Meet Rebecca Rubin… Apparently, Dolls Can Be Jewish May 28, 2009

Meet Rebecca Rubin… Apparently, Dolls Can Be Jewish

This Sunday, Rebecca Rubin will go on sale. She’s the latest American Girl doll in the collection.


(photo via The New York Times)

What makes her unique?

She is a 9-year-old girl living on the Lower East Side in 1914 with her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, siblings and a grandmother known only as Bubbie.

… Rebecca is [American Girl’s] first Jewish historical character.

(Apparently, people thought the Molly character was Jewish, but they were wrong.)

Obviously, they’re referring to Rebecca’s cultural identity. But does the Jewish label apply to her religious beliefs as well? (One of the books featuring Rebecca has a chapter titled “A Sabbath Surprise“…)

Does Rebecca not believe Jesus is the Son of God?!

Rose at the Jewmanist has a lot of questions about this new doll:

Does this mean all the others must be Christian by default? How do dolls have religions anyway? Are they like that of animals, even though they have human features? Do they pray? To the same god as their owner or to a different Doll God?

I’ll admit: it’d be pretty cool if Rebecca turned out to be a Secular Jew. Just think of the family conflict in that book!

Seriously, American Girls people…. reach out to the rest of us.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    At least dolls would have a more substantial case to make that they were created in the likeness of their creator.

  • bill

    woah she’s not a “jewish doll,” she’s the child of jewish doll parents….

  • Andy D

    I was taking Sociology 101 at my University when the professor had one of her grad students give us a presentation about these dolls. I remember thinking “how does this have anythign to do with what we’ve been talking about”. The grad student proceded to make an awesome case about how horrendously racist the whole thing is.

    That entire class was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

  • Polly

    “Funny, she doesn’t look Druish.” – Barf

    Xian/Jewish/Muslim/Hindu, the question is: are they susceptible to deconversion? Can you buy one and have her renounce faith? Maybe pin a nice red “A” on her outfit.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Maybe pin a nice red “A” on her outfit.

    She has a red A. You just can’t see it because her coat is red.

  • Siamang

    For people who aren’t familiar with the American Girl line of dolls, every one of them is accompanied with a whole world of historical fiction about American history.

    It’s not the “doll” that’s Jewish. It’s the character in a whole line of books that teach history from the point of view of a girl.

    Does this mean all the others must be Christian by default?

    What a ridiculous statement. These are characters in stories and books. Just because one character in a work of fiction is Asian, does that make all others non-asian by default?

    And no, the characters aren’t all Christian. Pretty sure Kaya, the historical Nez Perce girl from 1764 isn’t Christian. Ivy Ling, the 1974 historical girl is a Chinese immigrant.

    In addition Rebecca isn’t the first American Girls Jewish doll. In fact, their first “Girl of the Year” doll was “Lindsey Bergman”, a Jewish girl looking forward to her brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

    (Yes, I have a young daughter.)

  • I just noticed the red atheist “A” alludes to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

    Okay, so I’m slow. Don’t look at me like that.

  • Brian E

    Her nose is nowhere near big enough. 🙂

  • Polly

    Siamang said:

    (Yes, I have a young daughter.)

    WHEeeW!!! Cause otherwise, dude, you know WAAAY too much. 🙂


    Perfect use of faith-based induction. 🙂

  • Aren’t all of those Jesus action figures really Jewish? Jesus never stopped being a Jew, only his followers did.

  • littlejohn

    All my dolls are inflatable, and since they regularly eat pork…

  • CatBallou

    Rose is overthinking this. Of course dolls don’t have religions. They don’t have families either. Their stories are fictional.

  • Pustulio

    This sort of reminds me of the story I heard on This American Life about the woman who sold dolls, and when they became suddenly popular how the customers freaked out because they had run out of white dolls. It makes me wonder if people who normally buy these dolls have had any objections to buying a doll that explicitly represents a non-Christian character.

  • I was briefly into the whole American Girl thing when I was 7 or 8 (just realized how long they’ve been around) and the books are quite good for the age range they’re for. My parents never got me any of the dolls though because we couldn’t afford them at the time. If done right the dolls and books can be a great way to introduce girls to US history and all the girls are very strong independent characters.

    The characters come from a wide variety of backgrounds and religions, I’m surprised they didn’t already have a jewish girl.

  • Ada

    I’m with Siamang on this one. It’s a Jewish character that happens to have a doll associated with it. There’s nothing weird about having a work of historical fiction that centers around a Jewish character, and that’s all this is. Oh, and they also made a doll. I don’t think this is anything to make a big deal over.

    I am an American living overseas and I have been looking into these dolls as a way to introduce American history and culture to my daughter. She’s currently too young to give a rip about dolls or the characters they’re based on, but maybe one day….

    Pustulio… I remember that This American Life as well! That was priceless! XD There probably are parents who aren’t buying the black, Native American, and Jewish American Girl dolls for their kids, but I do think the fact that this isn’t meant to be “your baby” will mitigate that issue.

  • The girls all fit into a historical context. From what I know, most of them are white girls from the pioneer days. There’s a token Chinese immigrant, Black slave, and American Indian doll, but the rest are white. I think in the historical contexts they represent, the majority of Americans who fit their demographic identified as Christians.

    That being said, there is one “modern” doll, who is Julie Albright, a hippie from San Francisco circa 1974. I would put my betting chips that she’d be the most likely to be atheist.

  • Another Mother

    Don’t forget Josefina (New Mexico, 1824). And Addie starts out as a slave, but escapes. Not just pioneer days — the dolls go from the colonial era through the 20th century (WWI, Great Depression, WWII)

    Also — you can have an American Girl doll made to order with a variety of skin tones, eye colors and hair colors and textures. Yes, they all pretty much have the same face — they’re dolls. But the phenomenon is a lot more complicated than you’re making it. I would have loved to hear the sociology presentation.

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