Jewtopia the Movie: My Kvetch

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Right off the bat I feel the need for a disclosure: I’m not a movie reviewer. I took a film class in college, but that doesn’t count. I also love watching movies, but that doesn’t make me a credible reviewer.

I do have a lot of respect for professional film critics because it’s not an easy job. I recall being on jury duty in NYC about a dozen years ago and the film critic Jeffrey Lyons was in my group of potential jurors. It was right before the Oscars and we had a few hours to kill while we waited (before eventually being dismissed from a trial), so I had the opportunity to ask his opinion about some of the films up for Best Picture of the Year. I was amazed at how knowledgeable he was about each movie. Personally, I have a hard time remembering anything about a movie after I see it, let alone the names of the actors in the movie.

Now that I got that disclosure out of the way I feel much better. You see, after publishing <a href=”http://www.popjewish.com/2013/09/jewtopia-movie-seriously.html” target=”_blank”>a little blurb on my PopJewish.com blog about the Jewtopia movie</a> that opened this past weekend I was asked by the film’s public relations guy if I’d be interested in screening the movie and reviewing it. So I said sure. Which was a mistake. Because it was right before Yom Kippur and I was busy with a million things including writing sermons for said holiday and really didn’t have time to watch an hour-and-a-half movie. So after Yom Kippur was already a memory and the first couple days of Sukkot had passed I finally got around to screening it.

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<tr><td class=”tr-caption” style=”text-align: center;”>Jewtopia</td></tr>
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<!–more–>I can probably sum up this movie in one Yiddish word: OY! It was horrible. I sort of feel bad saying that because I don’t think this movie will get a single positive review. It was that awful. While I enjoyed seeing Jewtopia off Broadway in NYC several years ago and found the non-stop Jewish satire to be pretty funny, the movie version was just… well… different. Despite a cast of well-known actors like Jamie Lynn Sigler, Jon Lovitz, Rita Wilson and Jennifer Love Hewitt, the movie is a broken record of Jewish stereotypes. It was insufferable.

A cross between the Naked Gun movies and the <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317640/” target=”_blank”>Hebrew Hammer</a>, this is a raunchy (unnecessarily so) story about a <i>nebbish </i>Jewish guy (Joel David Moore) who doesn’t want to marry his Jewish fiance (Jamie Lynn Sigler) and a very non-Jewish guy (Ivan Sergei) who only wants to get married to a Jewish girl even if that means undergoing a circumcision surgery (it’s only a procedure when its done on a baby!). The two childhood friends have to help each other in their pursuits of “the Other”.

Somehow on a stage Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson managed to deliver this pseudo-offensive stereotype laden humor in a fun, feel-good sort of way. The movie version fails. And fails badly. The caricature of the rabbi would be funny enough without resorting to toilet humor. Jews are picky when it comes to ordering in restaurants — okay, we chuckled at that joke the first time around but by the dozenth it was more than enough. The bridge tournament, vaginal rejuvenation surgery and multiple hunting trips with the gentiles was just filler in a movie that had me looking at my watch more than once to see when the painful experience would end.

The bottom line is that Fogel and Wolfson should have counted their lucky stars that their Jewtopia stage version and book by the same name were so successful. And then they should have stopped right there. This was just a mess. Oy!</div>

Purim and the Oscars

Yesterday was another fun Purim holiday celebration, but I didn’t post a Purim satire this year (last year’s edition). I also usually post a list of my favorite Purim YouTube videos before the holiday, but there really weren’t ten quality videos I could find to make my Top Ten Purim Videos list. A few standouts included Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan’s Moves Like Graggers, a Taylor Swift parody from Temple Emunah of Lexington, Massacheusetts and Matt Rissien’s Jewish Thrift Shop Parody rap. The Maccabeats posted a mashup of President Barack Obama and some celebrities singing their famous Hanukkah parody and there is a handful too many of ridiculous Harlem Shake Purim versions. All in all, 2013 was not the most creative year for Purim schtick on YouTube.

