Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
You probably haven’t received a question like this before or at least
formulated in this way, but this is something I see as a major problem
of a theological nature – What happened to the laughter,
Entertainment, Art and natural existence.
The problem is both intellectual and the same time emotional. I’ll
preface it simply with the statement I love movies.. I love art,
literature, satire, comedy, commentary on existence, philosophy. But
yet, in my understanding of Judaism, all these pleasures are
“forbidden”, “assur”, and quite frankly it makes me depressed.
Is there no place for a movie like Pulp Fiction, comedy like Curb your
Enthusiasm, Richard Pryor, or
Sacha Baron Cohen the philosophy of Satre, the great works of
roman/greak art in the Torah? Everything thing is forbidden either due
to its sexual nature, because of “bad” language or because the topic
But there is a double standard…. we are starting the book of
Genesis, where story after story is graphic, gory and x-rated
• You have the rape of Eve by the serpent
• The murder of Cain by Abel
• The rape and castration of Noah by his son
• The rape of Dinah and the subsequent revenge,
• The near pack rape of Lot and his friends by an angry mob and the
subsequent offer of his daughters as a “peace offering”?
Why is there the double standard? Why is contemporary Judaism so
prudish, trying to create an artificially sanitised world disconnected
from the experiences of the rest of mankind? Why does it have to be
such absolutes, why is there no room for grey, subtlety, balance? Why
are television/movies and literature out of bounds, but yet the Torah
is free to delve and describe the full extent of existence?
Why does contemporary Judaism make life frigid and dull?
I look forward to your comments.
Some source material for your interest that inspired this letter
Firstly I must apologize for the very long delay in my writing to you. I read your letter with great attentiveness, and I also reviewed the article you sent about the absence of “fun” in Modern Orthodoxy.
Let me tell you how I see it. I will quote a parable the Lubavitcher Rebbe once shared with Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks (quoted in his book A Letter of the Scroll). The latter was afraid of going to study in yeshiva, where he might be forced to abandon his love for Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Hegel, Kant, Emerson and Dickens. He shared this fear with the Lubavithcer Rebbe. Here was the Rebbe’s response:
Imagine two people whose job it is to carry stones. That’s what they do for a living, they carry stones. One of them carries big sacks of building material, the other one carries little pouches of diamonds.
Imagine now you give each of these people a bag of emeralds, how do they respond? The person who spent his whole life carrying heavy building materials looks at this sack of emeralds and thinks,
‘Another burden,’ whereas the person who carries diamonds knows the stones are precious, so when you give him emeralds, he says, ‘Well those aren’t diamonds, but they certainly are precious stones.’ They’re not like mine, but I have to value them and take care of them.
So it is with “fun,” sensuality and beauty. If you really learn to appreciate the Divine core of existence, the G-dly energy in every person, in every encounter and in every existence, then you will be far more sensitive to the music, the depth, the beauty, the majesty, the positivity inherent in sensuality and in aesthetics. The more you learn Torah, the more you develop a Torah perspective on life, the more you can appreciate culture, the arts and even sensual pleasures. Because if you are used to diamonds, you will notice the emeralds.
On the contrary, when one is entrenched only in “stones,” in the very brute layers of life, they night not even notice the glittering emeralds; their appreciation of the fun aspects of life will be far more superficial and empty.
Rael, it may be that many a Torah Jew do not appreciate this truth, but I think it is true: A deeper connection to Torah allows for even more “fun” and more appreciation of the emeralds in secular culture, literature and the arts. True, the Torah seeks to fine tune our depth, our sincerity, our sense of responsibility, our soulfulness, our spiritual and soulful yearnings; but when one does become in touch with this side of himself, he comes to appreciate more, not less, those aspects in secular culture and art which are truly life-enhancing, educational and inspiring. As far as the “filth” often present in the arts, this the Torah indeed rejects, but I think for good reason as it does not contribute to the welfare of civilization and to individual people growing up saturated with this filth. We want even our fun to be refined, meaningful and life-affirming.
The fact that many religious Jews don’t understand this today, is sad, but it does not take away from the truth of what Torah is really all about.
Regarding the book of Genesis: Of course the Torah deals with all of the corruption and sagas of human affairs. The question is what are its conclusions. The Torah talks about all of this in its objective to teach of the basis of moral behavior and the responsibility to sometimes curb our instincts for the will of the soul which is one with G-d.
Rabbi YY Jacobson
Rabbi, Bais Shmuel Congregation
30 Broad Street. 44th Flr | NY, NY 10004
347.625.1700 | www.theyeshiva.net