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Star Trek is famous for its multiculturalism: Chekov is Russian, Sulu is Japanese, Uhura is Swahili, being Afro-American is an important factor in Sisko's identity, Chakotay is Native American, Scotty is Scottish, O'Brien is Irish, Picard is French. Yet one ethnic group is notably missing from all iterations of the series: the Jews.

This is made even stranger by the fact that so many Star Trek actors were Jews. (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Brent Spiner, Armin Shimerman, to name a few.)

Is there any explanation for why there are no Jews in Star Trek, not even as minor characters? No family names like Rosenberg or Cohen among the crew, nothing. Where have all the Jews disappeared to?

To clarify, I'm curious about both an in-universe and a real-life answer, if there is one.

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    jewishjournal.com/opinion/164916 – Valorum Aug 27 '18 at 12:02
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    I don't really know anything about Star Trek, but according to Wikipedia the Vulcan salute is based on Judaism: The Vulcan salute is a hand gesture popularized by the 1960s television series Star Trek. It consists of a raised hand with the palm forward and the thumb extended, while the fingers are parted between the middle and ring finger. Leonard Nimoy from the series based the gesture on the Jewish Priestly Blessing. – Alex Aug 27 '18 at 15:24
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    I'm not a Star Trek super-fan, but I have seen most of the episodes of most of the shows, and I can't remember any character who is specifically mentioned to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, or anything else. So it's not like Judaism is singled out. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Aug 27 '18 at 15:51
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    Related – ThePopMachine Aug 27 '18 at 16:43
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    @NikolayArabadzhi Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all worship the same god. Roddenberry may have imagined that along with unification of earth politics, the religions may have merged by then as well. But actually, I suspect he just didn't think 1960's viewers would accept an atheist society. – Barmar Aug 27 '18 at 20:26
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In part, active omission

Other answers have addressed the fact that atheism was a central feature of Star Trek, except when network meddling imposed religion (for instance, Kirk saying that "we find the one [God] sufficient"). But it seems to go beyond that.

Most of the information is covered here (credit to Valorum for the link).

  • Rodenberry seems to have had some degree of anti-Semitic sentiment. Here Sheldon Teitelbaum recounts an encounter with him.

    The congenial Roddenberry concluded what I later realized was a slow burn. “You Jews,” he snarled, “have a lamentable habit of identifying those characteristics in a society that you deem positive and then taking credit for inventing them.”

  • He also quotes Leonard Nimoy on Roddenberry's attitudes:

    “Gene was anti-Semitic, clearly,” Nimoy replied as my heart sank. “Roddenberry had Jewish associates; Bill (Shatner) and I were both Jewish, as were others. To be fair, Roddenberry was anti-religion. And apart from being a ethnic-cultural entity, Jews, to him, were a religious group. But I saw examples not only of him practicing anti-Semitism, but of him being callous about other peoples' differences as well.”

In light of these opinions it seems easy to see that he wouldn't want to portray Jews positively; in light of his desire to avoid portraying religion in general, the easiest solution would be not to portray them at all:

  • What, for instance, are we to make of Roddenberry's decision to
    rewrite screenwriter Shimon Wincelberg's reference to Hillel's “Torah on one leg” parable in the classic first-season-episode, “Dagger of
    the Mind,”, attributing it to “the ancient skeptic.”

This "policy" continued past Roddenberry's era, when at least some other producers took a similar stance: not necessarily because of personal anti-Semitism, but because of the perceptions of the audience:

  • “It was a subject of extraordinary discussion,” the late executive producer Michael Piller recounted. “The orders were handed down not to make Worf's adopted parents Jewish. I don't want to sound anti-Semitic; that's not what it meant. I am a Jew and so is Rick (Producer Rick Berman). We were simply afraid of making the Worf character laughable.”

In acknowledging that a Russian Jewish character would be perceived as "laughable," the producers essentially were bowing to the prejudices of the time: why would a Jewish character be laughable, but not a Christian one?

In light of these facts, it seems likely that both Roddenberry's personal attitudes (initially) and the attempts of producers to play to audiences (later) played a role in the relative1 lack of Jews in Star Trek.

1: As noted elsewhere, the number of Jews in Star Trek is not necessarily underrepresentative of the world population. Rather, the prejudices of Roddenberry and others caused them to be underrepresented relative to their proportion among the actors and their proportion of the US population, roughly 2%—two more common referents for Hollywood producers.


A brief note about the Ferengi. To some people, the Ferengi are the most obvious examples of Jewish stereotypes in Star Trek (to some, it's the Vulcans, whom Nimoy seems to have intended to portray more positively). At least some people associated with these show have echoed these concerns. To me, while they certainly could have been intended as anti-Semitic caricatures, it's not very clear: greed and sexual lust as species traits aren't definitive by themselves (especially since they're go-to "evil" traits), and the Ferengi's oversized ears as stand-ins for the traditional anti-Semitic caricature of oversized noses seems a bit of a stretch. The idea that the Ferengi represent "mere" 20th century capitalists, as frequently claimed, isn't readily dismissed. As such, I didn't include them in the list of examples.

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    Hmm... I always thought of the Bajorans as Star Trek's "Space Jew race." – Mason Wheeler Aug 28 '18 at 15:34
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    To a comical degree, the Ferengi embody common anti-semitic stereotypes: Nasty, unethical, clannish, indifferent to out-group norms, greedy, fetishizing hard currency, insular groups of them living abroad, etc. (I stress that none of those is actually true of real Jews). Sadly, it's baked into ST: W/o racial character traits, there's no reason for actors to wear rubber masks, hence little reason for ST to exist. In ST's futuristic "socialist" utopia, a "merchant class" race must be unpleasant. I wonder if a Philippine audience might see them as ethnically Chinese, or just arbitrarily weird? – Ed Plunkett Aug 28 '18 at 16:50
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    @EdPlunkett I think you've hit the nail on the head. Growing up in a culture in which Jewish people were unknown, I never even knew these were considered Jewish stereotypes, and my grandfather certainly would have used a term derogatory of Chinese people to describe the Ferengi if he ever saw them in DS9. – Quasi_Stomach Aug 28 '18 at 21:21
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    On the idea of the Ferengi representing 20th Century capitalists: they are explicitly compared to "ocean-going Yankee traders of 18 and 19th century America" by Cmdr Data during their introduction in "The Last Outpost", and described as some sort of cross between Pirates and the East India Tea Company... – Chronocidal Aug 28 '18 at 23:23
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    Probably worth noting here that "ferengi" (Turkish) and various similar words ("feringhi" in Hindi and Urdu, "farang" in Thai, etc) are used in a wide range of languages to denote western Europeans (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franks#Legacy). – tardigrade Aug 30 '18 at 8:07
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Gene Roddenberry was an active atheist, as per this quote:

I condemn false prophets, I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will - and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain.

For this reason, there isn't a lot of religion portrayed in Star Trek, or at least the Federation. That said, there are many references to religion in Star Trek. As for why the original series didn't portray any Jews specifically, it could be because Roddenberry seemed to dislike the Jewish religous culture more than other religions (which didn't prevent him from hiring Jews like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy).

Even so, numerous Jewish characters have in fact appeared in several Star Trek novels, which may or may not be considered canon:

