Judging from TV and movies, one would be hard-pressed to know that traditional Judaism produces happy and healthy people.
By Yehezkel Laing, JNS.org
A doctor walks up to a hasidic Jewish teen lying in a hospital bed and tells him he needs a bone graft to save his leg. The teen and his father both worry that the graft will come from (heaven forbid) a “goy” or, even worse, an Arab or a female! Echh, these observant Jews! Look how racist and misogynistic they are!
The above anti-Semitic scene is from a recent episode of the NBC television show “Nurses.” The show seems so eager to attack Judaism that it even gets its blood libels mixed up: converting the alleged “necessity” of using gentile blood in Passover matzah into a so-called “prohibition” of using non-gentile bone grafts.
Of course, not only is there no halachic decree against gentile bone grafts, but Orthodox Jews are some of the biggest organ donors to both fellow Jews and gentiles.
Communist regimes run large networks of concentration camps in several far-eastern countries. Iran, which leads the world in terrorism sponsorship, is months away from a nuclear bomb. China, the source of the globe-ravaging COVID-19 virus, also leads the world in environmental devastation. But Hollywood doesn’t need to explore all these evils. It seems to have found the true enemy of humanity—Judaism.
One would think that since Hollywood was largely created by Jews, it would have a more positive take on the culture from which it sprung. But, alas, one would be sorely mistaken. In the past year alone, no less than three major American television series have centered on negative depictions of traditional Jews.
What is the threat that Hollywood sees in these studious, spiritually inclined people? Why does it hate them so much?
The Netflix series “Unorthodox” depicts a young woman from a repressive Jewish community who leaves all that strict religion behind to find happiness and acceptance in a liberal humanistic Germany, of all places.
Extremes vs. the norm
Hollywood loves to take extremes and depict them as the norm.
In this case, it takes the singular story of a woman from the extreme, anti-Zionist Satmar sect and uses it to depict all traditional Jews. Note how the series is called “Unorthodox,” not “Un-Satmar.” The characters in the series are so stereotyped and nasty that it has even been criticized by other Jews who left Satmar.
This hasn’t prevented numerous liberal media outlets from lavishing praise on the show, including the far-left Haaretz newspaper, which called the portrayal of the leading character “sensitive.”
But Hollywood’s obsession with Jews who have abandoned Judaism doesn’t end there.
“My Unorthodox Life” is yet another Netflix series that centers on a former observant Jew who has become “secular and happy.” In this case, it’s a reality series based on the life of Julia Haart, a former haredi Jew who is now the CEO of a modeling agency.
Viewers are supposedly expected to assume that Julia’s extremely powerful personality is an instant result of her new secularism and has nothing to do with her traditional “anti-female” Orthodox upbringing. Yet she has no problem trashing her own community to advance her personal interests.
Here, too, the show presents only two extreme choices: Judaism and unhappiness or secularism and personal fulfillment, money and popularity.
The audiences of both these shows might be shocked to learn that there are many Orthodox Jews who manage to have the best of both worlds. One of America’s leading television producers, a New York State judge, the head of the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Directorate, as well as thousands of Israeli computer programmers, a former Israeli foreign minister and a champion marathon runner are all Orthodox women. But why ruin a perfectly good stereotype?
The shows also seem to take for granted that personal materialistic pursuits are the only path to happiness, whereas motherhood and lovingly raising children is assumed to be a worthless, unfulfilling task. It seems that male-oriented Western society, which lauds females who abandon motherhood for professional careers, simply can’t stand Judaism’s stance that allows women to be feminine.
And then there is the HBO series, “The Plot Against America,” which tells the fictional story of the rise to power of a fascist American president in 1940. This Hitler-admiring president, aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, is supported by none other than a right-wing rabbi.
What a logical choice! Both men are also against war on Nazi Germany. What kind of twisted mind (Phillip Roth’s) takes the main victims of Nazi fascism and turns them into their primary defenders? Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, a tall, genteel widower from South Carolina with a thick Southern accent, is even against American intervention to save Europe’s Jews from the Holocaust! A stance that was, of course, so typical of rabbis…
The show’s twisting of history actually depicts the exact opposite of reality. Just as there was never a fascist president and a Rabbi Bengelsdorf who supported him, the only group that publicly called for American military action to save the Jews of Europe during World War II were Orthodox American Jews.
In 1943, 400 Orthodox rabbis fought the American-Jewish establishment to hold a public rally, in front of the Capitol building, in support of military intervention to save European Jewry. After three years of passivity in the face of the Holocaust, the rabbis’ march was the only thing that moved President Roosevelt to finally take action to help Europe’s desperate Jews.
And then there are the more subtle anti-Jewish television programs, such as the globally popular “Shtisel” series, which many consider to be a “highly accurate depiction” of haredi Jews. “Shtisel” recounts the story of an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, who also (surprisingly!) lives a sad religious life.
His only source of joy is his secret pursuit of the arts, which, of course, is a dangerously forbidden no-no in his community. The show was heavily promoted by the ultra-leftist, anti-haredi New Israel Fund, which sponsored a nationwide speaking tour on the series.
Watching all these shows, one would be hard-pressed to know that, according to numerous studies, a traditional Jewish lifestyle, which balances an inner spiritual life with materialistic pursuits, produces people who are generally both happier and healthier than extreme secularists.
The rise in anti-Jewish movies and television programs coincides with a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in the past year alone, there was a 115 percent increase over the same period last year (May 2020 vs May 2021).
Acceptable to hate just one group
Today, Jews are the most targeted minority group in America, and visually observant Jews are the ones most likely to be victims of physical abuse and attacks. In an age when it’s forbidden to criticize any group, of any persuasion, there seems to be just one group that it’s fine to hate—Orthodox Jews.
One may also wonder if all these negative portrayals of observant Jews on American television have anything to do with the enormous intermarriage rates in the American-Jewish community.
Of course, Hollywood didn’t invent the genre; it simply learned it from the very best practitioners. Tel Aviv’s endless stream of anti-Jewish (and anti-Zionist) films is sustained with NIS100 million ($31million) in government funds annually.
But, while the Israeli public is forced to pay for these highly negative films, it cannot be forced to watch them. And though many of them are lavishly celebrated by gentiles at leading world film festivals, most fail dismally at the Israeli box office.
Here are just a few examples of major Israeli films made in the past few years:
- “Foxtrot”—An anti-Israel Defense Forces film that depicts the futility of fighting for Israel’s defense.
- “Apples from the Desert”—A repressed religious girl who throws off the confines of observance to lead a happy secular life.
- “Waltz with Bashir”—An anti-IDF film about Israeli “war crimes” in the 1982 Lebanon War.
- “Junction 48”—A film about Jewish discrimination against Arabs.
- “Lemon Tree”—A film about a right-wing Israeli government minister who takes over an innocent Arab woman’s lemon grove.
- “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”—A film about a woman victimized by Israel’s rabbinical courts.
- “Paradise Now”—A sympathetic look at an Arab suicide bomber.
- “Kadosh”—A film about sexual betrayal in the haredi community.
- “Beaufort”—Another anti-IDF film, this one depicting Israel’s efforts to stop the bombing of the Galilee by PLO terrorists as a waste of human life.
- “Medurat Hashevet” (“Campfire”)—A film about settler racism towards Sephardic Jews.
- “Yamim Noraim”—A film about a religious man who murders Israel’s leftist prime minister.
- “The Unorthodox”—A film about haredi-Ashkenazi discrimination and mistreatment of Sephardic Jews.
What a balanced view of Judaism and Zionism.
Orthodox also to blame
While there is no doubt that left-wing Israelis and assimilated Hollywood Jews are in great part responsible for this demonization of Judaism and Israel in film, they are not alone. The Orthodox themselves share in the blame for the avalanche of anti-Jewish programs.
By ignoring the world’s most powerful medium and donating mainly for buildings in yeshivas and settlements, they have conceded the highly influential artistic and cultural fields to Judaism’s opponents.
And yet, it’s not too late to make a change. Today, there are a number of fledgling Jewish film schools and television stations trying to present a more balanced view of Judaism and Israel. But they all desperately need financial support. Will anyone step up to help them?
Filmmaker Yehezkel Laing is the creator of the dramatic television series Iron Sky about Jewish bravery in Stalinist Russia.