Thursday, September 04, 2008

What is Srugim about?

Guest post by Lurker



Jameel's post about R. Aviner's ban on Srugim seems to have ignited quite a debate. This debate goes to the heart of what the show is actually about, as well as what value it holds.

One of the objections that has been raised is that the characters on the show are not good role models. And as Jameel pointed out, they are not really intended to be. Others have responded to this by suggesting that in fact, they ought to be. But is this really true?

This particular criticism of the show seems to stem from the view that the only legitimate form of literature about people -- or, in this case, drama -- is one in which the characters are role models. In this genre of literature/drama, all the actions of all major characters are justified and perfect, and in complete accordance with the rules of behavior set out in Mesilat Yesharim. I call this the “ArtScroll genre”. And people who favor this genre exclusively tend to view any other sort of human portrayal as "cheap, low and stupid".

The big problem with the ArtScroll genre is that it bears little resemblance to reality. This is true when it's used to rewrite the biographies of gedolim, and all the more so when it's used in fiction about "regular" people. Simply put, stories are not all that interesting when they are about people with no failings or inner conflicts.

Srugim is about a few (fictional) characters who are part of the dati leumi (religious Zionist) community, and it depicts those characters as flawed, imperfect human beings: They are committed to their values and principles, but at the same time, they struggle to deal with the conflicts that arise between those values and other aspects of their lives. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes -- often to their own chagrin -- they fail. As a rule, this is what real people are like. That's true in general -- and not for just 30-year old religious singles in the Jerusalem bitza.

Some might say, so what? What value is there in portraying people wracked by such dilemmas and conflicts, even if it is realistic? Well, there's the simple entertainment value for one, and I don't think that's a value that should be dismissed out of hand. But in fact, there are other values in this as well:

  • We live in a society where dati'im (religious people) are commonly portrayed by the media as one-dimensional, strange people who are estranged from the modern world, and who do everything they do out of unthinking, blind obedience. It is therefore a very helpful thing for hilonim (secular people) to see a portrayal of dati'im as three-dimensional, real people, who are similar to themselves in many ways, who very much live in the modern world, and who struggle with real conflicts.

  • It is a good thing for many dati'im to see a portrayal of other dati'im who face many of the same difficulties in life as their own, and with whose struggles they can identify. From this perspective, the portrayal of flaws can potentially be very constructive: When someone sees a character on the show with whom he identifies, and that character's failings start coming to light as the show progresses, many people may come to recognize similar failings in themselves. I have already run into more than one person who has been watching Srugim, and who said, "Oh my God -- that character is me!" In the month of Elul, it hardly needs to be repeated that conscious recognition of one’s own personal failing is the first step toward rectifying it.

    Shadkhaniot (matchmakers) are telling us that Srugim is doing their job for them; effectively conveying to religious singles the critical message that the shadkhaniot have been trying desperately to tell them for years: That the singles need to become more realistic and open-minded in their search for a mate (hattip: Shimon). And who knows; maybe there's a real-life "Nati" out there who, after recognizing the stupidity and self-destructiveness of the fictional Nati's behavior, might finally wise up, turn around and settle down with his own "Yifat". R. Aviner and anyone else can say whatever they want about the show, but if there are even a small number of people for whom this might be true, then Laizy Shapiro has earned his place in olam haba...
One can even make the argument that these characters are role models, in a certain way: They are positive role models inasmuch as they succeed in doing the right things and adhering to their principles. These things should be emulated. And they are negative role models inasmuch as they fail. And these things should be avoided.

“Wait a minute!” you might object. “That makes them no different from people in real life!”

And you would be absolutely right.

This, of course, brings us to another charge that’s been discussed here against Srugim: The claim has been made that portraying people -- even fictional ones -- in such a true-to-life manner constitutes lashon hara (slander) against the larger community to which they belong -- in this case, the dati leumi community. As one of the commenters asked, "Why wouldn't this be a problem of lashon hara against a community, and therefore each of its members?"