But that didn’t mean the Academy Awards didn’t turn into a big Purim Shpiel hosted by Seth MacFarlane. The creator of “Family Guy” and the recent movie “Ted” tried his hand at hosting the Oscars last night. And while the Oscars technically occurred after Purim had ended, there were several odd connections between the award show and the Jewish holiday.

Seth MacFarlane (Photo Credit: ABC News)

Seth MacFarlane as Haman
First, I don’t think Seth MacFarlane did anything vicious or spiteful while hosting the Oscars last night. Yes, there were some edgy Jewish jokes, a tasteless Hitler reference and some racial jokes that made many people squirm, but I don’t think anything was over-the-top. The Anti-Defamation League obviously took exception with MacFarlane’s joke that referenced the old Jews Control Hollywood canard. ADL National Director Abe Foxman issued a press release today stating:

While we have come to expect inappropriate “Jews control Hollywood” jokes from Seth MacFarlane, what he did at the Oscars was offensive and not remotely funny.  It only reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism.  It is sad and disheartening that the Oscars awards show sought to use anti-Jewish stereotypes for laughs.
For the insiders at the Oscars this kind of joke is obviously not taken seriously.  But when one considers the global audience of the Oscars of upwards of two billion people, including many who know little or nothing about Hollywood or the falsity of such Jewish stereotypes, there’s a much higher potential for the ‘Jews control Hollywood’ myth to be accepted as fact.
We wish that Mr. MacFarlane and the Academy Awards producers had shown greater sensitivity and decided against airing a sketch that so reinforces the age-old canard about Jewish control of the film industry.

Haman tried to turn Shushan against the Jews by telling people they were a controlling nation. He obviously wasn’t joking around though. What I find interesting is that when Jews win Academy Awards people say that it’s because the Jews control Hollywood, but no one ever claims the Jews control the voting for the Nobel Prize and a disproportional amount of Jews have won those awards over the years.

Jennifer Lawrence as Esther
The Oscar for Best Female Actor in a Lead Role went to Jennifer Lawrence for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. and very well deserved in my opinion. In the movie she helps redeem Bradley Cooper’s character and in doing so saves his family (from bankruptcy). Lawrence is an unlikely heroine in that story much like the Queen Esther character in the Purim narrative.

That Story in Iran/Persia
Perhaps the most direct connection to the Purim story is in the winner of the Best Movie category. On Sunday, October 14 I had a couple hours to kill on the other side of town between officiating at a funeral and then heading to a hotel to officiate at a wedding. I passed by a movie theater and figured I’d see if the timing worked out for me to watch a movie. Sure enough Argo was just about to begin and would end in enough time for me to get to the wedding. As the credits rolled I predicted Argo would go on to win movie of the year. Even though it was up against fierce competition with Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables and Lincoln, I had a feeling it would win. Brilliantly directed by Ben Affleck, the protagonist played by Affleck, a modern-day Mordechai, saves the six U.S. diplomats with the help of the Canadian ambassador.

Jewish Man Frees Slaves
Okay, so the Jews weren’t technically slaves in Shushan (Persia), but they had been slaves at one point in Egypt. And the Purim story has the Jewish Mordechai freeing the persecuted Jews. The Best Male Actor award went to the Jewish Daniel Day-Lewis (his mother’s Jewish, look it up!) for his performance of Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves. Alright, a bit of a stretch there.

The votes are certainly split as to how well Seth MacFarlane did in his first (and only?) attempt as host of the Oscars. I think he’s better suited for R-Rated comedy and Comedy Central Roasts, which make it difficult to adapt to the global audience watching the Oscars. All in all, while MacFarlane didn’t do the greatest job as host, the awards show was fun to watch and I think the right people were chosen to win awards. And for many Jewish people (both those inside and outside Hollywood circles), it was a fun day in which the Purim celebration continued right into Oscar viewing parties. And I’m sure the connections to the Purim story didn’t end when the Oscars telecast ended. There were likely some “After Parties” that resembled a King Ahashverosh feast too.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Shrek, Harry Potter & Parshat Balak

Several years ago I sat in a movie theater with my then three-year-old son and my father. I couldn’t get over the fact that all three of us were enjoying the same movie so much. Each of us represents a different generation and therefore has different tastes and different senses of what is funny. But we each enjoyed sitting in that theater for two hours watching the animated feature “Shrek the Third” on the big screen. We each found the movie entertaining, humorous, and memorable. The “Shrek” series has succeeded in entertaining a multi-generational audience through its fun story and animation for the kids that includes puns and humor aimed at adults.

