Virtually the entire Jewish community was united last week in its concern for Eyal, Naftoli and Gilad. It took a kippah-wearing twelve year-old shocking the judges on America’s Got Talent to give us back the Jewish dissension we can’t seem to do without. Josh Orlian’s debut as a stand-up comedian was only as strong as his act was salacious, which was risqué enough to charm the judges – and set off a fire-storm of disagreement. Should we embrace Josh for making Orthodox Jews so very much a part of the American mainstream, or curse the parents that laughed at his humor, rather than forcing him to wash out his mouth with (kosher) soap?

We should not forget a third option – at least for those who sensed that this was no kiddush Hashem, to put it mildly – which is to pinpoint just what was objectionable about his performance. We are at a teachable moment; the lesson is one that is part of the mission statement of the Jewish people.

Let’s first turn to the counterargument: as off-color as his humor was, it was tepid stuff compared to what American adults – and kids – deal with all the time. Talking about sexual matters is not the same as doing them. People talk about lots of things that they wouldn’t do, and there is no suggestion that Josh’s parents would encourage or allow him to participate in the actual behaviors he described. Talk, in fact, is a healthy outlet for a human instinct that G-d Himself engineered into us. Unlike yelling “fire” in a crowded theater – or even speaking lashon hora – Josh’s kind of talk, addressed to people who required no introduction to the comedic topic, should be seen as innocuous. To pretend that American twelve year-olds are unfamiliar with the details of his topic, given the free access to so much of it in the cultural surround, lies somewhere between the hopelessly naïve and the hypocritical.

That’s the argument, and of course it is dead wrong in every which way. “Everyone knows for what purpose a bride enters the marital chamber. But anyone who would defile his mouth by spelling it out, a decree of seventy years of good will turn to evil.” (Kesubos 8A) We are tempted to think that we are looking at an issue of refinement, or of maintaining standards about actions. By avoiding even the mention of certain activity, we create a sense of distaste for and distance from that illicit activity. This, too, would be incorrect. R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Mesilas Yesharim, chap. 11) argues that dirty speech is intrinsically wrong. It is part and parcel of illicit sexual conduct. Whatever G-d finds repugnant about znus can be found in different kinds of activity, other than the conventional one. Its prohibition applies to multiple organs. Listening to nivul peh is znus of the ear; speaking it is znus of the mouth.

But we are begging the question. Why should this be? What can be so terrible about some light-hearted jest?

Just when the chaver in R. Yehudah Ha-Levi’s Kuzari seems to have convinced the king that mitzvos are meant to be instructive and impactful, the king balks. Maybe, he says, the interpersonal mitzvos make sense. They clearly convey ethical messages. But too many of your mitzvos, he says, seem like empty rituals. We don’t see any clear purpose in them.

The chaver responds that the king has missed the entire point of a Divine system of conduct. It proceeds in two stages. The first stage, indeed, aims to turn us into decent, morally upright human beings. When we arrive there – according to Hashem’s rather exacting demands – we are ready for the next stage, which is to become holy. He only legislates this second stage for Am Yisrael. One can be a fine human being without it. But he won’t transcend the human state; he won’t attach himself to the Divine. That can only come about through kedushah.

Achieving kedushah, then, is one of the two mega-objectives of the Torah. Subverting it strikes at the heart of the raison d’être of the Jewish people. The arguments justifying Josh’s performance may have some validity for non-Jews –even if not for those striving for a more uplifted relationship with G-d. Yet those arguments fail when considered in the context of the kedushah that we ought to be pursuing in this instance.

What is kedushah? It is many things. It is reserving special behavior for special times, so that it does not become commonplace. We mark special occasions with activities, food, dress that we don’t use at other times.

Kedushah also means elevating things. It certainly implies setting limits, to keep within safe boundaries activities that can cheapen us and make us lose spiritual stature when performed improperly, or in excess. But the Torah seems intent on going much further. As a mitzvah system, Torah seeks to elevate especially the pedestrian activities that seem completely innocuous.

Finally, kedushah aims at transcendence. Hashem has no limits, no constraints. Nothing pulls Him in a given direction. We, on the other hand, are beset by forces raging within that try to pull us in multiple directions. Animals live their lives by responding to those forces. Humans can rise above them – not by abolishing them, which would make us non-human. Rather, we can gain enough self-control to use them precisely as He intended, when and where we want. Transcendance means rising above some of our limitations, and taking a position firmly in the driver’s seat of our lives. By doing so, we move closer to what He is. It does not mean turning our backs on our biology, or pretending that it does not exist. It does mean exercising rational control (i.e. heeding the advice of the Torah), so that we can maximally control our urges and desires, rather than allow them to control us. We can only hope to do that when we break the spell those desires have over us, and free ourselves at least partially from their hold, so that we can put the necessary restraints in place.

