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Rosenblatt v. Silverman: A Culture War

Rabbi Rosenblatt's article on Sarah SIlverman touched a raw nerve among ethnic/cultural Jews.

silverman v rosenblatt

Photo Credit: Yori Yanover

The numerous comments we’ve received on Rabbi Rosenblatt’s Open Letter to Sarah Silverman are fascinating. Once you get past the expletives, you can learn a lot about the culture that produced them. The statements and the tone of the comments demonstrate the differences, even the massive gap between Jewish culture and Jewish-American culture.

Rosenblatt addressed a public figure who has no problems exposing her inner self and saying whatever is on her mind on any subject, no matter how offensive or inappropriate it might be to anyone. Rosenblatt questioned what her underlying motives might be and offered what he believes is the answer. He couched his message, as Silverman sometimes does hers, using his notion of Judaic values and cultural identity.

And that’s when it hit the fan.

Certainly it’s permissible, possible, even easy to disagree with Rosenblatt’s explanation and worldview. I certainly expected to see some intelligent conversations developing around the article. But why all the openly hostile obscenity?

Silverman’s father’s foul mouthed reaction was the first indication that Rosenblatt had inadvertently hit a very raw nerve.

By and large, the commenters were using an obvious double standard. They claimed the Rabbi crossed the line. The Rabbi was offensive. The Rabbi was [fill in the obscene word], and followed it up with their thoughts on Judaism (in some cases displaying ignorance and hatred).

Yet, Silverman, who prides herself on her “potty mouth” and crossing the verbal line on many social mores is untouchable and can do no wrong.

When Sarah Silverman, on video, propositions Sheldon Adelson, using her doggie in mock soft-porn as substitute for the elderly billionaire — that’s humor and acceptable.

When Rabbi Rosenblatt tells Sarah Silverman to get married and have children — that’s an expression of hatred and intolerance.

The question is, why?

I propose that many of the Jewish-American commenters got so upset because the Rabbi crossed a line. But the line he crossed was not about his views on motherhood, but rather his views on the role of the Rabbi and of Judaism.

Judaism, to some of those commenters, belongs locked in a box in a synagogue, and should never be allowed out to offer any moral observations, opinions or guidelines that disagree with the most permissive of Western cultural values.

As expressed by some of these commenters, Silverman actually represents “Judaism” to them.

Some of them might have a list of humanitarian/liberal values and call them Jewish values, while taking traditional Jewish values like Shabbat and Kashrut (as well as Judaism’s own social values), and relegating them to archaic, comical, even dark places in the culture.

For them, Judaism is Liberalism. A definition and identity where anything is permitted, alongside a strong pride in their cultural/ethnic identity as Jews, regardless of whether that identity actually represent a Jewish value system, or an accident of birth.

The question is certainly open as to whether the Rabbi was right or wrong in his analysis of Silverman, but one thing is clear, Rosenblatt rattled something deep and painful in the psyches of those who define themselves as cultural/ethnic Jews, without any actual Judaism to go with it.

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159 Responses to “Rosenblatt v. Silverman: A Culture War”

  1. Marianna Mugno says:

    What about the Rabbis opinion as a human being?

  2. Considering her peculiar ideologies, and those of her family, I think the good Rabbi shd thank his lucky stars that La Silverman has chosen not to procreate…Perhaps a divine blessing for the rest of us?

  3. Rachel Ginsberg says:

    Where to begin responding to this article?

    Yes. Judaism contains just as much dogma and just as many rules and laws to live by as the other major monotheistic religions – perhaps even more. To suggest that the negative reactions to Rosenblatt's comments are based on a desire to paint Judaism as Liberalism is actually not completely untrue. I myself have been guilty of explaining away some of the more extreme Jewish positions in that same way.

    BUT –

    1. Judaism has ACTUALLY evolved into different streams that are more and less liberal interpretations of biblical law. Of course the Orthodox have every right to believe that Reform Jews are not really Jews or practicing true Judaism but this is a subjective matter that will never be resolved and quite frankly is no different than any other kind of intolerance. The Orthodox were not the only ones to go into the ovens.

