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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 22, 2008 / 19 Tamuz 5768

Eli Stone: Self-indulgent, arrogant corporate attorney as modern-day prophet

By Elliot B. Gertel


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JewishWorldReview.com | ABC's Eli Stone is a series in conflict with itself, not unlike many Americans who are torn between a supposed gulf between "religion" and "spirituality." On the one hand, Eli Stone is the story of a modern-day Jonah, a self-indulgent arrogant corporate attorney who enjoys life in the fast lanes, but is overcome by visions of future events and of people to help. On the other hand, the "prophecies" glorify pop culture as the true divine medium, particularly the songs of George Michael (!), and give Eli a convenient out, should he want to take it, in that they might be related more to an aneurysm than to biblical motifs or pop music.

Eli Stone has its charm. Lead actor Jonny Lee Miller, a British import who has mastered the American accent, is affable and engaging and believable in his role. Victor Garber is effective as his hard-nosed boss and almost father-in-law, Jordan Wethersby, who is gradually transformed by Eli's experience. Matt Letscher is most affecting as Eli's physician brother, Nate. Laura Benanti plays with pathos the idealistic young lawyer predicted to be Eli's wife, and Natasha Henstridge and Sam Jaeger are likable and attractive as Eli's ex-fiancee and the amoral but transformable go-getter who is destined for her. I should also mention Eli's Asian American acupuncturist and guru/vision interpreter, Dr. Chen (James Saito) who plays no small role in the theophanies of each hour, and Loretta Devine, who presents with aplomb Eli's argumentative, over-the-top assistant and provides the best comic relief in this series if not in the entire TV season.

One of the episodes is one of the most movingly written I have ever seen. Alex Taub and Moira Walley penned this account of Eli's taking the case of a teenager whose mother died as the result of malpractice. The collaborative resolution of this case was particularly clever and appropriate.

There was no indication, at least in the first season just ended, that Eli was Jewish, Still, there is a lot of Jewish stuff in the series because writers/creators Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim put it there. Right off, in the first episode, Eli Stone declares: "I'm a lawyer. I work at Wethersly, Posner and Klein in San Francisco. Unless you own a huge company that's screwed over a little guy, you probably haven't heard of us."

The one-liner speaks volumes about how this series frames corporate law firms, including — or especially? — those with Jewish-sounding names among the partners. We are told in the opening segments that Eli was most content to worship the holy trinity of Armanis, accessories and ambitions. But visions of George Michael singing, "I gotta have faith" become so overwhelming that Eli questions both his old materialistic ways and his newly-found spirituality. "Everything has two explanations, Eli: the simple and the divine," Dr. Chen glibly tells him. "It's up to us to choose which one to buy into." Chen reminds him that G-d told Moses that He would send a prophet in every generation. Eli is qualified to be one because he believes "in right and wrong, justice, fairness and love," and, as Chen sees it, "All these things, they're G-d, Eli."

Here is the theology of the series, at least the first season's gospel. Mostly, Eli has overwhelming revelations that turn his word upside down and put him at odds with the self-interest of his law offices and the selfishness of his colleagues.

The Jewish stuff in this series is noteworthy. According to writers Leila Gerstein and Steve Lichtman, law partner Martin Posner (Tom Amandes) bribes a witness to a defective van to leave before the much-injured and much-wronged victim can litigate his suit. Eli reflects (again), "We work at Wethersly, Posner and Klein. We're the guys who beat up on paraplegics and their wives." A witness does blurt out a "Mazal tov" when he hears Eli say that he has rediscovered his professional conscience. The "Mazal tov" becomes a semi-facetious motif; it is repeated (in the work of writers Andrew Kreisberg and Steve Lichtman) by Eli's guru toward the end of the first season when Eli divulges his plan to have a high-powered surgeon remove his aneurysm despite the dangers of death or brain damage.

While it is not clear that Eli worships a G-d who is more than justice, fairness, love, conscience and anything else that sounds good, Eli certainly does worship George Michael, as his visions direct the audience to do. Even Jordan Wethersby (Garber) himself is tongue-tied when the British singer visits. In an episode written by Leila Gerstein and Wendy Mericle about a high school student expelled for mocking abstinence education at a school assembly, George Michael becomes a latter day Moses, if not the deity himself, in propounding sexual morality. The student in question, a young woman named Molly Foster (Brooke Nevin), describes the abstinence assembly as a "twice a semester" event during which "some expert in never having sex tells us all about it." She continues that "after two years of this bull I decided to take a stand." She snuck into the principal's office and played George Michael's song, "I Want Your Sex" over the public address system.

