What I Didn’t Tell Pat Robertson
My eight-year old granddaughter in Givat Ze’ev nailed it. She reacted to viewing clips of my recent television interviews with Pat Robertson and his son Gordon with two questions: What’s television? What are Christians?
There is something very beautiful about an eight year-old child not having to deal with those things. Let the incubator provide a warm, toasty environment where a love of Yiddishkeit can thrive without competition from alternative possibilities. There will be time enough later to learn about the realities of the general world. Her older sister knows full-well who Christians are. When I took her along on a Museum of the Bible sponsored helicopter tour of Israel, she befriended and stayed in touch with the daughter of a Catholic participant. That older sibling knows as well about the existence of something called television, although it has not climbed particularly high on the list of things that interest her.
The issue is not television per se, but acculturation. How much of what is out there do we let in?
Different groups – and untimately each family – arrives at different formulas. No one has yet come close to finding the right balance, probably because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Allow too much in, and you can easily dilute Torah values, or replace them altogether with foreign ones. Allow too little in, and you ill-prepare the many who will encounter general society. Some of those who have not been inoculated by measured doses of previous exposure will fold when faced with strong temptations or strong challenges to their belief system.
Readers of this blog for the most part are people who find themselves someplace around the middle. (This is brave, because it has become very unfashionable to hug the center and admit to not being an extremist of some form or another.) They do not reject the idea of imposing boundaries and limits; mentioning “censorship” does not send them retching or laughing. On the other hand, they do not entirely shut out influences from other cultures, even though they do not want themselves and their children to drown in a sea of foreign interests and values.
Over the decades, the Torah community has developed responses that have more or less won general communal acceptance. Some genres are kept at arm’s length, while others are sampled with caution. We’ve been guided in this by some Divine providence that can be appreciated only decades after fateful decisions were made.
I thought of all this as I waited to meet the iconic Rev. Robertson in a live broadcast from his Virginia Beach studio. I knew of Pat Robertson as a conservative evangelical who had displayed decades of strong friendship to the Jewish State. The work of the international human rights organization that I represent, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, had been brought to his attention by Christian friends, and he wanted to meet on-air an Orthodox rabbi who would make Christians feel guilty for their less than passionate defense of millions of their embattled co-religionists.
I knew of Rev. Robertson’s support, but I did not fully realize how pervasive it was in his large operation. All kinds of people – black, white, young, old – came over to talk about their love for Israel, their frequent trips there, their categorical support and willingness to work for her interests. (Increasing the sense of wonder was the fact that all of this was going on a short distance from a vibrant Torah community in Norfalk that sports a shul, a kollel, a heimish day school with over a hundred students, a girls’ high school, and some of the best schwarma I’ve had in the US. Much of this takes place under the capable stewardship of Rabbi Sender Haber, who was a gracious host.)
Decades ago, Pat Robertson (who today is still doing his show several times a week at the young age of 86) saw the threat that television posed to the values that he believed in. Determined to do something about it, he began broadcasting content that he could endorse out of an old UHF station. He challenged his viewers to donate $10 a month. If he could sign up 700 people, he would be able to meet his expenses. His pioneering show is still known as the 700 Club. Although he did not achieve the goal of 700 supporters at the time, his operation grew, and today reaches 15 million viewers, mostly in parallel operations abroad. Over the decades, he expanded the nature of the programming, and ventured into film production as well. Together with his son Gordon, he has made multiple films about Israel. (At a luncheon for local Jewish and Christian guests keyed to my visit, Gordon spoke of one of those films. “We examined the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. We came out on your side.”) A new film on the liberation of Yerushalayim is now in production.
I could only admire Pat Robertson’s determination and grit. I was also struck, however, by how different were the reactions of our communities to the same challenge. Our community was much smaller at the time; we would not have attempted to produce our own television programming. We were able, however, to do something that Rev. Robertson’s community couldn’t do: we completely eschewed the entire medium. Serious Christians would not have gone for it then, nor would they pay such a price today. Rev. Robertson could get his foot in the door of television, and still does. But he could never hope to take over the entire edifice, nor to provide so much competition that believers would abandon the increasingly objectionable programming and only view his. In a sense, his programming tacitly accepted the medium of television, which meant that conservative Christians would spend hours each day wading through the same filth as everyone else. He succeeded, however, in at least using the medium to project a strong voice for his values.
