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Some Thoughts on Orthodox Jewish All-Stars

Jew in the City (i.e. Allison Josephs) has a new video up in which – not surprisingly, as this seems to be her modus operandi – she attempts to clarify inaccurate perceptions about Orthodox Judaism. This particular video focuses on the professions that Orthodox Jews can have. Alex Clare, Joe Lieberman, boxer Dmitriy Salita and others star in this video which points out that the range of professions available to Orthodox Jews is higher than many people might think.

I might be inclined to nitpick at the basic thesis – that Jews can enjoy any trade they desire – but Josephs does say explicitly “we can’t do every last job out there.”

Is the video useful? Well, I’d like to think that it is. To those engaging in outreach, the video is clearly beneficial. It can be used to demonstrate that Orthodox Judaism does not have extremely rigid professional boundaries, which must help the sales pitch for Orthodox Judaism.

In terms of educating Orthodox Jews about Orthodox Judaism (which I assume is at least a secondary goal of Jew in the City), I don’t think it’s quite so simple. Some of the jobs featured are incredibly challenging for someone who is committed to Orthodox law (professional athlete comes to mind). Is it good for our children to grow up believing that every career path is open to them? Will this keep young Orthodox Jews from straying? Or will it simply serve to frustrate them when faced when they are faced with challenges in the workplace?

I don’t know. I’m inclined to think that the video is a good thing. Career choices are generally made by relatively mature people who have the ability to assess the requirements of a job. Dimitriy Salita and Alex Clare are showing that jobs in “unconventionally Orthodox” industries can be performed, not there are no challenges involved.

As Josephs says, “what makes this group extraordinary…is that they’ve stayed true to their Jewish heritage [while thriving professionally] even though it wasn’t easy.” And I guess you could argue that even if this video isn’t necessarily the best career pamphlet for an Orthodox Jew, it can serve as a reminder that if you really put your mind to it, you can enjoy most professions without infringing on your religious obligations.

(The full list of those featured is: Senator Joe Lieberman, Jamie Geller, Rochelle Shoretz, Alex Clare, The Maccabeats, Faye Kellerman, Mendy Pellin, Miriam Rosenbaum, Dmitriy Salita and Tamir Goodman.)

Update: I should point out, I guess, that while I quibbled about whether the video is “useful,” it’s certainly successful in its goal of clarifying incorrect perceptions about Orthodox Judaism. Simply put, the careers put together by the All Stars featured have been compatible with Jewish law.

2nd Update: Josephs writes here that “the video was publicizing the message that WE ARE NORMAL” and that a ba’al teshuva appreciated the video because “it filled him with hope that maybe just maybe people would understand why he chose the life he chose.” In these regards it is certainly very useful.

Was Bill Cosby Right About Noah?

A young Bill Cosby

In a well-known routine, the great Bill Cosby shares his thoughts on the conversation between Noah and God which led to Noah’s building the ark. The bit is certainly humorous, but do its facts correspond with those of the traditional Jewish interpretation of the flood episode? Let us see:

Cosby calls Noah “a good carpenter.” Rashi (Bereishis 5:29) writes of a farming implement that Noah invented. Does that qualify him as a carpenter? Possibly not. But I find it reasonable to assume that a farming tool inventor is likely to have been a good carpenter, as well.

Cosby says that God told Noah to make it 300*80*40 cubits out of wood. While the pasuk has God telling Noah to use wood (6:14), Cosby is conspicuously incorrect on the measurements. Noah was actually commanded to make it 300*50*30 cubits. Cosby’s ark would actually seem to be more roomy than Noah’s, with more than double the cubic space (960,000 square cubits versus 450,000).

With regard to the duration of the flood, as Cosby has it, Noah was promised 1,000 days and 1,000 nights of rain but subsequently tried to bargain those numbers down to 40. Bereishis 7:4 reports Noah being told that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Unlike the story with Abraham and Sodom (Bereishis 18), we are not told of any negotiations. (It may have been the potential for a longer storm that made Cosby give Noah roomier accommodations. ;-))

By portraying Noah as unwilling to explain his ark-building to his neighbor, Cosby has God’s goal as the destruction of everyone other than Noah. Rashi (6:14) has a very different take. He says that Noah’s 120 year long ark construction project was necessary so that many people would observe Noah’s interesting actions and ask him why he was engaging in the bizarre endeavor. When told of the answer (that God was to destroy the world), they would, hopefully, repent.

Just before the rain begins, Cosby has Noah frustrated at God, unhappy about the position God has put him in. (“I’m sick and tired of this…you know I’m the only guy in this neighborhood with an ark…you let me go out there and bring in a pregnant elephant, you give me no manual for delivery…) It is only the downpour that has Cosby’s Noah ultimately return to the side of God. Though he does not share any such dramatics on the part of Noah, Rashi (7:7) similarly has Noah as a man of wavering belief. In fact, Rashi states that Noah and his family did not enter the ark until “the water forced them.”

In summary, while the facts in the Cosby version of the ark-building story correspond with some facts in the traditional Jewish version of it, we certainly cannot say that Bill Cosby, with all his genius, got all the facts right.

Here’s the Youtube clip:

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks vs. The Atheists

In 2010, R. Jonathan Sacks made a pre-Rosh Hashana for-TV program called “The Case for God” in which he discussed religion with 4 atheists. I don’t remember too much of what went on in that program, but I remember that anti-Sacks Youtube commenters said things like “Let’s see him do this with Dawkins.”

He did:

(In case you’re interested, I’m embedding the 2010 program in 2 parts below.)