If you saw Friday’s brief item on Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach at the 92nd St. Y and wanted to know more about the "good old-fashioned debate drama" it hinted at, other observers have offered their perspective online, but first, let’s take a look at the video evidence:
Everybody who’s blogged about the event seems to agree: Boteach was an embarssingly inadequate advocate for his God. FishbowlNY‘s Neal Ungerleider described the evening as "90 minutes of watching Hitchens verbally disembowel Boteach," and noted that even in his weakest rhetorical moments, Hitchens "stayed on message." (But in that vein, one might add, Andy Partridge of XTC articulated one of the most solid, consistent arguments against Judeo-Christian religion ever, in under four minutes, and it rhymes.) Rachel Sklar of The Huffington Post called Boteach’s contribution to the evening "time-wasting bloviations, attacks on Hitchens himself… and shameless name-drops about when he was at Oxford." Phoebe Maltz found herself constructing a coherent argument against Hitchens even though she shares his atheism, just because Boteach had so miserably failed to do so.
And they were just three of the many bloggers Jewcy cited in a roundup of reactions. I wasn’t there, but my brief viewing of that clip above makes me wish that Rabbi Gillman had been the one carrying God’s banner in the debate; the outcome might well have stayed the same, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been so lopsided.
Boteach — an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, comes out of the same media tradition as Christian personalities like Creflo Dollar, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. He’s a man of the cloth who counts Michael Jackson and Uri Geller among his past professional collaborations. Boteach has books to his name like Kosher Sex and Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments and hosts the cringe inducing TLC program Shalom in the Home. Slate’s Benjamin Soskis once accused Boteach of promoting a religion "grounded in utilitarian justifications and stripped of inconvenient legalisms" — in other words, a Jewish version of the Christianity lite of Osteen & company.
There are a lot of believers whom we would like to see debate Hitchens. Religious historian Karen Armstrong, for one. Rabbi Michael Lerner for another. Religious porn blogger Luke Ford. The erudite Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Hell, even Catholic League honcho William Donahue. But we had to settle for Boteach.