Jewish Journal

This week in power: Gingrich, Tebow, YU Beacon, Matisyahu’s beard

by Danny Groner

December 15, 2011 | 4:00 am

A roundup of the most talked about political and global stories in the Jewish world this week:

Gingrich’s gaffe
During a debate last Saturday night, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich referred to the Palestinians as an “invented” people, an error that has upset some potential voters. “Rather than scoring cheap and easy points, stand up for the values that made America great, summed up in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence,” protested Dr. David Liepert at The Huffington Post. But it’s not that big of a deal, said David Remnick at The New Yorker: “You can be sure that Gingrich did not care a whit for what Palestinians, here or in the U.S., would think. The Palestinian vote will not decide swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, or, above all, Florida; a considerable shift in the Jewish vote could.” And Thomas Friedman of The New York Times worries about bigger issues at play with the election. “I’d never claim to speak for American Jews, but I’m certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today,” Friedman said.

Tim Tebow’s appeal
He has won the hearts of many NFL fans with his stellar late-game play, but Tim Tebow might have to fight a bit harder to warm up to Jews, even if there are some tangential connections. “Unlike some other blue-staters, I do not fear people of faith. I fear people of certainty.  The worldwide struggle going on right now is not between good and evil, but between certainty and doubt,” said Rabbi Joshua Hammerman in The Jewish Week. But others wonder if the criticism is really fair. “What is it about Tebow that brings out such nastiness in so many of us? Why does the Jesus in Tebow bring out the Devil in us? asked Susan Stamper Brown in the Columbus Telegram. And others argue that reactions like Hammerman’s are “plainspoken bigotry” and shameful.

YU Beacon under fire
After an anonymous student ran a provocative story in the YU Beacon, an online publication of Yeshiva University, the school asked the Beacon to remove the article, beginning an outcry over censorship on campus. The editors stood up against the university and lost their funding as a result. “Instead of responding to such trivial provocation with nonchalant disregard, they’ve raised hell and probably made this the most read story ever of the Beacon,” said Shmuel Rosner in the Jewish Journal. But not everyone agreed. “From my point of view, everyone involved acted reasonably, with YU protecting its brand and asserting that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from standards and the students sticking to their guns and realizing that true editorial independence can only come with financial independence,” said Adam Dickter in The Jewish Week. “They deserve credit for not invoking a ludicrous Big Brother defense.” What the article has done is open up discussion - and debate - about health and sexuality at the school.

Matisyahu shaves (gasp!)
Reggae superstar Matisyahu ditched his beard this week, prompting many to speculate about what it means for the singer’s spirituality. “A beard does not make a man. I am sure some famous bard centuries ago wrote something along those lines. Matisyahu’s talent as a singer and performer have little to do with what clothes he wears and what kind of facial hair he prefers,” said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein at The Huffington Post. And let’s not lose faith in him, warned Kate Shellnut at the Houston Chronicle, because from Matisyahu’s brief statement “it seems he is aware of his relationship with God through Judaism and wants to adjust to a way that makes ancient traditions most meaningful to his own life.” See before and after photos here.

Is E.T. a Jewish movie?
Tablet magazine has named E.T., the Steven Spielberg classic, as the Number 1 Jewish movie of all-time, upsetting some protesters. “The Tablet writers admit at the beginning that they can’t define a Jewish film and don’t try. After all, who can even define, to everyone’s satisfaction, a Jew? asked Robert Fulford in the National Post. “But their comments on these (mostly American) films turn out to be an effective way to approach the whole subject. They provide a partial, often ironic, often exhilarating account of what the Jews have done to movies and what the movies have done to Jews.” What a great choice to lead this list, said Eric Kohn at IndieWire. “The list is a terrific read, and definitely includes some viable contenders, especially when you consider the entire idea of Jewishness as an expansive concept.”

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Danny Groner is a contributing writer to the Jewish Journal. He has worked in journalism since he was a teenager, starting off as an intern for a local publication. During his...

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