    2. Only the most observant Jews maintain beliefs in biblical Judaism as literal as the Rabbi espoused in his letter. To suggest that all Jews who do not are simply "cultural/ethnic Jews, without any actual Judaism to go with it" is deeply offensive and unreasonable. I guess for you the only "actual Judaism" is the most orthodox.

    3. The suggestion that "forging a permanent relationship" is "the most basic desire of the feminine soul" is incredibly reductive and alienating. The Rabbi may believe that, but if he's willing to put that out there as justification for his critique of Silverman, he better be prepared to alienate many people who might otherwise agree with his position. Disagreeing with her public persona and references to Judaism is one thing – but to couch his position in such deeply reductive language to women is quite another.

    4. Finally – Rabbis should know better than anyone how personal the relationship is between Jews and God. It is one of our most fundamental beliefs. This – for me – is truly the characteristic of Judaism that allows each Jew to outline his or her level of observance.

  4. Dear Jewish Press,
    I am horrified at the sickening chilul Hashem that resulted from Rabbi Rosenblatt’s obnoxious and thoroughly embarrassing foray into the world of kiruv. We need to put our foot down and insist that those who cannot display basic diplomacy, salesmanship and interpersonal skills should not be allowed to pose as representatives of Judaism. Rabbi Rosenblatt had no business moralizing to non-Orthodox Jews who did not ask his opinion. He had no business commenting on Sarah Silverman’s personal life, or anyone else’s for that matter. Telling someone to marry and/or have kids, or to have more kids than they currently do, should be absolutely taboo in our culture. Such “advice” is a form of bullying and public degradation since the private nature of such a subject does not allow for the accused to defend themselves. (I should mention that our own community has some serious and rapidly accumulating issues with extended singlehood and deferred parenthood. Would any frum mother of a 35-year-old single woman tolerate an unsolicited lecture from a stranger about “Jewish family values“?) I will also ask, what on earth was the good rabbi doing following Sarah Silverman’s public persona in the first place? Where was his kosher internet filter when he went on YouTube to watch Sarah’s videos and find viewership data? I myself did not even know that Sarah Silverman existed until I read the Jewish Press this week, and I am just modern enough not to care about internet filters. How is it that Rabbi Rosenblatt can believably (if only to some) stand on his high horse as a representative of “Jewish Values”, on a subject that is absolutely none of his business no less, when it is obvious that an employed, married father of six with minyan to attend and Torah to learn should be doing better things with his discretionary time than googling Sarah Silverman and who knows what else? This man’s behavior is a complete slap in the face to the scores of frum people who invest their time, money and effort in kiruv, who battle anti-frum stereotypes at work, who have to deal with the anti-frum hostilities of secular/heterodox relatives- and to the rest of us. How sad that takes so little to undo the hard work of so many who invest so much in the public image of Orthodox Judaism.

    Esterina Seto
    Brooklyn, NY

  5. Debbie Kahan says:

    I am sitting here in my long skirt and hair-covering appalled and embarrassed. "L'ahavta le'recha kamocha."

  6. Ethan Perks says:

    S.S. represents far left values. As such, liberals believe she is beyond criticism. The Rabbi represents traditional Jewish values that are increasingly seen by secular Jews as irrelevant.

  7. Yori Yanover says:

    Why should it be taboo? I understand bad taste, I understand embarrassing — but taboo? seriously? A Jewish woman posing with her dog in a seductive video for an old rich guy — that's cool, and no one can say, Hey, young lady, you're going off the deep end?

