As teenagers in the era when vampire media like “Twilight” was all the rage, my friends and I would get into debates about the nature of Jewish vampires: Would both crosses and Jewish stars harm them, or just Jewish stars? And in that case, would they still be affected by holy water?
But none of these questions as important as: What would they eat?
Jews, after all, are forbidden to eat blood.
We argued for hours but never came to a satisfactory answer, at least not that I can remember.
Now we finally have our answers, thanks to the Israeli series “Juda,” which recently premiered on Hulu.
Juda is Juda Ben-Chayim, a low-level gangster played by Zion Baruch, who is also the show’s creator. Juda finds himself turned into a vampire by the seductive and mysterious Tanja, after he wins a high-stakes Romanian poker game.
This turns out to be a problem for both. Tanja is a descendant of Dracula, and unknown to her, Juda is Jewish. The Dracula coven isn’t supposed to drink Jewish blood. So it’s bad news for Tanja and the rest of the Draculans.
During his eight-day transformation, Juda becomes stronger and faster than any other vampire around. So the coven hunts him down to destroy him before he becomes powerful enough to wipe out the gentile vampires.
By the way, there are only gentile vampires aside from Juda. He’s the only Jewish vampire ever, since the Draculans long ago realized that drinking Jewish blood could lead to their own demise.
Juda has a few advantages over the others. He won’t turn to dust in sunlight. He also receives wisdom from a mysterious unnamed, rabbi who seems to know a lot about Juda’s condition.
But being a Jewish vampire comes with its own observances. He can’t enter a room with a mezuzah on the doorpost and he can only drink the blood of a kashered animal. Even though blood is forbidden to Jews, a vampire needs to eat. So the rabbi rules that Juda can drink blood, if he stays away from the human variety.
“Juda” doesn’t stick to a single genre. There’s bits from supernatural dramas, thrillers and superhero genres, as well as plenty of well-timed humor both dark and light.
Like similar shows, every vampire here is attractive and black-leather clad. But they don’t spout sad poetry about being nigh-immortal or concern themselves with having a human lover.
Juda is more than a little concerned with the whole “transforming into a vampire” thing. But slowly, as he understands what is happening, he, too, develops a black leather sense of fashion but only some of the requisite angst.
The show follows three intertwining plots: The first follows Juda on his journey of learning how to use his powers while on the run from the French criminal underworld. The second follows Dracula’s band of vampires while they hunt Juda before his transformation is complete. The third plot involves the police, who are investigating a spate of murders in which the victims are drained of blood. (Spoiler: The vampires did it.)
And of course, there’s a love triangle, with Juda right in the middle.
There is a lot going on for such a short season. The first episode may have a viewer feeling lost, with how it keeps events and motivations intentionally vague. Then about half through the episode, there is a key scene involving Gotye’s memetic song “Somebody That I Used to Know” that makes the wait worth it and establishes the tone for the rest of the series.
(The soundtrack for the show, is brilliant as it is expansive.)
But one shouldn’t mistake the show as a parody of the tropes found in shows like “Supernatural” or “True Blood.” And any worries that the series is trafficking in the old blood libel myth against Jews should be assuaged. “Juda” everybody kills for blood.
In fact, Judaism is at the core of the “Juda.” Each episode begins with a quote from Jewish writings ― one episode starts with, “He who traineth my hands for war and my fingers for battle” (Psalms 144) ― that is connected with the plot of that episode. And there’s talk about Jewish values, history and practices.
“That’s what makes this series different than others,” Baruch said in an interview with the Jewish Journal, “The hero’s name is Juda and the name has a negative connotation [to other vampires] because he’s Jewish. We cleanse his name. The audience falls in love with him and, with that, I make a spiritual correction. Vampires were always associated with the Christian world. The Jewish people were persecuted throughout history, and it’s time for a Jewish superhero.”
The show’s distributor, Banijay, has already made a deal for an American remake of the series. No other details regarding the remake have been released.
There are so many twists and turns that it’s hard to predict where the show will go, or what the second season will have store. But I think that’s a great thing.
With everything happening in the series, there’s sure to be something that will appeal to nearly every viewer. And it’s a show that satisfactorily answers all the questions you have about Jewish vampires.
The full, eight-episode long, first season of “Juda” is available for streaming on Hulu. The series has dialogue in Hebrew, Romanian, French and English; English subtitles are available.