Rogen rolls over the fine line between comedy and antisemitism

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Rogen, who stars as a Jewish immigrant in his recently released film “An American Pickle.” Photo courtesy of Rogan’s Instagram account.

By Mitzpeh staff
@Mitzpeh

There are two types of people who share identities of both “actor” and “Jewish”: Those who are “actors who happen to be Jewish” and “Jewish actors.”

Seth Rogen, a clear example of the latter, has milked his Jewish identity in the entertainment industry. Playing many Jewish characters throughout his career, Rogan has showcased his Jewish identity in films such as Knocked Up, Funny People, Long Shot and Sausage Party. Although he doesn’t practice the religion, Rogen has assumed the role of a culturally Jewish comedian, and most recently released his “most Jewish Movie ever,” “An American Pickle.”

But the publicity isn’t all fun and games for Rogen; his passionate fan base and wide reach on social media has provided a platform for Rogen to preach his controversial political views about politics, Jews and Israel. In a recent podcast with Jewish comedian Marc Maron in July, Rogen stated that “Israel doesn’t make sense” and that he was “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel,” horrifying a significant portion of his Jewish fans. In the same interview, he also insulted Jews directly, commenting that Jews are “riddled with disease” because of “inbreeding,” and worse.

Rogen regularly receives pushback for his radical public statements, and was slammed in a recent Twitter thread for comments believed to be bordering on antisemitism.

But what is a Jewish public figure’s obligation in representing the Jewish people? Is there any harm in playing up a Jewish identity for marketing purposes?

In Judaism, there is a prohibition of “chillul Hashem,” or desecrating God’s name. It is forbidden to act immorally, specifically in the presence of non-Jews, so as not to reflect poorly on Judaism broadly as a religion. Yes, Rogen has freedom of speech; he is able to preach his own views even if many Jews, American, and others find them morally reprehensible. Yet he must also recognize that he can frame American’s perspective of the Jewish community. His power can and has legitimized antisemitism.

As a wealthy, secular, Ashkenaz Jew, Rogen possesses privileges that other subsets of the Jewish community do not. In making mass generalizations of the Jewish community, he risks erasing the voices of significant populations. Although Rogen is just one person, he has the power to speak for Jews across the country and the world.

The wide influence Rogen has makes his voice the loudest exposure to Judaism and the Jewish people for many of his non-Jewish fans. Not only does Rogen need to check his general political comments, but specifically, his comments about Jews. Denouncing any group of people, specifically one’s own religion, is deeply problematic. If a Jew is commenting negatively about Jews, what choice does the broader secular world have but to take his word for it?

Jewish people are already facing many negative stereotypes in the media. Recent releases of shows like Unorthodox, which details the story of a young woman who left Hasidic Judaism, often show just one, negative side of Judaism. In reality, Jews are diverse people. We are Orthodox, we are Conversative, we are Reform, and we are secular. We are liberal, conservative, pro-Israel, pro-two state solution and everywhere in between. At Mitzpeh, we have a wide range of staff members with diverse backgrounds — many of whom are not even Jewish.

Yes, Rogen is funny. Yes, Rogen is entitled to his political views. But the intersection of these two traits is dangerous to the world’s view of Jews. With antisemitism on the rise, Seth Rogen should consider protecting his people instead of just using them as a punchline.

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