I’ve known of Schwartzie for about 20 years from Dennis Prager’s lectures.
When I came to L.A., I was excited to meet Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz and he was everything Prager promised and more.
Schwartzie loves Judaism and he reaches out to lonely misfits such as myself and steers us towards a Jewish refuge.
Thus, I was shocked when a couple of friends of mine reported horrible exchanges they had with Schwartzie.
One friend wanted to bring his non-Jewish girlfriend (who was considering conversion to Orthodox Judaism, she eventually did) to a Passover seder hosted by Schwartzie. The rabbi told my friend that he didn’t want any shiksas at his seder.
My friend was appalled.
Another friend was getting divorced. He reports that Schwartzie told him, "You might as well take your kids outside and shoot them. It will destroy them."
At 62, Schwartzie is enormously popular and beloved. A defiantly independent and off-beat character, he can schmooze it up with Hollywood types or go green with millennial do-gooders. His long white beard gives him a look that is both rabbinic and grandfatherly; his untethered vernacular and quirky style make it clear he fits no mold.
His hallmark event is Dinner for 60 Strangers, which he and his wife, Olivia, host every Friday night in their home.
And it was that Shabbat event that attracted Jamie Katz (not her real name), a 42-year-old paralegal and entrepreneur.
Katz was on an emotional mission to deepen her Jewish identity. When her mother was dying a year ago, she had a last request for her daughter: Go explore your Jewish heritage. Join a temple, find a Jewish man.
Jamie’s mother, who was Japanese, had converted to Judaism some 45 years before, when she married Jamie’s father. Katz and her two brothers had studied at Temple Emanuel religious school in Beverly Hills, and while she says she never felt like she completely fit in as a Japanese Jew, she never considered herself anything but Jewish.
A few weeks ago a friend told her about the Chai Center, so she went online and registered for the Shabbat dinner at the Schwartzes’ home. The food was great, the atmosphere was warm and inviting, and Katz felt as if she belonged.
The following Sunday, however, she received an e-mail from Schwartzie that felt like a verbal punch in the gut:
"Altho yr surname is [Katz] & U spk Yiddish, thts still does not make yr mother’s NON Orthodox ‘conversion’ kosher [valid]," he wrote to her. "Tht means tht if U ever met a Jewish man who’s family Rabbi was Orthodox or, who wanted 2 get married in Israel, U could NOT! … I appreciate tht U were ‘brought up’ as a Jew (even tho yr father ‘married’ out of the faith ), but U may not come 2 any more Chai Center events…. We consider INTERMARRAIGE a grt tragedy for the Jewish ppl, even if the non Jewish person in the equation thinks & feels Jewish…. In the eyes of Al-mighty G*d, it’s important 4 U NOT 2 date Jewish men. The result of which could, G-d forbid, end in grt tragedy, 4 both of U."
Shocked and pained, Katz wrote back to Schwartzie, reiterating her commitment to Judaism. In the escalating exchange, Schwartzie castigated Katz’s late father for choosing to marry a non-Jew, and about Katz’s recently deceased mother, he wrote: "She might have been agrt mother, but as a ‘Jewish’ mother she was a miserable failure! In truth she really was not a FAILURE as a Jew; since, in the eyes of G-d (where it COUNTS) she wasn’t!"
Katz was crushed.
In addition to Katz, two other women independently sent to the Jewish Journal samples of Schwartzie’s letters — rambling e-mails in large print, heavy with text-message shorthand punctuated with varied text colors, point sizes and fonts. One recipient, who is not Jewish, attended his Rosh Hashanah services last fall with a Jewish friend and followed up by sending the rabbi a question about her Jewish ex-boyfriend. Another woman, who is Jewish, brought a non-Jewish man to Schwartzie’s seder in 2005. Filled with foul language and content that can easily be construed as bigoted, sexist and threatening, the e-mails seem to contradict the rabbi’s aura of openness and non-judgmental warmth.
In a face-to-face interview, Schwartzie stood his ground when first confronted with the letters. He said that while he regretted language that may have been perceived as a personal attack, he stood by his goal of sounding an intentionally vicious warning to ward off non-Jews who might infiltrate his events in the hopes of ensnaring a Jewish partner and eventually intermarrying.
Jackie Campbell (not her real name), who is not Jewish, was invited by her Jewish neighbor to attend Schwartzie’s Rosh Hashanah services last fall at the Writers Guild Theater.
A graduate of Berkeley who has published research on breast cancer and Eastern medicine and now produces children’s health and exercise videos, Campbell wrote to Schwartzie to follow up on a comment he had made about Jewish astrology. In her e-mail, she told Schwartzie that her father’s father was Jewish, and she also asked the rabbi for "words of wisdom" about her Jewish ex-boyfriend, whom she had recently broken up with when she realized he wouldn’t marry a non-Jew.
Schwartzie wrote back:
"A paternal grandpapy does not make U a Jew. Get used 2 it & get used 2 the program; its called the Reality of truth, even if it disturbs yr comfort zone. It is really low space morally & ethically of you 2 cast aspersions on Jews & their religion bcz they tell the truth. U R not a Jew even if tht means tht U lose yr boy toy," read part of his long tirade to her.
Campbell said the e-mails deeply disturbed her and embarrassed her Jewish friends, who assured her he did not represent Judaism. She wrote that to Schwartzie in answer to his e-mail.
"How dare U B so nervy as 2 criticize me when U r the brazen hussy slut chasing after Jewish men (even when they R Orthodox & you KNOW tht it is against their G-d & religion). Shame on U 4 yr disgusting unpaid whoring ways 2 try & take Jewish men away from Jewish women. Hitler murdered Jews & U R also trying 2 exterminate Jews."
If you believe that God gave the Torah, you can argue with the way Schwartzie expressed himself, but the gist of what he said and did is totally congruent with Torah. Orthodox Judaism has standards that are more important for Orthodox Jews than being nice to goyim.
Fred emails: "I don’t see why this guy just doesn’t advocate an orthodox conversion instead of going off the deep end? Clearly that should suffice."
Khunrum emails: "Have any of the Advisory Committee seen that show "Marrying a Millionaire" (something like that). There’s the head Yiddisha Yenta who matches (alleged) High Rollers with (alleged) Desirable Women. Most of the chicks are canines. Most of the "millionaires" seem to be as well positioned as Luke. The show is hilarious, check it out!"