NBC’s invidious portrayal of Orthodox Jews

February 28, 2021 • 12:45 pm

I’m not going to get bent out of shape about this incident, or call for heads to roll at NBC, but I can say that if this kind of stereotyping—and erroneous stereotyping—occurred with Muslims, blacks, or Hispanics, fulsome apologies would be tendered and heads would roll. It’s apparently okay for Jews, though.

I’m not going to defend the silly religious beliefs of the Orthodox, or their extreme form of Haredi Judaism, for those tenets are just as mythological and unfounded as the beliefs of any other faith. But you’d think that the writers of television shows depicting religions would at least get the beliefs right. In this case it’s a Hasidic Jew and his father (Hasids are a subset of Haredi Jews).

The clip is from the NBC show Nurses, which I haven’t seen, and it involves an Orthodox boy whose leg has been hurt and who needs a bone graft to fully heal. If you’re a Hasid, as Allison Josephs is in her article below (from an Orthodox site called “Jew in the City”), you’ll cast a kitten:

Okay, what’s the problem? Allison explains it in the video and the article below that. I’ll show an excerpt (there are multiple gaffes):

But if you weren’t offended yet, buckle up, because then the show really gets nasty. Israel is told by the doctor that he’ll need a bone graft to fully heal. Israel doesn’t understand what this means, so the doctor explains that he’ll have to have part of a dead person’s bone surgically inserted into his leg.

Cue the horror! Israel and his father are distraught at the notion that he’ll have a dead person’s body part in his body and that it will be a “goyim”[Sic] part to boot! But even worse than that – it could be an “Arab” body part or an “lady” body part. Or as the nurse reminds them, “an Arab lady” body part. (See this disturbing clip in my video explanation below.)

Despite my invitation to Hollywood producers to consult us when they do their “token Hasidic Jew” episode, Hollywood insists on remaining ignorant and promoting lies about the Orthodox community. Let’s unpack how badly they did with this aforementioned scene:

  1. There is no prohibition on getting a dead body part surgically inserted into one’s body. In fact, Jewish law says we should use the best medicine of our times to recover from our illnesses.
  2. There is no prohibition to get a non-Jewish body part inserted, nor is there a prohibition if the part belongs to a woman or an Arab.

Now, are there Orthodox Jews who look down on non-Jews and Arabs? You betcha. And are there Orthodox Jews who are misogynists? Unfortunately, yes for that one too. But the idea that such a surgery would be problematic in general or problematic because of where the bone came from not only is categorically false according to Jewish law, it is a vicious lie that endangers men who walk around with curled side locks and black hats.

Read the article below, because there are a lot of other gaffes in this very short clip and in the show as a whole. Don’t they even know that “goyim” is plural of “goy” and if you want an adjective for a gentile body part, it’s “goyische”.  All I can say is “Oy, gewalt!”

 

I wanted to see if NBC actually did apologize—I didn’t expect it—so I Googled “NBC apology for Nurses clip”. I found an article that says that NBC has actually withdrawn the episode, apparently the season finale, from its platform:

After facing backlash from the social media users and Jewish organizations, NBC pulled the season finale from its digital platforms, according to a report by Deadline.

The scrutiny over the resurfaced Nurses clip comes after NBC’s Saturday Night Live (SNL) also facing backlash for an anti-Semitic joke about Israel and coronavirus vaccines.

Guess which site that is? Breitbart! (No, I don’t read it; it came up on Google!). And nearly every other site that you get when you Google “NBC apology for Nurses clip” is conservative site like Fox News, Mediaite, or The Daily Mail. I tried the Washington Post, Huffpost (including their anti-Semitism section) and the New York Times specifically, and—no dice.

Is there a reason that the liberal media would ignore a distortion of Judaism this grotesque, but would feature it prominently if it involved the same finagling with African-Americans or Muslims? (“What, doctor: you want to put a PIG HEART VALVE in my son? No way!! Best leave him in the hands of Allah.”) Of course there is, and you know the answer.

