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Is THIS good for the Jews??

Thursday, 17 January 2008

So I sit down to enjoy one of my favourite television programs and once again am hit with that awful feeling.

The SVU was investigating the rape of a young boy who doctors believed was a frequent victim of sexual abuse. David’s mother, Rachel told the detectives to question David’s father Alvie, a Hasidic Jew who David spent weekends with. Munch and Stabler began to suspect David’s tutor, Jacob, of the abuse.

Oh no! It’s not that sexual abuse doesn’t occur in the Jewish community. It’s that I certainly don’t want that being aired on television.

Munch and Stabler went to pay Jacob a visit at the Torah Vayirah to ask him some questions. They reached a roadblock in their investigation when the Rabbis had already held their own trial and declared Jacob innocent. Stabler later discovered Jacob was only acting suspicious because he was having a forbidden affair with a woman also at the Torah Vayirah. Jacob’s alibi checked out on the morning of David’s rape.

The rabbis declared the alleged rapist innocent? By whose authority? The Talmud agrees that in matters of civil and criminal law, the rabbis have no jurisdiction. Dina d’malchuta dina — the law of the kingdom is the law. In other words, we Jews must obey the laws of the land in which we live and when we don’t, we are to be held accountable by the civil authorities.

David had been kidnapped and the detectives discovered Alvie had obtained a passport for his son. Cragen alerted Stabler, Munch and Rachel that it looked like Alvie was taking David to an Orthodox community in Canada. Once they arrived in Canada, Munch and Stabler were met with obstacles from the citizens of the small Orthodox town who didn’t take kindly to the New York City detectives.

Terrific. Just add kidnapping to the whole mess. And forgery as the mother had not been a party to the procurement of a passport for her minor son. How many mitzvot have been broken now? Are you keeping count? And as if that was not enough, the town (Kehilat Moshe) was described in such a way that it just reinforced what they’ve always said about us. That we are clannish and just not a part of the larger society, beholden to no other laws or mores than our own. [I seem to recall a certain vizier making those exact assertions to the King.]

Leaving aside the unlikeliness that a man who recently became chassidish was able to grow some serious peyos in such a short amount of time, the entire premise was just absurd. The town is clearly meant to represent an enclave of zealous cooreligionists. The mother’s voiceover states that:

…in the town, the women wear long skirts, they are separated from the men at shul and in the Temple, there are no cell phones, no influences from the unclean modern world.

FIrst of all, these cops are from Manhattan. How likely is it that they have yet to run into observant Jews? Dressing modestly is certainly not confined to the febrente (ardent) folks as even the more liberal Orthodox Jews embrace the idea of dressing in a reserved fashion. Praying seperately has been a practice in the modern Orthodox community as well. As for the cell phones, I find that a little difficult to believe having seen my share of observant Jews on their mobiles. The description of this Jewish town might have easily been of an Amish village.

It is the desire to shield our children from the secular influences that most likely seems the strangest. And yet, in our world which is filled with an increased rate of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and adolescnet drug abuse, I admit that I wonder if there is just the smallest amount of wisdom in keeping society at bay.

Ever since he saw High School Musical 2, Beernut has been pleading with us to watch High School Musical. Of course, we had not explicitly allowed him to watch HSM2. He saw it at day camp during winter break. Not wanting to outright ban the movie, I explained that I wanted to view it first in order to determine its appropriateness.

Beernut: Mom, there’s nothing scary about the movie. There are no bad guys and no shooting.

Me: I know, but Beernut, there are other things that might make a movie inappropriate for a 7 year old.

Beernut: Like what?

Me: [Oh, I so did not want to answer this question.] Um…like kissing. Does anyone kiss in the movie?

Beernut: Nah. Everyone knows that kissing isn’t allowed in school, Mom.

Okay, so I’m safe for the time being. But I imagine that the day will soon arrive when our conversations about such imagery will take a very different turn.

I love television. And movies. And magazines. But the images and content are getting more and more revealing. And more violent. I have never considered myself a prude or socially conservative, but I am beginning to worry if there will be a negative effect on our kids.

And speaking of kids, what about the kids who aren’t rape victims in real life but play them on TV? While the trauma has not occurred to the young actors and actresses, I can’t help but wonder if portraying a victim causes nightmares (at the very least) or lingering psychological damage.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 17 January 2008 7:20 pm

    As someone who chooses not to own a tv (we still pay for cable as part of our dsl package, but don’t use it), I have to say I’m a bit lost.

    I think you outline some of the reason we choose not to do tv. Primarily I prefer not to fund/acknowledge violence in the media and the glorification of a society that doesn’t represent my core values.

    Good luck with the kiddlettes on this one.
    Thank heavens I found a sweetie that was on the same page as me on this one.

  2. Thursday, 17 January 2008 7:31 pm

    okay, i saw that law and order too and i had exactly the same thoughts you did. and they definitely dropped the whole thing once they discovered that it had nothing to do with the boy being abused by the tutor….and it was never revisited, at least not that i remember….i was cranky about the whole thing.

    my 6 y.o. knows the word “inappropriate” and when i say that he can’t watch something he’ll say, “because it’s inappropriate?” and i’ll say yes…and usually we just move on. but sometimes i end up in the same place you are….

    btw, i have watched hsm1 and there is actually no kissing until the end, they are always thwarted in their attempts to kiss…there are some interesting lessons in the movie about being yourself and being a mensch… i liked hsm1 better than hsm2 and found it easier to explain the story.

  3. Frume Sarah permalink
    Saturday, 19 January 2008 6:12 pm

    Liesl – the thought had occurred to me. But I worry that my kids might be culturally illiterate without exposure to TV — and there are good programs out there.

    Phyl — Yeah, I was chatting with some folks about this at shul last night. I concluded that it is a result of the (Jewish) writers’ identity issues…

  4. Sunday, 20 January 2008 9:41 am

    You can watch an excerpt of that L & O here

  5. Frume Sarah permalink
    Sunday, 20 January 2008 12:05 pm

    Thanks, Lucky Wolf, for providing this example!!

  6. david K permalink
    Sunday, 20 January 2008 3:01 pm

    Actually, if you really take the episode as a whole, you get a completely different message from what was portrayed above. Yes, the show didn’t portray the Chassidic community in a favorable light at first, but the main focus of the episode was actually about how all the sex in the media can be dangerous to children. In the very last line of the show, they suggest that the Chassidic community may not have such a bad idea after all in attempting to avoid the excesses of modern life.

  7. James permalink
    Sunday, 27 January 2008 5:42 pm

    I too saw the episode in question and while I’m not Jewish, I am a born again christian who was raised in a pretty conservative baptist church and our women too wore long skirts and the boys and girls are separated from each other all the way through high school and I found the show to be really insensitive and intolerant of religion that they didn’t agree with. While it was true that at the end of the epi they did hint at a more sheltered life was maybe better. I just felt that for all people who already garner the stares and questions of society, having a tv show do the same thing kinda hurt.

  8. Erik permalink
    Saturday, 2 February 2008 5:36 am

    The following are my thoughts in no particular order.

    I saw the same episode and was surprised when I saw the representation of the town in question. The first thing I thought was Amish. I was also a bit surprised that the whole thing was portrayed in a negative light right from the start. Whatever happend to innocent until PROVEN guilty. It seems to me that the character of Stabler is almost hostile to religion in any form. *SIGH* I can tell you that being a Christian and my mom not, we still have VERY interesting discussions on religion. I’m also fascinated but Buddhism as well as some of the other Eastern religions. Point is, no matter what one believes they should be able to do so without persecution. Now they talk about black only schools. Sheesh! Hurray for the 21st century. Are we moving backwards?

    In any case its not a bad idea to unplug, something I consciously do as I believe that technology in all its forms is just a tool. It cannot and should not tell you who you are.

    I also don’t think the media can always be blamed. Where are the parents right? But that is another discussion for another time.

  9. Carla Bronberg permalink
    Sunday, 20 April 2008 7:29 pm

    You guys are all losers! If you shelter your kids, they will grow up resenting you and lashing out with things they know nothing about because you never let them see it or do it. Sure there should be an age restriction on some things but come on people give me a break!
    PS- its a fuckin tv show, its called entertainment and everyone knows television is fabricated 99.9% of the time

  10. adam permalink
    Sunday, 11 May 2008 10:44 pm

    I believe Kehilat Moshe is a real town in upstate fact, the show portrays the town accurately. I don’t believe the SVU is trying to illustrate that Kehilat Moshe is like every frum community.

  11. Monday, 12 May 2008 5:22 pm

    I watched the episode on Mothers Day, and although had a reaction of anger towards the writer (whom I know well) and although he says he is jewish, has insecurity and lack of observance due to secular upbringing….anyway, I actually googled the name of the town to see if it was real, gulible I know, but really interested in moving to an observant community as described for my childrens sake, no tv all the children, parents, teachers consistent on the teachings, sounds like eden to me, where can I find such a place in the US?

  12. Jake permalink
    Saturday, 27 December 2008 10:48 am

    Oh please..

    Since when are TV shows like this accurate anyway? It’s all either about entertainment, or discrimination, and from what i see if it’s Jewish related, it’s always good or the victim, and if christian/islamic, it’s the victim… Propaganda. BS

    You see the same episodes and propaganda against christans being rapists an murderers, muslims / arabs as murderers, rapists, terrorists and no one of course minds, but the moment they make an episode about Jews, even if it’s slightly inaccurate, all hell breaks loose.

    Fact is, these things happen, regardless of race, religion, culture.. There are good and there are bad. If you can’t deal with it, then just don’t watch them.

    People should worry more about how arabs, muslims, vietnamese, koreans are always portrayed as terrorists in more or less every movie and episode out there, and eve if innocent, the initial response is like that.

  13. Monday, 23 February 2009 1:31 pm

    I agree that parents must be diligent about what television programs their children are exposed to.

    For me, I’ve always used the tactic of “watch and discuss during the commercials.” Rather than shield children from negativity and stereotypes, I’ve always thought it best to use “negative media” as lessons in critical thinking. Watching this show, I might pose questions like: “What is going on here?” “How are people being represented?” “How might stereotypes be created or emphasized in order to add to the program’s drama?”

    By teaching critical thinking rather than simply banning programming, I feel safe knowing that a child will be more alert to programming content and less likely to mindlessly absorb everything seen.

  14. ilatfan permalink
    Wednesday, 3 February 2010 2:56 pm

    Kehilat Moshe was a reference to a real Satmar Chassidic town in Monroe, NY (an hour from Manhattan) called Keriyas Yoel (or Joel in English). The show actually for the most part (not perfectly) portrayed the ghetto like aspects of the community and its choice of life style pretty accurately. There are other sheltered Jewish communities like Kiryas Yoel…

  15. Dog permalink
    Monday, 7 June 2010 1:28 am

    ALL RELIGIONS are the worst thing to ever happen to society. They were created by men of power in order t control people through fear and guilt. There is no value to any religion. The basic concept of “do unto others” is all that is necessary. Live your life as best as you can, and hurt as few people as possible. The rest of it is ridiculous rules that have nothing to do with anything. I feel sorry for any child born into a house of religious extremists.

  16. Monday, 21 June 2010 6:31 pm

    Oh vay. [sigh] “…once they arrived in Canada, Munch and Stabler…” — uh, no, the fictitious little burg of Kehilat Moshe is in upstate New York. Not Canada (check the map that Cragen is pointing to).

    Anyway, on a completely unrelated topic, consider this: I am a Christian and this episode really hit a nerve. As somebody pointed out, the writers throw us a curve-ball at the end and postulate that perhaps the Hassidim of Kehilat Moshe have a good point.

    I have been to synagogue several times in years gone by (Conservative). I always felt good and uplifted at the end of service. Every sermon seemed to present a better world for me than the one I live in. Felt same way tonight.

    I find it interesting that the way the Hassidic Jews, as portrayed in the episode, try and protect their children and deal with public relationships between men and women are very similar to the way some Muslim societies try and live. It seems both Muslims and Jews in traditional Muslim and Jewish communities have some very similar values.

    Go figure.

  17. emily grossman permalink
    Saturday, 10 July 2010 11:05 am

    The name is made up, but I’m pretty sure the town featured on that episode of SVU is based on Kiryas Joel.

  18. jack permalink
    Saturday, 22 January 2011 1:03 am

    this law and order episode was just replayed thursday this week here on israel tv.the way of sheltered life,somewhat restrictive as portrayed is very common in so called”religious” neighborhoods all over israel.israeli arabs have grown used to it as they live side by side for a hundred years now.jewish immigrants from eastern europe and the old soviet union couldn’t care less about strict jewish tradition especially those brought up under orthodox catholic beliefs,not necessarily christian.all around israel there is an air of “tolerant indifference” among the religious and non-religious.’i don’t care what you do on shabat,pls. don’t mind what i do either” so long as you do not disturb or annoy, literally ,the other group in their daily pursuit,then all will be fine.same is true in U.S. and Canada.if only people can keep to themselves all their hidden prejudices and cultural intolerance.but sociologists say familiarity breeds you try to maim or kill your neighbor simply because ‘they don’t look like you” time or another such animosity will be breached violently,as happens here from time to time..look at akko and nahariya especially on yom kipur..

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