Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Breaking Bad Jewishly

Julia Haart in her former life (NYP - warning: very untznius pictures at this site)
The series premieres on Netflix today. Julia Haart - born Talia Leibov -will tell her story in this - the latest entry in a genre called Reality Television. This is where celebrities star as themselves and show the world who they are and how they live. 

Yesterday, in discussing the negative bias in which the entertainment industry portrays Orthodoxy I assumed Haart’s story would be told the way all OTD stories are told. Blaming the phenomenon on the rigid strictures of  its  most extreme elements. Without making any distinction between the wide variety among various Orthodox groups. And ignoring the many positive aspects about even the most extreme elements of Orthodox Judaism that she was part of.   

In essence I reacted to an op-ed by Kylie Ora Lobell, a devout convert to Judaism that is fully observant. She objected to the negative way Orthodoxy is always portrayed on these shows – faulting it as the reason that some people go OTD. They portray it as an escape from a primitive and restrictive lifestyle that prevents its adherents from living life fully by suppressing their innate natural yearnings. Becoming OTD is to their antidote. 

As Lobell noted this image is about as distorted as can be from the reality she experienced – which motivated her to do the exact opposite of Haart – and ‘join the club’ as a devout Jew. Lobell also noted that in most cases of people that go OTD there is a lot more going on than simply the unnecessary religious strictures imposed upon. 

I agree with Lobell up to a point, but noted that the extreme lifestyles that are portrayed in those communities are not that far off from their reality. 

I have now had the opportunity to view the series ‘trailer’ – a preview of the series. And what I saw was a complete rebellion of everything Haart was taught as a Jew. Not only did she leave her community she has become almost the antithesis of - not only her old community but of Judaism itself

Julia Haart is now an internationally known fashion designer for such celebrities as Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian. The clothing she designs – and wears herself - is about as revealing as could be without being illegal. Her moral code on matters of intimacy matches the worst of western culture. She seems to have an obsession with the pleasures of sex and advocates the full panoply of things one can do to enhance that pleasure – including the use of sex toys. She speaks of her own sexual liberation that way at age 35. 

Making matters worse - she advises to her own children about sex and sex toys – to their own embarrassment. (A mother telling her children how to have great sex?! With sex toys?! Really?!)  

Nonetheless it seems that most of her children have followed in her footsteps to one degree or another anyway - except for her youngest son, who apparently remains Charedi. Not, however, for her lack of trying to dissuade him - it seems.

Her financial success cannot be disputed. She is a world renowned fashion designer and must be a multi millionaire – clearly living that kind of lifestyle with ease. That was accomplished in a relatively very short period of time. She only left her Charedi lifestyle in 2013 and started everything from scratch. 

While the life she leads is her own business, that she has becomes so wildly successful and preaches her lifestyle to everyone is troubling. While in America she has the right to do that, I have the right to strongly protest the kind of influence she peddles. Which she does with such joy and abandon. Now using the widely viewed platform of Netflix to do so. 

Confounding matters are her comments about the love she has of her religion. I find her to be disingenuous. Here is what she was quoted saying in Forbes:

“I am Jewish. I love my religion and I love the people in my community. Fundamentalism, however, has nothing to do with Judaism. Fundamentalism has to go...Fundamentalism can only exist in isolation. The message that everyone else is bad and you are the only ones who are good can only be believed if you don’t meet anyone outside your world. The greatest way to combat that is through education, not anger or hate.” 

Reading this comment alone and out of context makes it seem like she still adheres to the tenets of Orthodoxy rejecting only the fundamentalist versions of it in which she was raised and lived until escaping it. But that is the furthest thing from the truth – as was made clear in the trailer. 

That said, I want to be absolutely clear. I actually agree with the statement. I just don’t believe she really does. And yet by making it and living the way she does as an  internationally renown personality, her influence can not e underestimated. One can easily and yet  erroneously surmise that theycan live a life free of any Orthodoxy’s Halachic strictures and still be a devout Jew!

The most troubling aspect of all this is that escaping fundamentalism does not have to mean becoming Julia Haart. You can leave that lifestyle without leaving observance. Julia never had that opportunity and rebelled. Had she been given options besides the one in which she was raised, she could have done many of things she did clandestinely while yet living in her former community  - out n the open without a single protest from her peers, rabbis, or most anyone else that mattered to her. 

Would she have gone OTD anyway? Were there other factors involved that she did not talk about? Quite possibly. Who knows. But while her message about the stifling life she led may be real – her solution of rejecting everything - is going from one extreme to another and unnecessary. Life is about balance. For a Jew that means using the Torah as a guideline to navigate life in the real world. Not to escape it or the Torah.