Was Oppenheimer Jewish?

With Oppenheimer finally having dropped in theaters, the world of biopics has changed about as much as the Manhattan Project changed the world as a whole; indeed, Christopher Nolan‘s masterfully-crafted glimpse into the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of spectacle, despair, urgency, and punctuality, and we’re already starting to see the future insofar as the next Oscars ceremony is concerned.

Going into the film — or even simply having a light grasp on Oppenheimer’s story regardless — one may wonder exactly what drove the politically-contentious physicist to develop such a weapon. The full answer is no doubt a dizzying one, but there was one particular aspect of WWII’s state of affairs — one that Oppenheimer had marked personal stakes in — that helped him make the decision.

Was J. Robert Oppenheimer Jewish?

Image via Universal Pictures

Despite being born into a non-observant household back in 1904, J. Robert Oppenheimer came from a Jewish family and was Jewish himself, and — with respect to this — his knowledge of what the Nazis were doing overseas during WWII played a palpable role in motivating Oppenheimer to build the bomb, to say the least.

Despite his Jewish identity, Oppenheimer showed notable recreational interest in Hindu texts during his life, and at one point named the Bhagavad Gita — a 700-page scripture text that’s part of the larger Mahabarata epic — as an important contributor to his personal philosophy. The Gita, quite famously, is also the source of the quote “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” the association with which Oppenheimer is arguably universally known thanks to his historic 1965 television broadcast.

Oppenheimer never adopted the Hindu religion for himself, retaining his Jewish identity throughout his life until his death in 1967. One can only imagine how different the world may have looked today if Oppenheimer elected to follow his philosophical passion rather than his innate knack for theoretical physics.

Oppenheimer is now playing in theaters.

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