David Schwartzbaum is a Jewish comedian. He has written, produced, and acted in many different forms of comedy and routinely performs stand-up, improv, and sketch. For more of David’s material check out his blog at www.iambananaman1.blogspot.com and to learn more about his company go to www.offcolortheatrecompany.org. The views expressed in this piece belong solely to David.
As a comedian, I say a lot of bad stuff about God and religion on stage. Just last night I compared our fixation with the Mayans and their “prophecies” to our belief that somehow the people of the bible were better than we, when really they were probably all just like us…stupid people looking for answers to questions we shouldn’t care about.
When I am performing I am very adamant that all people in America have, “the right to practice religious freedom, just like they have the right to read fairy tales and Mother Goose stories.” Just tonight I compared Judaism to tobacco: “the key is to get them when their young, get the kids hooked on it, so they need it to feel complete as they get older”
So, it might surprise you to learn that I believe in God. The God of the bible, the God that at one moment loves us so much that he gives us a homeland, and the next he turns a chick into a pillar of salt because she was morbidly curious. Seriously? A pillar of salt? A PILLAR!? Of SALT!? Come on! What is that?
*** Here’s a theological question, if I were to eat that salt, would it be cannibalism or would it just be really disgusting? And a pillar!? What is this pillar of salt supporting? Obviously not the structure of the Sodom and Gemorah story, because it’s got more holes in it than Lindsay Lohan’s arms. ***
People get very surprised when I tell them I’m not just a theist, but I’m a practicing Jew. I keep kosher (kosher style for you nitpickers out there), I go to temple for all the holidays, (even the b.s. ones…I’m looking at you Tu B’ Shvat and 17th of Tamuz) and go to Shabbat Services at least once a month (depending on rehearsals and bookings). I spend my weekends and weekday afternoons Bar-Mitzvah tutoring and teaching Hebrew at a temple in Center City Philadelphia and my evenings spouting off what really are blatant attacks against God. How in the world do I pull off this juxtaposition?
My belief in God and my commitment to Judaism comes from this juxtaposition. I once invited a religious rabbi friend to one of my stand-up shows. During the show I said some very unkind things about the almighty, the being he has devoted his life to serving and loving and teaching about. I walked over to him after the show and sheepishly asked him what he thought. He told me he enjoyed it, “but did you have to use so many curse words” (For Big Lebowski fans out there, it’s a coincidence, but I will take a Sarsaparilla). I was shocked. How was he not offended? How did he not tell me to go to temple and repent? In fact, his tone was the opposite of what I would have ever expected! He told me I was doing a service to all Jews, that I was in fact being Godly on stage, and that he encourages me to continue to question and complain, “just try to cut down on the curse words.”
The Rabbi explained to me that in fact, one of the main principles of Judaism is to be able to question everything, from the silliest Jewish law to God himself. He explained that we see it all through the bible, even our greatest prophets questioned and argued with God, whether it was Abraham trying to save Sodom and Gemorrah (and we all know how that turned out (see Lot’s wife and the pillar of salt )), or Moses convincing God to spare the Jewish people in the desert, our greatest ancestors questioned God’s decisions openly. The rabbi told me that God doesn’t want us to just be robots, that skepticism is healthy and that “anyone who says they have no skepticism is full of it.”
This is what makes Judaism so special and what keeps me so committed to it. We are encouraged to argue, debate, question, and dissect our own beliefs. There is no other religion that lets you do this, let alone encourage it! I have many friends who are “recovering Catholics” (George Carlin) who spent their whole lives in Catholic School and told me they could never publically denounce any of their religious teachings, and the fact that a religious Rabbi enjoyed my comedy show was mind-boggling.
I have my frustrations with religion, and I have my frustrations with Judaism, but because I am allowed to be frustrated, because I am allowed to question, because I am allowed to holler from the rooftops and express myself, I always go back to believing. I encourage you to do the same. Question, yell, scream. Take a moment to hate God for making you bald, question why for no real discernable reason we can’t eat filet mignon, tell people the Noah’s ark story is so ridiculous that it makes the 2012 prophecies seem logical; it’ll make you feel better, and believe it or not…it will bring you a little bit closer to God too. Take my word for it; I’m a comedian.