Ten Scandals That Rocked the Jewish World in 2014

From Jon Stewart and Gaza to Rabbi Freundel's hidden video cameras – there was never a dull moment.

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Shia LaBeouf, Sheldon Adelson, Joan Rivers, Donald Sterling, Jon Stewart, Scarlett Johansson.
Shia LaBeouf, Sheldon Adelson, Joan Rivers, Donald Sterling, Jon Stewart, Scarlett Johansson.Credit: Ap, Reuters

1. “Peeping Rabbi” Barry Freundel and his hidden cameras in the National Capitol Mikveh

This scandal punched the Jewish world in its most sensitive spots and resonated internationally. Why? Because the alleged perpetrator was a high-profile nationally respected mainstream Orthodox rabbi, because his congregation included powerful Washington DC figures, and because the idea that any rabbi might (allegedly) use hidden cameras to spy on women in their most sacred place like the ritual bath and exploit the vulnerability of conversion candidates to Judaism is unfathomable.

2. The embarrassing racism of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling

The world cried foul after highly racist remarks attributed to Donald Sterling, the Jewish owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, to his girlfriend were recorded without his knowledge and published. Jewish groups were no exception. The tape captured Sterling telling his girlfriend, who is black and Mexican, not to be seen in public with black people or to post photographs of herself with black people on Instagram, and that black Jews in Israel “are just treated like dogs.” Nobody shed a tear when he was banned from the NBA for life – forcing him to sell the team – and fined $2.5 million by the league.

3. Kissing Sheldon Adelson’s ring

Billionaire political powerhouse Sheldon Adelson had a number of “chutzpah” moments over the year, but his most visible muscle-flexing was when he pressured New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a leading Republican presidential contender, to apologize for the use of the phrase “occupied territories.” Reacting to the news, comedian Jon Stewart asked: “How can anyone claim to be a leader if they’re bending over backwards to please an 80-year-old gambling mogul?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu might be able to answer that question.

4. The Massachusetts rabbi’s indiscrete discretionary fund

Not only Orthodox U.S. Jews were let down by a trusted spiritual leader this year. The tight-knit Sharon, Massachusetts community was stunned when longtime Conservative Rabbi Barry Starr resigned in shame under the shadow of charges that he used synagogue funds to pay $480,000 in hush money to an extortionist who threatened to reveal his sexual relationship with a 16-year-old male.

5. Sacre bleu! Fraud and corruption in the French rabbinate

As if French Jewry didn’t have enough to deal with with the rising tide of anti-Semitism, their leaders have been more of a burden than of assistance. After Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim was forced to resign in 2013 after confessing to plagiarism and to lying about his academic credentials, his replacement was caught on tape this spring ordering the family of a woman seeking a divorce to write a $120,000 check to a designated religious charity. Hopefully, the newest French chief rabbi, elected in June, will be able to stay out of trouble.

6. Move over, Anthony Weiner. British Jewish lawmaker overshares on Twitter

You’d think the Weiner affair served as fair warning to legislators to avoid sending photos of their private parts to women they meet on social media. But, no – Jewish Tory MP Brooks Newmark, the Minister for Civil Society (!) resigned in disgrace after he was caught sending explicit photographs of himself to a male journalist using a fake Twitter account, posing as a hot blonde. Newmark sent the graphic photos after asking his fictional friend to “swear on a stack of Bibles” that she wouldn’t show the pictures to anyone else.

7. Scarlett Johansson and Soda Stream relationship bubbles over

The relationship between the blonde, blue-eyed, yet Jewish mega-star Scarlett Johansson and the Israel-based fizzy drinks empire never seemed to go flat this year. The partnership was news from the moment her Superbowl ad was censored for mentioning competitors Coke and Pepsi by name – but really blew up after the human rights group Oxfam informed Johansson that being Soda Stream’s face made her “incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador” because the company manufactured in the West Bank. When she resigned from Oxfam, she became a poster girl for pro-Israel advocates and a favorite target for the BDS movement.

8. Joan Rivers’s Gaza rant and tragic death

Over the summer, when the rockets were flying and bombs were dropping and Israel faced a wave of celebrity criticism, Rivers was the Jewish state’s loudest defender, proclaiming: “Let me just tell you – if New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe ‘em out If we heard they were digging tunnels from New Jersey to New York, we would get rid of Jersey.” Who knew that less than two months later, the comedy legend would shockingly fall into a coma and pass away after suffering cardiac arrest during an out-patient throat operation. Whether or not one shares her politics, her loud, hilarious voice will be missed.

9. Not funny: Jon Stewart lashes out at “fascistic” Jewish critics

This year’s highest-profile Jewish personality was undeniably Jon Stewart. From early on in the summer Gaza conflict, the comedian-turned-filmmaker had a major tit-for-tat going on with those defending Israeli policy regarding his scathing critical barbs during Operation Protective Edge. In November, while promoting his film “Rosewater,” he vented his anger over the attacks on him: “You would not believe the shit. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just go fuck yourself. How dare you?”

10. Shia LeBoeuf’s possible abandonment of the tribe

It was probably the LEAST shocking move the young Jewish actor made over the course of the year – LeBoeuf announcing he was going in a different direction religion-wise. He said that on the set of Brad Pitt’s film “Fury” he “became a Christian man, and not in a fucking bullshit way – in a very real way.” Many Jews expressed open relief at the idea of disassociating from the volatile performer and his unending string of bizarre and violent antics and scuffles with the law. On the plus side, he did star in a heck of a viral video that garnered more than 7 million views.



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