Shalom Life | August 20, 2014

Elvis Presley: An Unlikely ‘Nice Jewish Boy’

Decoding the King of Rock and Roll’s Jewish roots

By: Sammy Hudes

Published: August 17th, 2012 in Culture » Music » News

Elvis Presley: An Unlikely ‘Nice Jewish Boy’

Thursday marked the 35th anniversary of the death of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley.

Although it may be more appropriate to refer to yesterday as the yahrtzeit, as it is called in Judaism, of the King of Rock and Roll, because new evidence has surfaced which reveals Presley’s Jewish heritage.

Tablet Magazine pointed out Elvis’ nomination for the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, which cites historian and biographer Elaine Dundy’s book, “Elvis and Gladys.”

“...Nancy Burdine was married to Abner Tackett (Elvis’ great great maternal grandmother). Nancy was of particular interest to Gladys for her Jewish heritage, often remembering Nancy's sons for their Jewish names Sidney and Jerome. Nancy and Abner had a daughter Martha who married White Mansell. The daughter which they named Octavia, nick-named Doll, who was Elvis' maternal grandmother.”

According to Jewish halakha, one is Jewish if he or she is born to a Jewish mother. For Elvis, this was technically the case.

“…Doll and Robert had nine children. Gladys Love was the fifth daughter born followed by 3 more brothers and one sister. After his mother died, Elvis personally sought to design his beloved mother’s gravesite which included a Star of David on Gladys Love Presley’s tombstone. The decision was made by him in honor of his Jewish heritage. Something his mother was proud of and acknowledged to Elvis at a very early age.”


Star of David on the tombstone of Gladys Love Presley. Photo: ElvisPresleyNews.com

Although the Star of David was engraved on his mother’s headstone following her passing in 1959, her and Elvis' bodies had to later be moved due to a 1977 break-in attempt to steal Elvis' body. The current grave does not include a Star of David.

The book also states that Elvis made an effort later on in his life to become familiar with Jewish teachings, the Hebrew alphabet and its symbols. In 1977, he was often seen wearing a Chai necklace, symbolizing the Hebrew word for “life,” just as he did during a 1972 concert in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Elvis Presley seen wearing a Star of David necklace. Photo: ElvisPresleyNews.com

“When Charlie Hodge asked Elvis why this particular piece of jewelry was so important, Elvis replied, ‘I don’t want to miss out on goin' to heaven on a technicality.’”

In the video below, Elvis apparently also recorded a performance of him singing Hava Nagila. Enjoy:


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