Comedian Sarah Silverman has been called many things, but never a prophetess. Until yesterday, when she was given prophetic credentials in the magazine section of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.
The accolade comes from an interview with her sister, Jerusalem-based Reform rabbi (and one of the Forward 50 list of important Jews) Susan Silverman, which is the cover item and a two-page feature in yesterday’s edition.
“I didn’t say she’s a Biblical prophet but she continues that path,” said Susan Silverman, suggesting that her perceptiveness about society and powers of observation make her, in a sense, prophetic. The prophecy theme provided the headline for the article: “Sister of the prophetess.”
The Israeli media has paid little attention to Susan Silverman until now, except for when police detained her last February for praying publicly at the Kotel as part of the feminist Women of the Wall group. But hardly anything was said about her beyond the details of her detention and, of course, the fact she has a super-famous sister.
The Yediot interview is more of a personal encounter with the rabbi — albeit still with a strong focus on her sister. Why hasn’t Sarah Silverman been to a service of Women of the Wall? “If she is here on New Moon [when the services take place] of course she will come to pray.”
The interviewer, Akiva Novick, wanted to know if she sees a problem with the fact that her sister is going out with a non-Jew — and pointed out some people claim that mixed relationships represent a “silent Holocaust.” Susan Silverman spoke of a mixed-faith couple whose wedding she solemnized eight years ago. “Today they run a Jewish home, make Shabbat, and observe to an extent that many Jews do not observe.”
Would she like her legendarily-foulmouthed sister to speak in a more genteel way? “No. I want her to be who she is,” she said, arguing that it’s not how people speak but what they say that counts. She would rather hear “justice and good-heartedness” expressed “in words of hard humor” than less pure themes couched in “words of Torah.”
Moving away from the subject of the comedian sister, the interviewer asked Susan Silverman what she would change if she were appointed Chief Rabbi of Israel (a hypothetical question, since the institution is Orthodox-run and always headed by males). “Everything,” she replied.
She talked about a picture she saw of a Hasid wrapping himself in a plastic bag on an airplane to protect himself from the ritual impurity of flying over a cemetery (the Hasid was a member of the priestly Cohen group prohibited by Jewish law from passing over ground where people are buried). To her, this practice is a “sign of disconnect” between Judaism and mainstream issues. And with this subject the interview ends, but not before she has borrowed one of her sister’s catchphrases to sum up her view on the Hasid taking purity protection. “It’s f***ing crazy,” she said.