By Lauren Isaacs
The new Netflix series, “My Unorthodox Life,” is a reality show about a former religious Jewish woman and her family, and the current secular lives that they live. The show’s main character describes her harrowing journey from religious Jew in a somewhat closed community to entrepreneur, model agent aficionado, and all-around female superstar.
If you’re looking for reality TV entertainment, this show has got everything you could possibly want: good looking characters, an exorbitantly wealthy family with butlers and assistants doing their every bidding, plenty of sex talk, sexual innuendos, and sex toys, as well as castles, horseback riding, and a main character who shows so much cleavage that she may as well be topless. As a reality TV program, it does not break from the traditionally predictable trash of the genre.
However, this show does not only claim to be simply Kardashian-like in its style, inasmuch as the characters do give off that vibe. The show, in fact, purports to be about a woman who moved away from religious Judaism because of apparent oppression. This is the part of the show to which I take extreme exception.
Now, before anyone criticizes my criticism and says that the main character is only speaking for a fringe sect of Judaism, let me go right ahead and tell you that she is not. The main character’s story implicates, impugns and indicts all Jews. She accuses all Orthodox Judaism (ergo mainstream Judaism) of egregious crimes including oppression, sexism, brainwashing, and fundamentalism. The show is not called “My Fringe Sect Life”… it is called “My Unorthodox Life.” She is, therefore, pointing the accusatory finger at all mainstream Orthodox Jews (millions and millions of them). And she does not deny this throughout the show. She makes absolutely no qualms about her distaste and derision for practicing Jews.
As a religious Orthodox Jew, I am angered, outraged, and affronted at the lies and anti-Jewish propaganda spewed over the course of this show. The show is laden with anti-religious and anti-Jewish rhetoric throughout, and, of course, there are also a variety of not-so-subtle outright lies about Judaism.
For example, at different points in the show the main character states that girls/women in Orthodox Judaism are forbidden to run, dance, sing, play sports, or even drive cars. As an Orthodox Jew, I know that these are blatant falsehoods, but to the rest of the world, this sounds like compelling, perfectly plausible, and hence damning evidence that Judaism is oppressive, exactly the idea of which the main character is trying to convince the audience.
I take exception to this show as a religious Jew for four main reasons:
1. There are numerous lies about Judaism peppered throughout the show.
2. The main character desires to pull Jews away from Judaism.
3. The show itself is a Chilul Hashem – a denigration of God’s name.
4. This show causes fracturing and disunity in the Jewish world.
I won’t go into too much detail with regard to the blatant lies in this show. If you can muster the wherewithal to watch it (though I would not recommend it), for practicing Jews the lies are self-evident. For non-Jews, a little research and consultation with Jewish leaders (Rabbis or Rebbitzens) might be necessary. Just to be clear, Orthodox Jewish women can do all the abovementioned activities, including driving cars. I do not know why the main character says what she says, but it seems that she could be confusing Islamic Shariah Law – wherein women have no rights – with mainstream Judaism. In mainstream Judaism, in fact, women are said to be on a higher spiritual level than men, and must be treated accordingly. Judaism affords all rights, freedoms, and respect to women, and as a religious woman myself, I’d never wish to be part of any other religion, as my rights in any other religion would certainly be fewer than those in Judaism. Women are revered in mainstream Judaism.
Beyond the outright lies, it becomes clear during the show that one of the main character’s goals in life is to pull Jews away from Judaism. In one episode, the main character meets with a young Jewish woman who is unsure about the extent of her religiosity and how she wants to be affiliated. The main character does everything in her power to convince this confused girl that being a religious Jew is “bad” and being a secular, unaffiliated, assimilated Jew is the correct choice. The main character goes so far as to give the confused woman a makeover, dressing her in pants (typically not worn by religious Jewish women), and handing her a vibrator sex toy.
The main character’s desire to ensure that Jews remain non-religious is unambiguous and quite honestly, frightening in its resolve. When she left Judaism (for all intents and purposes), she did not only do it as a personal choice. She took her children away from their religious community as well. While some may say that her oldest daughter made the decision to leave the community on her own as she was around 20 years old at the time, the main character’s two younger children were definitely influenced and pressured by their mother’s actions.
