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!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • 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.