    What an upside down world is that?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dear Rabbi,
    As I understand the laws of tochacha (rebuke), a person being given rebuke must be 'available' to receive the words of rebuke, and they should come from a place of loving- kindness. The idea of giving rebuke is to help another to do tshuva and in doing so bring them closer to Hashem … and others.
    Respectfully, I don't believe the manner that you delivered your message meet this criterion.
    Words such as you wrote ought to be delivered in person, with great consideration…and where there is the best chance to 'know' if someone is available to receive such words. I believe your words are damaging on many levels.
    You may believe that your words do in fact come from a place of love, however I believe that what you may have done is plant the seeds for more 'baseless hatred'. Why would anyone choose to do better as a person and have a desire to be part of a Nation that deals with his fellow in the manner you have dealt with a fellow Jew? Please consider as it makes my/our job to bring about tikun olam more difficult.
    Leib Getzel

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yori Yanover – I assume that your internet filter was on the fritz.

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    It would have been sufficient for the Rabbi to offer some well-earned criticism for Silverman's crude and insensitive if not offensive humor. Her personal life is not an issue. The Torah does not require women to marry or have children!

    Unfortunately, political discourse in America today has been lowered to the level that the most insensitive and offensive commentator gets the most influence; see the example of Rush Limbaugh for proof. As an unapologetic Leftist I see no advantage for my side of the political spectrum that it is possible for us to match or even exceed Limbaugh in his race to the bottom.

  11. Shira Levin says:

    It is a shame that the reactions to Rabbi Rosenblatt's comments are so negative. I hate liberalism because so much of it results in chilul HaShem such as the acceptance of homosexually, abortion, and so called same sex marriage. Things that bring down judgements from Hashem.

  12. 1. Your suggestion that Jews who are not Ortho-frum are merely Jews by culture and ethnicity is indicative of a very sanctimonious and shallow understanding of what being "religious" is really all about. HaShem is not an exclusive property of your small world.
    2. The fact that a haredi Rabbi would suggest in writing to a female comedian who makes her living be naughty and sensational that she should marry and make babies is not as much a reflection on her as it is on him. Too many haredim have amazingly simple, myopic, provincial perspective on the world its startling. "The way we do it in my world is the right way, everyone else is wrong." Yea, right.
    3. Thank you for reminding us time and again, as the Jewish Press is committed to doing, that 19th Century shtetle Judaism and it unsophisticated knowledge of and perspective on the "goyishe world" is alive and flourishing 21 st Century America.

  13. I must be missing something.

    Sarah Silverman simulates a ponorgraphic pose, her fishnet stockinged legs spread apart while holding a small dog between her legs – and offers to "scissor" an elderly donor if he will support a different political candidate.

    Is that about right?

    And a rabbi who finds this behavior objectionable is called an a**hole by SIlverman's father, and the rabbi then becomes the object of hostile criticism?

    I guess the decline of American Jewry has been more precipitous than I thought.

  14. Paul Naas says:

    Why must conservatives always embellish in order to make their point? Either you haven't seen the video or you felt compelled to make it seem more risque than it was by adding fishnet stockings to Ms. Silverman's wardrobe. And since when is lying on one's back a "pornographic pose?" If that's the case, any guy sleeping on his couch during the weekend is simulating said pose. Finally, I don't see how the Adelson video has anything to do with the Jewish faith, aside from the fact that Ms. Silverman identifies as such.

  15. Anna Edelstein says:

    and how does a haredi rabbi even know about sarah silverman??

  16. I have reviewed the video, and I stand corrected!

    There are no fishnet stockings; just a flowered bikini and heels!

    The rest of my description is sadly accurate.

    Here's the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B5o6-qNk6Q.

    Mr. Nass thinks I am a conservative (who, who by definition, must embellish) and he also thinks Sarah is not simulating pornography.

    You decide.

  17. Gil Gilman says:

    I am truly sorry to disagree with you Esterina, since you point out not a few desirable ingredients in any who wish to influence others with the hopes of a dialogue, even if not eventual agreement. Unfortunately, the question must be asked, "exactly who, while putting down their foot, is going to effect a change by insisting that everyone who fails in the etiquette department cease and desist from utterance."