We embarked on a different path. We effectively banned the medium entirely. (To be sure, there were lots of private “sinners,” and lots of jokes about built-in televisions hidden in furniture in certain neighborhoods. But as a community standard of the yeshivah community, nixing television was accepted.) We never tried the same with radio, or telephones – even though naysayers pointed could point to evils associated with their use. We somehow knew that it could not be done – that these innovations were here to stay, and people were going to avail themselves of them. (I am not sure why we were not blessed with the same understanding of reality in relation to the internet, which some still believe they can ban. Perhaps we are too close to it to see it for what it is, and we will understand better in twenty years time.)
In other areas, we succeeded in time of doing one better: we thoroughly co-opted a number of media. We developed a full range of popular culture made in our own image: music, daily newspapers, weekly glossies, fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. We did not have to ban (although many, of course, do) so much as create attractive substitutes that could be every bit as inviting as that offered by the host culture.
All of these lessened our culture reliance on outside influences. They are some of our community’s most important accomplishments after its miraculous reestablishment following the Holocaust. The path we travelled owes to remarkable hashgacha from Above, besides the willingness of the Torah community to restrict its private activities to create a more nurturing environment in which to nurture Torah for the next generation.
no doubt haredi daas tora decided to surrender [both in US and Israel] the TV market to secular forces, as its adherents were protected from this medium . recently a program aired on israeli TV 1 [ http://www.iba.org.il/program.aspx?scode=2180863 ] that examined in part the consideration of judaism oriented programming by the dati leumi sector that appearred even on shabbat and chagim on israeli TV. no doubt haredi daas tora can’t approve such an effort , but was interesting to see hilonim getting a little yiddishe taam while being mechallel shabbat [which they would do in any case…]
If you haven’t watched the Shtissel series (several seasons; a new one rumored to be around the corner) stop wasting your time reading blogs, and enjoy a good haredi television show. (In Yiddish, with Hebrew subtitles at times)
the irony of which is it is neither acted nor written by haredim , but as many recent hiloni productions about haredi life [and even a few years back Srugim, about DL singles life] , they tend to aim for as much veracity as possible in a fictional series…
As we both know, fiction is sometimes easier to swallow than reality…
But the point is that it is not intentionally made by anyone to make something withheld on television for religious people or for potentials.
Dear Rabbi Adlerstein,
It is understandable to reflect on Robertson’s endeavor to create a “Bible” values based media network. Please take a look at these two links. The first one in particular as it describes Robertson’s evangelism towards the Jews.
You raise a good point – but not the only one. It is so important to be careful in dealing with Christian groups not to either strengthen the hand of missionaries, nor to sacrifice Jewish pride. All American groups that I know of will have nothing to do with Messianics, nor with denominations that have active programs of targeted proselytizing of Jews – even when these groups can and do accomplish great things for Israel. We just don’t go there. End of discussion.
It is just as important, however, not to paint a picture of conservative Christians with too broad a brush. Doing so alienates the last reliable ally of the Jewish State. I saw nothing remarkable in the two clips. (The first one should be seen by everyone for a completely different reason. It shows clearly how a soul was lost because he had no exposure to genuine Yiddishkeit, and his non-Orthodox rabbi did not believe in Torah min ha-Shomayim.) There is no question that Pat Robetson – and every other good Christian – would like to see us convert. (They also know that we daven three times a day that they should become genuine monotheists in the fuller sense of the word.) We cannot fault them for that. Some (but very few) are OK with a theology in which Jews have, so to speak, their own track to religious fulfillment. The majority think that we are missing something. In the Torah community, we don’t get bent out of shape by what others think of our chances of gaining eternal life. We are firm enough in our beliefs that we are not worried about what others believe. (The same holds true of them! Which is why there is good and quick conversation between deeper evangelicals and Orthodox Jews. Neither it frightened of the other; neither thinks that the other party has any chance whatsoever of converting them.) We draw the line when the other group targets Jews, and especially when they target them by masquerading as frum Jews and trying to infiltrate frum neighborhoods. Responsible people in the evangelical world can sometimes be persuaded that this is horribly deceptive, and will bring pressure to bear to stop it. It has happened before.
