Sunday, December 25, 2005

Not My Judaism

So last night (Christmas Eve), I went down to the university campus, to watch Ushpizin. We were in a tiny theater that seats fewer people than my Dad's old Buick and, needless to say, the audience was listening and the audience was Jewish. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.

It's a beautiful movie, infused with spirit, and wonderfully acted. And I, personally, think it has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism.

Sorry, folks. Not my Judaism.

In my Judaism, if you are poor, unemployed, and living in squalor, when $1,000 drops "min hashamayim" into your lap, you go enroll in technical school and get yourself some skills so you can get a J-O-B.

That's right. It isn't about relying on G-O-D. Because G-O-D gave us brains that can calculate Pi, arms to lift things, legs to move around, and the heart to go out into the world and get things done. So move it! Get a job!

I'm sorry. I should be more accepting. They are Breslau. They live by faith. Someone has to.

Someone has to?

No. Our avot and amahot did not live by faith. Avraham and Yaakov built wells, herded sheep, built communities. They were active forces in the world. They were not secluded in a slum, impoverished, desperate. Is that what God wants? For us to do nothing, to cry like babies to Him for every little thing?

The world is a growing environment. We have everything we need right here. Everything to make our lives worthwhile. It's crazy to think our role is just to sit and say Tehilim, that that is what our Creator wants from us. No. I don't believe that for a second.

When my stepkids ask me questions, I often say: "Look it up. You can find the answer." When they ask me for things, I say: "Get it yourself." Am I a mean stepmother? Maybe so, but I don't see any point in raising lazy kids. Why would God want anything different from his own children? You need money? Figure out how to get it. (It's no big secret.) You want to have a baby with your wife? Quit smoking, your sperm count will go up.

All right. It's their life and they are free to live it as they choose. It is moving and makes a beautiful fable of faith and hope, but it's not real to me. And the deeper question is -- Is it real Judaism?

ADDENDUM: The question was raised in a comment at my blog whether it is necessary or appropriate to discuss the vision of Judaism in the movie. It's a good movie, so why not leave it at that? Well, I don't know. Probably seeing it here in Texas affects me as well. So few Jews here, and so few Jewish movies shown, that there is a sense that each one may be seen as standing for the whole. That probably is an unfair burden to place on any movie. On the other hand, this particular movie seems designed to engender discussion on matters of faith and belief. Or am I just reading that into it?


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Mirty: i don't think the movie was intended to be a "real" story or imply that "Ushpizin" is reality.

Some parts of the movie were very real - the sukka being stolen, people buying an Etrog for an outrageous sum of money when they barely have food on the table, the criminals...

I don't think that the actors honestly believe that the movie was a blueprint for "real Judaism."

After all, in real life, they are super careful to warn everyone that viewing the movie illegally (downloading it for example) is considered halachik theft. They certainly aren't leaving their copyright protection purely in the hands of the Al-mighty


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

That was my reaction when I saw the movie too.

I believe in Free Will, not Breslovian Predeterminism.

Lyss said...

I've not seen the film, but I think you make a good point. G-d gave us smarts and we should use them to better ourselves and our community.

elf's DH said...

I haven't seen the film, but this is driving me nuts: The plural of av is avot. :-)

PsychoToddler said...

I haven't seen the movie either. Never been impressed by Israeli moviemaking. I'll get around to it. Actually, reminds me of how people went gaga over "The Gods must be Crazy" in the 80s. I went to see it and thought it was one of the dumbest movies I had ever seen.

More to the point. Is this the first time you've encountered this mindset? Don't work and Hashem will provide? I've been ranting about it for years. It is surely NOT the ideal of Orthodox Judaism. It is a perversion. You are correct. The AVOT worked for a living. As did Rashi, Rambam, and all the great Rabbis of our past. They did not rely on handouts, and we should not teach our children that it is acceptible as long as they perform the mitzvot.

We Jews are capable of quite a lot if we are willing to work for it.

Doctor Bean said...

Totally agree.

(Except for I thought "The Gods Must be Crazy" was hillarious.)

