white jews, black jews, spanish jews, arab jews – get with it...

    March 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  11. sanych

    Elizabeth Taylor was Jewish by choice. Just like biblical Ruth she said – "your people will be my people and your God my God".

    Rest in peace, Elisheba Rachel Taylor.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  12. samuel

    That makes sense because she wanted to give up British citizenship to save taxes. sounds Jewish to me.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  13. Gurley L Martin

    Elizabeth (Rachel) Taylor – was a talented & beautiful woman. – "This" can NOT be denied.!

    March 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  14. Carol

    I think Obama is Jewish.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Yoni

      Carol you are dumbshiz WTH has Baraq Huessin got to do with this subect matter of the article-grow up huh..

      March 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • newhopebo

      ..yeah right, and Sammy Davis Jr. was on of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders..

      March 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  15. CaptainKirk

    Article states: " Rabbi Nussman not long after Taylor's conversion, he also would perform the controversial wedding of Taylor to Fisher."
    So the rabbi had no problem marrying to blatant adulterers ? Obviously the type of "judaism" she practiced was ultra liberal and is not based on Judaic principles and teaching from the Torah. What "rabbi" would marry two adulterers whom had made public spectacles of themselves, she broke up a marriage. she also went on to be a serial adulterer getting"involved" with another married man, Richard Burton in a very public way. There is nothing worse then people, of any "faith" who do not practice the tenets of said faith and only bring shame to it. I have no respect for Elizabeth Taylor.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  16. Patty

    Who wrote the BIBLE!Any BIBLE! Who was around when Jesus walked the earth. Muchof the scritures were written 2 thousand years after Christ.

    So why all yaking about stuff we don't know about or can prove! I am catholic

    March 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Londoner

      You're a Catholic and you think the scriptures were (will be) written in 2035?

      March 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Trueborn

      Wow...so much ignorance in so few words. Amazing.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Wendy

      Uh, we are NOW iving two thousand years after Christ. So, does that mean there was no Bible until the last decade? Confirmation classes didn't offer much to you did they?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Christina


      Now I see why Protestants has give Catholics the stereotype of not knowing the Bible. According to you, the Bible hasn't been written yet!:P

      March 25, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  17. Visionary

    Why is there discussion of her faith? Then again, I suppose the owners of our media want to rub our noses in it and force Americans to pay homage. So silly, it is sickening.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • mench

      Apparently there are a lot of you drinking that same racist Kool Aid. You are an ignorant human being who doesn't deserve to breathe the same air as the rest of us!

      March 24, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • trumod

      I imagine the discussion of her faith came up because she was buried so quickly. Jewish (and Muslim) tradition. There's no vast Jewish conspiracy.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • mo vie

      mench: you'll never stop whining, jewboy, now will ya? That's one of the fav sports of yer tribe of clowns and scapegoats

      March 25, 2011 at 5:27 am |
  18. JonnJonzz

    Liz Taylor was NOT a Jew. Reformed (Deformed) conversions are not valid. Only Orthodox conversions under strict rabbinic supervision are valid. Liz was a SHIKSA until the day she died!!

    March 24, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • mench

      That's absolutely ridiculous! Are you saying that only Orthodox Jews are real Jews? You're just as bigoted as the rest of them

      March 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Andrea M

      There's nothing wrong with being a shiksa, y'know. We're all humans.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Eli

      Well, Jonn, since you know SO much about Jews and Judaism, you must realize that you're a putz.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Batyah

      Jonn, I am Orthodox. If Ms. Taylor accepted the yoke of the Torah and went to the mikveh, then she was a Jew according to the Talmud's explanation of halacha concerning conversion. I know it is standard practice now to "redo" any Reform or Conservative conversions by an Orthodox Beit Din, but that's just done to "remove all doubt." It does not mean that she wasn't Jewish in the eyes of G-d. Furthermore, it has only been in recent years that conversion requirements have become so stringent. Prior to 1900, conversions followed the dictates of the Talmud. Anyway, at the very least, she was a good friend to the Jewish people and you owe her some respect. Don't be a rasha or a shonda for the goyim, okay?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Chaim

      So we have Jews that have learned the wrong lessons from the Nazis?
      What is with the racism all the time? Even in Israel they treat others like Nazis!

      Is this right? Is this what the victims would have wanted? No.
      You would bring more hate upon Israel by letting racism get the better of you.
      There is nothing but scorn for you in my heart.
      I saw what you did to my earlier post.
      Racists cannot bear the truth that they are full of lies and hate!

      March 25, 2011 at 1:50 am |
  19. harry

    Ms. Taylor was a wonderful human being created in the beauty of our universal loving god almighty.I just see a wonder human being no matter what religious faith she has.In my opinion this wonderful person represents love, kindness,and inspiration for all to emulate..... thank you.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  20. george in texas

    i notice many people write god as g-d ! why the negative sign in the middle? are they trying to tell us something? people, pls respect god.

    March 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • nelson

      because jewish people don't want to use g-d's name in vain. It is that important, the word means that much to them.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • me

      george, because they are assuming that their reply will be denied & not posted for using the word. that's all it is, not some other sinister reason. wow.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • CDL

      In Judaism, the name of God is not supposed to be erased or otherwise obliterated, out of respect to God. While it's not strictly necessary in English, many Jews, particularly the Orthodox, write "G-d," instead of "God," (and, similarly, "L-rd" instead of "Lord") as an extension of that respect.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • me

      nelson, what do you mean using his name in vain. are they not allowed to write about him?

      March 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • rasta

      G_d is written this way as the ultimate means of respect. Some believe it's sacrilegious to reference by writing this word in full. Educate yourself before criticizing. You're showing your ignorance.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Andrea M

      In the Jewish faith not only is using the full spelling of "god" taking the name in vain, but also one must never put gods name in a form that can be destroyed. Since an internet post can be deleted (thus destroying the word) Jews remove the middle letter in order to avoid the destruction of the word. You'll notice I'm not Jewish in this post, just grew up around lots of them.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Hammam

      In Jewish tradition, G-d cannot be represented, not even in letters.

      March 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Guess what Jesus called God?


      March 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Wendy

      Actualy the vowels do not exist in Hebrew. For instance, where your Bible probaby says, the LORD, the original texts say YHVH or YHWH what others later turned into Yahweh to make it speakable. If it is direspectable to take from God, is it disrespectable to add?

      March 24, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Matty

      God God God God God God

      March 24, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.