Friday, February 17, 2012

Oprah and the Chassidim

After my post last week about gentiles appreciating Jewish values, I was gratified to see that Oprah aired a show this week on "Chassidic Jews" (read: Chabadniks). I obviously did not watch the show on TV (not having a TV at home), but I did find a few clips online, including a post interview interview that you can watch on our community's website.
Oprah, who some call the most influential woman in the world, doesn't need to pander to the Crown Heights Jewish community- most of whom would never watch her show and some of whom have never heard of her (she'd have way more celeb-value with their African-American neighbours). Yet, in her interviews, Oprah is very complimentary of the religious Jewish lifestyle. 
Perhaps it shouldn't take a billionaire TV host to tell us that Judaism is cool, but sometimes that's what we need. In last week's Torah portion, we see the Jews ready to accept the Torah only after Yitro (Moses' father-in-law and leading authority on paganism at the time) came along and acknowledged that his lavish and spiritual lifestyle just didn't match up to Jewish life. Unlike Yitro, you shouldn't expect Oprah to convert to Judaism following her exploration of Chassidism, but her endorsement of Judaism should surely reinforce our commitment to it.
Oprah marvels at the "frum" family life and the value-system those kids that grow up with. She is blown away by their immunity to media influence (she can't believe these youngsters have never heard of Shrek or Beyonce) and their old-style creative play. She's even partial to the laws of family purity, after hearing four religious women describe their personal lives.
Normally, if Oprah endorses it, it sells. Many a book has turned bestseller thanks to her featuring it on her show. It would be wonderful if Torah now would fly off the shelves thanks to her reviews. 
Realistically, I doubt it will.
G-d designed us Jews to be thinkers. We're not wired to naively accept other people's approbations, and we resist lifestyle changes until we have proven their value to ourselves. Ironically, there's more chance of regular Americans exploring Jewish living than of Jews becoming more Jewish thanks to Oprah . 
This week we read "Mishpatim", the section of the Torah that deals with the rational laws of civil society. After all the spiritual hoopla of G-d impressing us at Sinai, He then tones down the inspiration and leaves us to come to terms with our spiritual path on our own. Last week, He wanted us to be blown away by spiritual revelation, this week He wants us to think and absorb it all on a personal level. The Yitros and Oprah's will always be there, but G-d wants us to understand and appreciate the value of Jewish life on our own. 

There is only one way to do this: Learn. Find out more than you think you know about Judaism and you will make an informed- and meaningful- choice to get more involved.

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