    As far as whether Rosenblatt has a right to comment on Silverman's personal life, there is total disagreement between us. We were under the assumption, wrongly or rightly, that in Israel, as well as the USA, freedom of speech was at least given lip service. It is one thing to say you were offended. I was offended by a portion of his shpiel, maybe 'shocked' would be a better word. I assume you are not as far left as totalitarianism, because you could scarcely censure the totalitarian dictates of another without hypocrisy.

    Personally, I am thoroughly satisfied to sit at my computer, clucking my tongue and clicking the keys on my console in rebuttal of obvious fallacy. In conclusion, it seems to me that the best way to deal with the obtuse and willful, is to simply ignore them, unless you confront them in your yard. Then you may punch them in the nose. Unfortunately, the cat has been let loose, with much todo and hoopdedo.

  18. I have reviewed the video, and I stand corrected!

    There are no fishnet stockings; just a flowered bikini and heels!

    The rest of my description is sadly accur…
    Here's the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B5o6-qNk6Q.

    Mr. Nass thinks I am a conservative (who by definition, must embellish) and he also thinks Sarah is not simulating pornography.

    You decide.

  19. Amy Dunsmore says:

    The internet has kosher filters?

  20. Janina Wilen Madoff says:

    Great stuff!

  21. Paul Naas You're right! She wasn't wearing fishnet stockings; she was wearing a bikini.

  22. Certainly fewer Democrats in the voting pool…

  23. Paul Naas says:

    Mr Garfinkel truly needs to have his eyes examined. Even after "reviewing" the video, he still gets details wrong. Flowered bikini? Only if one defines stripes as flowers.

    Yes, I believe Mr Garfinkel is a conservative – because he displays the conservative tendency to express an opinion about a subject (in this case, the video in question) while clearly not having done his own research (in this case, actually viewing the video) and making clearly untrue comments about the subject. And even after being prodded into doing said research, he still can't get the details right.

    Mr. Garfinkel is also incapable of spelling a simple name correctly even when that name is front and center for his reference.

  24. Amy: one can purchase something called a "kosher filter" that will block all pornography and youtube videos (to protect the profits of Jewish musicians.) My sister has one. It's considered by some to be a defense against the evils of the internet.

  25. Paul Naas says:

    Silverman is not beyond criticism. She is, however, entitled to express her opinion about a subject – any subject – without being subjected to the kind of condescending public statement made by the Rabbi. Being told publicly to sit down, shut up, and make babies is insulting in the extreme.

    If the good Rabbi was truly concerned about her rather than about garnering publicity for himself, he would have sent a private letter to Silverman. It's not at all difficult to contact a celebrity's representation.

  26. Mr. Gilman: I never said that any speech should be illegal. I merely suggested that the community be mindful of behavior that is off-putting to outsiders and makes us look bad.

  27. Charlie Hall says:

    I'm an Orthodox Jew and a political liberal, as all Orthodox Jews should be as traditional Jewish values call for helping out those who need help. I certainly do not endorse SS's brand of humor; it is indeed not in accordance with Jewish values. But as I pointed out in my earlier comment, the Rabbi did his cause no good by criticizing SS for not having a husband or children.

  28. Paul Naas says:

    If you thought that video was seductive, I feel sorry for you.

  29. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    you have a strange standard for what constitutes a chillul hashem. The rabbis letter will unlikely draw attention outside a small portion of the jewish world, and it is based in torah and well intentioned. Halacha does allow for public ridicule for transgressors who refuse to do change their ways. Sadly Sarah Silverman is for many jews AND gentiles more of a representative of the jewish world than Rabbi Rosenblatt who most jews and all gentiles will have unlikely heard of.

  30. Devon Cage says:

    I never ever get involved in politics.
    I never make comments about other entertainers.
    I certainly do not comment on the thoughts and opinions of Rabbis.

    Today, I feel like I must.