When one thinks about it, the suggestion that this portrayal constitutes lashon hara against the entire dati leumi community is really quite silly. Human nature is such that all communities have people with flaws, as does humanity as a whole. Haza"l teach us that we all are plagued by our yetzer hara (evil inclination), and that we often succumb to it. Are Haza"l therefore guilty of lashon hara against the Jewish people? The book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) tells us that people are vain, and that they waste their time on pointless foolishness. Is Kohelet thus guilty of lashon hara against all humanity?

Furthermore, to suggest that Srugim is guilty of lashon hara against each and every member of the dati leumi community (as the same commenter suggested) is even more baseless. There is no reason for anyone to suppose that the particular flaws of any given fictional character on the show is shared by any particular real-life person.

All the religious characters on Srugim have a commitment to Torah and mitzvot, to one degree or another. The never-ending struggle between this commitment on the one hand, and one's opposing desires on the other, is the core of what Srugim is all about. It is a struggle we all face, each in our own way, and it is a worthwhile endeavor indeed to portray this struggle in a stimulating, sensitive way -- which is exactly what this show does.

Pay attention to the words of Srugim’s hauntingly eloquent theme song, Ana Efneh ("Where Will I Turn"), sung by Erez Lev-Ari. (This is a highly appropriate song for Elul, btw. If I were to give it my own title, I would call it Vidui ["Confession"].) In it, you will find this conflict framed brilliantly in its poignant lyrics (translated here by yours truly, with a hattip to Moze):













I pursue Your laws, on the one hand
On the other, my passion pursues me.
Ashamed and embarrassed, I will enter Your gates.
And the long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear.

אני רודף אחר חוקיך, מחד
מאידך תשוקתי אותי רודפת
בוש ונכלם אבוא בשעריך
והלילות הארוכים והבדידות ושנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
Where shall I go, to where will I turn, when Your eyes gaze upon me?
Where shall I flee, how will I not turn away?
Between truth and truth,
Between law and practice.
Between the days of yore and modern times.
Between the hidden and the revealed,
Between the world to come and this world.

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה, כשעיניך מביטות בי
איכה אברח, איך לא אפנה
בין אמת לאמת
בין הלכה למעשה
בין הימים ההם לזמן הזה
בין הנסתר לנגלה
בין העולם הבא לעולם הזה
I pursue Your laws, on the other hand my passion burns me
Fierce as death, terrible as troops with banners
The long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear
Bring me back!

רודף אחר חוקיך, מאידך תשוקתי אותי שורפת
עזה כמוות, איומה כנדגלות
הלילות הארוכים והבדידות והשנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
השיבני
Where shall I go, to where will I turn
...

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה
...


Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד

45 comments:

shlomo said...

Some charedim oppose reporting pedophiles to the police, because it's "lashon hara" to admit that such things can go on in their community. To us it's obvious how ridiculous and harmful that attitude is. The same is true regarding Srugim as "lashon hara" about us. Anyone outside our community will respect us more for dealing with problems than for pretending no problems exist.

BTW, your otherwise great translation of a great song missed the double entendre of the line
בין הימים ההם לזמן הזה
which obviously refers to the "sheasa nisim" bracha on one hand, but on the other hand, "hayamim hahem" means the envisioned *future* after marriage. Similar to "haolam haba" two lines later.

Anon E. Mouse said...

you say, "R. Aviner and anyone else can say whatever they want about the show, but if there are even a small number of people for whom this might be true, then Laizy Shapira has earned his place in olam haba..."

but what about the opposite? there might be somebody, or a few or many somebodies, who is having difficulty keeping negiah laws (for example). This person then sees how flippantly some of the actors treat negiah, or shabbos, or whatever, and perhaps they are encouraged that many are like that and it is ok to not keep those laws.

Would Laizy then be earning his place elsewhere?