Telling jokes about various body parts may not make a person immoral. To be sure, however, he cannot be a kadosh.

A twelve year-old child who has not yet learned about kedushah has missed out on one of the most fundamental elements of Torah life.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy”d, once officiated at a chupah at the request of a rich donor. At the close of the ceremony, the groom leaned over and kissed the bride. Rav Elchonon was visibly shaken. Others tried calming him down. It’s not so bad, they said. After all, they were married at that point. Rav Elchonon responded with a quip from the final verse in Chumash. “ ‘L’einei kol Yisroel’ iz soif ha-Torah.” In the context of the moment, this roughly translates as “Doing certain permissible things in the view of everyone is the end of Torah as we know it.”

So is talking about them.

It is all-important to remember that while America may have talent, YGK – Yisroel’s Got Kedushah. We should celebrate it.

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19 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    AIUI soap used for purposes of this type of mouth washing would not have to be kosher.
    Joel Rich

  2. Mordechai says:

    “the groom leaned over and kissed the bride. Rav Elchonon was visibly shaken. Others tried calming him down. It’s not so bad, they said. After all, they were married at that point. Rav Elchonon responded with a quip from the final verse in Chumash. “ ‘L’einei kol Yisroel’ iz soif ha-Torah.”

    The story took place with the Netziv (IIRC).

    [YA – would like to get to be able to determine who was involved. My source is R Aharon Rakefet, in one of his more recent history shiurim.]

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Ideally, we would have no TV and not be directly aware of its latest poor taste.

  4. Shua Cohen says:

    I don’t know if I’m permitted to do this, but L. Oberstein left an incisive comment on another Cross-Currents thread which will (hopefully) temper the self-righteous criticism of this “America’s Got Talent” Modern-Orthodox family, that is likely to pour forth on various forums:

    “I had a long conversation with someone who is a top adviser to Mayor Nir Barkat over Shabbat…she is a frum lady. She told me that the fights among the chareidim and chassidim and Sephardim is much more intense than anything they have against the mayor or the secular. Each group is lobbying for their own interests. There is not even a fig leaf of holiness about it. She also told me that she is invited to many weddings where the couple eschew the rabbinate because they view it as corrupt and meaningless. She also told me that many are using alternative kashrus agencies because they believe that the Rabbanut is not really about kashrus, but about enrichment of those in control. Yet these are the same people who say that G-d is punishing us because of the actions of the others, but never of themselves. Are they obtuse? It is eye-opening to see what really goes on, and it’s disheartening.”

    So it is that the painful lack of Kedushas Klal Yisrael permeates EVERY “Orthodox” community, even as each one holds itself out to be the paradigm of Torah-observance. Yes, it is very disheartening, indeed.

  5. Chochom b'mah nishtanah says:

    Shua Cohen,

    1) There seems to be quite a lot missing from the alleged quote from the advisor.

    2) Frankly, I do not see any holier than though comments posted anywhere. Or to qualify, on any of the sites I tend to visit. I saw some posts bemoaning what was done, but I did not see holier than thou gloating. And they are very different.

    If you want to see what holier than thou gloating is, perhaps you can revisit this old story

    I did not notice you being all upset about holier than thou attitude then.

    What I did find fascinating is that the Jewish Weak had the unmitigated gall to even raise the question of chilul hashem, that entire publication is a non ending source of chilul hashem.

  6. Raymond says:

    There are all sorts of activities related to hygiene and other personal matters which, by definition, are not morally wrong, yet it would correctly be looked down upon by society. The common denominator in all this seems to be that while we are made of both spirit and body, that reducing ourselves to the purely physical, to the animalistic, is a source of embarrassment, as it should be.

    One of the negative consequences of our increasingly secular society, is that there is no room for such a concept as holiness, since by secular definition, we are nothing but animals anyway. Thus in such a world, there is no reason not to behave just like animals, having no shame, just satisfying our various physical needs without any concern for how this makes our peers feel. It makes me wonder if those pushing for such a G-dless society, have truly thought about such consequences, before imposing their views on all of us.

  7. Hypocrisy says:

    The Score:

    3 posts about a 12 year-old spouting nivul peh.

    0 posts about a Haredi Mayor of Jerusalem convicted of theft.

    The difference?

    The Haredi is *unser* and he was stealing to give money to a charedi charity .

    The Hillul Hashem from Lupolianski is astronomically greater than from Orlian.

  8. groinem says:

    There was no mayor convicted of theft, or any other crime this week or last.
    Get your facts straight.

