Four Pop Culture Artifacts

Here are a number of things on Orthodoxy and pop culture that I have collected in the last few months.

The first is a local Orthodox synagogue that is promoting “a healthy Jewish lifestyle.” The president of the congregation is going on a diet and “asking congregants to make a donation to the synagogue for every pound lost.”

But beyond his “immediate goal to lose weight and bring in extra finances,” he said, what has been achieved is that “a number of people have been inspired to make changes in their own lifestyles and their family’s lifestyle.” He said this is his “most noble goal: that other people get inspired by this.”

He also periodically sponsored a “healthy table” at the synagogue’s kiddush, where people can discuss any issue while nibbling on healthy food.

With the coming of spring, he said, he is organizing fitness walks with congregants.
“We are talking about not only helping the body, but the spirit as well,”
“Weight loss is not only an American obsession; it’s also a mitzva to take care of your body.”
Read the Full Version Here

Second, there was a local fundraiser for Maalah – the religious film school in Jerusalem. The one running it perceptively noted that to be Orthodox and making films is not the American model of Orthodoxy.

“the Maale offers a vision not found in the American Orthodox community.”
“It broadens the possibilities that exist for professional development and creativity for Orthodox young people,” he said. “It shows that there are ways to fulfill one’s creative urge that go perhaps beyond the box of what many Orthodox people think are the possibilities.”
Read the Rest Here

Third, there is an apologetic website for Orthodox Judaism that first paints nasty stereotypes about Orthodox Jews and then using humor tells you they are not true. There is a curious tension there of still being bothered by those horrible stereotypes, which even most non-religious Jews and non-Jews don’t think are true. The site has a conversion from Conservative to Orthodox orientation and is supported by Maayim Bialek as a poster child for Orthodoxy. But notice the nature of her Orthodoxy that does not observe second day Rosh Hashanah but still thinks she needs to tell people that Orthodoxy is not anti-science.

[I]n the forthcoming episode for which Bialik was filmed, “How do I convey to people that the science that I’ve studied fits in with the Jewish beliefs that I hold dear?”

Bialik said that her desire to wear skirts rather than pants has mostly meshed with the socially-challenged character she plays on “The Big Bang Theory.”

“There was an episode where the character had to wear a casual outfit and the producers said, ‘You’re going to be wearing a sweat suit.’ They allowed me to wear a long shirt over it.

“I don’t have enough power to walk away from the job. Did I get off for the first day of Rosh HaShanah? Yes. The second day? No.”

After her character drunkenly kissed her “non-boyfriend” boyfriend, she received an e-mail from a fan: “I thought Amy was shomer negiah — that she didn’t touch men.”
Replied Bialik: “I thought so too until I got the script.”
Read the Rest Here

Finally, before Passover as I was eating my pre-holiday last chometz meal of pizza and read the free magazines given out in the pizza place. I found a magazine for Orthodox youth put out by the OU called Ignite. What caught my eye was that Rabbi Steven Burg was the only dvar Torah in the issue that was entirely dedicated to how to have fun with pop-culture: laser tag, hiking, karate lessons, karaoke, water-skiing.
But the dvar Torah was truly memorable. It was on the verse “You shall be holy” and the interpretation of Nachmanides.

The Ramban tells us there that this means to elevate ourselves in that which is permitted. It’s all too easy to teach teens to avoid everything but that doesn’t prepare then for life. Rather, NCSY empowers teens by providing them with the skills to discern the kodesh from the chol, the holy from the mundane, and where possible, to elevate the mundane to new spiritual levels.

The dvar Torah stated that according to Nachmanides we have to be holy in all aspects of our lives and embrace the world of popular culture. Not to avoid the secular world but to choose the good and wherever possible make the secular holy. Yet, we have to make sure to take the good and avoid the bad. What made this memorable was that Nachmanides’ own comment was even if you keep the Torah you can still be a glutton with the Torah’s permission, there one needs to sanctify oneself even with the permitted, being puritan with food, sex, and engagement with the world. Here we have the new theologies of “Eyn od Milvado” – everything can be sanctified connected back to sources that said the opposite.

4 responses to “Four Pop Culture Artifacts

  1. The OU Youth magazine is Ignite, and you can find a link to it on

    • Thank you Duvi. It has been updated.
      As a side point, I found your comment in my spam catcher. You may want to find out if mailings from your .org are getting picked up by spam catchers.

  2. As a former NCSYer, most of the content of the new NCSY magazine could have fit in the national NCSY newletter of 1981 — though we had more people at our Upstate New York shabbatonim than they have today. Skimming through, Ignite seems to be mixing chapter activities that are fun — rafting — and spiritual — Rosh Hashanah minyanim.

    This is not to say that the theology has not shifted. If I get you a vintage shmuez from Raphael Butler or Yitz Rosenbaum, will you analyze it?

  3. In terms of weight loss programs, I saw an article in Ami magazine about a group of men in Lakewood who got together and competed with each other in a Biggest Loser style weight loss program. The founder of this group is now marketing it throughout the community. Interestingly enough, they even got rabbinic approval to bet on themselves to win. Pop culture is influencing the lakewood community as well.

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