Home
In this issue
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 April 8, 2008 / 3 Nissan 5768

‘House’ goes Hasidic

By Elliot B. Gertel


Printer Friendly Version

Email this article


JewishWorldReview.com | A recent episode of "House, M.D. " provides a (relatively) outstanding — and telling — paradigm for television writing on Jewish themes.

It is about a bride at a Hasidic wedding who faints off of her elevated chair during the spirited dancing. She suffers a broken leg in the fall, and shows signs of bladder problems.

We learn that this 38-year-old female, Roslyn (Laura Silverman, in a most affecting performance), is a baalas teshuvah, a returnee to Jewish tradition, who was once a producer in the music industry and a cocaine user. She embraced the Hasidic life and loves her husband Yonatan (Eyal Podell). During the wedding reception she thanks Mrs. Silver the matchmaker for bringing them together.

The episode was a pivotal one in the series, in that Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) must deal with his best friend, Dr. James Wilson, falling in love with a younger female colleague whose intelligence and ruthlessness House actually admires, and to which, along with her beauty, he had been attracted. Both because of the added emphasis on House's personal feelings and friendships, and because it was the last episode made before the writers' strike, this episode would have been significant no matter who the patient was.

That the patient has chosen Hasidic Judaism is, at first, too much for the Jewish member of House's medical team, Dr. Taub (Peter Jacobson), who has occasionally come up with some Jewish expressions in past episodes. Yet here Taub is front and center in confronting a Jewish religious heritage with which he is admittedly uncomfortable. When he and an African American colleague search the patient's home for toxic materials, Taub blurts out: "These people are crazy." The latter suggests that Taub might be self-hating.

"I'm not self-hating," he protests. "I hate religious people who are out of touch with reality. You only marry someone you met three times if they're carrying a little mistake."

Speaking of reality, despite the stereotype, most fervently-Orthodox Jews — and that includes Hasidic ones — don't marry after a few "meetings". In fact, the fervently-Orthodox world is facing a well-reported crisis, with increasing numbers of singles still not finding life partners well into their 40s. It's also unlikely that Roslyn and Yonatan, until recently secular Jews, would agree to extreme dating rituals even if assuming new lifestyles. If they did, their rabbibic mentors/guides would refuse to participate in the wedding.

Writers Doris Egan and Leonard Dick, who are much to be admired for the dialogue and for the insights here, have the African American physician defend ritual and matchmaker-suggested marriage: "Romance is just emotional foreplay — candlelight meals, flowers, it's as much a ritual as anything these people do." He asks Taub: Why not "cut to the quick" with someone who "has the same values"?

Religious thinkers have defended ritual in this manner, using anthropological methodology to ask why Judaism is rarely treated as fascinating or compelling in academic or other politically correct circles. But the writers go further by having Yonatan, Roslyn's husband, rebuke a doctor whom he regards as patronizing: "You think it's sweet that I care for her modesty, but that it's archaic and ultimately irrelevant. Our traditions aren't just blind rituals; they mean something, they have purpose. I respect my wife and I respect her body." Unique in the annals of television is this suggestion that the rituals teach and inspire such respect. Such productions reach more people than the eloquent theologians, like Abraham Heschel, who depict the importance of ritual in this manner.

It should be noted that the writers give all due respect to ritual and to Judaism at the beginning, middle and end of the episode. Yet they also vent, and enable characters to vent, some barbs about Jews and Judaism.

Dr. Taub does this a bit, but Dr. House does it more. The eccentric, cynical, acid-tongued lead character is the perfect mouthpiece for what usually passes as humor about Jews in TV writing. When the suggestion is made that Roslyn might have been poisoned, House suggests, "Cossacks could have poisoned her." He notes that "Hasidic women marry young so they can start pushing out little Hasidlings." He purposely mixes and matches religion, "Search her innards for bad cells and her home for bad karma." He refers to her contemptuously as Hadassah, as in the Jewish woman's organization. He laments, "The woman didn't just choose to keep kosher. She went directly to the extreme of Hasidism, a life of stringent rules. She became a masochist." At one point he calls her "Mental Yentl."

