Who cares what Larry David says?

Apparently a lot of people do. Larry David’s recent monologue on Saturday Night Live was tasteless, crude, insensitive, and for some reason people, Jews especially, are up in arms about it even calling David a self-hating Jew. I am neither qualified nor interested in diagnosing Mr. David’s psychoses or neuroses. What bothers me about this is that we care at all.

Why do we care what Jewish celebrities say and do? More to the point, why do we assume they are imbued with great knowledge or learning that is authentically Jewish? Most of the time they prove themselves Jewishly illiterate. Case in point, David says “… and then I have three words to say to that, oy veyz mir.” The expression is oy vey iz mir, it’s four words. His inability to pronounce this trivial Yiddishism signals to me his sense of “Jewish” is cultural, ethic, and poorly educated.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jewish comedy. But I regularly hear Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, and others butcher Jewish concepts and conflate them with cultural sensibilities. It appears if one can speak with a Yiddish accent and inflection one can pose as a Jewish authority. And here’s the crux of my concern… how have we invested this authority on those with little or no Jewish education?

The days when one Jewish public figure represented the people of Israel are over. I think non Jews understand this better than we do. However, when the non Jewish world gets their information about Judaism from famous people who happen to be Jews we have a problem. Would any of us form our concept of Christmas from hearing Larry the Cable Guy.

Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman writes that ethnicity is, ““… a nostalgic yearning for Jewish folkways that once sustained us as a people apart, but can no longer do so – not, at least, without anti-Semitism to drive it. Ethnicity in this sense is doing what we think Jews have always done, whether they are really what Jews have always done or not, and whether or not they are even authentically Jewish; and doing them by social habit, just because we have grown up with them and feel good doing them. Jewish ethnicity is ‘doing what comes naturally,’ but with no transcendent purpose.” We are enabling comedians to continue the pervasive, stereotypical vision of “the Jew.” We have a choice. We can refer to those who are Jewish experts rather than amateurs posing as such, or we can become better models of Jews ourselves by learning more.

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