[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]
I first heard about Loving Leah this past Thursday when someone asked me about the film at an adult education class I taught; she wanted to know if Jews still practice Yibbum. [The answer: Not in Ashkenazi communities; we follow Abba Shaul’s talmudic ruling and perform chalitzah instead.]
Then, courtesy of the Haveil Havalim edition linked above, I was introduced to the real meat of the controversy: Portrayal of observant, particularly Hasidic Jews, in movies. It seems that some are offended by comments from talk-show hosts and actress Susie Essman on a show called The View. The offending lines include, “Hasidic women are not good dressers,” “You see what these women look like,” and more. Video available here.
I agree with the critics – those comments are insensitive.
I further stipulate that were the word “Hasidic” removed from the sartorial criticism above, and replaced with “Black” or “Muslim” there would be a massive uproar, possibly including the torching of embassies, or at least a studio or two. The Council on American-Islamic Relations would have a field day with it; has anyone heard anything from the ADL on this one?
But קבל את האמת ממי שאמרו, I believe in we have to accept the truth from whence it comes: Within the context of American society, Torah-observant Jews are strange.
*We believe that our ancient text is accompanied by a comprehensive, yet hair-splitting, oral tradition which advises us in detail on everything from social morality to personal hygiene.
*We dress, eat, work, worship and groom ourselves in a manner which sets us apart, intentionally, from society.
*We believe in the imminent arrival of a personal Mashiach who is going to lead billions in the path of righteousness, as wel understand it.
*We see nothing wrong with the idea of animal sacrifice, including the placement of that animal’s blood on an altar as part of religious ritual.
*We believe that our customs have the force of law.
*We wrestle with the credulity of honored sources on issues like demonology and astrology.
Remember the Country Yossi song? “I do the strangest things a man could ever do, ‘cause I’m a Jew, I do that too.”
Yes, we are an עם לבדד ישכון, as Bilam said in his tongue-in-cheek blessing; we are a nation that dwells apart, apparently as desired and enforced by Gd via the Torah.
We aren’t the only social misfits out there; look at the Amish, who have learned to accept their strangeness and even turn a profit on it. But we are most uncomfortable with our unassimilation. We want the sense of purpose that comes with being different, without the stigma that comes with having that difference highlighted, rejected and denigrated.
And I’m not sure that’s a realistic expectation.