The Shmooze

When Russell Brand Dropped Acid at Seder

By Anne Cohen

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Russell Brand wants you to know he’s not an anti-Semite.

In light of accusations made by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in the New York Observer on Monday that Brand is an “Israel hater,” the British comedian has written an essay in the Huffington Post explaining his side of things.

Being Russell Brand, the piece opens with an anecdote about drugs — at a Passover Seder, no less.

The year is 1992, I am 16 years old. It is Pesach, the Jewish feast of Passover; I am in Frinton On Sea, Essex, with the Hirsch family at the evening meal. Wine is drunk, there are incantations and Torah readings, my mate Matt’s little sister is beautiful, the sense of family unity and tradition is also beautiful.

Me and Matt, now obediently sat in those little hats, kippahs they’re called, had dropped some acid earlier in the evening and the whole thing suddenly gets a bit too much. Matt’s dad is sort of singing in Hebrew, the old bloke they invite every year from down the street, is smiling with cardigan kindness, Matt’s sister is still beautiful, and of course, there’s the acid. I am overwhelmed by melancholy and, oddly guilt, at the holocaustal images that lysergically zip through my sad and lively mind and I, in front of everyone, begin to weep.

Brand continues: “I am at my first Pesach with a lovely family and feel personally responsible for the holocaust; I think that constitutes ‘a bad trip.’”

Check out the full piece here.

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach vs. Russell Brand

By Anne Cohen

Russell Brand is no stranger to controversy. Between calling out Hugo Boss as a Nazi during a GQ gala and calling Fox News’ Sean Hannity a “terrorist,” the British comedian has certainly made his fair share of enemies.

Now, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has joined the chorus of haters. In an op/ed published in The New York Observer today, Boteach denounced Brand’s call to boycott Israel over the war in Gaza.

He probably would have been more effective had he focused less on Brand’s past struggles with addiction, and more on rebutting the comedian’s claims and arguments.

“So Russell Brand has joined the league of those demanding a boycott of Israel,” Boteach writes. “I’m going to go soft on him because of all the personal problems he’s had, with multiple addictions, 12 arrests for drug possession, rehab for sexual compulsion, and two arrests for attacking paparazzi taking pictures of him.”

Okay. So, Brand is a disgusting person. Does that make his opinion worthless, regardless of whether or not one agrees with him?

Boteach continues:

A moral beacon he isn’t. A light unto the nations? Fugggetaboutit. And I commend Russell for making no pretensions to being anything other than what he is. A comical, messed up, confused clown. There is something redemptive about his honesty that ought to be commended. Russell Brand belongs to a new, self-declared showbiz genre: the celebrity as moral idiot. And if he has such low expectations for himself, why should we make the mistake of elevating Mr. Brand and his fellow ethical imbeciles by taking him seriously?

Still not seeing any actual rebuttal to Brand’s claims that banks like Barclays “facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza.” Rather, Boteach continues in this vein of personal attacks on Brand’s drug use, “fried neurons,” relationships, messy divorce with Katy Perry — you name it.

One particular jab, implying “that he’s not exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree,” manages to snub Christianity as a whole.

Boteach makes the point that some Hollywood celebrities do have the right to speak. Like Sean Penn, whom his organization honored last May.

Calls to boycott Israel should be scrutinized and argued. With arguments. Facts. Not personal attacks about how someone’s salacious past renders them unfit for any future brain activity.

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to Honor Sean Penn

By Jana Banin

(JTA) — Who needs another Oscar when you’re about to be crowned the 2014 Champion of Jewish Justice? Not to put words in his mouth or anything, but we’ll bet that was what two-time Academy Award winner Sean Penn was saying to his girlfriend Charlize Theron as soon as they stopped “making out like crazy“ at Madonna’s Oscars after-party.

Okay, so maybe we’d lose that bet, but for reals, Penn is set to receive the honor at This World: The Values Network’s annual dinner in May. The organization is helmed by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who singled Penn out for his above-and-beyond efforts to help free Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn imprisoned in Bolivia.

“One of the highest Jewish values is to rescue a person from imprisonment,” Boteach told 6NoBacon.

While the former rabbi to Michael Jackson admits to disagreeing with the left-leaning Penn on most issues, he was amazed by the actor’s commitment to the Ostreicher case. “You never judge a man by his views, you judge him by his actions,” he said.

Ostreicher was in Bolivia in 2011 working on a rice-growing venture he’d invested in when he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. He was also accused of doing business with drug traffickers. No proof was ever provided in court. The father of five was held in what has been described as a squalid, inhumane prison for 18 months before being placed under house arrest. According to The New York Times, Penn had a hand in the transfer.

Penn’s involvement in the case made headlines in May, when he spoke at a congressional hearing intended to pressure Bolivia to release Ostreicher. In December, Ostreicher finally escaped, thanks to what Penn called a “humanitarian operation” that moved Ostreicher across the border into Peru. Penn, who was reportedly part of the operation, remained by Ostreicher’s side upon his return to the U.S.

“Penn had no obligation to risk his life for Ostreicher,” said Boteach. “I’d like to think he was moved by the simplest of reasons – to save another human being in need.”

No word on whether the rights to this truly remarkable story have been optioned for the big screen, but it sounds like the stuff of a great thriller. Or a buddy comedy about a spunky rabbi and a surly actor who, against all odds, find some common ground. Oscar material, for sure.

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Dr. Oz Goes to Israel

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Dr. Mehmet Oz sat down to talk with JTA on the Tel Aviv coast last week, but what he really wanted to do was go to the beach.

Oz, the surgeon and well-known TV personality, was in Israel for the first time and had a packed itinerary. He traversed the country from the Red Sea to the Golan, lectured Israeli physicians in a northern Israeli hospital and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

His host on this whirlwind tour was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author and sexpert who lives in New Jersey. The two met when they were both on an Oprah Winfrey radio program. Boteach recently gave Oz an award for being a “champion of Jewish values,” and the trip was paid for by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, another recipient of the award.

A Muslim of Turkish descent, Oz delivered a relatively conservative line on Israel in an interview, even casting doubt on the viability of the two-state solution. He also explained why he went to Hebron and Psagot, two controversial Israeli settlements deep in the West Bank.

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Eric Cantor Backs Shmuley Boteach’s Campaign

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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It’s always good to have friends in high places… who are willing to open their wallets for you.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has contributed $5,000 to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s congressional campaign.

You will recall that the self-touted “America’s rabbi” and author of “Kosher Sex,” “The Kosher Sutra,” and “Kosher Jesus,” recently tossed his hat in the ring. Rabbi Boteach is also known for releasing “The Michael Jackson Tapes,” on which listeners can hear the rabbi and the late singer discussing the effects of celebrity, as well as for his “Shalom in the Home” show on TLC.

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Military May Soon Get Atheist Chaplains

By Michael Kaminer

Christians have many. We Jews have a few. Muslims and Buddhists do, too, and the Hindus and Wiccans may soon get theirs. But despite the fact that 3,000 chaplains minister to the needs of active-duty service people in the military, none serve atheists.

That may soon change. “Groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military,” The New York Times reports.

Jason Torpy, a former Army captain who is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, told the Times humanist chaplains would do everything religious chaplains do, including counsel troops and help them follow their faiths.

“Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews,” Torpy said. “It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”

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