Dreamworks Animation SKG

Just as “Shrek” has encouraged multi-generational enjoyment at the movie theater, the “Harry Potter” book series has fostered multi-generational literary enjoyment and commitment to reading. Author J.K. Rowling has created books that appeal to very young children as well as sophisticated adults. Parents have found as much pleasure in these tales of wizards and sorcerers as their kids. And the bond that is created when parent and child can discuss literature together is priceless.


The three “Shrek” movies and the “Harry Potter” novels share a strong connection in several important ways to this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Balak. The most striking connection between the animation and the parashah, of course, is the talking donkey in the Torah narrative. The link between “Harry Potter” and the parashah is in the magic, spells, curses, and sorcery.

When Balak, the King of Moab, saw the Israelite victory over the Amorites, he was alarmed. He commissioned Balaam, the world’s most powerful wizard, to put a curse on the Israelites for Balak to drive them out of the land. God tried to dissuade Balaam from cursing the Israelites, a people blessed from the time of the Patriarchs, whose divine blessing cannot be reversed. Balaam refused, but was later asked to reconsider his mission. God allows him to proceed so long as he does what God tells him.

Riding his donkey, Balaam comes upon an angel of God but does not want to stop. The donkey thinks otherwise and is beaten for trying to break for God’s messenger, whereupon God opens the donkey’s mouth for the donkey to verbally berate Balaam. Balaam then offers three oracles of blessing to the Israelites, including the well-known blessing, “How fair are your tents O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel.”

There is much to be learned from this narrative. Most notably is the power of God to ensure that the Israelite nation remains blessed no matter how badly someone wants to curse them. What is remarkable about the story, however, is that appeal it has to both young and old. The basic story of a magician riding a talking donkey who is hired to curse a people seems to be taken right from a fairy tale. However, the deeper concept (the subtext) of the story is a powerful theological statement about the omnipotence of God and the eternally blessed nature of the people Israel.

In the brilliance of the Torah, the narrative captivates diverse generations just as the “Shrek” movies and the “Harry Potter” series do. There is truly appeal for everyone. This is a lesson for us. We need to make Torah study in particular and Judaism in general attractive to young and old alike. We do this with our Passover seders each year and we should strive to do it year round.

There are “Shivim Panim LeTorah” (seventy faces of the Torah) meaning that the Torah can be interpreted in a plethora of ways. This also means that there are enough ways to make the Torah accessible and captivating to all ages. Some stories of the Torah might already be written as exciting narratives for young people as well as adults, such as the Flood, the tales of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and the Exodus. Some, like the Balak narrative, might even have all the elements of a fantasy. For those sections of the Torah that do not automatically present themselves as intriguing for young people, it is up to the adults to translate the text into exciting drama. Through midrash, many texts have already come to life for our youth.

If you haven’t already seen the Shrek movies, go see them. And even if you’ve seen them, I encourage you to see them again with your children and/or grandchildren so that we may all seek out the multi-generational appeal of Talmud Torah. When the different generations spend time being entertained and learning together, in the words of our Torah, our people and dwellings will truly be blessed.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Keep the Han in Hanukkah

Just like some Conservative Christians want to ensure that people keep the “Christ” in Christmas, I think it’s important to keep the Han in Hanukkah (Han Solo and the Han Dynasty that is):

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Happy Birthday Adam Sandler

Happy Birthday to Adam Sandler, who turns 45 today. Sandler doesn’t always get the respect he should as a comedian, actor and writer but I’ve always been a fan. I recently watched “Funny People” for the second time and was left impressed with Sandler’s range as an actor. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Waterboy and Big Daddy remain my go-to movies when some mindless humor is in order.