Yes, extremely pressured. Her 14-year-old son is the only remaining religious Jew among her children, as presented in the show. He is also the only member of the family (aside from her much-maligned and seldom-seen ex-husband) who shows respect and deference for Judaism, which I think speaks volumes, considering the fact that he is only 14 years old. During the show, the main character and this boy’s mother calls her young religious son a brainwashed fundamentalist, ludicrous, and crazy, all in attempts to pull him away from Judaism as is her modus operandi. The religious son insists on observing Shabbat laws, eating strictly Kosher, davening (praying), refraining from touching girls, and refusing to watch TV. His mother, however, does everything in her power to dissuade him from doing these things, and shames and embarrasses him in her seemingly ceaseless quest to distance Jews from Judaism. The most uplifting and only redeemable moment in the entire show is when she asks her son why he won’t break Shabbat and why he won’t touch girls and why he won’t behave as she does. His answer is “Because I’m a Jew”.
This awe-inspiring moment and his words are so incredibly powerful. Jews all over the world need to take a lesson from the strength of character of this child. His commitment to Judaism, his respect for the faith, and his unyielding connection to Hashem is indescribably inspiring. He has convictions and, thank God, at 14 years old knows right from wrong, while his mother apparently still needs to figure that out.
As stated before, this show is sadly a Chilul Hashem – a desecration of God’s name. Even if the main character felt that Judaism or certain aspects of the religion weren’t right for her, she could have left the faith quietly, behaved in whichever manner she personally wished, and not desecrated God’s name in public. But she didn’t keep her business to herself. Whether for money, power, popularity, or something else, she chose to air her dirty laundry in public and desecrate God’s name and Judaism for the entire world to see, through the use of a Netflix special.
You don’t need to be a Rebbitzen to know that making fun of Judaism and besmirching it on national TV in front of hundreds of millions of people is categorically wrong. Where is her self-awareness and concern for her fellow Jews? This isn’t about being a good Jew… this is about being a good person. The fact that this main character thinks it appropriate and acceptable to go on TV and make fun of the Jewish shoe-tying Halacha, for example, is a disgrace.
Yes, in Judaism we have rules and guiding principles for everything. One such law is in regard to tying our shoes. This halacha is intrinsically beautiful. What it does is bring meaning to the mundane. There is no other religion in the world wherein godliness, spirituality, and connection is involved in simplicities such as tying shoes. In essence, it is a beautiful religion and connects every Jewish action back to Hashem.
However, even if I were not a religious Jew, I would be aware that it is improper to make fun of this practice in front of the entire world. What was her desired outcome in belittling this Jewish practice on national television? She knew that it would only make Jews look bad. There is no other possible outcome of making fun of this halacha publicly, and therefore she displays not only a lack of self-awareness, but contempt for Judaism as a religion and extreme disrespect for all her fellow Jews around the world (not to mention God Himself).
In sum, this show has the potential to cause disunity amongst Jews around the world. Whether the main character of this show likes it or not, we are one family – the Jewish family. Jewish people struggle with so much on a daily basis – Antisemitism, assimilation, finding our voice in public spaces, defending Israel, and so much more. We struggle with enough as Jews already. We do not need this woman further fracturing our communities and harming Judaism from within (or from without, as the case may be).
Now more than ever, Jews need to unite and stand strong against our enemies. Now more than ever, we need to connect to our ancient Jewish roots and cleave to our traditions. Now more than ever, we need to support Zionism and empower the next generation to be connected and proud Jews. Now more than ever, we do not need trashy reality TV falsely defaming and slandering Judaism.
Why do you and I, and indeed the whole Jewish community, need to come together and speak out about this affront to Judaism? Well, as her young son says: “because I am a Jew”.
Lauren Isaacs is the National Director of Herut Canada. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education. Its U.S. website is https://herutna.org/ and its Canadian website is https://herutcanada.ca/