Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Sopranos, State and Religion

The popular TV show, The Sopranos, recently ended its run, with much aggravation at the conclusion. Life isn't meant to be open ended and murky, it is meant to be clear, "they all lived (or in this case, died) happily ever after."

The Israeli Broadcasting system recently started airing their own version of the crime drama, called "HaBorer," starring the four or five Israeli actors who seem to appear in every tele-novella or drama. The Godfather in this case is a man who quotes halachic Judaism and the Torah, as he is justifying the murder or blackmailing of one of his foes. In one of the first episodes of the series, he donates dirty money to the local synagogue where he prays, and while he is helping to lead the service he almost gets gunned down. He expresses as much outrage at the fact someone betrayed him, as it happened in a "holy place." One of his sons (Avi "The Gallbladder") is modeled after the character of Sonny Corleone, his daughter (Naomi "The Spoon") is a religious Chassidic Jew who regularly curses their enemies, and he has an illegitimate son, who will locate and confront him in the next few episodes.

Calvin in his treatise on State and Religion advocated a country where Religion rules the States. Professor Yeshayahu Lebowitz - a scholar in his own right and brother to the biblical scholar, Nechama Lebowitz - pointed out the inherent contraction in a Jewish Country of having religious political parties. If, for example, you believe that the Torah should be followed and that the Torah outlaws pork, then you cannot say that you will be conveniently absent the day the Knesset votes on the import and marketing of pork, because the majority party has promised you another five million shequel for your institute of learning. You cannot forbid your sons from serving in the Israeli army, pay little to no taxes, deny the validity of a secular State of Israel (in which you live) and then demand protection and equal rights within the law.

Lebowitz demands consistency rather than hypocrisy in this area. A sacred text should not be used in political negotiations.

All this being said, the show "HaBorer" apparently stays true to the reality of organized crime in this country, a membership composed mainly of religious Jews and Russians. There is no black and white, only shades of gray. You can freely associate yourself with acts of fraud and murder, as long as you wear the right clothing and pray at the right synagogue, and put on the proper show for the outside world.

Unfortunately, in my line of work, I hear stories from too many women who are in untenable situations at home, issues of neglect and worse, abuse. They have no recourse because their religious community keeps things insular and quiet; and a woman going to her husband's Rabbi and teacher is more likely to be told that she is getting abused because she is obviously not pleasing her husband and she ought to work harder. A religious woman who divorces her husband in some of these communities gets black listed, and may never see her children again.

I myself have had experience with this phenomenon: a retired priest and a student in my class in Chiropractic school, flaunted the religious title proudly. He was, unfortunately, also known as one of the worst cheaters in the class, and as someone who used his previous professional affiliation to manipulate teachers and classmates. I once pointed out that he - as opposed to anyone else in the class who might have a particular religious affiliation - made himself a target of increased scrutiny. His negative actions not only reflected upon him as an individual, but upon any member of the cloth. (It did not stop his abhorrent behaviour.)

Three years ago, a French neighbor of mine hit my car and thought no one saw the incident, and drove away. When I finally got her to court, and she was not only confronted with two solid witnesses in my defense, but was also caught in several lies on the stand, her claim was, "but I am religious." As if all the evidence against her would be out weighed by some Divine intervention.

I consider myself Jewish, Observant and Spiritual. I have a great relationship with G-d, and less tolerance for the fear-based, misogynist strictures of Orthodox Judaism. Most importantly, I want to be able to get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and at the very least not be ashamed of my behaviour, and at its best, to be able to look myself in the eyes and be proud of the person I have become.

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