Jon Stewart is America's Rabbi

By Roy Kaufmann | Jan 26, 2016

We’re big fans of Jon Stewart. Such big fans that we’re completely trusting him about Trevor Noah and will be empathetic with a tough position to be in. We’re fans because he is a mensch in general, and because he’s always spoken out as a Tokin’ Jew ™: ridiculing the inanity of the Drug War in pieces going back to his I-just-had-my-Bar-Mitzvah looks of the late 1990’s.

Jon Stewart’s Jewish identity is as interwoven through his brand as his New Yorker-ness – essential. And he draws on it constantly. sometimes he does it literally, as he did with actor Jon Hamm (link to jta piece) last week when, in talking about Hamm’s new movie, Minions, Jon envisioned himself in a role in Minyans, where he wanders the Earth being the tenth man for nearly whole minyans everywhere.

And sometimes does it spiritually, as his no-jokes monologue post-Charleston posed deeply ethical questions about who we were as a people that could allow this behavior to continue. (If rabbis all over America brought the passion and identity to their work that Stewart brings to his, it would be a real game-changer. Yes, I used the damn term.)

But whatever metric you might invent, Stewart’s worldview is that of a profoundly worried twenty-first century Jew. His comedy belies his anxiety as much as it celebrates it – he is Pagliacci(berg)(gratituitous, yes).

And Stewart’s speaking out on the existential question facing the Jewish people is not new territory for him. In finally picking up a copy of Stewart’s very sardonic (God, I hope I used that right and I hope it was worth the blasphemy) 1998 collection of essays entitled, Naked Pictures of Famous People, I particularly loved and appreciated excerpts like this one from his essay, “The New Judaism”:

[in describing the Spanish Inquisition]: In 1492, led by Ferdinand and Isabella, the Christians conquered the last of the then Muslim Spain. They immediately decreed all Jews must convert to Christianity of be expelled. Many Jews left. Many Jews, however, had already put money down for time share condos in Majorca and had no choice but to convert or lose their deposit. Those Jews who stayed in Spain converted to Christianity, only to be systematically hunted down during the Inquisition, accused of heresy against the church for being Jews. This prompted a direct descendant of the great Jewish intellectual Maimonedes to protest the Inquisition, saying “Isn’t that kind of a catch-22?”

In the rest of the essay (I could provide a link or you could be a decent person and go buy a copy of the book, as a statement, you know.), Stewart grapples with what the New Judaism will look like. Pretty big questions for just-a-guy-at-a-desk. Sounds like a Rabbi’s job.

Roy Kaufmann is a public-relations professional and the co-founder of part-time passion project Le’Or, which seeks to engage the Jewish community to mobilize in ending the Drug War, as a Jewish moral imperative (link to piece). His co-founder is Claire Kaufmann, his significantly smarter half, the brains behind the cannabis brand marketing thought-leadership blog, Rebranding Cannabis (link). They live in the sweet land of Portland, Oregon.