Progressively Speaking: Jews come in all shapes and sizes – so do their opinions

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Progressively Speaking: Jews come in all shapes and sizes – so do their opinions

Rabbi Deborah Blausten looks at recent comments made by Seth Rogen - and offers a Reform response to the row

Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen

There’s been much debate over comments made by Seth Rogen, one of Hollywood’s more recognisable Jewish entertainers, about his educational upbringing. 

Rogen attended a Jewish school and went to camp with Habonim Dror, but it wasn’t until he was much older that he encountered a more complex picture of Israel, including learning about the occupation and questioning the need for a Jewish state. 

He shared this on Marc Maron’s podcast, along with some informally phrased comments about his Jewish education.

The debate about the nature of his comments and their substance (or lack thereof) has been well turned over, but it leaves behind a challenge about how the mainstream Jewish community responds when a Jew with a public platform says or does something that does not sit comfortably with others in the community. 

Within days of Rogen’s comments, his mother was contacted. Dozens of tweets, op-eds, and social media posts debated his comments, turning a light-hearted conversation between two Jewish men on a comedy podcast into a serious communal crisis.

I wondered what the way this is playing out says to a generation of Jews who are finding their feet in the community? Jews who think differently and ask questions, who want to be honest about their experiences and share the things that concern them. What is the communal infrastructure saying here about its mobilising power, and how it is prepared to use it? What happens the next time Seth Rogen wants to go to shul?

Jews come in many shapes and sizes, as do Jewish opinions. Extreme or discriminatory comments aside, each of us has the right to our own Jewish expression, and the right to explore that and voice it without being policed by others. 

It doesn’t mean we cannot disagree, but the line between disagreement and policing, between a shared understanding of common good and a litmus test for communal participation is uncomfortably blurred in Rogen’s case. 

Eilu v’eilu divrei elohim chayim. “These as well as those are words of the living God.” 

Rabbinic tradition preserves multiple voices, even ones that sit uncomfortably.  Can the contemporary Jewish community say that we are able to do the same thing?

  •  Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue
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