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An Open Letter To Madonna


It's not that I don't like you. I don't personally know you, of course, and I once bought Like A Virgin (as a new release, and on vinyl, ahem) and loved it. And until now I've resisted commenting about your Jew-ish schtick, because I found it a bit too half-hearted to really stir me. But your "I'm an ambassador for Judaism" comment right there with Israeli President Shimon Peres floored me and hurt me on a deeper level than I imagined something like that would.

You are not Jewish. As far as I know, you're not even really all that Jew-ish. I am Jewish, and I am offended that you are speaking on my behalf. On our behalf. I've studied a great deal about other religions, but, just because I think, say the idea of patron saints is a cool concept, or just because I agree deeply with some Buddhist teachings, doesn't mean I'd haul off and declare myself an ambassador for those traditions. If I felt strongly enough about Catholicism or Buddhism, I'd be Catholic or Buddhist. And, even then, if I were to jump religions, I can't imagine feeling qualified to be an ambassador. But that's just me. I can recognize beauty and find ideas resonant without taking it for my own. I know you're really gung-ho about Kabbalah, as are a lot of celebrities. And I find non-Jewish interest in Judaism to be the highest compliment; a testament to the beautiful ideas and concepts we hold so dearly and that make me so proud of my Jewishness. But, I'd like to remind you that Kabbalah is not a religion. Kabbalah is an ancient set of Jewish mystical concepts. And one is supposed to be both a Torah and Talmud master before beginning the study of Kabbalah. I can say confidently, without knowing you personally, that you, Madonna, are not a Torah and Talmud master. If I may be so frank, you're a woman with a shit-pot of money and worldwide fame. Those two things open a lot of doors, but they often insulate a person from authentic information/experiences and cause a lot of people to give you authority that hasn't necessarily been earned. You worked hard for your success, and I'm not begrudging you the fruits of your labors. But are you aware of how deeply you are irritating to some of the peoplehood you claim to adore? Anyone would recognize your authority in matters of music, singing, dance, celebrity, and wealth, but I'm not comfortable with your authority in Jewish matters. Maybe because you're not Jewish.

I wouldn't stand in front of President Shimon Peres and declare myself an ambassador to Judaism, and I'm not only Jewish but gung-ho about being Jewish. I just don't think I'm narcissistic enough to think my Jewishness can speak for anyone but myself. In fact, I think Judaism, by nature, is anti-ambassador. We don't get "preached to" but rather we "discuss and consider for ourselves". So, yeah. There's that. Anyway, check this out.

Ambassador. n.

  1. A diplomatic official of the highest rank appointed and accredited as representative in residence by one government or sovereign to another, usually for a specific length of time.
  2. A diplomatic official heading his or her country's permanent mission to certain international organizations, such as the United Nations.
  3. An authorized messenger or representative.
  4. An unofficial representative: ambassadors of goodwill.

See my point, Maddy? The two things that stick out to me are "of highest rank" and "authorized". Nobody charged you, nobody urged you, nobody asked you. You decided you speak for me and I have to be honest and tell you thanks but no thanks. However, I do want to point out the words "usually for a specific length of time" and inquire about your plan in this regard…?

The Times Online's (UK) Hugo Rifkind wrote today (I'm sure you are aware of this publication, as the UK seemed to be the last thing you half-heartedly co-opted, alienating the shit out of folks both in the UK and here in the US, where you are actually from) that you are "to actual Judaism what the Beach Boys were to actual surfing (in that you can’t do it, and don't really want to, but pretend it has influenced your songs)" which I found quite funny. What do you think about that? I'm sure, since you are a human being, that criticism isn't pleasant. Does it offend you because you feel so deeply connected to Judaism and our peoplehood that this accusation makes you feel misunderstood?

Because, here's the thing. If you wanted to actually be Jewish, if you studied with a rabbi and the two of you felt you found your place inside of Judaism and fit within Judaism as you are, if you went before a beit din and went to mikveh, I would welcome you, just as I would welcome anyone who felt strongly enough to convert. But, you aren't. You haven't.

I'm protective of Judaism. It isn't always easy to be Jewish. You're like our sparkly little fair-weather friend. By that I mean, you're a friend-of-the-Jewcy, which is better than being an aspiring Jew-exterminator, of course. (By the by, I was sorry to hear about what Popular Resistance said about you. That's got to be scary.) You put Rosh HaShanah and Purim in People magazine, which I suppose might lead to Judaism being a bit less mysterious to non-Jews, perhaps. But, on the same token, putting Rosh HaShanah and Purim in the news makes it all seem glamorous rather than meaningful. And, when something starts on that path, it gets misunderstood and whitewashed and co-opted and cheapened.

I can't begrudge anyone anything from which they derive meaning and sacredness, but I'd really encourage you to think about how your behavior looks to those of us you mean to "represent," and those of us you profess to care so deeply for. If you feel good about Judaism, please remember "chosen people" doesn't mean elevated in importance in the great karmic pecking order, but it means we choose greater responsibility for repairing the world around us and  caring for one another.

Just something to mull over and think about. I do appreciate your willingness to embrace many paths as well as how eager you are to reinvent yourself. My hope for you is that one day, you find a spiritual home that evolves with you and you with it, and that it is one you can finally live in with your whole self.


Amy Guth

Post Script: While you have really got some chuptzah to ink out one of the 72 names for the source of the universe on your arm, your new Hebrew tattoo does, I'll admit, look really badass, and I can see the theoretical appeal in the explanation your Kabbalah Center Guy offered, I guess, about manifesting things in your own life. Perhaps you might encourage your old pal Britney to take the advice on the "healing" nature of her tattoo. Girlfriend is pretty cracked-out these days.

Post-Post Script: I sort of like to run to that song that you sampled ABBA to make. I didn't understand the suntan pantyhose leggings in the video, though.


[Note: This post has been edited since publication.]

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