When George Michael (who makes a few appearances on the show) hears about this case, he approaches Wethersby's (and Eli's) firm to represent the high school student. The latter explains to Michael, "The challenge here would be circumventing the Supreme Court decision…which limits the right to free speech on school grounds" — namely, the generally accepted rule in education that students do not have the right or the authority to say or do anything they want, lest they undermine the discipline and operation of a public school. Whethersby tells Michael that it is always possible to lose in litigation, but that "you gotta have faith." He then points out in a sheepish star-struck way that this is the title of "another one of your songs, I think." The point, I dare say, is that George Michael is a full service deity and law-giver.

The episode gives Molly the opportunity to condemn the "abstinence lady" for telling the students that "condoms don't work, that girls who have abortions are more prone to suicide." She adds, on the witness stand, that "because of all of those misconceptions, students…are less likely to use contraception." She says that she is railing against these sins of public education because one friend got pregnant and another got gonorrhea in her throat.

It's interesting that the high school principal, with the Jewish-sounding name of Ackerman, is depicted here as fettered by the abstinence curriculum, more worried about losing "school funding" than about moral issues, unwilling to look critically either at the curriculum or at the student's (and George Michael's) critique of it, and as the first to push a George Michael tour as the solution to every problem. Has he found his messiah? George Michael comments that he loves the separation of church and state and that more high school students like Molly are needed. In the end the principal encourages George Michael to raise funds to impose his morality on the school. How is that better and more democratic than Federal guidelines?

With this episode, Berlanti and Guggenheim engraved upon stone tablets, as it were, George Michael's role as deity, prophet and messiah, and the role of Jewish characters to be foils, rather half-hearted or dogged, for old and unenlightened moralities. Among the ruthless Jewish characters is a developer named Solinsky, whose greed Eli uses to save lives (according to writers Courtney Kemp Agboh and Brett Mahoney), and a founding partner in the firm, Marci Klein (Katy Segal), a Jewish woman, who almost ousts Wethersby for his support of Eli and sues the city to prevent closing the Golden Gate Bridge in the face of Eli's warnings, but is foiled and disgraced and, worse yet, shown to be spiritually blind when the earthquake occurs as Eli predicted (but, fortunately, after the mayor decides to close the bridge). Four writers, Taub, Mahoney, Oscar Balderrama and Anna Beth Chao, went to work to draw caricature character Marci Klein in two episodes.

The most sympathetic Jewish foil to spirituality is, as it turns out, another Jewish woman, and we are given blow-by-blow detail in the season's finale. In that final episode, Richard Schiff (of West Wing fame) played David Green, who wants to stop his chemotherapy treatments. "I need your help to die," he tells Eli. He makes it clear that he is not interested in suicide, assisted or otherwise. His wife wants to declare him incompetent, "to take away my right to make my own medical decisions," because of his desire to end treatments. Green explains that despite his wife's histrionics, he believes that G-d has told him to be at peace and that "my experience of chemotherapy is not peace." He reassures Eli that he did not hear a divine voice, "exactly, but a feeling came to me — it, he, she" told him that the third time (in chemotherapy) "is not the charm."

What is noteworthy here is that David's wife, Rebecca, happens to be a rabbi, and during the lawsuit that ensues, her "establishment Judaism" is put on trial against the more direct and spontaneous spirituality of David, who is admittedly not a very observant or "religious" Jew. For the first time in TV history, a woman rabbi is made an authority figure in American Jewish life, a spokesperson for Jewish tradition, only to imply that she lacks the "enlightenment" and spirituality of her heretofore secular husband. This scenario continues the old canards that Judaism is law and not spirit and the New Age canard that "religious" people are not "spiritual," but merely parrot the outworn notions and continue the obsessive practices of obsolete ages or constellations.

Some of the most time-honored concerns of Judaism come across as out-of-touch platitudes. "But we choose life, David. That's what we do," the rabbi tells her husband. Also, some of the rabbis remark's shoot Judaism in the foot, spiritually speaking, and come across as vindictive, as well: "Jews haven't talked to G-d since the biblical age — and in any case you'd have to first believe that G-d exists, but David doesn't." Haven't Jews been praying to G-d, at least three times a day, since biblical times? One of the rabbi's remarks is outright vain and in poor taste: "He [David] always said if I hadn't been so pretty he would have married a shiksa." What were writers Courtney Kemp Agboh and Andrew Kreisberg thinking?

The rabbi is treated with respect and humanity, and the point is made well that she is only human, and a wife who wants her husband to do everything possible to be around for her and for their children. She is convinced that David's "talk from G-d" is a symptom of his depression. Here, too, the writers have the "establishment rabbi" invoke therapy as a substitute for the spirituality that David surely must have because Eli Stone, who, in the previous episode, successfully warned San Francisco about an earthquake (which he learned about from his George Michael inspired visions) recognizes similar "spirituality" in David.

