Is Sarah Silverman good for the Jewish community?
When Sarah Silverman makes a joke, I laugh, and when my grandmother is in earshot of that joke, her throat opens up and releases a slew of vocalities mostly including phonetic monomers of the short o, y, and guttural ch types (think yuch and oy, for example). If you aren’t familiar with Sarah Silverman’s comedy you can look it up on Youtube, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s offensive, it’s vulgar, and it’s wildly popular among the 15-30 crowd.
Case in point: Her Twitter feed yesterday.
“Wait-did the Jews sue God after the Holocaust, or was that an episode of L.A. Law? (need an answer asap)”
Before tackling the Sarah Silverman issue, there are some facts we need to get out of the way. She is Jewish, in the non-religious-but-ethnically-Jewish-and-likes-to-talk-about-it class of Judaism that has become quite common in the United States these days. She has had many famous comedian boyfriends, none of them Jewish. Her jokes mainly center on making light of ethnic stereotypes, rape, violence, and religion. She has gotten into more than one controversy concerning the offensiveness of her act.
And so the question remains: is Sarah Silverman good for the Jewish community?
Interestingly, Sarah Silverman’s sister Susan, raised in the same house, containing mostly similar DNA sequences in their genomes, is a Rabbi. There are many ways to explain this kind of thing, but here the case can be made that the two sisters are actually cut from the same Jewish cloth.
Keep in mind: we don’t remember comedian Richard Pryor for telling jokes that the average white American family wanted to hear in the late 1960’s, millions of people didn’t mourn comedian George Carlin’s death a few years back because his carefully crafted words were taken from the dictionary of the acceptable, and no one has watched single Youtube videos of Bill Hicks hundreds of times over because he said something that reaffirmed the normative platitudes of society. The comedian’s role is to oppose the underlying moral and otherwise commonly accepted culture, just as the scientist should oppose old theories, the artist should oppose cliché, and the engineer should not waste time building what has been built. These are careers of progress into unexplored worlds, of opposition to the old – something the Jews are quite familiar with.
Many minority groups throughout history have been in opposition to the status quo. The relationship between minorities and majorities has served as a starting point for many of the wars and violence that we learn about in college classes and see in made-for-Hollywood movies about Persia, Ancient Rome, Rwanda, etc. etc. The Jews, perhaps the only group of people who are able to be continuously considered a (thriving) minority, have had a markedly different type of relationship with the status quo.
The Jewish opposition is that more subtle (and long lasting – where are the Romans now?) resistance that is internally held in the mind and passed down unconsciously through culture and genes. Karl Marx and Milton Friedman, Theodor Herzl and Yeshayahu Leibowitz (if you don’t know who this is, click here and here) and I won’t waste our time by copy-pasting the long list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners who have made their mark by challenging the status quo. That the Jewish collective mind works to create ideas so radically offensive to societal norms such as monotheism, capitalism, communism, radical secularism, ultra-orthodoxy, relativity, quantum mechanics (collectively known as “Jewish Physics” in 1930’s Germany), and even jokes (ever notice how disproportionately Jews are represented in comedy? No? Click here.) is the unique and valuable identifier of the Jewish tradition and culture (religious and theological matters aside). The history of Judaism, and its role throughout history has been one of continual pushing of the envelope, of challenging those norms which society holds dear.
And so no, it’s not surprising in the least that one daughter grew up to be comedian Sarah Silverman –shocking and offensive, famous in an occupation historically dominated by males, and the other became Rabbi Susan Silverman – living on Kibbutz Keturah in Israel (in an even more historically androcratic field).
What Sarah Silverman does – pushing the boundaries of common norms in a completely nonviolent way, simply with words and thoughts – is a Jewish tradition. It is that which has made Jewish culture so important to the history of humanity as a whole. Sarah Silverman will not win any Nobel Prizes or define a new field of scientific enquiry, but she is one in a long line of the Jewish tradition of thinking differently. And the unheard of survival of Judaism as a culture throughout the past, and undoubtedly into the future, is a function of such “offensiveness.”
What do you think? Is Sarah Silverman good for the Jewish community? Let us know your thoughts – post a comment below.
Adam Shai spends most of his time thinking about how we think, to no useful end. When he isn’t wasting his time with circular logic, he is not wasting his time with circular logic. After getting his PhD in thinking at Caltech, he plans to write the next great American novel, and find a nice Jewish girl to settle down with that somewhat reminds him of his mother so that a lingering resentment will keep him grounded for the rest of his life. His interests generally include science, history, philosophy, politics, writing, math, and mostly being distracted by shiny things. You can find more information on his website.