October 15, 2012
When Rabbis Attack…Sarah Silverman
There’s a particularly nasty post cruising through the Web tubes that attacks the comedian Sarah Silverman.
It was posted on a Jewish news Web site yesterday, but I already knew all about it. Why? We rejected it first.
The writer, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt, first submitted the piece to me a couple of weeks ago. We had published a previous piece by the rabbi, in which he expressed his disappointment with the singer Matisyahu. This was after Matisyahu shaved his beard and moved further from Chassidic Judaism. In his piece, the rabbi mourned Matis' loss as a role model.
The Matisyahu piece received a lot of attention and traffic, and I got a kick out of dealing with the rabbi, who runs a kosher beef cattle ranch in Texas—not your average Hasid.
But his piece on Silverman went over the line.
He attacked Silverman for her political activism. Silverman has made a series of YouTube videos using her brand of ribald humor to take on Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, obstruction of voting rights, and other causes. Her views are fair game: she dishes it out, she can take it.
[WATCH: Sarah Silverman slams voter ID laws]
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:
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.”
Indeed, I was right about the first point. The piece, which the right-wing Orthodox site jewishpress.com picked up, has received a lot of traffic. Even Jeffrey Goldberg, who writes a Jewish journalism blog over at The Atlantic, linked to it, albeit, as he pointed out, sarcastically. But a hit is a hit: Google Analytics records clicks, not degrees of sardonic distance.
And the piece is sure to gain even more attention, since Sarah Silverman’s father took the time to respond to it with this funny, true and angry post:
Go Dad. So do I regret my decision? Wouldn’t it have been nice if all this hoopla translated into hits at jewishjournal.com?
It’s a competitive Internet news market. We all need high-traffic content. Anyone who writes anything can get it posted somewhere: so why not our site? And content like Rosenblatt’s is free, and space is cheap. Every writing resume I’ve reviewed for the past two years lists, “Contributor to HuffingtonPost.com” under Work Experience, as if that qualifies either as work or experience.
But we do take both parts of our name, jewishjournal, to heart. You can’t write about things you have no knowledge of—in this case a young woman's personal life and beliefs. And you can’t spread damaging conjecture and perhaps lies about someone. And just because you disagree with someone’s politics doesn’t mean you know their character, or have the right to demean it.
None of that is good journalism. And I’m no rabbi, but it doesn’t strike me as Judaism, either.
Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of jewishjournal.com. You should follow him on Twitter, too.