by Jonathan Rosenblum
May 2, 2003
At the beginning of April, a new ad for Levi’s jeans appeared on Channel Two. In the first scene, a group of yeshiva students is walking down the street when a gust of wind blows the hat off one of them. He chases his hat into an adjacent building where he finds himself face-to-leg with an attractive young woman wearing a pair of Levi’s jeans.
Without characterizing the rest of her attire, or lack of it, it would be fair to say that it is not of the type normally encountered in religious neighborhoods. The model extends her hand to yeshiva student, begins fondling the tzitzit (ritual fringes) hanging out of his pants and whispers in his ear.
Cut to the next scene. The former yeshiva bochur and the young woman exit the same entry way hand-in-hand. Only this time, he is no longer dressed in a suit. Gone too is kippah. Instead he is wearing a pair of Levis.
Not exactly subtle stuff. Presumably the yeshiva student in question was not wearing Levi’s under his suit pants. Viewers will have no trouble filling in the action between the two scenes.
On his way out of the building, the young man does not forget to kiss the mezuza, presumably in thanks for fortunate wind that blew his hat into that particular building. When his erstwhile friends in the yeshiva see him strolling out of the building hand-in-hand with the young woman, they flee.
No, I didn’t see any of this. The description of the ad is taken from the petition to BaGaTz by The Movement for Fairness in Government (MFG). MFG seeks to have the ad removed on the grounds that it offends public sensibilities and to require Channel Two to prescreen ads employing Jewish ritual objects and touching on religious sensibilities, as it currently does for other classes of ads.
Readers of this column will recall that a year and half ago an Appeals Committee of the IBA banned a radio ad encouraging the recitation of Tehillim as too controversial. Though the Appeals Committee had no authority to ban ads and even though the Committee’s own protocols were laced with the most virulent anti-religious sentiments, the Supreme Court allowed the decision to stand in response to a petition by MFG.
But the legal issues should concern us less than what the Levi’s ad reveals about the state of the national soul. I’ll pass over its sexual suggestiveness. At that level, much more explicit and vulgar material is being produced by Israel’s ad agencies on a daily basis. (See "Advertisements – not for children or fainthearted" in last Friday’s Maariv detailing some current examples of made-for-TV ads.)
The goal of advertisers is to sell their products. Levi’s invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, to produce and buy air time for the ad in question. Though advertisers make mistakes about the taste of the public, Levi’s and its ad agency had to be pretty confident about the ad’s appeal to youthful viewers (and the parents who will pay for those jeans) to invest so heavily.
The ad presents the seduction of yeshiva students to give up their religious observance as the height of humor. The horrified looks on the companions’ faces as they flee in the last shot are guaranteed to elicit a laugh from potential purchases.
The implicit message of the ad is: "Buy Levi’s jeans and you too can become one of the modern day Moabite women and seduce your very own yeshiva bochur out of the beit medrash and into the streets." (The Biblical reference will no doubt be lost on our modern Delilahs.)
An entire group of Israeli society, numbering upwards of half a million people, is deemed a proper subject for contempt and ridicule, and the desertion of their way of life as a positive goal. Imagine the outrage, if in place of yeshiva students the ad had used modestly clad Moslem girls, who at the sight of a handsome young man in Levi’s, proceeded to cast off their chadors.
The contempt for chareidi Jews goes together with ridicule of some of the most familiar Jewish religious symbols – tzitzit and mezuzot. (The caressing of the tzitzit was eventually removed from the ad in response to the protest of the Movement for Fairness in Government.) Many Jews have paid with their lives over the centuries for their insistence on wearing tzitzit and placing mezuzot on their doorposts. That these ritual objects should have become the butt of jokes in modern Israel is but one more indication of the alienation of Israeli youth from their religion. What kind of healthy society or nation can be built on contempt for its own past?
For posting a drawing Mohammed in the form of a pig in Hebron, Tatiana Susskind was sentenced to more than two years in jail. For ridiculing Jewish religious objects, however, ad agencies collect fortunes. Are Arabs the only ones with religious sensitivities?
THE EXPLOITATION of hatred of haredim has long been a staple of Israel elections. Now Levi’s exploits disgust with haredim to sell jeans.
Once the genie of hatred is out of the bottle it is not easily contained. Tuesday Yediot Aharonot’s Y-net site posted a news item about a yeshiva student from Bnei Brak who was killed in a fall from a cliff while hiking in the Golan. His death too quickly became the source of jokes and expressions of contempt for haredim.
Why wasn’t he in yeshiva? one reader wanted to know. Was this a trip for gaining "knowledge of the Land"? Another asked why he was hiking on Holocaust Remembrance Day (when all secular Israelis presumably remain home shrouded on grief). G-d punished him for not serving in the army, opined another. One Y-net reader used the occasion of the young man’s tragic death to call for the transfer of haredim – Ashkenazim to Poland and Sefardim to Morocco.
Later it turned out that the deceased was a hesder yeshiva student. That prompted another reader to write that those who had been making jokes about the death of hesder student should be ashamed of themselves – though not, it appears, for failing to treat the death of any Jew as a subject for mourning.
THERE IS ONE note of bitter consolation for those concerned about the ease with which Israeli Jews show disdain for the religious heritage that preserved our people for more than three thousand years: The disease is found in Jews everywhere; it is only more advanced in Israel.
At the recent farewell dinner for outgoing Hillel director Richard Joel, who is leaving his post to become president of Yeshiva University, Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt decided to perform his own Jewish minstrel show. Dressed up as a Chassidic Rebbe, complete with shtreimel, caftan, and peyos, he delivered a speech punctuated with Yiddishisms and "Baruch Hashems." As reported in New York’s Jewish Week, Steinhardt congratulated Joel on leaving the world of "half-naked girls, their pupiks showing" for the world of tzaddikim.
Steinhardt admitted that his performance was "intended as a little bit of a spoof of the Orthodox." But he assumed that by choosing such an extreme example – a Chassidic Rebbe – it would "be amusing to just about the full range of Jews." In other words, its OK to make fun of Chassidim, as long as one does not disparage the more modern Orthodox.
To his credit, Mr. Steinhardt has contributed millions of dollars of his personal fortune to Birthright and other projects of Jewish continuity. It remains to be seen how making buffoons of our ancestors will advance Jewish continuity.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list