Everything you need to know about the Sarah Silverman ‘Lettergate’


Open letter: Rabbi Rosenblatt wrote an op-ed on JewishPress.com, taking issue with the 42-year-old's choice to focus on her career rather than have a family

Sarah Silverman made headlines again!

But no, this time it wasn’t about a controversial tweet or a controversial video or… a controversial anything. In fact, the Jewish comedian didn’t really do anything.

Well, depends who you ask, because Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt thought that her lack of, umm, “doing,” is bad, so he decided to write an opinion columnfor the “Jewish Press” on October 11.

From that moment on it just got more bizarre, so in case you missed one of the most unnecessary debates recently (seriously people, don’t we debate enough these days?), here’s a short recap.

Last Thursday, Rabbi Rosenblatt accused Silverman of being “too secular”

According to Rabbi Rosenblatt, Sarah Silverman has a right to use her “daring” humor, but it’s not okay to add “biblical language” to that:

You want to fight for a value so you take your belief – secularism – and promote it. As an Orthodox rabbi, I disagree with just about everything you say, but respect your right to say it. All I ask, respectfully, is that you not use traditional Jewish terminology in your efforts. Because doing so is a lie.

In addition, he also criticized her political videos and tweets:

Nothing you say or stand for, Sarah, from your sickening sexual proposal to a Republican donor to your equally vulgar tweet to Mitt Romney, has the slightest thing to do with the most basic of tenets which Judaism has taught the world – that the monogamous relationship is the most meaningful one and that a happy marriage is the key to wholesomeness.

And also the 42-year-old comedian’s decision to not get married or have children:

You will soon turn 42 and your destiny, as you stated, will not include children. You blame it on your depression, saying you don’t want to pass it on to another generation.

I find that confusing, coming from someone as perceptive as you are in dissecting flawed arguments. Surely you appreciate being alive and surely, if the wonder of your womb were afflicted with your weaknesses and blessed with your strengths, it would be happy to be alive, too.

You said you wouldn’t get married until gay people can. Now they can. And you still haven’t married. I think, Sarah, that marriage and childrearing are not in the cards for you because you can’t focus on building life when you spend your days and nights tearing it down.

And overall, gave her a pretty serious life advice:

You are driven. You are passionate. I pray that you channel your drive and direct your passion to something positive, something that will make you a better and more positive person, something that will allow you to touch eternity and truly impact the world forever. I pray that you pursue marriage and, if you are so blessed, raise children.

But then, Sarah’s dad, Donald Silverman, decided to defend his daughter with a very blunt comment on the article:

And Sarah loved it:

That turned the media’s attention:

Huffington Post’s headline:

Rabbi Writes Patronizing Letter To Sarah Silverman, Has His Ass Handed To Him By Her Dad

Jezebel’s headline:

Sarah Silverman’s Dad Gets in Commenting War With Dickish Rabbi

RumorFix’s headline:

Sarah Silverman’s Dad Goes H.A.M On Rabbi

And many bloggers supported Silverman:

Jezebel’s Katie J.M. Baker:

Why is Rabbi Rosenblatt so threatened by Sarah Silverman? Because — make no mistake — that’s exactly what he is. He’s clearly threatened by the fact that a 42-year-old childless (gasp!), unmarried (double gasp!) woman (TRIPLE GASP!) wields so much power and influence — and that she actually seems fulfilled by her unorthodox life choices.

Jewcy’s Dvora Meyers:

Now let’s get down to the “crude” and “vulgar,” and worst of all, “political.” You have a problem with women like Silverman, who uses her fame and platform to advocate for causes she believes in when she should really just get married already. I mean, if you have kids, why would you care that minorities are being illegally disenfranchised and having their civil rights stripped away? Because—look at the cute drawing Yaakov just made! My kid’s smile melts away all of the injustices of the world and makes them unimportant!

Heeb’s Rafiss:

Got that, folks? All of Sarah’s comedy, political activism, and overall success is totally antithetical to Judaism, and will continue to be until she gets married and pops out a few kids. It’s an absolutism of authenticity  in which orthodoxy is the sole model of a Jewish life. Any deviation, and you’re automatically in stark contrast to, what is in effect, Zero-Sum Judaism.

Or didn’t support her at all:

Front Page Magazine’s Daniel Greenfield:

Sarah Silverman can make Anti-Semitic jokes on a regular basis, but call her behavior “vulgar and sickening”, as Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt did in the Jewish Press , and suddenly Sarah Silverman is a precious flower who can’t possibly be called such awful things.

Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt’s letter to Sarah Silverman was much too nice. It was the letter of a clergyman trying to reach out to a woman that he imagines must share some similar values with him. It was clearly a waste of time. But what came out of it were the hysterical liberal defenses of Silverman.

Tablet’s Liel Leibovitz, who assumed her “bad humor” is hurting President Obama too:

Silverman is doing the opposite. 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, sometimesmaddening, 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.

Plus a discussion about publishing such opinion letters:

Jewish Journal’s Rob Eshman revealed he was offered to publish the letter but refused:

What bothered me is that from there, unlike in his Matis piece, Rabbi Rosenblatt gets personal. He finds Silverman’s videos “vulgar” and “sickening.” And he decides that Silverman’s motivation arises not from political insight or Jewish values,  but from a personal void, a lack of Jewish values, of children, of marriage, of love.

On September 28 he sent me the piece.  On Oct 3, I wrote back:

Dear Rabbi:
It’s a bit ad hominem and presumptuous, and therefore a bit cruel, for my taste.  Hard to psychoanalyze people without at least speaking to them once.

I rejected the piece even though I knew two things: 1)  if we  posted it our site would get a big bump in traffic, lots of attention, lots of comments and 2) it would undoubtedly be red meat thrown to the carnivores who constantly accuse the JewishJournal.com of being too liberal. A piece slamming Sarah could serve as “balance.”

And about culture differences:

Jewish Press’ Tzvi Fishman:

So what is a rabbi doing in a place he doesn’t belong?

Furthermore, is he now going to set out on a campaign to rebuke every Jewish comedian in Hollywood, and every Jewish actor, director, playwright, musician, politician, Facebook inventor, and Jewish Federation president who married a gentile? Why single out Sarah? Pick on Simon and Garfunkel instead.

But I want to say something much deeper than this. Why blame Sarah? She’s the product of the culture she grew up in. Why should she believe in the Torah? Why should she follow the Torah when the rabbis in America don’t follow the Torah either? If they did, they’d all live in Israel.

 Jewish Press’ Stephen Leavitt:

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.

So now what:

Well, until Sarah Silverman herself comes out with a response video (or tweet), not much.

The “letter-gate” did however opened a door for discussions about Judaism, secular vs. orthodox culture and women’s choice, which is pretty interesting.

Going off the intense presidential debate on Tuesday, I wouldn’t mind a Sarah/Donald Silverman vs. Rabbi Rosenblatt debate, we should keep all the people who asked questions in the first debate, they’re all Jewish anyway.


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