I won’t meet with people that Pat would welcome on his show. And I won’t deal with people who monetarily support them. But I can’t blame him from having them on his show, and delighting in finding someone who had nebach discovered something that thrills Pat and makes us mourn. And I have no doubt that his love for Israel comes from a completely different place.
The approach taken by the yeshivah community – a small fraction of a small percentage of a small-in-numbers religion – clearly has no application whatever to Christianity. Besides, whether the right approach is/was to ban TV altogether or to integrate it into religious life is and was merely a microcosm of the larger conundrum of how to deal with the outside world generally, an issue every community grapples with in its own way. In other words, there is no “right” approach.
The key point is the numbers. As Maimonides points out, Christians succeeded in spreading the Biblical message of Monotheism in a way we Jews could never have done. But we can do other things. A good basketball coach sometimes plays long and sometimes plays small, because each unit can accomplish different things. The same is true with religion.
A million years ago I interned in the Washington office of the Agudah and occasionally sat in on meetings on their behalf with Christian leaders. (The Religious Liberties Protection Act, in one of its incarnations, was hot at the time.) If I had any role in such meetings today, I would for sure try to think like a basketball coach to divvy up assignments. What tasks can a small but driven group of people – like the orthodox Jewish community – do for God? What can a perhaps less intense but equally committed and much larger group do? You think over the best assignments for each unit, send them out to do the best they can, and pray. That’s how you win a game.
I have sadly never had the good fortune of being a parent myself, and so whatever standards I have about this issue, are entirely theoretical. My feeling about it, though, is that until children reach their teenage years, that parents should indeed shelter their children as much as possible, both to protect their innocence, as well as to give them time during those critical years to form a solid foundation in their Jewish identity. And when those children reach 20 years old, then the cultural floodgates really do need to be opened, as even the most religious of us needs to know what is going on in society in order to survive. It is the time in between, their teenage years, that I honestly feel totally clueless as to what the proper approach to parenting should be. I will leave that difficult question to those who have actually been parents.
As for Pat Robertson, he is actually one of the key people that decided what direction my political views would take. Too many decades ago, I used to watch him during my first years in college, and was transfixed by such a politically conservative, Evangelical Christian being such a strong, unwavering supporter of Israel. Same goes for Jerry Falwell. And when I compared them, as well as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, to the stance toward Israel taken by the leading Democrat of that time, namely Jimmy Carter, well, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what political party I have been affiliated with ever since then. And with time, my political views have been confirmed over and over again to be the right ones.
We still have a TV,but there is nothing worth watching as the LCD on network TV has decreased as to what is considered “acceptable” viewing during the “family hour” , has plummeted .Cable TV except for news and networks that focus on news or history or even sports is a wasteland with the waste being the most decadent and prevalent on “premium” cable. Many years a prominent rebbitzen told me that they did not have a TV in their house and I thought that they lived on a different planet. Today, I think that there is a lot of merit not having a TV with respect to the abject Tummah and threats to Shemiras HaEnayim and Kedusha projected every day. I think that there is a lot of merit in not having a TV but in having access to radio and news via a computer or cellphone. That being said, TV, as opposed to reading is a completely passive medium with everything being designed to keep your attention, as opposed to thinking and reacting. Watching TV really dulls the mind and basically dulls the mind at best and does lead to Bitul Torah on a grand scale. I used to watch baseball and football quite often -that has decreased when you read about the fact that the so-called stars are hardly the kind of people that you would call roll models in their off the field lives. Like it or not, as R E Buchwald once commented, if we take out the garbage every night , why bring it back in via the TV screen?
TV is so passé. There’s so much one can access on computers now.
OK, not totally true, just look at perennial Black Friday sale favorites. But there are many families without TVs that are (ab)using the internet for all their entertainment needs.
A relative of mine who is a a retired college professor and a baal teshuvah once told me he likes to read one of the frum children’s magazines after his children. The point is not that you can earn a degree from a child’s magazine, but that it can compete educationally with Highlights or Cricket Magazine(magazines for children that were around when I was growing up).
As far as frum adult media, if the medium is appreciated for what it is, rather than what it isn’t, it can be appreciated by a wider base. Just as the Chofetz Chaim is said to have been a good conversationalist without lashon hara, there are many human interest stories or topics that can appeal to a wide audience in frum media as well.
