Elvis Presley’s Jewish Roots Highlighted on his 35th Yahrtzheit
by Atara Arbesfeld
On the 35th anniversary of his death Thursday, Tablet magazine highlighted something about Elvis Presley that even his die-hard fans probably don’t know: he’s Jewish!
According to Talmudic law, whereby one is considered a Jew by matrilineal descent, then Elvis Aron Presley is indeed a member of the tribe by virtue of his mother.
Tablet points out that when Elvis’ eligibility to be nominated to the Jewish American Hall of Fame was highlighted along with other Jewish celebrities, the organization cited historian and biographer Elaine Dundy’s book “Elvis and Gladys” as evidence of the rock legend’s Jewish heritage:
“…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.
“…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.”
Elvis reportedly paid tribute to his heritage on several occasions; donning a “Chai” necklace during a 1972 concert in Salt Lake City, Utah, and having a Star of David engraved on his mother’s headstone following her passing in 1959. Elvis also has his fair share of Jewish impersonators, including one Orthodox Jew named Dan Hartal, who goes by the moniker “Schmelvis.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Elvis had actually been nominated to the Jewish American Hall of Fame.