It is odd that the creator of the most outstanding Jew in modern literature did not at that time know any of the Jewish community in Dublin. – Padraic Colum, p. 56, Our Friend James Joyce
Yes. Only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners in Dublin at that time. There was no hostility towards them. But contempt, the contempt that people always show towards the unknown. – James Joyce, in the New York Times
It is a truth universally acknowledged that James Joyce’s modernist epic Ulysses tells the story of a Jewish Dubliner named Leopold Bloom. So famously Jewish, in fact, that Mel Brooks borrowed the name for the peevish accountant in The Producers. I say this because the title of this post may seem absurd on its face. “Of course Bloom is Jewish!” you may be scoffing. Before you turn to another blog, hear me out. Is Dublin’s most famous Jew not really Jewish?
Bloom’s father Rudolph was a Hungarian Jew, so most of the Jewish references swimming around Bloom’s mind have their origins in childhood memories of him. Jewishness is matrilineal, however, and Bloom’s mother, Ellen (née Higgins) was not Jewish. There is some speculation among folks who are given to speculate about such things that Ellen’s father, Julius Higgins, was also a Hungarian Jew and therefore Leopold is ¾ Jewish, though this is not explicitly backed up in the text of Ulysses. We know little about Julius Higgins other than that he was born Karoly. While this is a common Hungarian name, it doesn’t necessarily make him Jewish. Regardless, even if Julius had been devoutly Jewish, his status alone wouldn’t factor into whether Leopold or Ellen were Jewish as he was a father and not a mother.