Haaretz: ‘Dirty Jews’ and the Christian Right

Before you get frothy, the title is not mine. It belongs to Haaretz. The writer is one Josh Lambert.

The subtitle: “Brilliant actors like Larry David and Sarah Silverman are challenging America’s powerful religious, family-friendly culture and asserting their Jewishness by glorifying obscenity.”

Now I know there are many Jewish readers here, and that they run more on the Torah-believing side than the secular. I’d like to ask their opinion about Lambert’s piece.

Is it, as the subtitle declares, as asservation of secular Judaism to “glorify” obscenity? We can take it as read that it is not a claim to orthodox or conservative religious Judaism.

Before answering, let’s look deeper into the piece.

“In a tidy coincidence, two separate videos went viral last week, demonstrating that American Jews’ love affair with obscenity is still going strong. Sarah Silverman talks about being visited by Jesus Christ, who asks her to spread a message about women’s reproductive rights…” By “reproductive” Silverman means, of course, non-reproductive.

Lambert is claiming that “American Jews” have a “love affair with obscenity”. Is that so? Again, I take it he must mean Jews as a culture or race and not religion.

As far as I know, only Silverman has publicly called herself a “dirty Jew,” purring the words alluringly in her 2005 performance film “Jesus Is Magic,” but David’s gleeful, exuberant and inimitable spewing of obscenities suggests he might not exactly mind being thought of as a dirty Jew, either.

In my recently published book, “Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture,” I explain why, beginning in the late 19th century, American Jews have found the explicit representation of sex, and four-letter words, so very useful. The answers vary: Some Jews use obscenity to fight anti-Semitism, while others use it to rewrite traditional Jewish stories in a contemporary idiom.

How obscenity can “fight” and not cause “anti-Semitism” is anybody’s guess, but rewriting traditional stories in an obscene way can only be seen as blasphemous. No?

“If you watch cable television and listen to podcasts, you might think that there’s no longer any regulation of obscenity”, yet Lambert goes on to lament that there are still anti-obscenity laws on the books, particularly in broadcasting.

Lambert is unhappy that Democratic Senator James Exon of Nebraska, a Christian, sponsored the Communications Decency Act, which attempted to control obscenity on line. Lambert fails to tell readers the act was neutered by the ACLU.

What Lambert does remember is that “the senator introduced into the Congressional Record letters of support for his proposal from Evangelical groups like the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council.” Well, and so he did. That organizations against smut should have something to say on the subject shouldn’t be surprising.

The contemporary Christian right has a much more complex and self-aware relationship with American Jews [now]…Today’s anti-porn organizations, even if funded by Christians, often seek out Jews to sit on their boards — though mostly they attract only very marginal rabbis and other Jewish crackpots.

I can’t tell if he means “marginal rabbis” or only those Jews against porn are “crackpots”. Can you?

Somehow Lambert isn’t pleased with deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, because Scalia said “small-town broadcasters…[with their] down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big-city folks [and the] foul-mouthed glitterati from Hollywood.”

This is, of course, observationally true and known by everybody.

Scalia did not, of course, go so far as to suggest that the one demographic group most insistently associated both with American “big-city” life and with “Hollywood” — Jews — tend to speak more obscenely than other Americans. If he had wanted to, though, he could not have a better illustration of his hypothesis than Larry David and Sarah Silverman.

So Lambert thought he caught a whiff of “anti-Semitism”, but then he substantiated Scalia’s point with prime examples. He then says:

These Christian campaigns against obscenity…may help to explain why, in a media environment in which the representation of sex and the use of taboo language smacks increasingly of banality, brilliant performers like David and Silverman continue not only to assert their Jewishness emphatically, in virtually every one of their performances, but also to glory in and glorify the use of such language.

There it is again. Lambert equates (secular) Jewishness with obscenity. He closes with this.

Especially because the Christian right goes to such great lengths to demonstrate that Jews should not feel excluded from its initiatives — who loves Jews nowadays more than the Christian right, right? — identifying oneself as a “dirty Jew” in 21st-century America is one way to signal your opposition not just to the banalities of the market-driven family-friendly culture, but also to the nation’s most powerful socially, religiously and politically reactionary movement.

Evangelicals, the largest group on the Christian right, go out of their way to include and support Jews. This is true, as most know. But “dirty Jew[s]” rebel—and should, Lambert implies—against the “family-friendly culture” also beloved by Evangelicals.

If he is right, then shouldn’t the Christian right turn its back on secular Jews who on purpose and by design “glorify” in obscenity, blasphemy, porn, and other matters inimical to Christianity? Or would that only bring charges of “anti-Semitism”?

9 Comments

  1. David’s and Silverman’s shtick has long since become ‘banal’. As for less family-friendly fare not being ‘market-driven’, it is as much to say, ‘they didn’t ask for it, but we gave it to them anyway.’—more forceful phrases suggest themselves.

  2. What is it about Jewish profanity that makes it so endearing? Is it some sort of Cultural Marxist thing? Is any of this to be taken seriously?

  3. Why would you believe the author of a piece with a subtitle that is wrong? Never heard of either one of these supposedly brilliant actors.

    According to Wikipedia, David is mostly mentioned as a scriptwriter and producer, and the only acting mentioned is him playing himself.

    Silvermans only claim to glory worth mentioning on wikipedia was some youtube video dissing her ex-boyfriend.

  4. I have never understood the fascination of Evangelicals with Jews, unless they are the kind of evangelicals like Joel Osteen who preach “thou shalt prosper”. Even the term “Judeo-Christian” is bothersome. No one speaks of Judeo-Islam. Who is Judeo Christ?

  5. Nate,
    your admission to your lack of understanding may be due either to your ignorance of Judaism and Christianity, or a lack of capacity for even moderate reasoning ability. By your additional statements and question I’m not hopeful you will be able to understand the difference.
    Putting your seemingly overt attempts at trolling Christians and Jews aside for the sake of others who may honestly have similar questions, “Christ” is the Koiné-English version of the Hebrew-English word “messiah”, or “anointed one,” a title, not a name, for a Hebrew king, priest or prophet. Specifically in it’s use in Christianity it refers to The (Jewish) Messiah of prophecy.
    The “fascination” for Christians with Judaism, has been long overdue. Jewish Christians were nearly 100% of the early church, but around 200-300 A.D. gentile Christians were in the majority. Jewish traditions were largely disavowed by gentile christian leaders in the church. Much of the rich history and meaning of the jewish traditions that Jesus (Hebrew-English spelled “Yeshua”) from Nazareth participated in and taught was both ignored or lost in the gentile church. Perhaps due to the availability of the internet, but also due to the efforts of the current Jewish Christians that is now being reversed.
    An animation studio, The Bible Project, offers multiple short videos highlighting the Christian philosophy, and biblical understanding of the TANAK (OT) and the New Testament from which you might gain much insight.
    See
    https://thebibleproject.com/explore/the-messiah/
    for a video concerning The Messiah that even you might understand and enjoy.

  6. Lenny Bruce and Joan Rivers balance them out quite well.
    As a Jew, I’m more revolted by Peter Singer, Naomi Wolf and Noam Chomsky.

  7. So basically, Gene, it sounds like you are saying that it’s an attempt to fundamentally change Christianity, via a claim that the Gentiles ‘screwed up’. “Christendom” has been replaced with “Judeo-Christian”. Tradition replaced by so-called ‘original’ meanings…

  8. E. Michael Jones says Jews rebelled against Christ on the cross, and thereby became the enemies of divine order, perpetual “revolutionaries” (nihilists), the force behind every revolution in the world. Thus, “glorifying obscenity” is echt Jewish.

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