October 15, 2010
Jon Stewart’s version of Judaism
For some Jews it’s perplexing that Jon Stewart, an American Jewish icon, isn’t religious. How could the Jew who makes Jewish ‘cool’ be so indifferent to Judaism?
Buried beneath the laughter from his jokes—that he ritually delights in Big Macs with bacon on Yom Kippur or mocks Israel’s leaders for skipping a U.N. meeting on Sukkot “you mean, the holiday with the huts?”—is a deep and hidden disappointment that he isn’t really doing what we’re doing.
Earlier this week, The Berman Jewish Policy Archive, a research and analysis outfit at NYU, offered their findings on the state of Jewish journalism in the aftermath of a controversy at The Jewish Standard in New Jersey. One critique, from Andrew Silow-Carroll, expressed a wish “that journalists would move beyond their serial habit of assessing the ‘Jewishness’ of various public figures.”
The sentiment seemed shortsighted, because “assessing” the Jewishness of others enables communal connection. For example, knowing Jon Stewart was born Jewish is one thing; hearing him crack self-deprecating Jewish jokes night after night is intimately endearing. A Jew can participate in Stewart’s jokes because there’s a shared reference point; Jews aren’t laughing at Stewart, they’re laughing with him.
Fair enough. In fact, what Silow-Carroll is getting at is what makes it possible to consider Stewart—nonpracticing, irreligious Jew that he is— such an important Jewish figure. For Stewart, Hebrew school was boring; but being Jewish is not.
In this week’s Jewish Journal, writer Marty Kaplan tries to apprehend Stewart’s Jewishness with a few background details and excerpts from “The Daily Show”. It’s the title, though, that’s most revealing—“Waiting for Jewman”—because it implies, somehow or another that Jews want more of Stewart’s Jewishness, more of the core values that make him tick, more of the psychology that forms his worldview, more of his pet peeves and passions. And I’m not sure anyone would mind if, you know, Stewart popped by their shul one Shabbes.
Read more Waiting for Jewman: