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Interfaith Celebrities: Funny Guys

June 11, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Myth of the Tattoo

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened May 22 to pretty good reviews and strong box-office. It is still in theaters around the country. For the fourth time, Harrison Ford, 65, appears as Indiana Jones, the most adventurous and athletic archeologist of all time.

Ford rarely talks about his Jewish background without being asked a direct question about it. But when a reporter for the British paper The Guardian recently inquired why he got a small earring, as opposed to a tattoo, Ford replied:

"No I couldn't [get a tattoo] because then I wouldn't be able to be buried in the Jewish cemetery. I'm half Jewish. My mother. And that's the half that makes you Jewish. But I don't want a tattoo anyway."

Harrison Ford photo
Harrison Ford with his new earring--a silver stud, and the earring is nice, too. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Then, when the same reporter asked what characteristics Ford inherited from his parents, the actor said, "My father's work ethic and my mother's insecurities. My father was Irish and my mother was Jewish. The only thing that held the family together is that they were both Democrats, so I was raised Democrat. It was a great upbringing."

The Guardian journalist added that Ford had "a twinkle in his eye when remembering his parents."

It sounds like Ford, who isn't religious, may be serious about being buried in a Jewish cemetery. But he's wrong about Jewish cemeteries and tattoos. A web check reveals that rabbis from every movement in Judaism say the same thing about this subject: a Jew shouldn't get a tattoo, but Jewish religious law does not bar the Jewish cemetery burial of the tattooed.

A prominent Orthodox rabbi notes that this widespread misconception probably arose from the fact that a small minority of Jewish burial societies won't bury tattooed persons in their group plot within a larger Jewish cemetery. If you’re curious about tattoos and Jewish religious law, check out this website.

By the way, all wings of Judaism agree that having your ear pierced for an earring is not prohibited under Jewish religious law.

My favorite comment related to the myth of Jewish burial/tattoos comes from Lenny Bruce (1923-1965), a famous and famously irreverent Jewish comedian. Bruce used to do a comic routine about his mother’s reaction when he came home from the Navy with a tattoo on his arm. Put in the third person, it went like this:

Lenny’s mother screamed when she saw the tattoo and told her son, "Now you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery!" Lenny replied: "Its OK, Ma. I'll be buried in a Jewish cemetery. They can amputate my arm and bury it in a Catholic cemetery. It can wave to my body."

Zohan Hits Town

InterfaithFamily.com editor Micah Sachs beat me to the punch this past week and wrote a full review of Adam Sandler’s new film about an Israeli commando turned New York hair stylist, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, which opened Friday, June 6. You can read Micah's review here and then come back for the celebrity details.

As Micah says, there is an interfaith, inter-ethnic love angle to the movie. Romantic sparks fly between Zohan and Dalia, a Palestinian woman who works in the same salon as Sandler. She, of course, does not know that Zohan is an ex-Israeli commando. Playing Dalia is the gorgeous Emmanuelle Chriqui, a Canadian actress whose parents (ironically) are Morocco-born Jews. Chriqui currently has a recurring role on the HBO series Entourage.

Zohan's interfaith romance fits with Sandler's personal life. Sandler's Jewish identity is as strong as his character's--he’s very upfront about being Jewish, is a vocal supporter of Israel, and has a substantial Jewish religious background that includes having a bar mitzvah. And, Sandler dated non-Jewish as well as Jewish women before he fell in love with Jackie Titone, an Italian-American Catholic fashion model. She converted to Judaism before their 2003 wedding and they now have one child with another on the way.

Rob Schneider appears in Zohan in a smallish part as a "sleeper cell" Arab terrorist/cabdriver. Schneider, 44, is one of Sandler's best friends and appears in virtually all of Sandler's films in large or small parts. Schneider’s father is a secular Jew and his non-Jewish mother, who was born in the Philippines, is of mixed "white" American and ethnic Filipino background. In 2005, Schneider talked about his interfaith background with the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and that interview has been re-published on InterfaithFamily.com.

One update since that interview that ties in with Zohan: In 2006, Schneider took out a full page ad in Variety shortly after Mel Gibson spewed forth an incredible stream of anti-Semitic invective when he was pulled over for drunk driving.

Schneider’s Variety ad was styled "An Open Letter to the Hollywood Community" and in the first lines Schneider said, "I, Rob Schneider, a ½ Jew, pledge from this day forth never to work with Mel Gibson--actor-producer-director-anti-Semite." You can read the full text of the ad here.

Mel Gibson and his anti-Semitic attitudes are the subject of some nice satirical jabs in Zohan. I won't spoil the movie by disclosing them. Suffice it to say that Roger Friedman of Fox News notes that they are harsh and funny enough that Gibson will probably never be willing to work with Sony Pictures again. (Sony is releasing Zohan.) I almost feel sorry at this point for Gibson, whom Friedman calls "still radioactive" in Hollywood. Jews, including Schneider, have long memories and they certainly have a gift for comedic satire. This isn't the first time and I am sure won't be the last time that Gibson will be held up to ridicule by Jewish comics. Gibson also has to deal with "friends-of-the-tribe" like Irish Catholic comedians Dennis Leary and Lenny Clarke who, in common parlance, hilariously tore Gibson a new one while making a guest appearance in the Boston Red Sox broadcast TV booth during a 2006 game.

Just Funny

While his movies don't always make me laugh, I have to admit that Ben Stiller, 42, is a clever and funny guy. This isn’t surprising since his parents are comedians who co-wrote their comedy routines together. Ben’s parents, of course, are Jerry Stiller, who turned 81 last Sunday, and Anne Meara, 78.

Taylor and Stiller photo
Christine Taylor with her husband, Ben Stiller. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello

Jerry was born Jewish. Anne, who was born an Irish-American Catholic, decided on her own to convert to Judaism six years into her marriage to Jerry.

How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris, who came out as gay in 2006, appeared on Howard Stern's talk show host last April. He told Stern that he once dated women. His female dates included actress Christine Taylor, who went on to marry Stiller a couple of years after she dated Harris. Harris told Stern said that "the absence of fireworks" that existed when he dated Taylor helped convince him that he was gay.

Stiller was recently contacted by US Weekly about Harris’ comments about his wife. Still replied, tongue firmly in cheek: "Ironically, I had a similar experience with Neil that forced me to come to terms with my own heterosexuality."

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah."

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant "oldies but goodies") will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L'Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties).

The author welcomes questions and celebrity "tips," especially about people you personally know. Write him at middleoftheroad1@aol.com. And feel free to comment below.

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