A friend recently sent me this article from The Jewish Journal. My only argument with the article is the suggestion that the game is ancient, perhaps dating back to Confucius. Alright, I’ll get into that pet peeve of mine on another day! Anyway, it’s a cute article. Enjoy…

How Mah-Jongg Became Jewish

December 12, 2014 | By

How Mah-Jongg Became JewishHow did a game that graced ancient Chinese tables (in the company, some posit, of Confucius) come to grace contemporary Jewish tables (in the company, perhaps, of babka and Slivovitz)?

While books, documentary films and traveling museum exhibits have puzzled over mah-jongg becoming such a Jewish craze, no one has reached a definitive answer. Could it be connected to the formation of the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) by a group of Jewish women in 1937? Or to its popularity among Jewish wives during World War II while their men were away? Or the game’s prominence at Jewish bungalow colonies in the mid-20th century? Or else, as NMJL president Ruth Unger believes, that selling mah-jongg cards functioned as a fundraising source for synagogue sisterhoods and Hadassah chapters?

Whatever the reason, the game has remained a fixture in the Jewish world ever since it came to the U.S. in the 1920s. And even today, says Annelise Heinz, of Stanford University’s Department of History, the game is enjoying a Jewish renaissance. “Many of the Jewish daughters who once rejected mah-jongg are now returning to the game as a way to connect with their Jewish identities and rekindle memories of their mothers.”

3 thoughts on “JUST WONDERING…

  1. M. M. Goscha

    I believe the reason so many Jewish people play the game is because when it first originated in the US, (and no one is sure when that was, late 20’s or early 30’s)it became the rage! Mah JONGG was played by the very wealthy, the very elite. Even Zelda and Scott played. As women started entering the work force, Jewish women were smart enough to marry very wealthy men, they did not have to go to work. It started dying out, but the Jewish women kept the game alive! So we are very grateful to them! It is a Chinese game invented by soldiers who built the Great Wall. They were bored at night and hence the creation of the game. Over the years it has changed a lot but is still played by everyone in Asia. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. M. Martina Goscha

    Sent from my iPad M. M. Goscha



    1. Mah Jongg and Me Post author

      We do know when the game came to the United States. Joseph P. Babcock was the first to bring it here (from Shanghai where he was working for Standard Oil) around 1919/1920. It certainly was played by the wealthy but it was also played by the middle class and probably by the lower class as well. Just about everyone was enchanted with the game in the 1920s. I think the Jewish women who were playing it were not necessarily married to particularly wealthy men but rather, to men who were gone all day at work and the women were out in the suburbs, looking for something to do. By 1937 when the NMJL was formed, Mah Jongg offered avenues to give to worthy causes and so the game became a fun diversion as well as a way to be philanthropic. The game was absolutely not invented by the men who built the Great Wall which was over 2000 years ago. The general consensus is that the game was developed from an existing card game called Mádiào; it mostly likely was dreamt up by some soldiers during the Taiping Rebellion around 1850. Just thought I would help you with your facts! BTW, we have been told that there are over 300 million people who play the game in Asia! Ann xxo


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