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Friday, August 10, 2001 | return to: opinions


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Rather than rip porn channels, let’s channel spirituality

by Stewart Weiss

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For the record, I wish to state that I do not now, nor do I plan to in the future, subscribe to the Playboy Channel. Nor am I an advocate of pornography; I believe it is an affront to all decent people -- particularly women -- as well as a blight on the moral character of the Jewish people.

Having said that, I must tell you that I find the super-charged and overheated efforts of the religious parties to ban smut in the living room just a little bit...obscene.

For one thing, should this really be the No. 1 priority for the self-appointed guardians of our faith? Here we are, in the midst of a violent shooting war, with a steadily escalating body count. We face an implacable enemy dedicated to our destruction. Our meager water supply dwindles while our ministers fiddle about, clueless. Our people may have achieved a modicum of political unity, but they remain theologically polarized; the gap between religious and secular widening daily.

But the holy men of the Knesset have decided that what really matters is stopping the spread of blue movies.

If these purveyors of piety have so much energy and zeal, why not channel it into programs that can really effect a positive spiritual change? Why not open coffeehouses in every city, where frank and open discussions can be held with teenagers about God, about Jewish values versus MTV values? Why not commission the writing of Torah scrolls in every public square, where young people can inscribe their names and experience hands-on Judaism? Why not seek talented programmers and producers to create innovative computer programs and films to reach the unaffiliated at their level, in a language they actually understand?

I believe with absolute faith that now, more than ever, our people are seeking God and searching for spiritual guidance; but, alas, too few of our "professional Jews" are interested in doing anything more than preaching to the converted. In fact, I maintain that whatever good is happening out there happens in spite of the religious power structure, through dedicated rabbis and teachers who go beyond the staid and stale "system" to reach the man in the street.

Above all, we must learn that Judaism is advanced immeasurably more by revealing the beauty of all that is positive in our tradition, rather than by banning that which is objectionable.

A true story to illustrate this point: An observant Jew in New York stopped at a phone booth to make a call and found a small address book on top of the phone. Leafing through the pages, he saw that it was filled with Jewish-sounding names and Jewish institutions. Knowing how sorely a book like that is missed, he was determined to return it to its owner.

But the owner's name was not among the hundreds listed. Frustrated, he kept looking, and finally found the entry, "Mom." Though it was a Florida number, he dialed it. The woman who answered was quite perplexed.

"Why are you calling me?" she asked. "What do you want?"

"I want to locate your daughter, so I can return her book."

"Why?" persisted the woman. "What's in it for you?"

Gently, the man explained. "The only thing 'in it' for me is the mitzvah. I just want to return the book because that's the decent and proper Jewish thing to do."

Reluctantly, the woman gave the man her daughter's phone number. He immediately called the daughter and explained -- much to her amazement -- that he had obtained her number from her mother, and that he would wait for her at the phone booth to return the book. The woman, relieved and grateful, rushed over and thanked the man profusely.

Two weeks later, the man received another phone call from the woman. "I want to thank you so much," she said.

"No need for that," said the man. "As I told your mother, it was the right thing to do. And besides, you've already thanked me."

"You don't understand," said the woman, practically in tears. "You see, I grew up in a totally secular home, Jewish in name only. Then, three years ago, I became interested in Judaism and chose to become observant. When I told my mother I could no longer spend Saturdays at the mall with her and that I could not eat at her non-kosher table, we began to argue and fight continuously. Shortly after that, I moved out, and eventually we just stopped speaking.

"That is, until two weeks ago. When you called my mother in Florida, she was amazed that the Torah would inspire someone to go to such lengths to help another person. She said to herself, 'If this is what being a good Jew is all about, then maybe there's something to this religion after all!' She called me, and we've talked every day since. That is why I have to thank you!"

Cursing at the darkness will rarely dispel it; but lighting a candle can brighten a whole world. That is exactly the kind of approach we need -- and must demand from those who would claim the mantle of spiritual enlightenment and leadership.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana. This column appeared previously in the Jerusalem Post.


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