Elizabeth Taylor, the legendary Hollywood icon who died Wednesday, March 23, in Los Angeles at age 79, was perhaps the most famous convert to Judaism since Ruth.
When she wed the flamboyant producer Mike Todd (born Avrom Goldbogen), she wanted to renounce her Christian Science and espouse his Judaic faith. He talked her out of converting, believing she wanted simply to please him.
Out of a total of seven spouses, Todd was the only one she did not divorce. He died in a 1958 plane crash and left a weeping widow.
Elizabeth insisted on becoming a formal Jew before she would marry Eddie Fisher. She went through a Reform conversion in 1959 with Rabbi Max Nussbaum of Temple Israel in Hollywood.
“She sincerely believed in what she had done,” Eddie told me. “She took the name Elisheba (“Oath of God”), the Hebrew form of Elizabeth.”
“Then she forgot all about it,” he added. “We didn’t go to synagogue. We celebrated Yom Kippur only once.”
The same year she converted, Elizabeth married Eddie at Temple Beth Shalom in Las Vegas under the direction of Rabbi Bernard Cohen and Rabbi Nussbaum.
In December 1976, after she married John Warner, a former Secretary of the Navy and then head of the Bicentennial Commission, the newlyweds went to Israel for part of their honeymoon. They visited Yad Vashem and Masada and planted trees in the Bicentennial Forest outside Jerusalem.
The Variety Club invited her to reign at the Diplomats Ball at the Tel Aviv Hilton. As master of ceremonies, Mike Burstyn brought Brooke Shields, who was filming “Sahara” in the country, to join Elizabeth in cutting the festive cake.
“Elizabeth turned to me and gave me such a cold look,” Mike recalled. “It was the first time it snowed in the Hilton ballroom.”
Elizabeth sparked a sensation when she toured Israel in 1983. She placed a note in the Western Wall. The message was universal: “Peace to all men.”
Ariel Sharon sent two cars to bring her to his farm. Her car was involved in a collision and she suffered a fractured finger and whiplash.
The lavender-eyed actress was born on Feb. 27, 1932, in London, England. She launched the most glamorous career of the silver screen when she appeared as an angelic child star in “National Velvet.” She earned two Academy Awards for “Butterfield 8” (1960) and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966).
Her seven husbands were Conrad “Nicky” Hilton, Michael Wilding, Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton (whom she married twice—he was that good), John Warner and Larry Fortensky.
As Frank Sinatra noted at a Friars roast: “Tonight we talk about the lives and loves of Elizabeth Taylor. Relax, folks, we’re going to be a here a long time.”
Tim Boxer is editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com.