I had a chance to meet Adam Sandler in November, 1999 when he was filming “Little Nicky” on the Manhattan streets just around the corner from my apartment. Walking from 110th Street and Broadway up to the Jewish Theological Seminary at 122nd Street for morning minyan on a brisk November morning at 7:00 AM I did a double-take when I spotted Adam standing by himself on 112th Street trying to stay warm. We started talking. He told me about his brother who studied in a traditional yeshiva. After talking for about twenty minutes, he invited me to come back around lunch time to watch him shoot the movie.

There was a crowd of people trying to watch the filming when I returned to the set around noon with my rabbinical school classmate. Sandler recognized me and told his assistant to let us move up to the front so we could have a good view of the action. Over the next couple days I had the chance to be on a movie set (my first time) and shmooze with Adam Sandler between takes. On his final day of filming I presented him with a suede yarmulke with the Jewish Theological Seminary logo on it and we took a photo together.

For those who think that Adam Sandler’s only talent is making movies with sophomoric humor and silly voices, you should watch “Spanglish,” “Funny People” and “Reign Over Me.” Not only has he made some very good movies, he’s also educated people about Hanukkah with his series of Hanukkah songs and the animation “Eight Crazy Nights.” And not only did he try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his humus-loving Zohan character, he donated 400 PlayStations to Israeli children whose homes were damaged in rocket attacks.

Happy Birthday Adam Sandler!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

An End to the Hummus Wars

Those who have their finger on the pulse of the gastronomic culture in the Middle East know that hummus is a food that should bring Arabs and Jews together, not divide them. In Adam Sandler’s movie “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” hummus was the butt of several jokes. The Zohan (played by Adam Sandler) dips everything into hummus, eats it at every meal, feeds it to the dog, and even brushes his teeth with hummus. In the movie, hummus is used to douse the flames of a fire and as a hair care product too.

Both Arabs and Israeli Jews are obsessed enough with hummus that it should be a food that is used to broker peace in the Middle East rather than serve as a divisive tool. So, it’s a good thing that DePaul University in Chicago announced today that the Sabra brand of hummus will continue to be served in its campus cafeterias, although Students for Justice in Palestine said they will continue the fight against Sabra hummus.

According to the JTA, “the university administration made the decision, announced Monday, following a recommendation of the university’s Fair Business Practices committee and following a nonbinding student referendum last week. The Sabra brand of the chickpea dip had been served until last November, when the pro-Palestinian student group Students for Justice in Palestine objected because Sabra is half-owned by The Strauss Group. Strauss has publicly supported the Israel Defense Forces troops, and provides care packages and sports equipment to Israel’s Golani and Givati brigades.

“While we recognize the original complaint made by DePaul students arose from genuine concerns surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the judgment of the Fair Business Practices Committee there do not appear to be sufficient grounds for a boycott of Sabra Hummus, primarily because the committee did not find evidence that the Strauss Group provides direct military support for units within the Israeli Defense Forces,” the committee concluded.

The student referendum on banning Sabra hummus completed last week ran 1,127 in favor and 332 against, but was deemed invalid since fewer than 1,500 students on a campus of more than 20,000 students voted on the issue.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Are Charlie Sheen, Glenn Beck, John Galliano and Julian Assange Anti-Semites?

Cross-posted to the Huffington Post

How does one know when someone’s comment is anti-Semitic? I suppose it’s the same as how United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart explained pornography in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.”

There have been several high profile examples of anti-Semitic outbursts recently. And like famous anti-Semitic rants in the past, there has been much debate as to whether these recent cases should be classified as anti-Semitic. In all of these instances, one could argue that “I know it when I see it.”

There are times when a celebrity makes a poor choice, but is likely not being intentionally anti-Semitic. Examples are when Roseanne Barr dressed as Adolf Hitler and posed for a magazine and when Prince Harry went to a costume party in a Nazi uniform. However, when Mel Gibson repeatedly espoused his anti-Jewish feelings, there was no question about his motivation or true feelings.

In recent days, we’ve heard questionable comments by Charlie Sheen and Glenn Beck. We’ve seen video footage of Dior designer John Galliano expressing his love for Hitler and berating innocent people with anti-Semitic slurs. And a recent report said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested that British journalists, including the editor of The Guardian, were engaged in a Jewish-led conspiracy to smear his organization.

Charlie Sheen, who continues to prove that his “Wild Thing” character in the movie “Major League” was pretty close to his real persona, referred to the executive producer of “Two and a Half Men” by his Hebrew name. Rather than calling him Chuck Lorre, Sheen referred to him as “Chaim Levine” and raised red flags throughout the media and in Jewish organizations. Not only has Sheen denied that there was any anti-Semitic undertone in his rant, he is now requesting that the Anti-Defamation League and its director Abe Foxman apologize to him for condemning his remarks.

It’s pretty obvious that Sheen’s not getting very good PR counsel these days (if any at all) because he expressed his admiration for Mel Gibson in an interview with Howard Stern. I don’t think Mel Gibson is the guy you want to bring into your corner when you’ve been accused of an anti-Semitic rant.

Glenn Beck recently apologized for his insult to Reform Jews. The Fox News talking head said Reform rabbis are “almost like radicalized Islam.” He was responding to a letter condemning his virulent attack on George Soros. I was one of several non-Reform rabbis who signed the letter urging Fox News to fire Beck. While I don’t agree with Soros’ politics and certainly find his views on Israel to be troubling, I understood Beck’s comments about Soros (comparing him to the Nazis) to be anti-Semitic in nature. While Beck will likely never apologize for his Soros tirade, it is telling that he apologized to the angered Reform (not “Reformed” as Beck called them) rabbis.

The anti-Semitic comments by Christian Dior designer John Galliano in a shocking videotape (see below) were quite obviously anti-Semitic. Dior has fired him for his hateful comments and he was arrested by French police over allegations that he abused a couple in an angry, drunken, anti-Semitic diatribe. Oscar winner Natalie Portman who represents Dior in perfume ads said she was disgusted with John Galliano over his anti-Semitic rants. In a written statement, Portman said, “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr Galliano in any way.”

Finally, Julian Assange’s comments seemed to be more paranoia than anti-Semitism. He suggested that British journalists were conspiring to smear his organization. The NY Times reports that Assange “was especially angry about a Private Eye report that Israel Shamir, an Assange associate in Russia, was a Holocaust denier. Mr. Assange complained that the article was part of a campaign by Jewish reporters in London to smear WikiLeaks.”

While Assange’s accusation does sound like the age-old charge that the Jews own and run the media, it might not be anti-Semitic. Rather, Assange is probably feeling like everyone is out to get him after the recent WikiLeaks dumps of classified information.

Are anti-Semitic comments on the rise? I don’t think so. Rather, there has been a trend of high-profile individuals making anti-Semitic statements. It’s entirely possible that these hate-filled tirades reveal the true sentiments of these celebrities. Hopefully, they will apologize for their outbursts and be more dignified and sane in the future.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Justin Bieber in Israel

It doesn’t matter that I’m blogging from Berlin because they’re talking about teen pop sensation Justin Bieber and his new movie “Never Say Never” here too. It seems that Bieber’s 29-year-old Jewish manager “Scooter” Braun is working hard to promote his talented young client and his new movie in the media. I was contacted the other day by Edmon Rodman of the JTA who was writing a story about the inclusion of Bieber saying the Shema Yisrael in the “Never Say Never” movie.

Last year, I wrote about Justin Bieber’s prayer circle ritual before concerts in which he includes the Jewish “Shema Yisrael” prayer in Hebrew. Rodman quotes “Scooter” Braun who explains, “Originally Justin and the crew just did a prayer circle before the show that ended with Jesus Christ. I wasn’t into that,” so “we started saying the Shema. About the third time, Justin chimed in.” “He had memorized it. Now others say it with us, too.”

Rodman quoted me in the JTA article:

As noted by Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan, who writes at blog.rabbijason.com, “Based on the number of concerts at which Justin Bieber performs, I’m guessing that he’s actually said the most important statement of Jewish belief many more times in his life than the average 16-year-old Jewish youth.”