Commenter Abbi said...

Very well said lurker.

Lurker said...

shlomo -- Needless to say, it's impossible to do full justice to this sort of poetry in a translation. "הלכה למעשה" is also a double-entendre, of course.

Lurker said...

Anon E. Mouse: This person then sees how flippantly some of the actors treat negiah, or shabbos, or whatever, and perhaps they are encouraged that many are like that and it is ok to not keep those laws.
Would Laizy then be earning his place elsewhere?


Anyone who is exposed to the full spectrum of the dati leumi world (I'm talking about real life here, not a TV show) already knows very well that there are plenty of people who are hafifnikim. They don't need Srugim to discover this. The notion that somemone who observes a given halakha might stop observing it simply because he saw a character do so on Srugim borders on the ridiculous.

David said...

This is a brilliant post!
I think it drills down to the essence of why this show is a very positive thing for many people.
Very well said!

Moze said...

You gave an incorrect transcription of one line. Instead of
עזה כמוות איומה כנתגלות
it should be
עזה כמוות איומה כנדגלות
(from Shir HaShirim chapter 8 & 6)
"as fierce as death, as awesome as an army with flags flying"

Lurker said...

Moze -- Thank you for catching that! I have corrected the text.

Yasher koach.

Anonymous said...

Without disagreeing with what you have written, I think we have to look beyond.
The show was made by Maaleh graduates. For me, that would seem to mean that there should some added value. To accurately portray the troubles of datiim is something that can be done by others too. (We've seen Chatzer, by non-religious folk, do a nice job of portraying chareidim).
Is it positive-or accurate- to portray an entire mini-community of hafifnikim in which everyone is nichshal on a regular basis?
I'm all for the challenges, but surely some datiim can withstand them?
What's the added value of the fact that this was made by datiim?

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

anon 5:42

What's the added value of the fact that this was made by datiim?

I think the added value here is in the quality of scriptwriting and direction/production.

All too often, authenticity is lost when non-datiim portray datiim (and I'm not talking about the hafif aspect which you raised before).

I dont think that Srugim will only be about everyone being nichshal.

Season 1 is almost over...but I will discuss this with Laizy about season 2's scriptwriting.

(and he does read these threads!)

rivkayael said...

That is a beautiful poem.

Lakewood Falling Down said...

Was it your blog that posted about "My Uncle, the Nitziv"? Atrscroll does indeed have a strange hold over a large aprt of our community. Check out my "Atrscroll words of the day" if you get a chance. I hope you get a good laugh!

Lurker said...

Anonymous: Is it positive-or accurate- to portray an entire mini-community of hafifnikim in which everyone is nichshal on a regular basis?
I'm all for the challenges, but surely some datiim can withstand them?


What about Reut? Isn't she such a character? Unless I missed something, I don't think we've ever seen her compromise on halakha -- on a regular basis or otherwise.

Shimon said...

I think the following piece does a good job of highlighting one of the major strong points of Srugim, while gently "touching upon" one of its minor faults

http://www.kipa.co.il/family/show.asp?id=29086

RivkA with a capital A said...

Perceptive and insightful post.

Beautiful translation of the theme song.

tnspr569 said...

Excellent post, Lurker. Well stated.

The Anchorite said...

Great post Lurker! but you should have put up a spoiler alert on that video. Those of us living here in galut haven't seen the latest episodes yet ;-)

Juggling Frogs said...

I wish we could see srugim here in the States. I can't wait until it comes out on DVD.

But this is post touches on what makes any story interesting, inspiring, or worthwhile.

We need stories about men, not angels.

The term "character development" makes no sense with respect to angels.

The tanach is replete with stories of men, and spend scant time with the angels.

That's why the artscroll-ified stories inspire eye-rolling, not introspection.

(Great post - stumbled.)

Lurker said...

Shimon -- that is a very interesting article; thank you for bringing it to my attention. I've added a link to it in the post.

chardal said...

