Sisterhood Blog

Do We Really Need A JILF List?

By Johnna Kaplan

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Scarlett Johansson is #2 on Shalom Life’s JILF List.

For good or for evil, like it or not, Jews seem to be stuck with Jewish lists. The newest one is Shalom Life’s Top 50 Hottest Jewish Women of 2013, a.k.a “The JILF List.” (If you don’t know what JILF means, watch this scene from the movie “American Pie.”) The expression is “two Jews, three opinions,” but reading this list I was one Jew with 20 opinions, conflicted over what — if anything — I should take away from this ranking of female hotness.

It’s nice that the list is prefaced by a sort of disclaimer: “We understand that beauty is oft times indescribable, inexpressible, and ineffable, and always in the eye of the beholder.” It’s almost as if to acknowledge that we as a people should be above this sort of thing. Nevertheless, most of the women on it are physically stunning. On the plus side, many of them also have other talents, though those talents are very much intertwined with being famous. To be fair, other collections of hot people, including People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful People,” also focus on celebrities. Doesn’t it make sense, then, for a Jewish website, one that devotes a lot of space to celeb gossip anyway, to provide a Jewish equivalent to a type of list that’s common in the wider culture?

On the other hand, is such a list really necessary? It feels like one side of an argument the Jewish people no longer need to have, or if we do need to have it, we might be better advised to decline anyway. People regularly allege nasty things about the Jews, but I can’t recall hearing anything recently that made me want to fight back with, “But see! We aren’t all ugly little caricatures from Nazi propaganda cartoons! We have some hot ones!”

Why, I wondered while reading Shalom Life’s list, must it include women who are… how to put this… only slightly or tenuously or unwillingly Jewish? Sarah Michele Gellar (#32), for example, has been known to become “vocally annoyed” when her Jewishness is brought up. I have to wonder if some of the other selections really are, or consider themselves to be, Jewish. Or if they even care. There’s a sense here of scrambling to make up a list of 50. If Shalom Life had relented a bit on requirements of fame or makeup-commercial prettiness, they could probably have had a more Jewish list. But the women on that hypothetical list, regardless of their “hotness,” would probably not have enticed as many readers to click.

It also struck me as curious that the list seems to define being Jewish in purely religious terms, especially since it includes several women who are clearly described as being entirely unreligious.

Then there’s the larger question of the practice of listing Jews, and whether we should be for it or against it. I usually lean more towards the “against” side. Yet I admit that I read Jewish lists and I’m always oddly pleased to learn that someone I like is in fact a member of the tribe. (#36, Jenny Lewis! #27, Mia Kirschner!) The flip side, of course, is that discovering you share a common attribute with people (like a few ex-Disney stars) who you’d rather not be associated with at all.

And there’s the word JILF itself, which I viscerally dislike as much as MILF and DILF and all of their offspring acronyms. Who, exactly, is the list saying wants to F these Js? The Shalom Life staff? Their assumed audience? Is it supposed to raise my Jewish female self-esteem by providing hot role models? Or is it perhaps a plea to Jewish men, cleverly showing them pics of sexy ladies as a stealthy means of promoting endogamy?

I don’t know. Though I do know, now, that Isla Fisher (#34) was born in Muscat. And I really want Alison Brie’s (#17) haircut. And I wonder how it feels to be Zosia Mamet (#50), the last of the hottest. (Or is that the least hot of the hottest?) I don’t think I would like that. Then again, I never have to worry about being on anyone’s list of the hottest anything, so I can’t really know what I’d think.

Oh, and there’s also a boys’ version. But that’s a whole other story…


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