Jon Stewart just doesn’t get it

— by Ilan Chaim

Why does Jon Stewart keep making inept jokes that offend Jews? Such a talented comedian, with such a good ear for irony, and such satirical skill in skewering deserving media or politicians-why must he trash Jewish symbols in the crudest of ways?

If he is too intelligent to claim ignorance, then is the only explanation that he does so out of hatred? And if we accept his protestations of Jewish identity, are we by definition talking about that cliché, Jewish self-hatred?

These questions and more were prompted by The Daily Show episode of June 26. In a piece on the Hebrew National kashrut scandal — certainly a legitimate target for satire — Stewart offered some observations on what makes things kosher. In doing so, he displayed at least a rudimentary knowledge of definitions; even pointing out that the language of the accompanying news clip “not entirely kosher” is what Jews understand to be “not kosher.”

More after the jump.
But then he proceeded to go off the deep end in a decidedly unkosher skit involving the circumcision of a hot dog to make it kosher. The skit, as a colleague pointed out, was worse than offensive-it wasn’t funny.

This is not-God forbid-to deny that circumcision can be funny. Jews have been telling circumcision jokes probably since Abraham, although it’s curious that in Google’s listing of many thousands of such jokes there is a separate category of “funny circumcision jokes” — implying there are also unfunny ones. There is even a separate category devoted to jokes about Tim Tebow’s mission to circumcise impoverished Third World boys, though this is not listed in a separate category of “gentile circumcision jokes.”

What was so offensive about Jon Stewart circumcising a Hebrew National hot dog? An initial test might be to ask whether this was the kind of joke he would have dared to try on a Jewish audience. In other words, was it authentic Jewish humor or was it the kind of “kosher style” ersatz Jewish joke an assimilated Jew such as Stewart has no qualms about milking for a gentile audience?

If one assumes that he is too intelligent to claim ignorance as an excuse, what explanation is left for this truly offensive lapse of taste? Perhaps an explanation may be found in previous gaffes, when he trashed Jewish holidays.

Stewart regularly plays Jewish holidays, Holy Days, and observances for laughs, which he draws from an always easily amused studio audience. He seems to think these supposedly comic references show the gentile world what a regular funny guy he is — and he is often brilliantly funny. What is not a laughing matter, however, is seeing a comedian who happens to be Jewish portray Jews by the worst kind of stereotypes.

The Daily Show

The Daily Show

In a September 2010 episode, he took Israeli diplomats to task for not attending President Barack Obama’s UN General Assembly speech and then disparaged the reason for their absence — the Jewish holiday of Succot.

In an April 2012 segment pitting Easter against Passover, while the premise was not necessarily a terrible idea, the punch lines trivialized nearly every important concept of the Jewish festival of freedom for the sake of a few cheap laughs. That the studio audience ate it up is no indication of its funniness — it’s a known fact that The Daily Show audience is warmed up before the taping and laughs at anything.

Compared to circumcising a hot dog — the Jon Stewart Hebrew National Bris — his Passover/Easter showdown was a triumph of understatement and good taste.

I have watched The Daily Show for years and am a great fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian who happens to be Jewish. Stewart displays great wit and is a constant delight skewering such easy targets as the Fox network. There is also a serious side to the show in many of his interviews, whose subjects are not allowed merely to plug their books, but also deal with serious issues that are a showcase for Stewart’s considerable intellect. It is Stewart’s own exceptional talent and obvious intellectual curiosity that make his vulgar Jewish references all the more embarrassing.

So what kind of a Jewish comedian thinks it funny to make jokes about Jewish stereotypes and who is his audience? I would put forward a very unscientific theory that someone who makes such jokes has a deficient sense of humor, if not just deficient common sense. If someone proudly delivers punch lines that are not funny, but brutally insensitive, that person just doesn’t get it.

The writer, a Jerusalem resident since 1972, is an editor, writer, and translator; a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post and information consultant to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

When The Choice is Life

— by Ilan Chaim

There is no dilemma in freeing one captive at the possible future cost of endangering the lives of others, even by exchanging his freedom for the freedom of convicted murderers.

The moral imperative to choose life deals with fact, not supposition. We are commanded to save a life, not to worry about the possible consequences that releasing a number of murderers may or may not have on other lives.

We are called upon to deal with certainty: that Gilad Shalit lives and his life in continued captivity is in danger.

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Some people oppose the exchange by arguing that the price is too high. Some cite rabbinical disputes over redeeming prisoners for too high a price, as if there is any relevancy to such a medieval calculus. Such reasoning is a world away from how a sovereign Jewish state must defend itself and the soldiers who risk their lives to protect it.

