Rabbi Brad Hirschfield doesn’t think Charlie Sheen was being anti-Semitic when he referred to his boss, Chuck Lorre, as “Chaim Levine.” But I think Brad works a lot harder at clearing Sheen’s name than Sheen’s critics did in finding his remarks out of bounds. But first let’s look at what Sheen said to radio host Alex Jones:
“I’m tired of being told ‘You can’t talk about that, you can’t talk about that.’ Bull S-H-I-T. There’s something this side of deplorable that a certain Chaim Levine — yeah, that’s Chuck’s real name — mistook this rock star for his own selfish exit strategy, bro. Check it, Alex: I embarrassed him in front of his children and the world by healing at a pace that his unevolved mind cannot process. Last I checked, Chaim, I spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold. And the gratitude I get is this charlatan chose not to do his job, which is to write. Clearly someone who believes he’s above the law.”
Here’s Brad’s (partial) response:
For starters, Lorre’s name at birth was in fact, Levine! And while I do not know his Hebrew name, or even if he has one, Chaim could well be the chosen Hebrew parallel for Charles or Chuck. As my great-grandparents would have said, “we should be so lucky to live in a world where using someone’s Hebrew name counts as anti-Semitism.” In other words, in a world in which there is genuine hatred of Jews, labeling Sheen’s words, anti-Semitic, is probably absurd and certainly a gross over-statement.
If anything, Sheen feels that he was personally attacked – that his integrity was called into question, so he called out the integrity of his so-called attacker by attacking Lorre’s decision to change his name. It was a stupid move on Sheen’s part because there is no evidence that a change in name represents a lack of integrity. And if it does, then Sheen should be speaking with his father, Martin Sheen, who changed his name from Esetvez.
Brad is only guessing that Sheen, by using Lorre’s real name, was just “call[ing]out the integrity of his so-called attacker.” Besides, it would be an odd gambit, since Sheen also uses a stage name: Like his dad, he was born an Estevez, first name Carlos.
Second, Lorre’s real name is Charles Levine, not Chaim. (In one of his signature vanity cards, seen here, Lorre suggests his Hebrew name is Chaim.) If Sheen wanted to call him out on integrity, why reach past his actual given English name to “Chaim”?
It sounds to me that Sheen is cutting Lorre down to size, suggesting the vaunted “Chuck Lorre” is a mere “Chaim Levine” — a Jew boy. If that sounds harsh, reverse the situation: Imagine if Lorre were ranting about Sheen, and apropos of nothing started referring to him as “Carlos Estevez.” Last I checked, Carlos, I spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold. Would we really be debating whether such a remark is bigoted?
I don’t have any reason to think Charlie Sheen is our new Mel Gibson, but I know a cheap ethnic shot when I hear one. It’s exactly what I hear when someone rants about “Barack Hussein Obama” — yeah, that’s his real name, but I’m pretty sure the ranter isn’t celebrating Obama’s rich ethnic background.
Besides, all this talk about Sheen’s anti-Semitism is a diversion. As David Carr writes today, Sheen should have been fired and ostracized years ago for the way he treats women. I don’t think there’s much to debate there at all.