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Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Review: A Gesheft

I know it's already been out for several months, but I just saw "A Gesheft" (www.agesheft.com) last night.

Sof kol sof, it's an hour and 40 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. If you don't want to read any spoilers or get any details, you can stop here.

The movie was released in December, and it's the first and only yiddish-language, "Kosher" entertainment product out there, if you don't count "Ushpizin" and the 'Yosef Shpiel' slide show/DVD and the countless 'dramatishe, talantfule' stage productions that are put on every chol hamoed in theaters around Monsey and Brooklyn.

(Incidentally, there was talk a year ago about an Israeli soap opera called "The Rebbe's Court." I don't know whether it got any traction there, and I haven't seen any episodes.)

I hate to digress, but seriously, folks. If you need entertainment on chol hamoed and the Bronx Zoo isn't kosher enough, and you end up paying $18 a pop to go see Kuppy Elbogen in a musical, aren't you giving tacit approval to the idea that entertainment is okay? Why aren't you just saying more tehillim or learning more mishnayos? How can you even go to a theater, anyway?! It's treif and tumeh!

But I digressed. Sorry.

So "A Gesheft" is the first of its kind, and it probably won't be the last. I can only hope that future productions are slightly more professional and more smooth.
I guess, especially if you're a Chasidishe yid who's never seen a movie before, A Gesheft is decent enough. But for anyone else, even the yeshivaleit who snuck into their grandparents' house to watch TV once in a while, it's full of holes and problems.

The story, in a nutshell, is this: Peretz Grossberg was a behavior problem in Cheder, so he was expelled. He grew up an amoral thief, ended up as a crooked businessman, and spends his days and nights plotting to bring down his archenemy from Cheder, Wolf Zichler. To that end, he kills Zichler's wife (accidentally), kidnaps his newborn son, and, 20 years later, kidnaps Zichler himself to prevent him from signing a lucrative contract. Wolf Zichler, in the meantime, accepts everything with love and lives a life of faith and honesty.

[[spoiler alert]]

Circumstances intervene, as they always do, and Grossberg is shown the error of his ways. Zichler is reunited with his long-lost son, and Grossberg is arrested. Instead of testifying against him and putting him in jail, Zichler opts not to press charges, but to learn with Grossberg and allow the Torah to heal his heart and bring him back to the fold.

Now, here are my problems, in no particular order:

1. The actors aren't actors. They're regular Monsey 'balebatim' and they wouldn't know a method from a character if they tripped over it. The only players who give even slightly emotional or affecting performances are two of my friends (naturally), R' Yankel Greenberg as the Menahel, and Dovid Samet as the "young Peretz Grossberg." Everyone else in the film recites his lines woodenly. And they also pause between sentences, as if they're waiting for the subtitles to catch up.

Imagine, if you will, a scene where someone is told that his wife just died. Would you expect the husband to react in some way, other than standing straight and looking vaguely uncomfortable?

2. The music is not even terrible. It's not even laughable. It's useless and detracts from the story.

3. In some crucial scenes, the audio doesn't sync up with the video - at least in the DVD I watched.

4. In the goyishe world, lo aleinu, there's such a thing as "continuity" in a film. That means that if a scene takes place in 1965, the furnishings, home decor, cars, and clothing in the scene should reflect the time period being depicted. I understand this movie was a low-budget affair, but still. Nobody had computers with CD-ROM discs in their rooms, or flat-panel monitors, in 1965. And it wouldn't have been so difficult to move those items from the set before shooting. But in this situation, I don't think the directors or producers even thought to acknowledge that continuity is an important part of movie making.

I mean, if the audience is suspending its disbelief anyway, accepting that Monsey does not have a single woman in its environs, anywhere, they'll surely accept that yeshiva principals had closed-circuit suveillance cameras in their offices back in the '60s.

Also, when one is informed that one's wife and child have passed on, r''l, one usually makes arrangements with the chevra kadisha and sits shiva. One does not simply accept the doctor's pronouncement and go home. So in addition to suspending disbelief about secular details, we must also suspend disbelief about halacha and Jewish life. Okay. On we go.

5. The message is very negative and dangerous, in my opinion. We're expected to believe that it's asur to testify against a Jew who is 100% guilty of harrassment, kidnapping, and quite possibly manslaughter, if he's being tried in secular court. I don't think that's true, to be perfectly honest. I think it's irresponsible and horrific, and moreover, it plays right into the hands of our enemies.

I'm not a Rov. I don't know the ins and outs of mesira, dina d'malchusa, pikuach nefesh, and so on. But it feels so wrong, and so unjust, to assert that the Torah requires that we let an unrepentant criminal live in freedom and happiness.

Incidentally, the same problems are playing out now, in real life, as the "quiet, gentle avrech" Yisroel Vales is being charged with murder. I don't want to get into the complexities, but I believe that if someone is guilty of a heinous crime, they should be incarcerated for the longest duration possible, as long as they pose a threat to society. It's a simple idea, isn't it? Why am I the only one who thinks so? (www.nrg.co.il/online/11/ART1/076/454.html)

So - long story even longer - A Gesheft is not worth your time. Hopefully, the directors and producers will keep their day jobs or watch a (rachmono litzlon) goyish film or two before taking cameras in hand and shooting another negative and disappointing video.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Taking Dor Yasom to a Whole New Level

We are a generation of orphans. An orphaned generation. Both.

I wanted to add some comments of my own to this brilliant post by R' Harry Maryles. But there are already over 150 comments there. Anything I'd say would be lost in the shuffle (see my earlier comments about blog comment boards). So I'm going to address it here.

