Roseanne vs. the Rabbis

By Daniel Treiman

Published May 25, 2007, issue of May 25, 2007.
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Rabbi Arthur Waskow had heard enough.

The left-wing activist and Jewish Renewal rabbi was slated to face off via telephone with media personality Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on comedian Roseanne Barr’s radio show last week. But after a lengthy lead-in during which Barr and her co-host/boyfriend, Johnny Argent, let loose a torrent of invective against Judaism, Jewish identity and religion in general, Waskow decided he was no longer interested in participating.

By the time the pair tried to put Waskow on the air, the rabbi had hung up.

But he didn’t allow them the last word. In a mass-e-mail titled “Why I Hung Up the Phone on Roseanne Barr,” the rabbi slammed the hosts’ “foul thought in stupid words.”

“There are plenty of cogent critiques to be made of religion, including Judaism, but this was drivel. Stupid, ignorant, whiney, and hostile all at the same time,” wrote Waskow, director of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center.

Only a year ago, the Kabbalah-practicing Barr had been talking up her desire to have an adult bat mitzvah and joking about wanting to become Israel’s prime minister. Lately, however, Roseanne has taken to dishing out harsh — and sometimes bizarre — critiques of Judaism and Israel.

Boteach wound up sparring alone with Barr and Argent for half an hour, defending Judaism, circumcision and the Bible from their sallies. The Orthodox rabbi told The Shmooze that Barr has been a friend ever since he appeared on her daytime TV talk show in 1999 to promote his book “Kosher Sex.” Boteach called her “a very proud Jew” who is “going through a stage in her life where, for some reason, she’s extremely disillusioned with religion.”

“As far as Waskow’s criticism, I disagree with it,” Boteach added. “Religion has to be prepared to address its critics. It has to be prepared to respond to those who feel that religion is a bad thing.”


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