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Elizabeth Taylor, 79, Dies

Glamour personified, she was also the archetypal convert to Judaism

Marc Tracy
March 23, 2011

Actress Elizabeth Taylor (she hated “Liz”) died today. Her New York Times obituary—written by onetime theater critic Mel Gussow, who is actually also dead—is flat-out fabulous. It notes that she is perhaps the only child star in world history to transfer to adult stardom completely seamlessly. It praises her astounding acting range and astonishing beauty. It documents her many marriages, and recognizes her late-life commitment to HIV/AIDS advocacy, in part spurred by her friendship with the actor Rock Hudson (“Elizabeth, thank you for all your help in the battle for HIV and AIDS,” tweeted Magic Johnson). She is heralded as the ultimate survivor. In sum, as Gussow quotes former Times film critic Vincent Canby, “More than anyone else I can think of, Elizabeth Taylor represents the complete movie phenomenon—what movies are as an art and an industry and what they have meant to those of us who have grown up watching them in the dark.”

What the review doesn’t go into is her religion. Raised Christian Scientist, at 27 Taylor converted to Judaism. Though this coincided with her marriage to Mike Todd (né Avrom Goldbogen), Taylor insisted her conversion stemmed from, well, her belief in Judaism, and she stuck with it well after her marriage to Todd ended, providing an inspiration to many converts to Judaism (most famously the fictional Charlotte York of Sex and the City). JTA has an archive of stories they’ve run on her, in which we learn that she could frequently be counted on to raise money for Israel and that, in 1976, she offered to trade herself for the Israeli hostages at Entebbe.

Time has a photo gallery you may want to peruse, and Tablet will have further coverage of her life. For now, may her memory be for a blessing.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.