The Arty Semite

Putting Tuvia Tenenbom in Context

By Adam Langer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Racheli Ibenboim chats with writer Tuvia Tenenbom./Photo by Isi Tenenbaum

For those who haven’t read much of the work of Tuvia Tenenbom, his most recent column has understandably raised some eyebrows and not a few tempers. Asking a Haredi politician, or any public figure, about her personal life (and her wedding night) would seem to be, at best, an indelicate journalistic approach to gaining wisdom about the practices of her community.

This particular column has led to an unusual outpouring of displeasure directed at the traditionally (and perhaps unfortunately) uncontroversial arts and culture section here at the Forward. And as the editor of this section (albeit one on vacation in Chicago this week) I take the concerns of our readers seriously.

My own relationship with Tenenbom is about one year old. I encountered him first as the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room,” a rollicking travelogue about anti-Semitism in Germany, which also raised eyebrows and tempers while becoming an unlikely bestseller in Germany. When I learned that Tenenbom was planning a sequel, this one set in Israel, I was eager to have him on board as an occasional contributor, filing his impressionistic reports about the individuals, controversies and circumstances he encountered.

I understand that Tenenbom’s style is not for everyone — he can be controversial, loud, Rabelaisian, irreverent, and to some minds, downright rude. Whether he’s seeing what it would be like to be a (short, white) Muslim in Jerusalem, investigating skin treatments at the Dead Sea or cheating in a mini-marathon in Nazareth he brings to mind the sort of characters created by Sacha Baron Cohen, whose idiosyncratic, disarming and non-traditional approach can sometimes get to deeper issues. I understand that not everyone — even in the offices of the Forward — shares my opinion.

One feature of Tenenbom’s work is that he doesn’t interview traditional subjects and he doesn’t interview his subjects traditionally. It is easy to imagine an interviewer asking someone in the Gur community why they have banned fathers from dancing with their own children, or finding out who pressured Ibenboim to withdraw from the election for which she was standing. That’s not his way. In this snapshot of a meeting, Tenenbom observes that she has broken out of her community’s social constrictions in many ways but not in others. In writing the gracious diplomacy in Ibenboim’s replies he successfully makes her the hero of his piece. Like Borat, the joke is on him.

As arts & culture editor, I have been trying to bring in to the Forward a multitude of voices that capture not only a wide variety of artistic expressions and styles but also the breadth of our community of which Tenenbom is a part. I would encourage those who have written to us about his article to view this work in the context of his book, his previous journalism and his largest project, which has always been to challenge, incite, question and entertain. For some, he doesn’t always succeed in these efforts, and to tell you the truth, we don’t always either. But we do try and we do listen. And we will try our best to continue to do so.

Adam Langer is the Forward’s arts & culture editor. Reach him at langer@forward.com


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: ultra-orthodox, racheli ibenboim, tuvia tenenbom, hasidic, gur

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.