Rabbi as TV Consultant

Sometimes you get quick answers in CyberSpace, but I didn’t expect Ralphie to be answering my question about Rabbi Shafran’s article, before I’d even published it. [You may need to read my previous posts, “Anatomy of a Smear” and “The Detail Omitted“, to understand what I’m talking about.] Yes, a Reform Rabbi was both consultant and actress on a recent episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”, and no, her character never set the audience straight that Judaism not merely permits, but requires insertion of a valve from a pig, if needed to save a patient’s life.

An article in The Forward explains how much more realistic the show was, thanks to the Rabbi:

[Her] participation ensured that the Orthodox character’s jean skirt was the right length (long), that she prayed in the right direction (east) and that any confusion about whether rabbis typically bless heart valves was dispelled (no, emphatically).

How about the fact that Jewish law requires that any and all modern medical life-saving procedures be done, even when many doctors would withhold care (think of Terri Schiavo)? And what about the silliness over the use (rather than consumption) of pig organs, which is entirely permitted in any case? Somehow, the first of these seems slightly more important than how long the patient’s skirt was, or which direction she davened. The Rabbi was able to tell them that no blessing would be said on a valve, but was not able to tell them that insertion of a pig valve would be a blessed act.

I don’t think this was anything deliberate on her part. I think (or hope!) that she simply didn’t know better. What I find disturbing is the idea that a person could graduate from the Hebrew Union College as an ordained Reform Rabbi, and not know that saving lives is a Jewish imperative, one that places any modern medical procedure to save a life ahead of any other area of Jewish law. If the girl needed to eat pork to save her life, then (as Rabbi Shafran mentioned) she would have been not merely permitted, but required to do so.

The effort was well worth it, [the Rabbi] said, given that the show offers her a platform to reach millions of Jews and gentiles. “I hope,” she said, “they’ll see that Judaism is a religion that has many comforting sources to it and that Jewish people will be reminded of the comfort that rabbis and prayer and their community can give them during times of crisis.”

Jewish people could have been reminded of the supreme value Judaism gives to life, had the Rabbi simply set the young patient straight on Jewish law. Instead, the show misportrayed Judaism as a religion that required or justified refusal of life-saving medical care because of a ritualistic detail of Jewish law. Is “the comfort that rabbis and prayer and their community can give them” more important than life itself?

Given the answer to that question, we know that on Grey’s Anatomy, Judaism did not gain, but lost.

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6 Responses

  1. ralphie says:

    To clarify: I have no idea if, in real life, the rabbi explained to the writer that the pig valve would not pose a problem. This rabbi is an acquaintance of mine (very distance, but she might recognize my real name), and I can vouch that she is smart/learned enough to know.

    In the show, the rabbi did not appear until after the decision had been made to use a cow valve instead. This is a more complicated procedure than using a pig valve, apparently, and my guess is that the writer wanted to get to the cow valve regardless of the reality of Jewish law. Again, on screen, the rabbi character is not involved at all in the discussion of the valve.

    To me the most ridiculous part is medical – they would never allow a rabbi into an operating room for (half of) a blessing. This couldn’t have been done before they wheeled her in? Jewish errors are expected on TV – but a gross medical error on a medical show? Sheesh.

  2. Chana says:

    The blessing was the Misheberach for Cholim and Cholos, and she did not insert the name.
    The supposedly Orthodox Jewish girl swore at the doctors because they wondered why she was praying “to a wall.”
    Then said she couldn’t have a non-kosher animal inside her. Told the doctors they were “hotshots” and would have to find another way.
    She then got upset with her parents because they don’t light Shabbos candles.
    Let us not forget, in addition to this, that she said her parents were having “too much blow” and that’s why they named her Devo.
    Couldn’t have the porcine valve but could have the woman Rabbi. Hmm….
    Aseret HaDibrot, anyone?

    When asked whether God would want her to die rather than live, she replied, “God wants me to feel passionate about what I believe in.” Disturbing representation…

    If you’re interested in responses-
    Discussion took place here (Orthodox Jews) http://forums.go.com/abc/thread?threadID=372999
    And here (Jewish Law) http://forums.go.com/abc/thread?threadID=373131
    And here (Hire someone who knows Jewish Law) http://forums.go.com/abc/thread?threadID=373441
    And here, under the heading ‘Save Me’ episode: http://www.medicalmadhouse.blogspot.com/

  3. Zev says:

    “What I find disturbing is the idea that a person could graduate from the Hebrew Union College as an ordained Reform Rabbi, and not know that saving lives is a Jewish imperative,”

    I don’t know why that surprises you.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    There is something fishy in this story. That a Reform Rabbi would not know whether or not a pig’s heart valve would be Kosher (in the original sense of the word, appropriate) for transplant is hard to believe. But for such a Rabbi, especially a woman, not to know that there are no Orthodox women Rabbis is absurd. The Reform movement celebrates the ordination of women, and the fact that it was a break from Orthodoxy. It would be the equivalent of an Orthodox Rabbi not knowing that the Reform movement does not mandate Kashrut.

    My theory is that the script writers originally came up with a script in which a Jewish patient refused a pig’s heart valve, and that they refused to change it. They hired the Rabbi as a consultant, but that did not mean they listened to her on a fundamental script change that would have hurt the drama of their episode. TV drama is not known for excessive realism when it might hurt the ratings.

  5. Nachum Lamm says:

    The creator of the show has gone on record that she makes casting decisions based on certain personal criteria. For example, most of the doctors in charge are black, yet she refuses to show any negative characters as black. Perhaps casting a woman rabbi was part of that.

  6. mb says:

    The writers of this nonsense thought they were being funny and dramatic. They were neither.
    But the amount of time and energy that some in the Orthodox community have wasted on this gibberish is ridiculous. Spend your capital on some worthwhile cause.

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