Had I seen the show (I wouldn’t have) and had I known the grotesque distortions of belief involved (I didn’t), I would have kvetched a bit here, but my activism about mocking or distorting religion stops there. I’ll just point out the potential hypocrisy involved in this fracas being something that the right-wing but not left-wing media would highlight. It reminds me of an old joke, one that you won’t have heard:

A guy walks into a bar and notices a man talking to the bartender down at the other end. The guy does a doubletake because the man talking to the bartender really resembles Hitler.

So the guy goes up to the man and says “Excuse me, but did anybody ever tell you that you look like Hitler?”

The man says “Oh, but I am  Hitler. I have been reincarnated and I am back on Earth to kill 10 million Jews and 33 geese!”

“Oh, my God! That’s terrible! But why 33 geese?”

Hitler then turns to the bartender and says “See? I told you that nobody cares about the Jews.”

Oh, and let me note this at the end. Though some Haredi sects are opposed to organ donation after death, the Haredim are known for their willingness to be live donors, giving kidneys to other people, and not just other Jews. In fact, it’s more of a mitzvah if you don’t know who the recipient is. In Israel, the Haredim donate to everyone, including Israeli Arabs.  For verification, see Wikipedia, which has a reference to the U.S. data:

Haredi Jews have a high rate of live organ donations. In 2014, 17% of all live kidney donations to strangers in the United States were donated by Haredi Jews, even though they are only 0.2% of the US population.[8] Other studies of other live organ donations in the US and Israel show similarly high donation rates for a variety of organs.[citation needed]

23 thoughts on “NBC’s invidious portrayal of Orthodox Jews

  1. I see no reason to get offended over superficial or stereotypical portrayals of certain religious groups (or anyone really) in light drama shows like these. You are right to point out the hypocrisy.

  2. It pisses me off and I am not a religion of any kind. There is way too much lying and misrepresentation going on and seldom we see the truth on any media these days. NBC should be called out hard for this crap and by the way, how do you apologize for ignorance? How can you say you didn’t know, just say you didn’t give a shit about truth. If you do, how to you account for this? At the very least you leave the Jewish audience believing your show must be an Islamic production

  3. I think it is more ignorance of orthodox jewish customs than antisemitism. And strict orthodox jews do have some unusual customs, like shomer negiah. Which raises a question, can a female nurse touch and treat an orthodox jewish man? I think so, but not sure. She can’t sit in an airplane next to him but she can take his pulse.

    1. Perhaps, but my point was mainly this: had it been Muslims or any other ethnic group, with the same level of media ignorance, it would have been called out far more loudly, and by the liberal media as well.

      1. Well, criticism of badmouthing Jews, in an environment where an increasing number of people ‘know’ that Jews ‘Owned’ the slave trade is something that would never get past the ‘Sensitivity Readers’ (Censorship Officers) at liberal media outlets.

        Having confronted activists who think that putting ‘Israeli’ in front of ‘Jew’ allows them to say all manner of vile things in the guise of ‘political solidarity’ with Palestine, I’m no longer surprised at the kinds of mental contortions carried out in the name of activism.

  4. It reminds me of an old joke, one that you won’t have heard:

    I think you must have told us that one before, since I do recall hearing it. 🙂

  5. “Despite my invitation to Hollywood producers to consult us when they do their “token Hasidic Jew” episode …”

    Used to be, at the height of the studio system, you could hardly find a Hollywood producer who wasn’t Jewish — Sam Goldwyn, Louie B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, the brothers Warner, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor, even the “boy wonder” himself, Irving Thalberg. They built Hollywood. Without them, you’ve got bupkes.

    And don’t get me started on directors — Billy Wilder, William Wyler, Ernest Lubitsch, Sam Fuller, et al. — or even actors, though many of them had to change their names to something goyishe and WASP-y, like Kirk Douglas (f/k/a Issur Danielovitch) or Tony Curtis (f/k/a Bernie Schwartz).

    1. And Jeff Chandler (originally Ira Grossel), who made his greatest mark playing an
      Indian chief. Come to think of it, Sam Jaffe played an East Indian in “Gunga Din”.

