Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Esther Petrack and the Complexity of Modern Orthodoxy

I have to admit I do not watch the popular TV show, America's Next Top Model (ANTM). It is not that I am opposed to television - I am not, but reality television has never been my thing, especially when the show is all about modeling. However, even those of us in the Modern Orthodox community who do not watch ANTM heard about the Modern Orthodox model from Brookline, Esther Petrack. The video clip was circulated wide and far of the host of the show, Tyra Banks, asking Esther if she would be able to give up Shabbat to be on the show and Esther apparently replied with the famous words "I will do it."

Many pundits, both in the Jewish online and print media and in the blogosphere, took this as an example of the unrealistic life of Modern Orthodoxy. Many of them declared that Esther's words were testament to the fact that it was impossible to raise a child simultaneously in both the Torah and secular communities and that one would be sacrificed in pursuit of the other.

The newest report according to Esther's mother Marina is that Esther actually never said what she was made out to say. Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of the Pacific Jewish Center in California blogged about the incident and received an email from her mother in response. I encourage you to visit Rabbi Fink's blog to read the excerpts from her email but in essence what transpired was that the production team behind ANTM edited a much more lengthy response from Esther to Tyra Bank's question. In her more detailed actual response Esther outlined, according to her understanding of halakha, what she could do and what she would be unable to do. The editing team of the show for whatever reason chose to edit her response to appear as if she would wholesale forsake Shabbat for the television program.

Now that we have been given a more complete understanding of what occurred on the television program I believe we are left with an example of not the unsustainable nature of Modern Orthodoxy but rather the complexities of the lives Modern Orthodox committed Jews lead. I do not have to agree with every choice all committed Modern Orthodox Jews make in their negotiations between the world they live in and the world of Torah but I will never discount or not appreciate the thought and care that goes into making those decisions. To be a Modern Orthodox Jew is to fully embrace the messiness of life with all of its manifold and complicated interests.

It is not an easy life but most human endeavors worth doing have never been easy.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link.

    For the record, my original post disputed the assertion that because one teenage girl was portrayed as dropping Shabbos Modern Orthodoxy was unsustainable. All streams of Judaism have drop-outs and they don't invalidate the entire stream. (link: http://finkorswim.com/2010/09/16/esther-petrack-modern-orthodox-jewish-girl-on-americas-next-top-model-drops-shabbos-on-television/)