Friday, June 20, 2014

An Unholy Routine

What kind of Chinuch do these parents give their children? (TOI)
I have been debating about whether I should say anything about a performance of a 12 year old boy on the TV show, America’s Got Talent (AGT). On the one hand, I could not see myself expressing the anger I felt at what is most certainly a Chilul HaShem made by a 12 year old boy. I really don't want to hurt him. On the other hand I can't let this go by without protesting it.

The Chilul HaShem was a standup comedy routine that was so vulgar, the it almost made AGT judge Howard Stern  blush. And Stern is perhaps the most vulgar radio and TV personality in show business.  What made it a Chilul HaShem was that this young contestant was wearing a Kipa. That almost certainly means he is an Orthodox Jew.  And his father was seen on that show wearing one too.

Normally I would be praising Orthodox Jews who are not embarrassed to wear a Kipa in public. It would certainly be understandable if he removed it during the performance so as not to influence the judges. They might see it as odd and therefore prejudice their vote. What this tells me is that he is proud to be an Orthodox Jew and wants people to know it, despite any negative consequences that may result.

Last year on this same show, a young boy about the same age wore a Kipa too. He sang and played the piano. And what he did was a Kiddush Hashem. He not only wore his Kipa proudly he refused to perform during the 3 weeks where Halacha forbids listening to live music. He made that a condition of being on the show. That took guts. He could have easily jeopardized his chances of appearing. There were probably tens of thousands of contestants that would have been happy to take his place. I’m sure he knew that. But he stood by his beliefs. They were more important to him than success. As it turned out, AGT allowed him to do that. And he did quite well on the show.

But in this case, I wish he had taken it off. Telling vulgar jokes at such a young age in front of millions of people is not the image we ought to be projecting to the world. Kidoshim Tihiyu, the Torah tells us (Vayikra 19:2). We are to be a holy people.  Rashi comments that the reason this Parsha follows the section on Arayos (forbidden sexual relationships) is to tell us that wherever one finds a ‘fence’ to such acts, one will find holiness.  The obvious reverse of that is that where one finds Arayos, one will not find holiness. This young boy was anything but holy on that show. He projected unholiness.

What this young fellow did by his ‘act’ is tell the world that Orthodox Jews are vulgar people. This is not being a light unto the nations. It is a Chilul HaShem for a holy nation to present itself in that way. What lesson does that teach the nations? How does this reflect the Godliness that our behavior is supposed to represent?

When I saw this segment (which has been all over the internet) I was disgusted and embarrassed. I was embarrassed for the 12 year old on stage, embarrassed for his parents, embarrassed for his school, and embarrassed for Klal Yisroel.

That the judges and audience loved it makes no difference. The Jewish people are not on this earth to win popularity contests. Our mission in the world is to be a light unto the nations. It is that for which we are to appreciate applause, not what this young boy did.

But my outrage is not directed so much at this young boy. It is directed at his parents, who seemed to not only approve, but celebrate what their son did.

Really? Is this the Chinuch you are giving your children? Is this your Orthodoxy? Is this how you think the world should see us? Is this what your ancestors envisioned for their offspring? Do you think the boys grandparents or great grandparents would approve? What are you teaching your children with this? Which Pesukim in the Torah tell you that this is OK? Which Gemarah?

Yes, laughter is an important part of life. The Talmudic sage Rava always started off his Shiurim with a bit of humor, so as to get the attention of his students in a positive way. They would then be more motivated to learn from his lectures. Is this what happened here? And did Rava tell these kinds of jokes?

What kind of Chinuch did the parents get to make them feel it is OK to let their son do this in front of millions of people while wearing a Kipa?

What makes this even more egregious is the fact that the father denied on camera that he had anything to do with the material his son performed and that his wife (the boy’s mother) never heard that material before. The fact is that the father did one of those jokes himself in almost the exact same manner as his son. It was at a comedy club available for viewing on YouTube.

And what about the day school this boy attends? How are they going to deal with this? Are they going to just let it slide? I don’t think that is an option. This requires a serious rebuke of not only the boy but of his parents. There are obviously some major Chinuch issues to be addressed here. In my view the school needs to educate both the boy and his parents about what is proper behavior for an observant Jew. What I can’t understand is why the parents haven’t learned that yet? What kind of homes were they raised in? What kind of teachers gave the impression that this could ever be OK?

What a shame. On the surface the parents seemed very normal and very likable people. The relationship between the parents and their son seemed to be very loving. The parents are obviously very supportive of this child. All good things. Things from which we can all learn. But there is something very wrong with parents being proud of their son’s vulgarity in front of millions of people.

I don’t wish this family any ill. In fact, I have no issue with young boys succeeding in show business, provided they do not make a Chilul HaShem in the process. I would only ask him to clean up his act. And ask that his parents help him do that. You don’t have to be blue to succeed as a stand up comedian. Ask Bill Cosby. His routines are never blue. And there aren’t too many comedians who are as successful as he is. Follow his example and stop making a Chilul HaShem!