Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jewish Public Image
by: Schvach Yid

I’m troubled about the way some Jews portray themselves, and by extension the rest of us, on TV.

Take – please – for example The Learning Channel’s televised ditty Miami Ink. This reality TV series (I haven’t caught it in a while – is it still on cable?) portrays the goings on in a tattoo parlor located in Miami’s South Beach (never been there). One of the two partners, and without question the absolute dominator of the scene, is an Israeli-born American Jew (left Israel at the age of 12 according to his self-disclosure spiel). He’s Jewish, and covered in tattoos from base of neck to ankles. He tattoos people for a living - that’s what the show is all about.

He has two tattoo specialties: Japanese art (it’s nice – no, not the tattoos - I like Japanese art, not to mention that culture’s literature), and Jewish themes. In one episode he tattooed a hamsa onto the dorsum of a young lady’s foot. In another episode, he tattooed the Hebrew word koach (in Hebrew letters) onto the arm of another customer, after much verbose discussion about ‘dots’ (evidently this Jewish tattoo artist and bearer has never heard of dagesh and cholom, despite his Israeli roots). He did however display his erudition of Hebrew in a phone consultation about the placement of ‘dots’ in the word koach (it means strength). With a tone of disgust he talked about religious Jews who show up in his shop to obtain tattoos.

We are commanded in Torah, Parshas Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:28): You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, nor print/dig any marks on yourselves. The Hebrew word used by the parsha in this context is ka’aka, which according to Rashi, is a reference to digging, as in the hangman’s pole which was dug into the ground and from which the condemned were hanged (get Rashi’s message?).

Ka’aka is also the modern Israeli Hebrew word for tattoo. When I was a very young child, Kaka was a baby term for feces.

The flagrant violation of Jewish religious law and Jewish social values, by Jews as flaunted on TV, disgusts me, and the hell with that guy’s criticisms of religious Jews who saunter into his shop to get tattooed. What about him? So he’s not frum. He’s not exempt.

Then there’s Rabbi Shmuel (Shmuley) Boteach’s gig on the same cable channel. It’s called Shalom in the Home – you know, shalom b’byit. What’s wrong? This! In one episode he evidently was wrapping things up (I was ‘flipping’ through the channels looking for something to watch when I caught this), when he attempted to hug the wife who, along with her husband, was the subject and intended beneficiary of R’ Boteach’s intervention. She declined. Her husband was at her side. She, the non-Jewish woman, knew better than R’ Boteach. It’s called Shmiras Negilah among Jews; others probably call it tact, or perhaps propriety.

Shmiras Negilah is the rabbinical injunction forbidding a man from making physical contact, especially of the amorous or affectionate kind, with any woman other than his own wife. R’ Boteach has smichah (rabbinical ordination) from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. To understate the matter, he should know better. Placing on display to a portion of the TV-viewing world his Jewish identity by announcing himself a rabbi, and wearing a yalmulka and beard, I think he has the obligation to ‘play by the rules’ – it’s not that difficult as a TV performer.

There are undoubtedly other examples of which I’m uninformed, but you get my message.

And what about a graphic of a tattoo? Not on your life!


Jack Steiner said...

Shmiras Negilah is the rabbinical injunction forbidding a man from making physical contact, especially of the amorous or affectionate kind, with any woman other than his own wife.

This is something that I just don't buy into. I'd have to see the episode to see if I thought that Boteach's attempt to hug her was uncalled for, but the concept in general doesn't make sense.

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