Yet the point is also made that David and Rebecca have different concepts of G-d. She says that G-d wants David to fight to live to see his children grow up for as long as he can. When he retorts that she describes the G-d she believes in, Rebecca answers: "The G-d of the Jewish faith. Judaism teaches us to respect scientific strides to save life. G-d created a world in which there's a chance for my husband to survive. I just want him to take that chance, for me and for his children and for himself." While this statement is accurate enough, it does emerge from a context, reinforced in subsequent dialogue, in which Eli gives David credit for deriving a peace from his G-d-experience which neither he, the star prophet, nor Rebecca, the "convincing" woman rabbi, has found.

As if to give Rebecca another chance, writers Agboh and Kreisberg have her break protocol and visit opposing counsel, Eli, and implore him, "I know about you. You're sick. You're fighting for your life, just as my husband should be fighting for his. I know about the earthquake, I know about all of it. Mostly, I know that you are more than just a lawyer and I know David chose you for a reason, and I believe that reason is for you to show him…that fighting for your life is worth it. Jewish tradition teaches that to save one life is to save the entire world. You have within you the power to save a life. I beg of you, use it."

Significantly, Eli agrees with the rabbi, at least at first. "I think you should want to live," he tells David, "not just for her, or for your kids, but for yourself. I believe that G-d spoke to you. I just think that you heard Him wrong. He sent you a doctor, a rabbi, and now he sent me." Significant, too, is David's reply and what the writers do with it. "A doctor, a rabbi, a lawyer — it sounds like the start of a joke." But in this case the writers take the high road and do not reduce Judaism to a joke, as is usually done in TV sitcoms, as was the staple and even the leitmotif of shows like The Nanny.

For a moment, for the briefest moment, it seems that writers Agboh and Kreisberg are about to fight for Judaism and for biblical law-based monotheism in the face of the onslaught of New Age doctrines and moralities, that they were going to overturn, as it were, personal peace-seeking in favor of traditions that guide individuals in how to preserve and enhance their lives. (After all, the Bible itself offers guidance in how to determine who is a true prophet in Deuteronomy 18:20-22) But in the end David decides that his "purpose" is fighting for his life-surrendering spiritual experience. Eli comes around: "David had a feeling. I saw George Michael. Is that crazy? If it inspires us to change our lives for the better, then I hope, I pray, that we're all crazy."

The final verdict is not in favor of Judaism or at least of that rabbi's interpretation of Judaism. Eli declares: "David wants to live the rest of his life in a way that brings him closer to G-d. It may not be what we would choose for him, but it's not our choice to make. It's his." As long as someone seeks G-d, one's decisions are Godly. This principle of the Eli Stone series is sanctioned by the court judge, who concludes, "The law respects a man's wishes to keep on living by whatever definition of living he chooses." First comes choosing, then comes G-d, unless one is fortunate ("blessed"?), like David, to have one's G-d-experiences confirm one's choices. By the way, the rabbi comes around, as well, for she says of her husband, right after he expires, at his bedside: "It's all right. This is what he wanted. Goodbye, my love."

We learn that Eli never physically met Rabbi Rebecca or David, nor was he ever present in a court room with them. The impression given is that he "enters" their dispute by osmosis while he is in a coma recovering from aneurysm surgery. David is in a near-by intensive care unit bed. The last words we hear (besides a George Michael song, of course) is Dr. Chen telling him: "You could let go. No one blames you, Eli. No one's angry. They're sad, and they'll hurt. They'll hurt for a long time. But the world will go on without you, Eli, the world does not need Eli Stone, unless….[you can wake up and say, "I have more to do"]."

Hearing this New Age rhetoric, I couldn't help thinking of the contrast with biblical and Talmudic teachings, as summarized by Abraham Heschel: "It is as legitimate to ask: Is mankind needed? As it is to ask: Am I needed?...Every moment is a new arrival, a new bestowal. Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy….All it takes to sanctify time is G-d, a soul and a moment. And the three are always there." (The Insecurity of Freedom, pp. 76, 82) Such a world view suffered a major assault in the first season of Eli Stone, as did, I dare say, the image of Jews on television. Like Joan of Arcadia, an earlier and happily defunct series with which Eli Stone has much in common, Eli Stone, at least so far, knows of only two kinds of Jews, either incorrigible materialists or accommodating expediters of "enlightenment."

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Contributing writer Elliot B. Gertel, JWR's resident media maven, is a Conservative rabbi based in Chicago. His latest book is "Over the Top Judaism: Precedents and Trends in the Depiction of Jewish Beliefs and Observances in Film and Television". (Click HERE to purchase.)

© 2008, ELLIOT B. GERTEL