Steven Paul “Steve” Jobs – who is currently being portrayed by Ashton Kutcher in the biopic “Jobs” — was the biological child of a Syrian-born father and a Swiss-American Catholic mother who gave him up for adoption at birth.
He was raised in northern California by a working-class couple — Paul Reinhold Jobs and his wife, Clara Jobs, an Armenian-American born Clara Hagopian — whom he always regarded as his true parents.
So other than being a really smart, creative, bespectacled, successful businessman with a vaguely Middle Eastern countenance and a man-crush on Bob Dylan, there was nothing overtly or suggestively Jewish about Steve Jobs.
That being said, there were and are some affinities between Jobs and his company, Apple, and Judaism – enough to suggest that in the game of Jew vs. non-Jew, it was Apple and Jobs that came out looking a lot more Jewish than their arch-rivals: Microsoft and William Henry “Bill” Gates III.
Scratch an American Buddhist, find a Jew. Steve Jobs, who thought of himself as a Buddhist and was an ardent vegetarian beginning in college, was the exception that proved the rule.
Steve Jobs’ erratic behavior as a CEO, however, was unlike anyone’s idea of a Buddhist. In his stubbornness, self-righteousness, impatience, and inability to suffer fools gladly, his character was much more that of a cranky Old Testament prophet than a Buddhist monk.
Engineers typically build products and then designers work with what they have built to turn them into usable consumer items. Apple reversed this process – designers conceived objects of beauty, imagined what they could do, and engineers then had to make them work within the parameters set by the designers. This is not wholly unlike the challenge that was set by God to Moses through the work of the craftsman Bezalel, when He gave him very specific instructions for the construction of the mishkan, or the tabernacle that was to house the original Torah and Ten Commandments. Make it this way, He said, or don’t make it at all.
It has also been suggested that in Steve Jobs’ emphasis on form over function – on the precedence of design over engineering, of beauty over efficiency – his philosophy was a latter-day version of the Jewish concept of hiddur mitzvah, or beautification of the good deed. This theory is often suggested by Jews looking for some religious justification for owning every product Apple ever manufactured.
It’s easy to forget that Apple was actually the original PC maker. The whole idea behind machines that ran Microsoft Windows was to emulate Apple’s way of doing things and to make it available to any computer manufacturer that wanted to license the operating system (as opposed to Apple’s closed system of “vertical integration”). This is not wholly unlike the relationship of Christianity to Judaism – the latter being the original template upon which the more expansive “operating system” of the former was based, in order to “sell it” beyond its initial “tribe” of enthusiasts. And, of course, the more “open” approach wound up “converting” millions more users than the original.
For a number of years, Apple’s advertising slogan was “Think Different.” Pretty much since day one, that has also been Judaism’s slogan, in a manner of speaking. In Judaism’s case, however, it still hasn’t really caught on in any big way.
The one-minute TV commercial based on the “Think Different” campaign featured images of 17 iconic 20th-century personalities. The first two of these were the Jews Albert Einstein and Bob Dylan.
Speaking of Bob Dylan, Steve Jobs worshipped him. He originally bonded with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak over their mutual obsession with collecting Dylan bootlegs. Later on, as an adult, he dated Dylan’s one-time girlfriend, Joan Baez (although, according to biographer Walter Isaacson, he was too cheap to buy her a dress he saw in a store and told her she should wear, even when he knew full well she couldn’t afford it). He even got Dylan to make an unprecedented appearance in a TV commercial - for Apple’s iPod.
Steve Jobs’ life story includes a famous exilic chapter, when he was banished from his tribe and had to wander through a desert, sleeping in a tent of a company he called “NeXT.” Eventually, his people lured him back into the fold, at which point he led them to the Promised Land of mobile devices, most notably the iPhone and iPad, which featured apps that told users exactly when Shabbat began wherever they were in the world.
The logo for Apple Inc. portrays the eponymous fruit with a bite taken out of it. A certain bite out of a certain apple played an essential role in the history of man’s relationship with God according to Judaism. Someone took a bite out of an apple when she wasn’t supposed to and all hell broke loose. Then again, throughout his life, Steve Jobs was often a fruitarian. Maybe he just liked apples.
Seth Rogovoy frequently writes about the Kabbalah of popular culture for The Forward.
This story "The Secret Jewish History of Steve Jobs And Apple" was written by Seth Rogovoy.