Opinion: “My Unorthodox Life” – Is it Racism?

Opinion: “My Unorthodox Life” – Is it Racism?
Opinion: “My Unorthodox Life” – Is it Racism?

NEW YORK (By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)- When our great-grandparents came off the boat from Tzarist Russia in the early twenties, some were lucky enough to get a job selling fabric on the East Side of Manhattan.  The salespeople would roll out the fabric in preparation for the day’s sales, and place a brass tack every half a yard.  At the point of sale, they would count the brass tacks that were lifted up to make that sale.  That practice gave rise to an expression that meant essentially, “Let’s get serious, right to the heart of the issue.”

So, let’s get down to “brass tacks.”

There is no question that the new Netflix series entitled, “My Unorthodox Life” is spewing a vicious form of hatred designed to cast observant Jewry in a hideously negative light.

Julia Haart, the executive producer of her own show, claims that she felt imprisoned by the strictures of an oppressive community – the “alleged” oppression in Yeshivesh, Monsey, New York. She claimed that women have no identity or role outside of their husbands and that they are only “baby-makers.”  Orthodox Jews are labelled as “dangerous.”

It is an utter lie designed to appall women and those unfamiliar with religious Jews.  All one has to do is look at another equally observant community – Lakewood, New Jersey – to see the utter falsehood of her entire edifice.

Lakewood, New Jersey has thousands of female entrepreneurs, yes female, who have remained steadfast in their observance and take remarkable pride in their religion.  Monsey has them as well.  It is well-known that the community in which she came from affords numerous paths to advanced education.  Her community is filled with OTs, PTs, speech therapists, nurses, nurse practitioners, PAs, and more.

Julia Haart chose not to pursue such an education. 

She further chose to abandon the noble ideals of Judaism, of universal brotherhood, of peace, of moral growth, and threw these ideals to the wind.  She exchanged it all for the temptations of living with a billionaire gentile, the “glamourous” career of objectifying women, a la Harvey Weinstein, via the fashion runway where scantily clad women walk down with her designer shoes, and to fulfill the desire to eat porcine and Norwegian Lobster cuisine.

But all that was her exercise of free choice.  Judaism believes in freedom of choice – there is a special word for it in Jewish theology.  It is called “bechira.”

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his “Derech Hashem” (Chapter 1) explains, in a nutshell, that G-d is the Ultimate Giver.  But reward must be earned – not given freely.  Reward is earned by making correct choices – by choosing good over evil.

And that is the problem with both Julia Haart and with Netflix.  Both have chosen evil over good.

Her entire tone is a vociferous attack on observant Judaism and is classical racism.  Viewers have reported that she is inventing lessons allegedly taught in religious Jewish schools.  Ask around.  No one uses terminology such as “burning in hell” to discuss the lofty ideals of modesty.  This is bigotry and racism all wrapped in one.

And highlighting a negative story while ignoring a positive story is also a form of bigotry and racism.  Take, for example, Beatie Deutsch, a marathon runner and Orthodox mother of five.

Recently, she is quoted by the Times of Israel in her post as writing, “Like Julia, I come from a warm, loving Orthodox community. I’m a proud mother of five, but I’ve been able to pursue a career that is rewarding and meaningful to me.”  She notes that Netflix turned down an opportunity to show a film about her life story. “Netflix will probably never share my story because I’m not controversial or scandalous enough. Because I’m happy and proud of the life I live.”

It brings to light Netflix’s racism.

Make no mistake.  Racism, all forms of it, is evil.  And whether we make television shows depicting black people, Asian people, Native-American people, Muslim people, and yes, religious Jewish people, as provincial, or hopelessly insular, or uneducated, or whatever other fault you wish to paint them all with – that is racism with a capital R.

INCORRECTLY JUSTIFYING HER ACTIONS

Some have tried to justify Julia Haart’s racism and bigotry by saying that it is relatively common to justify one’s own religious straying by finding fault with the practitioners and observers of their religion.  And wouldn’t you find it tempting if you had married a gentile billionaire who owned two of the three companies that you worked for?

Over time, those who either embraced another religion or married out of their faith developed rationalizations and justifications for their own straying. This, in turn, gave birth to a plethora of lies and myths about Jews.  Lies and myths that still stand today, and are now being regurgitated by both Haart and Netflix.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Many of the heads of Roman Christian society, originally Jews who rejected their religious heritage, were instrumental in the blaming of Jews for the social ills that plagued the world.  We were the “Other.”  We were the ones who killed “Jsus.”  We were in league with the devil.  We were the local heretics that became the victims of the Crusades. We caused the Black Death.

And Netflix, the media entertainment conglomerate, is playing into her hand – promoting and promulgating hate, ridicule, and racism.

CHECKS AND BALANCES

The founders of this nation were very wise in ensuring that one of the checks and balances over the evils that governments are capable of – is the freedom of the press.  That is why they enshrined this freedom in the Constitution itself. In modern times, for good or for bad, the press is not just news but also the entertainment media – of which Netflix plays a substantive role.

But the media, doesn’t always check, and it doesn’t always balance.  In this case, by choosing to lambast and ridicule Orthodox Judaism in such a wholesale manner, Netflix is part of the problem – not a resolution to it.

We must cease and desist from promoting racism because it is morally wrong – not just because it is politically incorrect.

In the thirties, making fun of black people was not politically incorrect.  On account of this, Newsweek Magazine reported in its October, 1939 issue that a group of black people were escaping from Warsaw, Indiana because they had heard that the Nazis had invaded.  This was morally reprehensible on Newsweek’s part.

It demonstrated that they cared not a whit as to whether or not their actions were morally deplorable.  They only cared about what was socially acceptable or not – regardless of any underlying morality.

Netflix has made the same grave and unconscionable error.

IS A BOYCOTT IN ORDER?

To rephrase Malcolm X, “Netflix is among the most powerful entities on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

What Netflix is doing is a moral outrage – promoting pure hate, racism, and bigotry.  And they should be called out on it.  And perhaps the best way to do this is to organize a boycott – because when someone is perpetuating a moral wrong, when someone is using a brush to paint everyone in one way – we should not give up.  We should register our disgust and attempt to change that behavior.

(Also, generally speaking, Netflix may not be the most wholesome method of entertainment. Sports, exercise, bicycling, going to the gym, etc. are much healthier endeavors.)

Maybe social media should be used to literally pull the plug on Netflix.  Will they not notice if there is cancellation after cancellation?  We have remarkable people that are called “Instagram Influencers” who may wish to promote this message.  [Perhaps we should also have some sort of place where a count can be kept as to how many cancelled.]

It can perhaps be called “Nix Netflix” or something along those lines.

Some may argue that it is only one group of observant Jews that are under attack.   But this is not the case. The agenda is to step on Kashrus observance, on all that is precious and holy about our Torah.  Let us remember the words of Martin Neimoller, “First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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