In the 2006 Mockumentary Borat, two of the characters believe that Jews can "shape-shift", which is also noted in the last section here.

In 2015, in the wake of the Charlie Hedbo attacks, Daily Beat reporter Dana Kennedy claimed that at least one person claimed that some Jews could shape-shift in real life.

‘I talked to a cross-section of mainly French-Algerian young men who said it was, pretty much, they felt, the attacks were actually a conspiracy by the Jews to make Muslims look bad and they told me – at least one person told me – that they weren’t just regular Jews doing this. In fact they were a race of magical Jews, shape-shifting Jews that were master-manipulators and could be everywhere at the same time.’

This story was picked up by the podcast No Agenda Show. On their Jan 22, 2015 episode at 2:11:01, they discuss the idea, and John C. Dvorak attributes the origin of the idea to Borat.

Did the meme that Jews can shape-shift originate with Borat?

  • 7
    You do realise that most of what happened in Borat was real (as such it was a mock mockumentary) don't you? It wasn't scripted. Cohen is a master at getting unexpected reactions out of people. So a guy (not "character", a real person) mentioning such a theory implies that people already believed in the theory before Borat even filmed.
    – slebetman
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 4:59
  • 4
    @slebetman It is true that much of Borat was the real reactions of real people; however, IIRC the part of the movie that is the basis for this particular question was played out by Cohen (and, I think, his manager) acting as characters who believe this. Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 13:23
  • 8
    @slebetman the scene in question involves Borat and his "producer", who are both actors. The scene was either scripted or improvised, but either way it was a character, not a "real person".
    – Kip
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 13:26
  • 19
    As a Jew, I admit that we shape shift, but just during passover. Do you know what it's like to eat just matzah for a week straight?
    – Gabe12
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 21:46
  • 1
    "Sacha Baron Cohen became a multi-millionaire, in part, by making jokes about the fabled Jewish obsession with money. He also became a lightning rod for controversy and lawsuits in his portrayal of a fictional Kazakh reporter who believes Jews are money-grubbing, shape- shifting demons. In his blockbuster comedy Borat..." google.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 14:39

1 Answer 1



That film is only from 2006. See the 1996 book The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust:

It is enough to show that they[ Leon Daudet and others] sought to project an image of the Jew as, in Richard Wagner's words, a 'plastic demon of decadence': that is, as the very principle of the non-solid, of what is essentially groundless, rootless, shape-shifting...

The quote from Richard Wagner refers to his writing "Erkenne dich selbst [Know Thyself]" in Bayreuther Blatter February-March 1881, and according to the 1897 English translation compellation Richard Wagner's Prose, vol. IV, Religion and Art, the exact quote is:

Thus the Jew has need to neither think nor chatter, not even to calculate, for the hardest calculation lies all cut and dried for him in an instinct shut against all ideality. A wonderful, unparalleled phenomenon : the plastic daemon of man's downfall in triumphant surety

In German, the quote is "plastischen Dämon des Verfalls der Menschheit".

Keep in mind that the meaning of "plastic" in the 1880s was:

Having the power to form a mass of matter: capable of being molded or modeled

There is also a copy of a 1910 comic strip drawing showing a Jew shape-shifting to become Richard Wagner in the chapter "The Plastic Demon" in The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany's Most Illustrious and Infamous Family (see page 83).

enter image description here

Even earlier and more literally there is the 1804 Universal History, Ancient and Modern, Volume XIII which refers to people in Ethiopia

who firmly believe that these animals are Falasha, or Jews, from the neighbouring mountains, transformed by magick, and come to eat human flesh in safety

The 1799 The Aurora: or the Dawn of the Genuine Truth, volume 1 at page 198, also discusses people believing that hyenas are actually Jews who have been "transformed by magic".

These beliefs that Jews can magically transform into hyenas were reported by James Bruce who visited Ethiopia and published the information in Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, In the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 and 1773. Bruce's publication has been criticized as inaccurate generally.

  • 6
    These quotes sound clearly metaphorical, but the question was about literal shape-shifting. Am I missing some context that shows these to be more than metaphorical?
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 15:30
  • 21
    @T.J.Crowder The nose is the most obvious shift. Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 15:30
  • 2
    @DanGetz I agree the written quotes are metaphorical, but the satirical comic makes it be literal. My thinking is that neither the writer of Borat nor of the 1910 comic expect someone to actually believe Jews physically change shape, but that the 1910 comic predates the movie in portraying this.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 15:37
  • 7
    @DanGetz for literal shape-shifting by a subset of Jews see "The Falasha were the black Jews,...They were feared, referred to as Bouda, or " devil," and accredited with divers magical powers including that of shape-shifting" in the 1938 book: books.google.com/… (a moderator deleted my previous comment about this)
    – DavePhD
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 15:56
  • 3
    just gotta say, you guys really went down the rabbits hole for this one. Thanks :)
    – Thufir
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 15:39

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