Rabbi Adlerstein, I’m curious about your self-identification in this article. I always thought you preferred to studiously straddle the fence between the yeshiva world and the MO world in order to give your critiques of the left-wing of Modern Orthodoxy more credibility.
Aren’t you giving yourself away in this post as a staunch member of the Yeshivah community–as opposed to the Right Wing of the Modern Orthodox one? As we both know, the Modern Orthodox world has never forsworn television.
And what about this paragraph?
“Over the decades, the Torah
community has developed responses that have more or less won general communal
acceptance. Some genres are kept at arm’s length, while others are sampled with
caution. We’ve been guided in this by some Divine providence that can be
appreciated only decades after fateful decisions were made.”
It would seem you have committed the grave sin of equating “The Torah community” (trademark?) with the Yeshivah world. (Expect Rabbi Slifkin to take umbrage at this as he did Rabbi Gordimer’s post. see: http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2016/08/who-is-traditional.html )
The responses that you speak off have come down to the Yeshivah community from its leadership — which enjoys a high level of conformity to rigid norms.
Again, as we both know, the Modern Orthodox community has never “developed responses” that have come down from the leadership. It’s every family for themselves.
Also take this paragraph:
“We embarked on a different path. We effectively banned the medium entirely. (To be sure, there were lots of private “sinners,” and lots of jokes about built-in televisions hidden in furniture in certain neighborhoods. But as a community standard of the yeshivah community, nixing television was accepted.) We never tried the same with radio, or telephones – even though naysayers pointed could point to evils associated with their use. We somehow knew that it could not be done – that these innovations were here to stay, and people were going to avail themselves of them. (I am not sure why we were not blessed with the same understanding of reality in relation to the internet, which some still believe they can ban. Perhaps we are too close to it to see it for what it is, and we will understand better in twenty years time.)
In other areas, we succeeded in time of doing one better: we thoroughly co-opted a number of media. We developed a full range of popular culture made in our own image: music, daily newspapers, weekly glossies, fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. We did not have to ban (although many, of course, do) so much as create attractive substitutes that could be every bit as inviting as that offered by the host culture.”
I find this entire post to be very tribal in its tone. There are a lot of “we”s here. I counted about ten. And none of them can include the Modern Orthodox world–even its right-wing– by any stretch. So are you in fact declaring with this post that you do not inhabit the Modern Orthodox world?
A good deal of presumption here. Haven’t counted, but the number ought to come close to the number of “we’s” you counted up.
1) I must be charedi. Wikipedia says so, and Wikipedia is never wrong.
2) In the past, I have presented the evidence for and against my being charedi. I would have thought that you would remember, since it came while I was defending R Slifkin against some of the more overzealous criticism, much of it from you. I also would have thought that after ten years, you would have given up.
3) I don’t formally belong to anything. I pay membership dues to one organization: my local beis medrash. And I know that it is charedi, since we never have women speak. At least not women with faces.
4) I have also warned of the pitfalls of over-identification with any group. Such identification should never be pursued to the point where it becomes a heavy burden, or you have to give up your pursuit of emes in order to maintain it.
5) If anything, I have tried convincing people who are caught in between the worlds of charedim and Modern Orthodoxy that they are in fact part of a very large group, and should not contemplate leaving for a distant island. They are not alone.
6) Modern Orthodoxy also spans a large continuum. It is simply not the case that you will not find eschewers of TV among its right wing. (You should get to know a few of them. You might like them.)
7) If all you wrote would have been true, the use of “we” would still be justified. Cross-Currents welcomes diverse opinions on the part of the Orthodox continuum that starts with the center and moves right of it. (It even tolerates me!) But it was designed, and BEH will remain, a site that is user-friendly to the charedi community.
At least to the more reasonable elements therein.