The problem is that we support this G-d-will-provide mindset every time we donate to charities that support such communities. In effect, we're the god that is providing! That's why I never give to frum guys who go door-to-door for tzedaka and never give to Israeli charities unless I'm sure I know what their about. We mostly give through our shul. Countless Israeli tax dollars and American charity dollars go to support communities who should get a job.

Pragmatician said...

Why the tears? It isn't a particularly sad movie.
Anyway you make a terrific point, there’s no use escaping the landlord if next time when the 1000$ are used up he will come again but that nice 1000$ man won't.
Good point about the smoking, it’s so typical, crying about a problem but do nothing concrete to help it, not to mention that smoking is a costly habit.
But then again, one would have to be a complete ignoramus to believe that any movie actually portrays real life situations

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses. I usually temper my statements more, but, this time, I had a strong reaction and I went with it.

elf's dh - I corrected the plural of "av". Those feminine / masculine nouns always trip me up. ;)

Jameel - True, it's just a movie, not real. But I have read other bloggers responding to it with, "Oh, if only I had such faith!" So it seems that some take it as an inspiration, though probably not as a blueprint.

PT - The production values were excellent and overall, as a movie, it's impressive. Israeli movie-making seems to be improving.

Also, it's been a while since I encountered that 'don't work' mindset. I guess in the interim, I had fallen into idealizing those communities. Seeing it up close and gritty... oy.

Pragmatician - You didn't cry? All the close-ups on Mali's eyes, the prayers, the desperation? ... Were you that guy snoring during "Steel Magnolias"? ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, reading some more movie reviews I see that several do call it a comedy. I would have called it drama. Or maybe comic-drama. Dromedary?

Probably seeing it in Texas affects me as well. So few Jews here, and few Jewish movies, that there is a sense that each one may be seen as standing for the whole.

yitz said...

In the old days, when something had to be translated, say from Hebrew to English, and it somehow didn't come out right, we used to say, "Something got lost in the translation."

I could say exactly the same about this movie. This movie is made by Israelis, for Israelis about Israelis, etc. etc. It captures something about Israeli-baal teshuva-Breslov culture that just doesn't exist in America.

Yes, they are far from perfect, they have their foibles and I don't believe for a minute that they are trying to convince anyone that they must live their lives this way. But they do exhibit an extraordinary faith and closeness to Hashem that just ain't found, usually, in America.

Get up and work? Don't smoke? Mirty, I couldn't agree with you more. Having been in Israel for almost 25 years, I am quite aware of the down sides of some parts of the religious community. [Don't worry, the other parts have their down sides too. Only I'm perfect! :)) Me and Jameel, that is!]

So, sit back & relax and enjoy the Ushpizin, and don't take it so seriously! And come visit Israel & learn what the day-to-day struggles here are all about.

Shalom from Yerushalayim, G-d's Holy City!

Unknown said...

Mirty, I think you're both 100% correct and missing something in this post. The movie itself was excellent, and contrary to the points of many commenters, does portray real-life correctly. But you have to remember that it portrays the real lives of Charedim, not the rest of us. I was very much reminded of my own cousins when I saw the movie (except the smoking - mine don't, which may explain the 24 kids in 3 families ;) ).

Your complaints about the movie have nothing to do with the movie per se, but rather with the lifestyles many [not nearly all] charedim live. The movie, which was actually very well-made (PT!), did an excellent job of going inside the Breslov community and exposing viewers to it. It might not be the life we'd lead, or even think we should - but it's on the money.

Will Pillage For Yarn said...

well, regarding your addendum? I think it is necessary and appropriate to discuss whatever you feel is relevant in your own blog.

Anonymous said...

The music of the movie was excellent too, including the closing version of "Gesher Tsar Me'od."

Though I thought it was strange, at one point in the film, we see Mali's mouth moving and hear a man's voice singing the words. I guess, perhaps, that was done to avoid Kol Isha?

Maya Resnikoff said...

If it's where I think it is, I thought she was singing along to a tape, and it was so loud that we couldn't hear her. And I think when Moshe comes in, he turns off the tape before she can hear him... Does that sound right?

