Pop Culture Embraces Tradition, While Tradition Embraces Pop Culture—but Only One Succeeds

In American Pickle­—the latest vehicle for the actor Seth Rogen—a Brooklyn Jewish slacker encounters his shtetl-born great-grandfather Herschel through a plot twist reminiscent of Rip van Winkle or Woody Allen’s Sleeper. The younger character eventually comes to appreciate the wisdom and power of Herschel’s traditional religiosity. “In theory,” writes Liel Leibovitz, such a plot “should delight anyone hankering for a movie that takes faith seriously.” In practice, however, it falls flat:

American Pickle feels about as convincing as Rogen’s comically exaggerated [East European] accent. A movie that takes faith seriously, for example, might have at least acknowledged that a few blocks away in hipster Williamsburg dwell Satmar Ḥasidim, men and women who worship and dress in ways that haven’t changed much since Herschel’s days and who might have made for suitable companions. But tradition, to Rogen, is necessarily a thing of the past. Even as he seeks to critique contemporary society, the only force he can conjure is nostalgia.

That there are religious Jews among us living according to the very same values as Herschel, and that they are thriving while liberal Judaism is decaying, doesn’t even occur to Rogen. Perhaps it’s because his movie, for all of its aspirations, was always meant to be a lighthearted comedy and nothing more. Or perhaps it’s because the realities of religious life require lived-in complexities and sacrifices, not only maudlin movie moments.

Leibovitz contrasts the film to the debut single of an ultra-Orthodox rapper who goes by the stage name Young Rechnitz, and may very well be from one of those Williamsburg ḥasidic communities:

Unlike American Pickle, Rechnitz’s single, titled “Yeshivishe Mozart,” delivers a torrent of one-liners that are as thought-provoking as they are hilarious. . . . With a pun a second (“Rebbe on vacation/ I’m going out reckless,” he quips, a rekl being the long black coat some ḥasidic Jews wear on weekdays, which means that going out rekl-less is, in fact, a rather reckless thing to do), Young Rechnitz achieves in three minutes what Rogen couldn’t in 90, mounting a fun-filled anthem to the joys and mysteries of religious life that also happens to be an excellent rap song.

At ease in his skin, cheered on by his community, and propelled forth by his faith, Young Rechnitz felt comfortable enough to reach out to pop culture at large . . . and stitch together a song that reminds us that the secular and the religious, the profound and the profane—all are parts of God’s magical creation. Rogen, meanwhile, reached into tradition for laughs and came up emptyhanded, delivering neither a particularly convincing defense of faith nor a very funny film.

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Read more at First Things

More about: Hasidism, Hollywood, Jewish music, Judaism, Popular culture

 

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy