Adam Levine Is Sexy and Jewish. So What?

Star's Emergence Represents End of Nebbishy Stereotype

Davens Like Jagger: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and ‘The Voice’ was named People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive.’
Getty Images
Davens Like Jagger: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and ‘The Voice’ was named People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive.’

By Jay Michaelson

Published December 23, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Adam Levine, front man of Maroon 5, host of “The Voice,” he of the moves like Mick Jagger, was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive this year. Is this good for the Jews?

Who’s asking?

For single Jewish men looking to get a date, this is very good news. Jewish men have been in a bit of a slump. The last time pale, hairy, Ashkenazi men were seen as attractive by mainstream America was probably during the mid-1970s, when Elliott Gould was in his prime. Since then, we’ve endured the Barbie/Ken/Ivana/Donald 1980s, the grunge 1990s, and of course, the last two decades of post-racial sexiness of all multicultural types. It hasn’t been easy being pale and brunette.

Plus, he didn’t change his name. Adam Levine, for heaven’s sake. I know another Adam Levine; he’s a respected physician who spends time treating infant diarrhea in Africa. What a mensch! But Adam Levine, the sexiest man alive?

I want to suggest, though, that the mainstreaming of the notion of Jewishness as an ethnicity that is not materially different from Italian, Irish or other Caucasian-but-not-WASP identities, is part of the same set of social currents that led institutional Jews to tear their combed over hair out over the Pew Research Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” this year.

Levine’s overt Jewishness can coexist with his sex appeal because Jewishness is not taboo. In part, the reasons are the same as why Jennifer Lopez didn’t change her name 20 years ago (as Martin Sheen, née Ramón Estevez, did 30 years prior); the days of whitewashing one’s ethnic difference are over.

The stereotype of Jewish men as nebbishy, Woody Allen types is not even a memory for most Americans under 40. Sure, there are still Jewish nerds, especially in comedy, but even they — Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen — are no longer the specifically Jewish Outsider of a previous generation. The neuroses, the Yiddishisms, the sexual hang-ups — they don’t really register anymore. Adam Levine is sexy and Jewish. So what?

One of the Forward’s more endearing, and silly, features is pointing out the often tenuous Jewishness of this or that public figure. As my partner puts it, “OMG, did you know that third-place javelin thrower is part Jewish?!” Partly, this feature stems from ethnic pride. But partly it derives from the defiance of stereotypes — that Jewish men aren’t athletic, or sexy, or whatever.

But those stereotypes are dead. And with them are many stereotypes of separateness, otherness and even inferiority that kept Jews endogamously glomming onto one another decade after anti-Semitic decade. Sure, anti-Semitism persists in many places, as the Anti-Defamation League reminds us in between advertisements for Israel’s right wing. But in America, the otherness of Jews is receding.

So, yes, there should be some furrowed brows at Levine’s latest achievement. It’s harder to defend the Jewish state at all costs, to terrify high school students about the Holocaust, and to insist on the evils of intermarriage when Jewishness is accepted and celebrated in the cultural mainstream. And when the notion of a Jewish Sexiest Man Alive isn’t Wow, or Gevalt — but Meh.

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor of the Forward. He is the author most recently of ‘Evolving Dharma.’


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!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • 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.