  • Darya Bat-Levi, in Well of Souls by Ilsa J. Bick, identifies as Jewish and discusses the religion at length.
  • David Rabin, in Vulcan's Forge by Susan Shwartz (who is also Jewish) identifies as of "Earth Israeli descent". Though some Israelis are not Jewish, "David Rabin" is a Hebrew name, suggesting he is.
  • Aaron Stemple, in Ishmael by Barbara Hambly, has a Hebrew name, and does not eat pork (which is forbidden in Judaism).
  • Harb Tanzer, in Diane Duane's The Wounded Sky and Spock's World speaks fluent Yiddish (an East-European Jewish language, lit. Jewish).
  • Myron Shulman, in Recovery by J.M. Dillard, has funeral conducted in accordance with Jewish tradition, including a minyan (ten men) reciting Kaddish (an Aramaic prayer used in Judaism).
  • Jael Rabinowich, in The Final Reflection by John M. Ford, has a Yiddish name and uses the Hebrew phrase "Shalom aleichem" (lit. "Peace be upon you", colloquially, "Hi, how are you")
  • David Steinberg, in Yesterday's Son by A.C. Crispin
  • Lena Goldblum, in Star Trek Log 5 by Alan Dean Foster, the Jewish roommate of M'Ress who plays with a dreidel (a spinning top associated with the festival of Chanukah).
  • Saul Weinstein, in Brad Ferguson's Crisis on Centaurus, uses Yiddish expressions.
  • Dora Grayson in Strangers from the Sky by Margaret Wander Bonnano. A Professor Grayson (Amanda Grayson's great-great grandfather) states that his wife, Dora, was Jewish.
  • David Gold, captain of the USS da Vinci and his wife, Rabbi Rachel Filman, in the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers series identify as Jewish, as do their descendants.
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    You should probably include the Nimoy quote from Valorum's link that explains why Roddenberry's atheism is relevant here: "Gene was anti-Semitic, clearly. Roddenberry had Jewish associates; Bill (Shatner) and I were both Jewish, as were others. To be fair, Roddenberry was anti-religion. And apart from being a ethnic-cultural entity, Jews, to him, were a religious group. But I saw examples not only of him practicing anti-Semitism, but of him being callous about other peoples' differences as well." – called2voyage Aug 27 '18 at 14:13
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    Yes, it would be terrible to try to drain someone of a lot of money. – Adamant Aug 27 '18 at 16:45
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    @JBH because Q is a debunking/deconstruction of God. Roddenberry did that all the time, it's a classic trope in Star Trek: all-powerful being shows up, then they spend the rest of the episode/movie/series "pulling back the curtain" and revealing him to be a huge, unGodlike jerk of poor character generally. Just once I want to meet the all-powerful being that's kindly, integral, of impeccable character, quotes Buddha on philosophies of life, says Buddha never claimed to be a god, and readily admits s/he has no idea who God is. – Harper Aug 27 '18 at 23:03
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    @einpoklum As if atheists never utter "my god", that is more a cultural thing derived from religion than directly tied to a believe in god. – Mark Rotteveel Aug 28 '18 at 10:00
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    @einpoklum I'm an atheist, my parents were atheists. It's really hard to describe England as "religious". I say "My God", as an oath. – Martin Bonner Aug 28 '18 at 12:04
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It may be noted that:

With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide,[6] Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism1

http://www.jewishdatabank.org/Studies/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=33942

It is believed that the present world population in 2018 is about 7,600,000,000.

http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/3

Therefore, the larger estimate of the Jewish population is about 0.00228 of the total world population.

So one person out of every 436.78 should be Jewish. So how many total characters are there is Star Trek? Eliminating extraterrestrial characters, how many characters are there in Star Trek?

The 2016 estimated population of China is about 1,403,500,365 people, or about 0.1846 of the estimated world population in 2018 - one person out of every 5.417. Do 0.1846 of all Star Trek characters seem Chinese?

The 2016 estimated population of India is about 1,324,171,354 people, or 0.1742 of all the people in the world in 2018 - one person out of every 5.740. Do 0.1742 of all Star Trek characters seem Indian?

These two examples show that while Star Trek may be better than most American shows in depicting the diversity of the world population, the cast of Star Trek characters is far less diverse than the world population in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Since Jews mostly look like European or Mediterranean people, though there are Jews looking like members of every human race, and since most most actors cast in Star Trek productions look like European or Mediterranean people, telling Jewish characters apart from non Jewish characters would be difficult without religious or cultural references.

