How To Cast Jewish

casting feature

Here we try to provide some helpful guidelines on how to cast Jewish.

As the debate on who can and who can’t play a Jewish role continues to rumble on, as provoked by our self-appointed spokespeople like David Baddiel and Maureen Lipman, we have decided to wade in here, to shed light on the debate to bring clarity by appropriating Jewish school entry guidelines in the UK for deciding whether someone is fit for purpose for playing a Jewish role or not.

In the first instance, casting directors should give priority to those who qualify as Jewish according to a practice test. That might involve a required minimum number of synagogue attendances a year or involvement in a Jewish educational, voluntary or communal activity. These are known as religious practice points leading to a Certificate of Religious Practice (CRP).

Jewish roles will be awarded to those applicants who have demonstrated the requisite level of Jewish practice as demonstrated by having earned the required level of religious practice points. You will generally have had to attend synagogue on Shabbat a specific number of times in the months before the application. Alternatively, you must have had some Jewish education or taken part in Jewish volunteer work. You will have to supply a second form signed by a rabbi or another authorised official to show that you have met the conditions.

Priority goes first to those who “regularly attend and participate”. “Regular” is defined as davening an average of three times a week, which must include Shabbat, for a year before entry and being involved in learning programmes.

If you don’t know what davening or Shabbat means, then don’t bother applying. And if you do, you can’t just pop in and leave, you must attend the whole service.

The more Orthodox the role, the more stringent the practice test becomes so a more finely graduated policy to sift candidates is needed. You might be asked to complete a questionnaire that asks if you keep Shabbat and Yomtov strictly, pray and learn regularly, eat only at kosher restaurants, and agree to dress appropriately (for example, men should wear a kippah and women avoid leggings).

For some Haredi roles, you may be asked that you have no access to TV or the internet and whether you tovel keilim (ritually immerse new utensils) or observe shmirat lashon (avoid gossip).

If you need the definitions for those terms, then you automatically do not qualify. Likewise, don’t bother applying if you are reading this online.

In an ideal world, the application rules for Jewish roles would be standardised everywhere making our lives a lot easier. But hey ho.

Next week we define what constitutes Jewish educational, volunteering or communal activities as well as a Jewish organisation.


I teach film studies at Bangor University in north Wales where I live. I research, write and broadcast regularly (in Welsh and English) on transatlantic Jewish culture and history.
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2 years ago

Thanks for the article. I think the issues are a bit more complicated though…

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