When Taub starts defending her, House says: "You drank the Manischewitz-flavored Kool-Aid." At one point, in his most obnoxious comment, House compares himself to G-d who gave the 613 commandments, using the Ineffable Name to describe himself and suggesting that the hospital is his temple. When House decides that a certain procedure is not necessary for Roslyn, he halts the stretcher with the words, "Stop that Jew." While examining her with his hands as he discovers her ailment, he teases, "You can tell all the ladies at the mikvah about this."

In order for House to make the kind of Judaism-deprecating, self-demeaning comments that Jews often make about other Jews in TV episodes, he has to be very learned in Judaism. While Dr.Taub does not know the meaning of the words, Eishes Chayil, "Woman of Valor" (Proverbs 31), with which, traditionally, the husband serenades his wife in the Friday night, Sabbath eve ritual, Dr. House knows the words well enough to offer a mocking interpretation of them. "She laughs at the future," he cites, "because she is an idiot." Her worth is not "far above rubies," for she will be dead if she doesn't do what he tells her to do.

It is almost as if writers Egan and Leonard fulfill their required ridicule of Jews and Judaism through Dr. House and, at first, Taub, and make sure that Judaism is defended by Yonatan, an African American, and a bisexual woman physician. Indeed, the implication is that to the extent that the characters affirm the latter, they are able to appreciate Roslyn's choice of Hasidic marriage.

The use of Dr. House as deprecator is effective here, if rather wishful. It would be nice, I suppose, if known Gentile eccentrics made disparaging or insulting remarks about Jews for purposes of shock value and entertainment. But over the last twenty years this role has been handed mostly to Jewish characters in television series. In "House", Taub does only a little of the "Jewish" humor (or self-mockery) at the beginning, but actually becomes a defender of Roslyn and an admirer of her husband. It is, however, somewhat disconcerting to note that the writers operate under the assumption that a large quota of deprecation is necessary, even though they do a creditable job at handling this.

Interestingly, the writers also make a point of employing the Dr. House character is an articulator of Jewish teachings. Roslyn decides one Friday not to allow any more medical procedures, including an operation thought to be urgent, until she has been able to spend a Shabbat with her husband. Yonatan points out to her the clear mandate of the Torah that the saving of life supersedes Sabbath observance. She even ignores the intervention of a rabbi. Independently, Dr. House confirms that in Judaism the commandment to preserve life comes before all others. For whatever reason (maybe an identification of "Shabbat" with Friday night only on the part of the writers), Roslyn does not insist on a sundown to sundown moratorium on medical work. Still, the writers have their doctors move the sun, Joshua-style.

It is amazing how much Jewish ritual and terminology the writers are able to insert here in a painless manner — painless to the viewers, that is, but not to Roslyn. We even learn the term lashon ha-ra, "evil language," which refers to, among others, gossip and slander. And reference is made to the "Shema" prayer (Deut. 6:4) being said by one who thinks that he or she is dying. But what is the overall message here about Jews and Judaism?

Dr. House gets in a final word about that. When he suggests at the beginning of the episode that maybe Roslyn tried to commit suicide to escape from a constricting religious marriage, he is told that Hasidim regard suicide as a sin. House retorts, "In my world, sinners include Jews." House doesn't like his Jews too special, too holy. In this episode he insists that people cannot change — neither Roslyn, nor his best friend, nor the woman that the latter is dating. Yet somehow the Jewish woman, Roslyn, is a model of making changes in one's life and finding fulfillment in them. Even House seems a bit penitent. He assumes during one test that the pleasure centers in Roslyn's brain light up because of sexual stimulation at being touched by a handsome doctor, but then learns that it was prayer that had that effect on her brain. His sheepish look in this context is most effective acting by Mr. Laurie.

Writers Egan and Dick did some marvelous things in the framework of requisite TV writing on religion in general and on Jews in particular. But they did have to air the barbs and defend Hasidism in a politically correct way. They had to give their lead character all of the "outrageous" (actually, expected) lines about Jews and Judaism. Even so, they were able to suggest that Jewish rituals are effective at instilling values and helping people to change.

The real test of the respect of the House, M.D. series for things Jewish is the character of Dr. Taub. His "Star Trek" worshipping colleague has already challenged him to act on his sense that there is something valuable in Hasidic life. Taub asserts in this episode that no form of Judaism interests him. What will proceed from his mouth in future episodes? Will Eagan and Dick be called in to keep him respectable?

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.


Comment by clicking here.

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