  6. I’ll freely admit, one of my my first thoughts was, “yet another ill-informed TV show makes a stupid mistake – big deal”. But having watched the clip, and seen how especially egregious and ignorant that mischaracterization is (“In 2014, 17% of all live kidney donations to strangers in the United States were donated by Haredi Jews, even though they are only 0.2% of the US population”), I can understand the anger. And yes, I have a nasty suspicion that a similar mistake wouldn’t have been allowed to happen if it involved another ethnic/religious group.

    The fact that liberal left news outlets haven’t covered the incident is very disappointing, but sadly no longer surprising.

    Edit: The Independent seems to be covering the story now: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/nbc-nurses-orthodox-jewish-episode-b1807031.html

    1. Things are slightly more complicated than I had realised. Having clicked on the source relied on by Wikipedia for its “In 2014, 17% of all live kidney donations to strangers in the United States were donated by Haredi Jews, even though they are only 0.2% of the US population” claim I see that it continues:

      Just one catch: Renewal’s donors are, pretty much, only giving to Jewish recipients. As Berger puts it, “Renewal’s ultra-Orthodox donors are willing to give a kidney to the young and the old, to men and women. In most cases, the only criterion is that the recipient be Jewish.”

      Only one of the dozens of the transplants that Renewal has facilitated went to a non-Jew.

      How should we feel about this situation, these people? On the one hand, we’re talking about folks who are donating their kidneys to strangers. On the other hand, is there something a bit discomforting about the fact that they are giving only to Jews?

      I would argue that this charity and its praiseworthy donors have much to teach us about the value of particularism, and the limits of universalism.

      https://forward.com/opinion/306290/renewal-only-gives-kidneys-to-jews-and-thats-okay/

      Which leaves me feeling that the show is still reprehensible for its portrayal, but my feelings towards the altruism of the Haredi community is rather more mixed.

      1. This is a great example for a common dilemma: humans can become extremely supportive of their ingroup precisely because they are also very hostile to outsiders. This trade-off is typically overlooked for PC reasons.

        1. Indeed; organ donation is always an extremely altruistic act even if the recipient is, say, a close family member and these instances are even more generous than that.

      2. THAT issue might have made for a better show, right? Though it still feels a bit like picking on them for no good reason.

  7. When I saw those demonstrations in NYC last week because of the four assaults on people of Asian descent in the city, and I saw all the news coverage of these attacks and the protests against them, I wondered aloud, “where was all of this coverage and these demonstrations and the anger from these activists over the last few years, as Hasidic and Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have been assaulted repeatedly and brutally?” Of course, there should be coverage of such attacks and demonstrations of solidarity against ethnic hate. But, as is usually the case when there are attacks on Jews (unless the attacks are carried out by obvious Trump supporters, and then it’s a “maybe we’ll cover it,” and there still almost certainly won’t be any demonstrations of solidarity), all we get are crickets.

    Note that the article below is from 2019. The issue is still ongoing.

    https://forward.com/opinion/437373/why-no-one-can-talk-about-the-attacks-against-orthodox-jews/

    1. Hasidic/Orthodox Jews
      * are highly insulated and produce almost no public figures
      * are not all that well-liked by the liberal Jews who would defend them
      * vote as a bloc for the Republican party and support Trump (too bad for blaming things on white supremacist MAGA fans)

  8. Jews and Asians seem to be fair game now, and I think it is because much of what is going on is based on envy, although the dialog uses much nicer words.
    Both groups are perceived as thriving, and often do so in or adjacent to neighborhoods with large African-American populations.
    If it was really about racism or oppression, both groups would get much more credit for the endless historical and recent oppression they have endured.

    Also- the clip shown was very mean spirited. If it had been intended to be humorous, such exaggeration of stereotypes might be acceptable. It had more in common with “Jud Süß” than we should be comfortable with.
    The joke, on the other hand, was very good.

  9. Nice try, PCC (E.) – but what about post-mortem donations (which are by far the largest %ge.)? No dice there: “Because we have to give god back the body he gave us.”
    Lucky I don’t need an new organ today, I won’t be getting the train over to Williamsburg to look for it.
    D.A.
    NYC

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