>Shimon -- that is a very interesting article; thank you for bringing it to my attention. I've added a link to it in the post.

It is interesting. Also notice the comments! Is it just me or are the commneters in the Israeli forums much more likely to take a negative attitude towards parts of the show than in more anglo comment threads such as this one?

Anonymous said...

>>Shimon -- that is a very interesting article; thank you for bringing it to my attention. I've added a link to it in the post.

>It is interesting. Also notice the comments! Is it just me or are the commneters in the Israeli forums much more likely to take a negative attitude towards parts of the show than in more anglo comment threads such as this one?

Chardal -- It is no different than Arutz Sheva. Ever notice how the English version gives full respect to the widest range of Orthodox rabbis, and to modern Orthodoxy in general, while the Hebrew version viciously skewers anyone and anything who doesn't toe-the-line of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav? And this TV show is about a reality that reflects modern Orthodoxy 100% (even if it isn't called that in here Israel).

The reason the Hebrew vs. English reactions are different is that "chardal" (not your webname but the Israel religious phenomenom) is extremely influential and highly intolerant. Those are the comments you are seeing on web forums.

YMedad said...

I understand a new series about politicians in Emek Refaim/Baq'a area, like on Cremieux St. is in the works, to be called Ethrogim. It also deals with themes of negiah ("hand in the till"), loyalty (jumping parties) and other burning issues.

Shmilda said...

I'm loving the all Srugim all the time focus of the blog.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

shlomo-
Comparing "lashon hara" claims regarding a TV show and "lashon hara" claims that protect pedophiles is foolish. Refusing to watch a tv show is not nearly the same as failing to report sexual abuse.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

lurker-
Of course one can be guilty of lashon hara when speaking about a group. See, for example, Rashi to Shemot 4:3 (citing Shabbat 97a) - Moshe there did not address any particular individual, either.

As far as the comparison to Kohelet, he speaks of humanity as a whole.

Chazal (as well as numerous neviim) addressed the groups they wished to change, and did so in the manner of rebuke. They did not circulate among other populations, mocking the people they wished to change.

I'm not banning the show and I'm not saying it's evil - I'm just pointing out that denying that this is lashon hara is silly.

Anonymous said...

Is there a good way to watch the show (all episodes) online from the US (ideally with english subtitles)?

Lurker said...

TRH: Of course one can be guilty of lashon hara when speaking about a group.

I never said (or meant to imply) that there is no such thing as lashon hara against a group. I simply said that Srugim is not guilty of lashon hara against the dati leumi community, simply by virtue of portraying a few fictional characters as typical, imperfect human beings who, along with their positive traits, also have normal human flaws. I also rejected the notion that Srugim is guilty of lashon hara against each and every member of that community, since "there is no reason for anyone to suppose that the particular flaws of any given fictional character on the show is shared by any particular real-life person".

TRH: See, for example, Rashi to Shemot 4:3 (citing Shabbat 97a) - Moshe there did not address any particular individual, either.

That's correct; he made a general blanket statement about Am Yisrael as a whole. Srugim, however, does not purport to be making any such general statement about the dati leumi singles community as a whole. It is only about a small group of characters -- and fictional ones, at that.

TRH: As far as the comparison to Kohelet, he speaks of humanity as a whole.

Humanity as a whole is a group, too. As such, it is certainly possible for someone to speak lashon hara against it.

TRH: [Haza"l and the nevi'im] did not circulate among other populations, mocking the people they wished to change.

Of course they didn't. Are you implying that Srugim is doing this?

Srugim portays its characters in an touchingly sensitive, empathetic manner. To suggest that it's trying to "mock" anyone is simply wrong.

TRH: I'm not banning the show and I'm not saying it's evil - I'm just pointing out that denying that this is lashon hara is silly.