Dare I speak for Rabbi Adlerstein, especially since he has already spoken for himself? It is just that I have known him for decades, so maybe that has at least earned me the possibility of giving what my perception is of where he stands in the world of Judaism. I do think he is definitely in the Chareidi camp, in the sense that he would never compromise on his appreciation and respect for our greatest Rabbis in our history (he is quite well known for being an expert on the teachings of the Maharal, for example) nor would he ever compromise on Jewish law. And yet, unlike what I encounter far too often in that same Chareidi world, I never get the impression that he resonates to blind faith, nor to treating our great Torah teachers as if they are incarnations of G-d Himself. He is an incredibly brilliant man who has the necessary, classical Torah positions but not before he thinks for himself, weighing the evidence using the twin prisms of both logic and empirical evidence. It is his independent mind which has led him to Torah true Judaism, which is something very intellectually satisfying to those of us who may be coming from a more secular perspective, yet who want to be more in the Torah world but do not wish to sacrifice our minds at the alter of anything smacking of authoritarianism. He is the Jewish Socrates, only without Socrates’ tragic ending.
Hi Rabbi Adlerstein,
Glad to have you back online.
Send my best to your children & grandchildren who live in an illegal settlement (so says the UN). Chag Sameach, cvmay
I am sad for Dovid Kornreich, who shows an unhealthy fascination with certain individuals, and a burning desire to exclude as many people as possible from his “brand” of Judaism. Must we slice our community into ever smaller pieces? Like most of my friends, I am educated in a traditional yeshiva from one of the Alter of Slabodka’s students, graduate degree, worked in kiruv and chinuch, have sedorim, and wear a black hat. And like most of my friends, I do not identify as Charedi, nor as non-Charedi. We are mevakshei emes, or try to be. If a rov knows what he is talking about, we will ask him our shailos. If a neighbor’s home excludes negative influences, our kids can play there. If there is a difficult Rashbam we don’t delete it, and no matter how good a gadol story is we won’t use it if it isn’t true. We care much more about what you do than what you call yourself. We know too many Charedi sinners and non- Charedi saints to be naive enough to think labels make the man. We are (I hope) the silent majority who know “frum is a galach, ehrlich is a yid.”
“Rabbi Adlerstein, I’m curious about your self-identification in this article. I always thought you preferred to studiously straddle the fence between the yeshiva world and the MO world in order to give your critiques of the left-wing of Modern Orthodoxy more credibility.”
R Kornreich, have you considered that some people actually do write what they think is the truth, rather than modulating their message or identity for some perceived greater goal? It might change your worldview.
Dovid Kornreich- I will let R Adlerstein speak for himself but if your family realizes that your priority in your spare time after a tough day at work and sometimes a tough commute is Limmud HaTorah in your spare time as opposed to watching the idiot box you are making a statement as to your priorities in life that resonates in your life with your spouse and children.
“As we both know, the Modern Orthodox world has never forsworn television.”
If Modern Orthodoxy wants to stand for ideals like nuanced thinking, becoming educated about the world, communal involvement, avoiding superficiality, and promoting a better outlook on women, it should discard Hollywood and abandon the television. Our most precious values should make us even more wary of this medium than are the Haredim. Of course I do not own a television. I am Modern Orthodox.
(Rabbi Yitzchak Blau in “Modern Orthodox Arguments Against Television” , Tradition Magazine, 2011; there was a follow -up in a 2012 Tradition article by R’ Carmy/Blau/Wolf , “The One Thing Money Can’t Buy”)
For me, one of the biggest challenges in being sheltered vs. exposed is, ironically, places on the Internet where Orthodox Jews interact. Take this site: the articles are great, but sometimes the comments include leitzanus, or else lashon hora about groups of Jews. For this reason I try to avoid facebook.
Me neither. (There’re two of us, don’t tell!)
What I find encouraging and in fact bracing, is how what I perceive as the dominant approach to helping the community – I use this word in the broadest sense – deal with technology is not the “frum”, as in shmutz,approach, but to challenge us to see how technology is changing us. I believe your objections fall under this rubric as well. For example, Rabbi Nechemia Gottleib of TAG mentions some excellent books such as Essentially You and The Big Disconnect in his speeches to parents and communities, and many rabbanim, including Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit’a, bemoan how technology is destroying our focus and thinking. There’s an article on Cross-Currents about the technology and social networking policy of a DL school in Eretz Yisrael that I can heartily endorse.
Then again, this isn’t new. Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen, in his book To Kindle a Soul, has the same approach in his chapter on television.
I think that the discussions here are a level above social media, where the comments tend to become an electronic food fight. We may disagree on a wide variety of issues, but I think that the discussion is WADR of opposing stances, even if we disagree quite vociferously.