The recent exchange between Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt and the father of comedian Sarah Silverman still has people buzzing.
To recap: Rosenblatt wrote an essay in The Jewish Press, an Orthodox weekly, taking the potty-mouthed comedian to task for her popular and potty-mouthed pro-Obama videos. Rosenblatt criticized Silverman for being "crude" and "vulgar." He suggested that she should get married and have kids. In the comments section, Silverman’s father responded by essentially telling the rabbi to shove it, though in less polite terms.
Liel Leibovitz, writing in Tablet, doesn’t think much of Rosenblatt’s suggestions about Silverman’s personal life. But Leibovitz does argue that there’s something to be said for the rabbi’s larger critique of Silverman.
She, as the rabbi rightly noted, is moved mainly by her appetite for destruction. Her comedic universe is dense with ignorance and excrement and bile, and the thin conceit on which it all rests—that it’s just a big joke, a self-conscious take, a mirror in the face of real ignorance and excrement and bile—hardly makes it any more inhabitable. It’s a universe designed only for one, and all of its energy is invested in revering its mistress.
This attitude not only falls short of capturing the generous and complex spirit of Judaism, but it also fails to represent an important part of Barack Obama’s ethos. The president’s appeal—and this is as true today as it was four years ago—owes much to his genuine, sometimes maddening, refusal to reduce his ideas to talking points or his opponents to caricatures. Obama speaks in complete sentences, and he knows that great leaders, like great comics, have more of an impact in the long run if they resist the easy punch line and opt instead to say not only what is pleasing but what is true.
The president, then, could have asked for no worse endorsement than Silverman’s. Her exhortation to megadonor Sheldon Adelson to exchange party loyalty in return for sexual favors has much more in common with the shrill trills of the GOP’s most loony defenders. Much like that other famous Sarah haunting American politics, Silverman, too, has turned the electoral process into a spotlight with which to illuminate her own oversized and cartoonish personality for fun and profit. A president who seems categorically incapable of answering even a simple question in a televised debate without pondering specificities and complexities deserves someone with a better ear, a kinder heart, and a more astute mind in his corner.
Mik Moore, co-founder of the Jewish Council for Education and Research, which produced the Silverman videos, told the L.A. Jewish Journal that the criticism of Silverman is “a manufactured controversy, a media stunt by an obscure rabbi to elevate his own status on the back of a very successful entertainer and activist.”