    Sarah Silverman is funny. She is smart, she knows exactly what to say to promote, provoke, and compel people to talk about what it is that she is sharing with the world. Agree or Disagree, her humor is delivered in a way that keeps people talking. This is why she is successful. My wife and I have never met her, however, it is our understanding that she comes from a very successful Jewish family and obviously her dad did an awesome job of raising a daughter that isn't afraid to speak her mind. Sarah is 100% authentic and original.

    As far as this Rabbi is concerned, and I have a Rabbi, she is of a reform movement. This bull**** from Rabbi Rosenblatt is the same nonsense I have heard for the last 30 years coming from the Orthodox.

    Look, if you want to walk around unbathed, look like your wearing a macrame plant holder on your face, and treat your closest friends to an impromtu, early winter snow every time you move your dandruff riddled head, that's fine…If you wish to spend the free time you have commenting on the affairs of others, remember this……YOU ARE THE MINORITY. As reform jews in the United States, we listen to this type of crap with a smirk.

    My wife and I spent three years developing a television show, a show that we hope is 5% as entertaining as anything Sarah has put out. We try to be ourselves, were not looking to be embraced or accepted, its entertainment Rabbi…remember this……you have a choice..you can crack open that bottle of manischevitz and enjoy, or you can turn off the TV.

    Her audience is bigger than yours.

    and it should be.


  31. Yori Yanover says:

    Internet filters are for suckers. If you can't take what human society is dishing out occasionally — don't go online. But to ask some robot to make content choices for a middle aged Jew with some yeshiva education — pathetic.

  32. Yori Yanover says:

    So, Reform Jews believe a young Jewish woman should publish videos of herself lying half naked on a couch with her dog between her legs, while she's making lascivious propositions to have lesbian sex with Sheldon Adelson?

    Just asking.

    I worked for the CCAR for a while, and I heard many things there I didn't necessarily agree with, but that never came up.

  33. Yori Yanover says:

    He's not haredi. I made him haredi in the illustration for levity's sake.

  34. Yori Yanover says:

    writenut – I agree with you on the mechanism of techecha. Obviously, you don't do halachic tochecha while 100 thousand people are watching. This was an open letter in the spirit of rebuke, from one Jew to another.

  35. Yori Yanover says:

    She offered to scissor Sheldon Adelson lesbian style and rubbed her dog over her reproductive parts. That's porn. Humorous porn, but porn nonetheless.

    I'll give you the fishnet stockings, though. She was wearing a tiny bikini.

  36. Yori Yanover says:

    Michael Puro – Thank you for adding your intellectual contribution to the debate. I hope you feel better now.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Rabbi Rosenblatt's commentary was appropriate. Sarah Silverman early reference in her video to herself as "your Jewish friend Sarah" ties Judaism to her vulgarity. The Rabbi wants to promote the good and positive in Judaism, and Sarah, by her vulgarity and profanity, to something else. Just as Sarah's work is meant to be scorn, so too was Rabbi driven to write his scornful letter. If Sarah and her father found it offensive, so what.

  38. Yori Yanover says:

    Devon Cage — yes,audience-size wise, hers is bigger than the rabbi's, no doubt about it. On the issue of harmless entertainment — no. This was a political tape disseminated in order to galvanize support for one side. Nothing wrong with that idea. But do you want your daughter spreadeagled on a couch in an itzy bitzy bikini rubbing a doggie on her lady parts?

    If you do, and it's a possibility, then Stephen is right and we do not belong in the same cultural place. We believe in and promote traditional Jewish values and you embrace half naked Jewish girls rubbuing doggies on themselves.

  39. Yori Yanover says:

    He didn't criticize her on those grounds. He was saying, basically, what no one else seems to be saying these days: What do you need with the doggie between your legs, Sarah'le — go find a husband.

    I wish we had more folks who dared to irritate the people around them in this fashion, Charlie. And I'm not a Liberal Orthodox Jew, I'm a small L liberal with socialist tendencies.

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