Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Law & Order Gets Jews Right

Or, more right than is usual for TV depictions of religious Jews. I mean, who can forget the Sefer Yetzirah episode of The X-files, where a woman sits shiva for her fiancee, the Sefer Yetzirah when disinterred from under the head of the dead husband bursts into flame, and a golem is made from the earth of the grave (the depth of impurity) rather than the earth of a riverbank (constantly washed with living waters, the heights of purity). And the shul doesn't seem to have discovered electric lights.

Last night's episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, about a boy who rapes smaller children, starts out with some suspicion of the victim's Chasidic tutor and his supervisor. There are various scenes set in Williamsburgh, and in "Kiryas Moshe" (clearly a stand-in for Kiryas Yoel). Munch, as the staff Jew, interacts with the Chasidim in various contexts, using Hebrew terms (yehareg v'al yaavor, pikuach nefesh, lifnei iver) more or less correctly in interpreting between the Chasidim and Stabler.

In the Kiryas Moshe scene, a local cop talks with his supervisor on the radio, both using what sounded like a chasidish pronunciation of Yiddish, and clearly enough that I could tell that Munch interpreted the Yiddish right (not that I know much Yiddish either).

Munch's and the father's pronunciation was from Mars, like they were reading bad transliterations, but they must have gotten permission to shoot in a Chasidic suburban area and use at least one guy who really speaks Yiddish. I've never been to Kiryas Joel before, so I don't know if they were really shooting there or in some other development in Monsey, but the locals were dressed right for Willyburg or Boro Park - biber hats for the men, sheitl+pillbox for the women.

Further, they were going to put the victim into a yeshivah Torah Veyireh in Willyburg. I don't know if there's a TvY in Willyburg, but there's one in Boro Park, and it's a Satmar yeshiva (I went to a wedding there once).

They were trying to portray Satmarers without actually using the name, and I think they succeeded without making them an object of ridicule, and without making themselves an object of ridicule for their poor rendition. It's a big improvement over other episodes where they've tried to portray Orthodox or Chasdic Jews.


Mindy said...

yes, torah v'yirah exists in willy and kiryas yoel. If I remember correctly, this was filmed in new york and was full of frum extras. they had announced a casting call for extras for thsi episode, one of my blog friends was on it and blogged about it, I wish i can remember who it was.

Joe in Australia said...

I don't think the X-files story was as bad as you make out. The point of the story was that the mysterioous happenings were not the result of practical kabbalah. As the rabbi said to Fox Mulder, "It's just a book." The fiancee's love was inappropriately passionate, and the power of her grief summoned up (an image?) of her affianced.

andy said...

After all, Steven Hill was on the show for several years.

Warren Burstein said...

I thought the following was unrealistic

1) The police could take the radio away from the local security guy without his yelling "chapzem" and a crowd gathering, or that they could take the rebbe out of the shul without incident (even if he said he was going voluntarily).

2) The rebbe would have had sympathy for a non-Jewish rapist.

thanbo said...

Steven Hill was on the show, but apparently didn't have much of a creative hand in script-revision.

Someone in my gemara shiur ran into him at a wedding in Monsey, decked out in the usual black-hat uniform.

thanbo said...


I don't think there's as much feeling in the US that the police are the enemy, particularly from the security/shomrim types. Some may think that the police side too much with the nonjews, when there's ethnic conflict, but there isn't the same feeling as Israelis seem to have that the cops are out to get the religious.