Bob Dylan's 10 Most Jewish Songs

'Blowin' in the Wind' Made List, But Just Barely

By Seth Rogovoy

Published October 01, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

While Bob Dylan has, throughout his life and career, engaged in all sorts of mythologizing and playful biographical falsification, it has never been in the service of denying his heritage.

This son of a middle-class appliance salesman from the Upper Midwest, who grew up with a Yiddish-speaking grandmother down the hallway in an extended Jewish family that was at the nexus of Jewish life in Hibbing, Minn. — mom was president of the local Hadassah, and dad was president of B’nai B’rith — wound up making several trips to Israel in the late-1960s and ’70s (during one visit, he even began the application process for moving his family to a kibbutz). He sent his children to the same Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin that he attended for four or five summers as a teenager.

It Takes a Lot To Laugh: Jewish ideas inform Dylan’s work.
Chris wood/Express/Getty Images
It Takes a Lot To Laugh: Jewish ideas inform Dylan’s work.

By the time he arrived in New York City’s Greenwich Village 51 years ago, he intended to make a name for himself on the folk scene — and that name was Dylan, not Zimmerman (the name is German and not Jewish, anyway, although his forebears were from Russia), and Bob fashioned himself a latter-day Woody Guthrie (as it turns out, Guthrie himself had a whole secret Jewish side to his work, born of his close relationship with his mother-in-law, Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt).

So while Dylan didn’t exactly grow up to be Shlomo Carlebach, the happy, guitar-strumming Hasid, he never strayed too far from his roots, nor did he deny them. One of his earliest original numbers, in fact, was a parody of “Hava Nagilah,” then and now (thank you, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman) probably the best-known Jewish song in the world. Throughout his career, his songs have been peppered with biblical allusions and paraphrases and informed by Jewish themes and concepts. How much of this is the result of a conscious effort on Dylan’s part to address these issues, and how much is simply the result of magpie tendencies that see him draw variously from Shakespeare, French symbolism, movie dialogue, blues clichés and even obscure Japanese yakuza novels? Well, only Dylan can answer that — and even then, probably not.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.