There has been criticism about the Netflix series “My Unorthodox Life,” including that it wrongfully puts Orthodox Jewry in a bad light. There are also claims of antisemitism. I do not subscribe to Netflix and have no plans to do so. Therefore, I must rely on others’ description of the show.
I am not sure why anyone should be surprised. This is not the first series that denigrates religious communities and portrays those who left the fold. For example, there was a television series from 2012-2016 called “Breaking Amish.” It involved a group of Mennonites and Amish who left their communities. The Book of Mormon is a musical that makes fun of Mormons. The show won a Tony Award in 2011 and is very popular. The selection of the title The Book of Mormon was deliberate, since it is what the Mormons call their bible. Likewise, the title “My Unorthodox Life” was a play on the idea of the main character, Julia Haart, growing up Orthodox. Therefore, it is not antisemitism but anti-religion that is the basis for the show.
There are those who think that Haart went to Netflix and had to convince them to air a show that disparages Orthodox Jews. I think it was the other way around. Netflix was looking for a show that would belittle a religious group and saw their chance when Haart came to them. Netflix also showed its true colors by not showing other views of Orthodox Jewish women because it would not play into their narrative.
In politics, the most effective ads are those that attack the other side - not those that give a positive view of your position. This strategy is now used by those who are anti-religious. They don’t attempt to argue why their lifestyle is so great, but instead attack those who are religious. So far, their tactics have been successful. The country is much less religious than in previous generations.
It is also not surprising that secularists are using those who grew up in the Orthodox community to attack and distort orthodox Judaism. It is much more effective to use someone from the community who grew up there and left than to use an outsider. This is the 21st century version of an old tactic. When the world was religious and the battle was between Judaism and Christianity, some Jewish apostates made false claims about Judaism. The Christians used these apostates to try to show that their religion was correct, denigrate Jews, or justify conduct against Jews.
Another television series called “Jerusalem” recently premiered on CNN. I had little expectation that CNN would present a balanced view, so I was not shocked when I saw the first episode. I saw only part of the first episode; I could not sit through the entire show because it was too aggravating. They were going through the history of the Jewish claim to the City of Jerusalem. They ignored the Akeidah (Sacrifice) of Yitzchak and basically started with King Saul. They portrayed King David as a murderer and a warrior. Then they went after King Solomon, who they considered to be David without the charm and who worked to death those who built the Temple. They even attacked King Solomon for telling the two women who each claimed they were the mother of a baby that he would split the baby. According to this “scholar,” it showed King Solomon’s viciousness, because only a cruel person would do such a thing.
CNN, by attacking those who built the Temple and ignoring the biblical basis, can delegitimize Jewish claims to the city including the Temple Mount. They try to put legitimacy on their distortions and falsehoods by using “scholars” who support their thesis. If you look hard enough, you can always find someone who supports your position. CNN did not have anyone who gave an opposing view. So much for unbiased journalism.
As Orthodox Jews, how do we deal with this situation when Orthodoxy is unfairly and negatively portrayed in the media? We can spend our energy and time complaining, or look at it as an opportunity. Each one of us has the ability in our interactions with the non-religious Jewish and the non-Jewish communities to show how Orthodox Jews act. If we act properly, we will prove that Julia Haart and her ilk have given a false portrayal of our community.