You might think that the Jewish mother we know and love and mock—self-sacrificing, neuroses-inducing, soup-peddling—either sprang whole from the head of Philip Roth or from the Bible. But neither is the case. She’s the 20th-century creation of a few anthropologists and a legion of comedians. And while some of her features are all too constant, she is continually being touched up (which she no doubt appreciates).
The Jewish mother’s greatest act of sacrifice, perhaps, is to be the gift that keeps on giving: first to generations of male writers like Roth, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, and then to female ones like Wendy Wasserstein and Sarah Silverman. Click here for a slideshow based on You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother, a new book by historian Joyce Antler.