I like to think that Judaism, as my core belief and value, informs my reaction to culture. I always have respected the Torah leaders in my life experience who can handily reference aspects of culture, whether theater, music, literature, film, TV, and, yes, even sports before I met my husband, Dov, who wows me and audiences of Jews and non-Jews alike with his vast and varied range of Jewish and cultural topics. I was surprised when two Rabbis at the large San Fernando Valley Orthodox shul I attended for 25 years made these secular cultural references in their Shabbos morning sermons: One elder Rabbi quoted from Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town”—a favorite of mine since high school. The other Rabbi—a Baby Boomer like me—mentioned the 1960’s TV show, “Mr. Ed,” that featured a talking horse, in the context of Parashat Balak, where G-d made a donkey talk.
I sometimes laugh when plays or movies contain Judaic references, as long as they don’t mock the essence of Judaism or our belief in the Creator.
A few Yiddishisms are all most script writers can offer. So, a recent Shakespeare parody had the best known Jewish role of Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice” exclaim, “I’m schlepping nachas in my pipik!” There was nothing blasphemous of Judaism, or the Torah, or anti-Semitic in the cartoonish depiction of Jews in the late 1500s. The play explained that all of Britain was that way-not just the Bard. The most shocking lyric was in an early song, “I hate Shakespeare.” I believe the adage, “a little knowledge is dangerous”—especially when too little is known, and too much of that little is repeated in society.
ELLEN FISCHER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.