Ayelet said...

She was lip-syncing to the radio/stereo. I totally agree with you about the "get a job" reaction. I posted similar thoughts at May Cuties: Guests. I don't agree with Ezzie - I consider myself charedi. This aint nothin' like my life. I do have a job because my husband devotes himself to learning and not having a plan for getting food on the table and paying rent would be irresponsible. And praying is not a plan.
That said, I did love the way the actors exuded real warmth and love for eachother without having any physical contact whatsoever onscreen. People often express wonder (? word choice) that my husband and I don't engage in any public displays of affection - not even holding hands, hugging, sitting very close, etc. The movie treats the intimate relationship between husband and wife with the respect and modesty that such a precious treasure deserves, in my opinion.

Stacey said...

Mirty, it was awesome reading something where you didn't hold back.

I have not seen this movie, but have wanted to ever since I first heard about it and hope to in the next few weeks.

I have a feeling I will have a very similar opinion as yours. I'll let you know.

Unknown said...

She was singing along to the tape - she looks surprised that it shut off, and you see his hand on the tape player...

I should clarify, in response to Ayelet: My brother is devoted to learning (and is good friends with Ayelet's husband) - but that was not what I was referring to [and not at all what I mean by charedi]. Our cousins in E"Y are charedi, and this reminded me very much of their lives: Small apartment, very little money, often not knowing where money was coming from. The wives have jobs, but it is still hard to make ends meet sometimes, even if it's not as bad as this theatric case.

Great point about the not touching, and the warmth: My wife loves to mention how it was wonderful seeing the affection they have for each other despite no physicality, which combats the view many seem to have about charedim viewing women as objects. A friend had a great comment: "It's the first time I remember seeing a movie without sex, violence, or swearing - and enjoying it. It's good to know it CAN be done."

A Simple Jew said...


I agree with much of what Yitz wrote above. I found the movie to be amazingly powerful and inspiring. I did not walk away with the feeling that I should go quit my job. I know we all need to do our part as well.

I think it is amusing when people write about "Breslovian predeterminism" since Rebbe Nachman of Breslov never originated such a concept.

"Breslov predeterminsim" is really Divine Providince a concept that exists with both Chasidim and Misnagdim. The Baal Shem Tov stressed this concept long before his great grandson, Rebbe Nachman.

Miss S. said...

I don't agree for several reasons; but the main one is the time frame of the movie. 1 week not to mention that it is also yontif. Now I'm not Chassidic; but I do have something in common with the Moshe & Mali - I'm not rich. And sometimes you just get "bad bouts". For example when Hurricane Wilma came through Erev Simchat Torah, I needed to take around $150 to stock up on supplies. No this is after Sukkos where I spent $100 on things for yontif. Put that on top of losing 3 days of work, and that was a significant dent in my budget. Hence my December rent was 20 days late, quite a few bills didn't get paid, and I had to use my credit card to buy Chanukkah supplies. Every day I daven; and while I don't ask for money, I thank Hashem for his help in ways that I can't see. For example, my landlord never hounded me for the rent, my electricity is still on, etc.

So why if you are the type to pray with kavannah and stop trying to control everything in the world, you are looked upon as a fool? Blessings come to us all the time, but it is up to us to recognize it as such. Before I became religious, if someone almost hit me on the road, I would roll down the window and cuss them out. Now if someone almost hits me, I am thankful that I am not dead and my car was not damaged. Is the glass half empty or half-full?

As far as "doing something" it's pretty obvious that the characters in Ushpizin did a lot. Moshe was a baal teshuva and learned and recieved smicha. Mali was trying to sell some goods she had. Showing them filling out job applications and reconciling bank statements would have been seriously off-topic in this film. Dirt poor or not, all relgious Jews recognize that you can work and try and struggle until you are blue in the face, and sometimes things still don't go your way. It's all in the will of Hashem; so what wrong with "going to the source" sometimes?

Anonymous said...

phone number lookup

site said...

Oh my god, there's a lot of effective material in this post!