I'm afraid you haven't even begun to make an effective case that the show is lashon hara. Furthermore, as I pointed out, the show portrays dati'im as normal, three-dimensional people. The exposure of this positive portrayal to the larger hiloni population can be arguably seen as a very constructive thing -- the very antithesis of lashon hara.

shlomo said...

"Comparing "lashon hara" claims regarding a TV show and "lashon hara" claims that protect pedophiles is foolish. Refusing to watch a tv show is not nearly the same as failing to report sexual abuse."

You can compare things without them being exactly the same.

shlomo said...

To be more clear: A comparison can be valid even if the things being compared are not exactly the same.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Lurker-
I see; then I misunderstood you. I thought you were rejecting the general concept of lashon hara against a group.

Shlomo-
True, but they have to be in the same ballpark. Otherwise, you end with foolish statements like, "People who oppose lashon hara also oppose exposing sexual abuse."

Mindy 1 said...

Thank you for your insightful and sensitive post.

I still didn't watch the show yet nor do I feel qualified being an outsider to the described community to comment on it, but I greatly enjoy and benefit from reading discussion and comments on them. Thank you.

aoc gold said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lady-Light said...

Very interesting and thoughtful post. Now I am really interested in seeing all the episodes. As "Anonymous" asked above, do you know if it is possible to see all the episodes in the States, on a (free) website perhaps?
That is a very moving theme song, melody and lyrics.
Also, did I understand by your response to a comment that the show is produced by datiim? Is it also acted by datiim (I would venture to guess not, but maybe I'm wrong).

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Lady Light: Its not available in the US yet...(but all the episodes are listed on the facebook group for download...not that I'm advocating downloading...)

The show's director is religious, as are the screenwriters. I'm not aware of the producers being religious, though the actors are definitely NOT religious! (except for maybe 1 or 2). Part of what makes the show so good is the attention to details -- even though the actors are secular (of course, Lurker always finds the minor things to correct :)

Lady-Light said...

Jameel, I can download them from Facebook? -WooHoo! (uh, is that legal? Don't wanna be bad before יום כפור).

YMedad said...

Be bad. It helps make a better Yom Kippur.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

LadyLight: Its a tough call. But there are a few poskim today that allow it.

tnspr569 said...

OK, who wants to make some money selling DVDs of Srugim in America when it's released on DVD??

Jameel- but isn't it the same as going to someone's house and watching it there? :-P

Lady-Light said...

(-hey, Yisrael--are you my יצר הרע ??!)
and Jameel, on what basis do the poskim allow it? I am interested in discussing this further...'cause I want to see those episodes and don't have any shekels (dollars either).

YMedad said...

La-Li: it's your choice and you could make worse ones. How about trying a post on Bob Dylan's Judaism and Israel relationship, eh?

Lady-Light said...

"La-Li?" Hahahaha; sounds Chinese. Or like those modern Israeli names ("Li-Hee"). First time anyone's called me that-cute. I think I like it.
I'll take a look at your post (and, in my life I've probably already made 'worse ones'...)

Mindy 2 said...

Wait- when will it be available for purchase? I'd actuallyy *prefer* to buy them, since I stil didn't get around to watching them.

Alexandra said...

Thanks for this great post - especially the translation of the theme song which I have been looking for and the very apt 'Artscroll genre' remark.

It seems to me that the Tanach itself doesn't seem to have a problem portraying fallible people who fail to live up to the standards they aspire to. Every one of our forefathers and mothers slips at some time or from crises of faith, succumbing to sexual temptation and lying. Sound familiar?

If everyone was perfect the program would be both unrealistic and dull.

Anonymous said...

Hey

I about two or three weeks all the episodes will be online on "Yes" website at www.walla.co.il.

They waiting to show to be over and then will put online all the episodes. I read that there are advanced negotiations on second season.

Kamagra said...

In Israel is difficult find a family that live in peace and well, is good to know that in this country there are families that are happy and can share a lot of things together despite that they live in war.

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