And only a small percentage of Star Trek characters refer to their ethnic, national, religious, or cultural backgrounds.

And I point out that in TOS, and to a lesser degree in other Star Trek productions, alien planets often had populations that looked like Earth Humans, and in fact usually looked like "white" or "Caucasian" Earth Humans. And since there are a number of planets in the United Federation of Planets with alien populations, It is probable that many of them have populations that look like Earth Humans even though those planets weren't colonized by Earth. Thus the Federaton should be full of people who look like "white" or "Caucasian" or other Earth Humans but are more of less native to those planets and not descended from colonists from Earth. Human looking people who probably don't share cultural, linguistic, or religious practices with Earth Humans.

So how can you tell which random Human looking characters actually are Earth Humans and which are aliens who merely look like Earth Humans? How can you estimate the percentage of characters who are Earth Humans as opposed to merely looking like Earth Humans?

If many of the Star Trek characters who look like Earth Humans are aliens who merely look like Earth Humans and have cultures different from any Earth cultures, the proportion of Jewish characters among Star Trek characters would be even lower than it would be if all Human-looking characters actually are Humans.

Therefore, I do not think that there are statistical grounds for considering Jewish characters to be under represented in Star Trek, nor do I consider Jews the first group that people should worry about being underrepresented in Star Trek - they should be more like number 100 or something on the list of underrepresented groups.

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    This is a perfectly logical and reasonable argument, that unfortunately entirely misses the reason there aren't many Jewish characters in Star Trek. – Adamant Aug 27 '18 at 19:31
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    I have more trouble thinking of a Star Trek character that doesn't refer to their ethnic/national/cultural background - it's often pretty hamfisted, like with Chakotay, Sisko, or Picard. – Shamshiel Aug 27 '18 at 20:05
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    @Adamant Answering a question. < Informing the questioner why the question is moot. – Rubellite Fae Aug 28 '18 at 3:41
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    @RubelliteFae - It's not moot. It so happens that there is a perfectly sensible reason (several, really) not to have seen Jews in Star Trek - which has nothing to do with the actual, decidedly less sensible reasons, for their absence. – Adamant Aug 28 '18 at 10:57
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    @workoverflow: For what it's worth, Julian Bashir at least has an Arabian name. – O. R. Mapper Aug 29 '18 at 11:17
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Since Jews have been subject to horrible discrimination and persecution, any portrayal of their perceived ethnic characteristics would need to be done particularly carefully and respectfully. As with any ethnic portrayal, there would be risk in taking it too far into caricature (as in Chekov's exaggerated Russian-ness), leaving the ethnic characterisics in the realm of stereotype (Scotty), or not developing the traits sufficiently (for which Picard, with not much French except his name, is sometimes criticized). The writers and showrunners might not have wanted to take this risk in the case of Jews, since the issue of Jewish ethnicity is more charged than others.

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    I'm downvoting, unfortunately. Not only is this not backed up by quotes or anything, but I am not sure it's likely. Jews have faced "horrible discrimination and persecution," but so have many other groups represented early on in Star Trek: Africans, Asian-Americans, and so forth. As far as being charged, in the United States issues surrounding African-Americans are certainly more charged than those surrounding Jews. While it's not impossible that writers could use this reasoning, it would have to be supported. – Adamant Aug 27 '18 at 17:34
  • Picard was plenty French! – einpoklum Aug 28 '18 at 7:30
  • Yes ... and in the films was shown visiting the family home, picking grapes, ... and given Star Trek's “universal translators” kick in so often, perhaps he was in fact speaking French the whole time. Or perhaps in the twenty-fifth century, they all speak English... – Will Crawford Aug 28 '18 at 14:48
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    @WillCrawford: He was shown doing that in the series. – einpoklum Aug 28 '18 at 15:33
  • @einpoklum Oops. – Will Crawford Aug 28 '18 at 15:36

protected by Rand al'Thor Aug 27 '18 at 19:13

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