Sunday, 26 September 2010

ANTM contestant to forego observance

I recently read this posting about an 18 yr. old contestant on the reality show "America's Next Top Model" who, when first asked, described herself as Modern Orthodox (describing her adherence of Shabbat) but when later told that it would be expected of her to do modeling on the Sabbath, said that she would do so. Her involvement in the show also clearly did not consider the parameters of tzniut.
See for the details.

The question, though, is: what can we draw from this? Is this simply an individual case of another person sadly leaving the world of Orthodoxy? Or is this some type of statement about Modern Orthodoxy itself, especially its educational institutions (she is a graduate of Maimonides High School in Boston)? Or of Orthodoxy and its educational institutions in general? The comments that follow this article give a smattering of how people are viewing this -- from those who declare that it is none of our business to those who see this as a chilul Hashem challenging all of Orthodoxy. Here was a woman who, at first, stated with pride her allegiance to her faith and then dismissed it summarily in favour of trying to win this prize of being a model. How are we to understand this?

I have read many different takes on this but I want to perhaps add a different perspective. My focus is on this woman's understanding of Jewishness -- how does she understand it? What does she believe she is stating about herself when she says that she is a Jew? There are so many different motivations for why one identifies himself/herself as a Jew. There are so many different understandings of what one means when a person states that he/she is a Jew. The result is that there are so many different reasons for why someone performs a mitzvah or a set of mitzvot, even adopts a lifestyle filled with mitzvot. I wonder what this woman believed she was saying about herself when she stated that she was a Jew, a Modern Orthodox Jew. It is in the answer to that question that I think we will find the answer to the questions we may have about this event.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Years ago I met a person who described herself as Conservadox. When I asked her what that meant, she told me she kept kosher in the home but ate out, avoiding meat of course. She drove to shul on Shabbos but nowhere else, except if she needed something from the grocery on the way home. And so on. After listening for a while I asked her "So that's lots of Conservative, what about you is Orthodox?"
"Weren't you listening? I told you I go to shul every week!"
There's no patent on the term Modern Orthodox. Maybe there should be?

Unknown said...

There's no patent on any religious descriptor, so people who just don't get the concept, or who want to misuse it, have a lot of scope to do so. Those who really do fit the description then have to waste time distancing themselves.

On the other hand, some descriptors are so fuzzy or basically misleading as to invite misuse.

Sophie said...

The main qualification for Orthodoxy (which this young woman clearly does not possess) is a belief in the veracity of its claims. That is, a belief that God not only exists, but has expectations of his people, which include keeping the intricate (and often strange) set of laws known as the halakha. There are plenty of people who affiliate with the Orthodox community who do not really believe the above, and it is this that allows them to choose to forego halakha in favor of self-interest.

I think that the sincerely Orthodox too often fail to realize this fact, ascribing breaches of halakha (both in their fellow "Orthodox" Jews and in those of other denominations) to the inability to conquer selfishness, even in the face of Truth. This, however, is generally not the case: the people who are able to unthinkingly ignore certain halakhic restrictions are not prioritizing pleasure over Truth, but rather do not acknowledge certain tenets to be true, and therefore -- in their minds -- are committing no real sin.

Dr Mike said...

Also, isn't ANTM what Dorothy kept screaming as the tornado carried her house to Oz?

SJ said...

The thing is the orthodox community needs to find better reasons for picking orthodoxy when it's a conflict of either Orthodox Judaism, or living a happier life.

It's easy to blame the buyer for not buying. Howabout blaming the sellers?

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

My contention is that the problem may lie in the ambiguity in regard to the 'product' that is being bought or sold. If one is facing a conflict between Orthodoxy and a happier life, much of the issue is not simply in the evaluation itself but in the criteria used in making this evaluation and in the very definitions tied to this evaluation. If we try to 'sell' Orthodoxy because it will offer someone a specific satisfaction or source of happiness, the issue may not lie in the success of this sale but in the very definition of this sale and what is being sold.

Rabbi Ben Hecht