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    “Talk, in fact, is a healthy outlet for a human instinct that G-d Himself engineered into us…Rav Elchonon responded with a quip from the final verse in Chumash.”

    R. Benjamin Yudin uses another pun from Chazal to advocate a positive type of talking: “lo dibra Torah ela keneged yetzer hara”(“Talking to Our Kids About the Birds and the Bees: Sanctifying the Intimate”, 24:00 on MP3, available on Torah Web). He says in fact that “more important than the content is the dialogue”(28:00).

    I wonder if having an appropriate outlet for discussion would substitute for the need to make inappropriate jokes.

  10. Baruch says:

    To Hypocrisy:

    In defense of CC, there really is not anymore to say about Lupoliansky. By all accounts, he is a kind, honest, sincere person who got corrupted by politics and could not withstand the temptation of quickly earning money for the charity which he built with sweat and tears. I do not justify it, and yes, it is a painful chilul Hashem, but there isn’t anything more to talk about. The way I see it, it’s classic example of “power corrupts.”

    The Orlian performance, though, should send shudders down our spines, serving as a shocking wake-up call to the effects of contemporary “culture” on the pure neshamos of our children. It is not just that he “spouted nivul peh” as you put it. As a 12-yr-old in the 1980’s I heard plenty of nivul peh in both MO and charedi settings, and my kids who are around that age hear it as well. The shocking part is how this kid did it proudly in front of the nation with his parents enjoying every minute. This is an alarming reminder of the breakdown of basic standards of decency and the loss of the tzelem Elokim which we cherish.

    In the past I’ve found it very distasteful when CC writers write triumphantly about something negative that comes up in the non-Orthodox or MO world. But I don’t think this is what happened in this instance. I found that the articles here focused on the real concerns that should be troubling us in light of this shocking video.

  11. Howard Tzvi says:

    Why are cases of Charedai misdeeds comparable to this situation? Both are bad! The problem with this case is that there are people who actually think that this boy and his parents typify עַם-זוּ יָצַרְתִּי לִי, תְּהִלָּתִי יְסַפֵּרוּ

  12. c-l,c says:

    Shua Cohen,
    Might it be presumtious to assume the “frum lady” is in need of a sort of rationale for her continued involvement with an administration that publicly promotes chillul shabbos?

    After years of demonizing the Charedi mayor and of course all charedim by association,the judge APOLOGIZED (a rarity in Israel)to him in the fall of 2012,because the case was so flimsy.

    Zero has changed.
    But could they allow Olmert to go down alone?(besides,since in the end they intend to give him just a slap on the wrist,it will make them into a mockery. )
    They officially publish Lapolianski is guilty (what happened to ex post facto?)
    They claim
    to have graciously made a deal so he would avoid serving (yea,sureal

  13. c-l,c says:

    Convince him (in his charedi naivete) to accept it and ‘arrange it to be only community service’

    Works like a charm

    And I have a bridge to sell you

    My query to you both,
    How do so shrewdly smokescreen even the lightest construed criticism of your milleu,by pulling it off with something so completely seemingly irrelevant ?

  14. AK says:

    Hypocrisy: “The Haredi is *unser*”.
    I take umbrage with your unwarranted divisive comment.
    1). I don’t recall Cross Currents posting about similar financial malfeasance of other, non-charedi politicians. It has nothing to do with us vs. them.
    2) I think that you would agree that Cross Currents would have surely posted if 12 year old was dressed as a charedi.

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    Hypocrisy I don’t think that either act is of a moral caliber.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    Jokes and/or language of that nature should never be applauded as being part of the American mainstream. Avoiding language of that nature is a Kiddush HaShem.

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    Those of who work in the secular world are routinely subjected to such language and jokes. I like to think that when I walk into my home, it is bastion against such language and views. Why should we not aim for a life premised in Kedusha, regardless of our hashkafic POVs?

  18. Rafael Araujo says:

    “Why are cases of Charedai misdeeds comparable to this situation? Both are bad!” – Howard Tzvi

    Why? Because Hypocrisy’s comments typifies the MO reaction to these posting, which is to always deflect and point to chareidi white-collar crimes, and other misdeeds, thereby accusing Chareidim of always being hypocrites. I am glad to see other identified MO condemning this as well, even a fare number on line are either not bothered by it, feel it pales to Chreidi misdeeds, or it actually made Orthodox Jews more acceptable and “cooler” in the eyes of fellow North Americans.

  19. David Z says:

    My wife was so mortified and ashamed even reading a summary of the clip that she couldn’t bring herself to watch it. Not because of hate or criticism, but because she felt so embarrassed for the boy and his parents that they had the ability to do that. In this world I sometimes forget what k’dusha is… Thankfully I have her.

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