We've been betrayed. We have no Rabbinic leadership on a global level. In many cases, we have no Rabbinic leadership on a local level, either. I won't get swallowed up in the explosion of sewage surrounding the Tendler controversy, but I will say that as much as R' Harry feels betrayed by the so-called gedolim, I feel betrayed just as much by people whom I once respected and admired. Yiddishkeit has always been represented to me as noble, refined, intellectually rigorous, spiritually inspiring, and most of all, RIGHT. But the more riots break out in Boro Park, the more Cross-Currents and Deiah V'dibbur pontificate about Haredism, the more Rabbis are brought down by rumor and vitriol, and the more batei din and Jewish organizations are tainted, the less I'm interested in identifying with it all.

A good friend of mine, Reb Dovid Roness, shlit''a, is still interested in identifying with it all. His passion and erudition were brought to bear recently, when he engaged the Agudah's Rabbi Avi Shafran in an e-mail debate about his column, "Pride and Principle," which outlines his explanation of why Agudah refrained from participating in the World Zionist Organization's recent elections for its American board.

To summarize what I think are the salient points, Shafran says that the WZO has--in its Jerusalem Pledge and by extension its worldview--placed the State of Israel in a position of centrality and moved Torah off to the margins. This offends Agudah's principles, and thus, they refrained from participating.

Roness argues that the positioning of Israel as 'central' doesn't mean that Torah is not also central. And if this whole argument boils down to semantics, why wouldn't the Agudah put the greater good--specifically, securing additional funding for yeshivos and Torah initiatives and influencing many irreligious and unaffiliated Jews in a positive way--ahead of a minor quibble over a word?

Shafran insists that the wording of the WZO is deliberate and reflective of their "zionist theology." Roness disagrees. And the argument revolves for a number of pages, bringing religious zionism, gedolim, kiruv, principles of honesty and integrity, and other tangential issues into the mix.

Dovid sent it to me, just to see what I thought about the whole mess. Following is my response:

Heilige tzadik,

I wish you could somehow turn back the clock and recoup the hours spent on this frivolous exchange. Don't write him back. Accept that this schism will not be bridged. Accept that Moshiach is going to come because of yiush, not because of achdus.

My main problem is that the whole thing can be boiled down into two lists - your position points and his.

He says centrality=zionism as theology=renouncing Torah=bad.

You say centrality=important=enabling frum people to influence funding and mind-share in the greater Jewish sphere.

Obviously you're right. It's silly to view his definition of the Jerusalem Pledge as anything other than spiteful and closed-minded. If it was written by zionists, it must be kefira. That's his take. Why? Because some of the founders of zionism were kofrim. That's what the whole argument of "history has shown..." amounts to. Reality on the ground - money for yeshivos vs. money for rainbow parades, and kosher food and mincha minyanim at WZO events vs. dinner dances and kosher-style banquets - has no bearing on his view. The potential good is outweighed by his adherence to a position that was benighted and narrow-minded 60 years ago, and is only moreso now.

Regardless of whether you accept Medinat Yisrael as 'kol dodi dofek' or 'an entity whose significance cannot be determined at this time,' it's there. It's happening. It's where the Jews are. It's where the greatest opportunities to influence unaffiliated Jews are. Look at Irgun Shofar! Odd as they are, they're at least *doing something.*

The old joke goes, "There's a good reason that OU's magazine is called 'Jewish Action,' and the Agudah magazine is called 'Jewish Observer.'"

That's the bottom line. Agudah is best when filing ineffectual briefs in US court cases, when pushing Pirchei and Bnos programs for yeshiva kids, when attempting to have unqualified mechanchim take day-long 'pedagogical enrichment' classes, and so on. They don't "do" klal yisrael. They don't have any aspirations beyond their daled amos, and they rationalize it (smugly and reprehensibly) with the chorus, "truth seekers will respect our commitment to principles."

Okay. But they won't. Not unless you reach out and engage them and show them what arvus and ohev es habriyos um'karvan latorah means.

An acquaintance of mine who's a musmach of Sh'or Yoshuv once said, "The modern have issues of kids going off the derech and turning to sex and drugs because of TV and movies and the Internet. *WE* don't have problems like that." (emphasis mine)

He, and people like him, see the dichotomy of us vs. them very clearly. To my limited understanding, G-d doesn't.

Now that I think about it, Agudah treats the irreligious the way we're commanded to treat potential gerim. "We're not going to advertise. We're not going to push. If they're interested, let them come to us."

The reasoning behind this is simple - they're afraid to engage the unaffiliated. What if some of that unaffiliation rubs off? What if their pat answers don't pass muster with intelligent people?

So that's it. Agudah's not interested in reality. And I guess, because I'm willing and indeed committed to working within reality, I'm somehow less attached to Torah principles. Okay. I'll live with that. It's a classic chakira - cheftza/gavra. How we balance the two determines where we fall on the political/philosophical (but NOT theological, chas v'sholom) spectrum.

Thanks for encouraging me to write this down. It's going on my blog!

But whatever - you need to drop it. You need to accept that Agudah's NOT going to see things your way, even though I believe torah y'vakshu mipicha. I'm very humbled and impressed that you even attempted to engage him in dialog. I wouldn't have even tried.

Have a zissen, kusheren, freilichen Pesach. Enjoy health and nachas and simchas and success in everything you do. And my sincerest bracha for you and me is, may our children be so articulate, well-informed, forceful, and committed to Toras Hashem as is borne out by your writings.

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