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Joel Stein hates Torah (but loves that Jews run Hollywood)

by Danielle Berrin

January 6, 2009 | 8:23 pm

I like Joel Stein. He makes me laugh. But I seriously question the motive for his recent column “How Jewish is Hollywood?” in which he facetiously declares that Jews unequivocally and absolutely control the media. And that, well, “as a proud Jew,” he’d like to keep it that way.

Joel Stein, a proud Jew? Here’s an example of his utter identification:

JJ: What’s Jewish about you?
JS: My name, my face….

JJ: Do you ever go to temple?
JS: No, I never go to temple. My life is short. I don’t want to spend it being bored so I can feel like a better person for something I don’t believe in. I’m a strong atheist. I don’t go to temple ‘cause they talk about the Bible, and I just don’t get anything out of that.

JJ: So you’re not a fan of the Bible?
JS: I just think it’s really kind of violent and mean and selfish and tribal.

JJ: Maybe you’re not reading it with the right lenses.
JS: Dude, I could read ‘Mein Kampf’ with the right lenses on and find something nice about it. You shouldn’t have to bend over backwards to find something nice about a text. I understand the context: You turn around and pity a people being killed, and, like, you turn to salt; God kills your first-born baby; God asks you to kill your child? I know you could come up with counter examples, but there’s enough slavery and murder in that thing ... I’d rather read ‘Finnegan’s Wake.’

While I appreciate—and quite agree—with Stein’s stipulation that a disproportionate number of Jews sit on the highest thrones in the entertainment and media industries (as opposed to Abe Foxman’s rhetorical dodge that people who control Hollywood “happen to be Jewish”), I’m trying to figure out what Stein’s definition of “Jew” actually is. To be fair, Stein’s Judaism is probably much like the Judaism of the people who purportedly run Hollywood. Yet, as a modern, practicing Jewess, I have to wonder how someone who degrades Judaism’s most sacred value (the Torah) could be so unabashedly happy that the title conferred on its followers means there’s any calculated Jewish substance in Hollywood.

Sadly, this reminds me of those wannabe literati who discuss classic literature because they know the titles, but have never read the books. And since I KNOW Joel Stein has read “Finnegan’s Wake” (a work I might add, that is arguably more opaque than Torah) I know he’s capable of plumbing the depths, complexity and humanity implicit in its text. And after all that, he really would be proud that instead of enduring “David and Goliath” re-runs, he now gets to watch “Mad Men.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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