What is certain to get people’s attention in Rodman’s article is that “Bieber is scheduled to bring the Shema to Israel” on April 14, just five days before Passover. While some artists, like Elvis Costello, have canceled performances in Israel, Braun stated that there is no question that the concert will happen as scheduled and that Justin Bieber and his mom, Patti, are excited to visit Israel (specifically Bethlehem).

In fact, Bieber will still be in Israel for the first night of Passover and “Scooter” Braun plans on having a seder. There’s no word yet on whether Justin Bieber will lead the Four Questions (traditionally sung by the youngest at the table).

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jon Stewart Can Only Go Shofar

Last night, Jon Stewart decided to blow a shofar on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” to alert his viewers to some breaking news (Keith Olbermann leaving MSNBC). He called it a News Shofar and announced “Something happened!” but never actually blew the shofar.  Instead he just put the shofar to his mouth and kept repeating the words “Hey Look” in a staccato fashion. It sort of sounded like a Tekiah blast followed by Teruah.

Technically, it didn’t look like a ram’s horn, but rather a gazelle’s horn. (Either one is sufficient to use on Rosh Hashanah.) Since Jon Stewart is a producer for The Colbert Report, I think he just borrowed the shofar that Stephen Colbert used to sign off at the end of his show back in 2009.

I wonder what it would take for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to come to my synagogue on Rosh Hashanah for a shofar duet?

Seeing Jon Stewart (Jewish) and Stephen Colbert (not-so-much) blowing the shofar got me thinking about Jewish rituals in which other celebrities have engaged. Here are a few that I was able to dig up:

Howie Mandell putting on tefillin

The Bob Dylan Tefillin

The Beastie Boys Playing Dreidel on Hanukkah

George Costanza, I mean Jason Alexander, Giving a Sermon in Synagogue

Ryan Gosling Leading Prayers (He looks like Eminem here!)


 Leonard Nimoy Duchenen (Blessing the Congregation)


Krusty the Klown Reading Torah


Rabbi Ben Stiller Teaching Torah


Darth Vader Waving the Lulav 
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Is Justin Bieber Jewish?

Is Justin Bieber Jewish? Is Natalie Portman’s fiancee, Benjamin Millepied, Jewish? Based on my Web research, neither one is Jewish. However, there are many people wondering these questions and doing what curious people do in the Digital Age — turning to Google.

There are two components to blogging I enjoy most. First, I love writing. Second, I love looking at the analytics to see through which portals visitors have arrived at my blog. Looking at the referral statistics, there is an overwhelming number of Web surfers who are referred to my blog after inquiring about a celebrity’s faith; specifically, whether they are Jewish.

While Jewish people may only account for less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, we have provided society with a vastly disproportionate number of celebrities — from actors and musicians to authors, producers and directors. No, Jews don’t own Hollywood in the antisemitic canard conspiracy theory way, but there are certainly a lot of “Members of the Tribe” in Hollywood.

When celebrities do the things that only Jewish people have traditionally done, everyone wants to know if they are Jewish or just playing the part. For instance, Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) has been embraced by Madonna, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, and Brittany Spears, but none of them were born Jewish or have converted to the faith. Robin Williams does a great Yiddish accent on stage while telling Jewish jokes, but he’s an Episcopalian. The former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson has announced plans to open a kosher restaurant, but converted to Islam. The French dance choreographer Benjamin Millepied will marry the Israeli Natalie Portman, with Israeli roots, but he doesn’t appear to be of the Jewish faith.

And though the teen pop sensation Justin Bieber is not Jewish, he has a ritual of saying the most important statement to the Jewish people before each of his concerts. It turns out that his agent, Scott “Scooter” Braun, taught Bieber the “Shema Yisrael” and now the 16-year-old says those Hebrew words (in addition to a Christian prayer) before taking the stage.

It’s human nature to try and know as much as we can about our celebrities. So, it should come as no surprise that fans are curious as to whether Bieber’s Jewish or if Natalie Portman is marrying within the Jewish faith. After all, a person’s faith can be a private matter and as the National Enquirer has always said when it comes to celebrities, “Inquiring minds want to know.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller