Sunday, January 20, 2008

Myths About Judaism in Movies and Television

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that there are two types of Jews: Hassidic Jews (black coats and hats) and secular Jews (Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld).

The truth is that ...

There are entire ranges of Jews who almost never appear on your TV screen, including Sephardic Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, Hippie Jews, Ignorant Jews, Cultural Jews, and many others types.

If you believed movies and television ...

You might think that all Hassidic Jews dance around a lot, have poor social skills, talk only to other Hassidic Jews, and work in the diamond industry.

The truth is that ...

Hassidim work in many different ares, study part- or full-time, and some are not always deliriously happy to sing and dance every Friday night. Many are capable of having intelligent conversations, like anyone else. Many of them are quite educated about the world, too.

If you believed movies and television ...

You might think all non-Hassidic Jews' relation to Judaism is holding a Passover seder, lighting a menorah, not eating ham, and hiding their Jewish boyfriends or girlfriends from their mothers.

The truth is that ...

Some keep no traditions, some keep many, some wear special clothes, some don't. Some are fanatic, some are withdrawn. Just like everyone else.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that Jews always throw Yiddish words or expressions into their conversations. What a shainda!

The truth is that ...

Puh-lease.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that all Jews eat nothing but lox, bagels, cholent, and kugel.

The truth is that ...

Some Jews cook these on occasion, but many are as likely to cook any style of food: American, Chinese, French, Spanish, Mexican, Indian, you name it. Not to mention that those traditional Eastern European foods are pretty rich in oil and sugar and now less acceptable in today's health consciousness.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that kosher wine means overly sweet bad wine.

The truth is that ...

Manischevitz is still selling crap wine, but there are wonderful dry and semi-dry full-bodied kosher wines coming out of Israel, France, California, Argentina, Australia, and Chile, to name a few countries.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that kosher food means a Rabbi blesses it.

The truth is that ...

Kosher food is nearly entirely based around not eating certain animals, ensuring the animals we eat were healthy and killed quickly, ensuring that we do not eat any blood, and not mixing meat and milk.

In order to ensure that other products aren't contaminated with ingredients derived from the above sources in this age of additives, Jews who keep kosher try to buy products that had Rabbinic supervision at the plant. The Rabbi works rather like how a USDA inspector works, simply ensuring that non-kosher ingredients aren't sneaked into the foods as a cost-saving measure.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that whenever we make a blessing over something - wine, challah, candle lighting - that we say it in a broken and crying voice, perhaps longing for the days of our little villages in Russia.

The truth is that ...

We say blessings thankfully, devotedly, rotely, laughingly, haltingly, lovingly, silently, loudly, or however we feel depending on who we are, what we know, and how we are feeling that day.

And there were no good days in those little villages, by the way.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that Hannukah is a celebration of family, love, and tolerance towards our fellow Jews.

The truth is that ...

Hannukah is a celebration about religious Jews killing or driving out all the Greeks and Hellenized Jews (Jews who assimilated to Greek culture). So much for the season of tolerance and togetherness.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that all Jewish laws have to do with strange rituals and service to God.

The truth is that ...

Well, some do. But more than half of Jewish laws have to do with how we should treat other people, and are considered just as important, and often more important, than the other laws.

On the other hand, our devotion to God is also important, and not to be thrown away to make others feel comfortable.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that synagogue is a place where a cantor prays on behalf of everyone, like a church.

The truth is that ...

This is true for some Reform synagogues, but most Conservative and all religious synagogues are not like this. The cantor, or whomever is leading the service which could be any Joe Shmulik who gets volunteered into service, coordinates everyone to be on the same page. He doesn't pray for you; Jews pray directly to God without intervention.

If you believed movies and television ...

Jews are either very rich or very poor.

The truth is that ...

They can be, as well as every other economic means in between, like everyone else.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that everyone is happier when a Jew finally compromises his religion and gives in to love.

The truth is that ...

I, at least, abhor these stories. Which doesn't mean that I don't believe in love.

If you believed movies and television ...

You would think that lots of the best comedians are Jewish.

The truth is that ...

You're right.

8 comments:

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Fantastic post! Thank you for helping us see beyond the stereotypes.

Archangel said...

Well said! I often feel the same way about Christianity. Hollywood and the media tend to always have an angle/agenda that might not always line up with the "whole" truth.

Anonymous said...

Love your post! Needs to be posted on all hate sites where antizionists and judeophobes gather.

Soccer Dad said...

In comic books, Orthodox Jews used to be portrayed as being adept at Kabbalah. I don't know if that's still the case.

About the only authentic Orthodox Jewish character I can think of on Prime Time was the DA on the Trial of Rosie O'Neil.

Various editions of Law and Order have portrayed Orthodox Jews as openly frequenting strip clubs and heading out to day labor sites to club Hispanic immigrants.

Yehuda said...

Mark, Arch, Anon: My pleasure.

Soccer D: The only redeemable Jewish character I can remember is in the movie Manhattan Project.

The main character ends up at a science fair and runs into a group of other people, one whom has a kippah.

This participant takes part in the conversation and activity, and not a single word or action references the fact that he has a kippah. He's treated and acts like any other human being.

I wish I could see a lot more representations like that.

Yehuda

Anonymous said...

You forgot how they all love Barbara Streisand.

I don't know if you ever saw the TV show "the Nanny" but it had lots of Jewish stereotypes in it.

And then there is the show NCIS where one of the characters is a Mossad agent temporary on loan to them. One of the stereotypes (or perhaps the truth) is that Jews make the best secret agents and that that Mossad is perhaps even better than MI5 and the CIA.

nkabak said...

Interesting post. However in your remarks about wine, please add New Zealand to your list of excellent kosher wines producing countries.

NMK Wellington, NZ

Chris said...

Yehuda:

I loved this, even if I think you're too mean to Hannukah. :) I suppose Jewish atheists would be "Cultural jews"?

It always troubles me when people, especially Christians, don't realise that Jesus' teachings were clarifying *existing* Jewish teachings about love for humanity.

Best wishes!