These moral bookkeepers calculate that, in previous such exchanges, a certain percentage of terrorists were recidivists who murdered Jews again. While this is true, it ignores the fact that we live with the reality of terrorism all the time, independent of possible prisoner exchanges.

A grim example of this truth is the fact that the Fogel family was recently massacred by freshmen terrorists, not recycled monsters who had been traded for Jewish prisoners-or as in one abominable previous case, their corpses.

There is a gruesome corollary to this perversion of the traditional Jewish calculus-that saving a life is like saving a world-one that would reduce the value of a human life to something measurable on a profit and loss balance sheet. This new math states that one actual life cannot be worth many potential lives.

A most frightening expression of this sinisterly emerging new value is a rumor relayed to me by my son, now in his third year of compulsory service in the IDF. He told me there is an “understanding”-not yet an official protocol-that if soldiers in combat cannot prevent a comrade from being taken prisoner, they should shoot him in the head. Better a dead hero than a live bargaining chip.

This hideous rumor is but a reflection of the morality of those who would devalue human life by assigning greater value to a potential, unknown, future danger to the lives of many over the clear and present danger to the life of one.

There are others-some of the bereaved who lost loved ones to the actions of some of the very terrorists who are about to be exchanged-who oppose the exchange not on the grounds of future possible danger, but because in their anguished eyes the terrorists have not been punished enough. They have not done their time.

This second attitude, while understandable, is even more lacking in moral justification than opposition on the grounds of hypothetical danger. For those who would keep Shalit in a Gaza dungeon just so their own tormentors would remain in Israeli prisons are ultimately seeking to do so out of vengeance. Will ensuring that a given terrorist murderer continues to serve 15 consecutive life sentences bring any Jew back to life?

Trading murderers for Gilad Shalit will save one Jew’s life. That is a fact we can all live with.

The writer is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post.
 

Jon Stewart’s Jewish problem

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Hurty Sanchez
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

— Ilan Chaim

Comedian Jon Stewart made headlines last week when CNN anchor Rick Sanchez was fired for making disparaging remarks about Jews in general and about one Jew, Stewart, in particular.

Sanchez’s firing was a just punishment for the crime of anti-Semitism, but Stewart of all Jewish people should appreciate the irony of the situation.

As Stewart commented on Sanchez: “Finally, a guy who says what people who aren’t thinking are thinking.” Unfortunately, this statement applies to Stewart himself.

First of all, full disclosure: I have watched The Daily Show for years and am a great fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian who happens to be Jewish, but certainly not as a Jewish comedian. Stewart displays great wit and the show is a constant delight skewering easy targets, such as the Fox channel. There is also a serious side to the show in many of his interviews, whose subjects are not allowed merely to plug their books, but also deal with serious issues that are a showcase for Stewart’s considerable intellect.

More after the jump.
It is when he plays his very tenuous Jewish affiliation for laughs that bothers me. Stewart has every right to be a secular, assimilated, or unaffiliated Jew. But he cannot have it both ways. When he plays Jews for laughs by affecting a faux-Borscht Belt Yiddish accent and makes accompanying cowering gestures, he does more of a disservice to his avowed people than a news anchor being snidely anti-Semitic.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
International House of Handshakes
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

When Stewart does what he supposes to be a funny “Jewish” shtick, he is performing nothing less than the equivalent of a black comedian playing Stepin Fetchit. Playing the Jew as schlemiel has a proud and funny history from vaudeville to the present, but for someone with Stewart’s intellect to present such a crude caricature is demeaning.

It is Stewart’s own exceptional talent and obvious intellectual curiosity that make his vulgar Jewish references all the more embarrassing. This was particularly acute most recently when he did a bit about the Israeli UN delegation not being present for President Barack Obama’s General Assembly speech. The Daily Show camera focused on the empty Israeli seats as Stewart proceeded to make a mocking-not self-mocking-reference to some obscure Jewish holiday called Succot, which was dripping with unenlightening sarcasm.

Contrary to his even cursory preparation for book interviews, his Jewish references display Jewish illiteracy.

Stewart regularly plays Jewish holidays, Holy Days, and observances for laughs, which he draws from an always easily amused studio audience. He seems to think these supposedly comic references show the gentile world what a regular funny guy he is-and he is often brilliantly funny. What is not a laughing matter, however, is seeing a comedian who happens to be Jewish portray Jews by the worst kind of stereotype.

Ilan Chaim is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post.