Bobby Fischer, 1971.(AFP/Getty Images)

One of the most enigmatic figures in sports, Bobby Fischer remains a fascination. Today on Tablet, Jonathan Zalman takes a look at Fischer’s life–his game, his views on the religion he rejected, and the tumult.


While embracing the jock label, Fischer would have wholeheartedly disapproved of the “Jewish” tag because, though his mother Regina was Jewish, he denied any sort of Jewish upbringing or education and never considered himself to be Jewish. Therefore, Foer suggests, he hated himself: “He attempted to conceal his insecurity behind an ego built for twenty, and his self-love behind self-hatred behind self-love.” Jews, whom Fischer would also call “absolute pigs,” would become his default nomenclature for anyone who drew his ire, whether Chosen or not. He denied the Holocaust ever happened and believed that “hundreds of thousands of Jews should get executed in the U.S. … and go to some kind of concentration camp to be re-educated.” His anti-Semitism, which was at times conflated with his anti-Americanism, festered and was unleashed during sensitive times and continued in exile as he became enamored with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; he was a tithing member of the Worldwide Church of God and later studied Catholicism, which he’d write “is just a Jewish hoax and one more Jewish tool for their conquest of the world,” before passing away on Jan. 17, 2008, in Iceland of kidney failure.

And so, what seems clear is that the question raised by Foer’s essay is not whether Fischer was sufficiently athletic enough to be included in the book, but rather: Was Bobby Fischer Jewish or not? And if he was Jewish, what kind of Jew was he?

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