Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"וֵאלֹהֵי מַסֵּכָ"ה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם"

This is a post I've been meaning to write for at least a week now, but was prevented due to difficult examinations in the place of my tutelage. If it's not apparent from the title (or the picture!) I would like to speak about the place that film, or "drama" has in the Judaic perspective (i.e. not necessarily only the "halachic" perspective).

As the summer months come upon us, and there's less studying being done and more movie watching, I came to realize that I've found that my opinions about movies have somewhat dicipated. I'm not as thoughtful and strict about what and why I watch recentely, which I think is a very bad sign. Perhaps if I reiterate some ideas I'll be able to restabalize myself.

First of all I would like to begin by discussing film: Films are obviously just a recorded version of the same content as theatre performances (though there are obvious differences). So the question is really about the performances themselves, about "drama". Yet this drama itself is only actors acting out the content of a story. So it is the story itself which is the question then. Surely it can't be said that one cannot hear or read a story. The Torah, Tanach and Midrash themselves are full of tales and "myths", the actuality or historicity of which seems unimportant (thus transferring them from the realm of "hi-story" to the realm of "story"). There is not a clear answer to the question of what kind of story should or should not be listened to or read, yet it can definitely be said that a story with a clear moral is far better than a tale of lovers and of romance, a subject which can turn the stories subject matter from "PG" to "R".

Jews in the past would generally not have to consider such topics, but with the advent of the cinema and the home television the question is thus thrust upon the average observant Jew who would never even consider attending the theatre. And our sages (זכרונם לברכה) have said "אינה דומה שמיעה לראיה", and hearing or reading an "adult scene" is far from the same as seeing it. We are aware of how much our sages and G-d Himself have tried to distance us from licentiousness and promiscuity, even to the extent of restricting us from seeing members of the opposite sex in compromising situations, or wearing immodest clothing, etc. Therefore there is nary a film that meets the Judaic guidelines of content 100%, but I would definitely not be the one to say that this should restrict people from watching any and all films. They are not pornographic films, and even scenes of sexuality are used in context and are (to some extent) not shown. It is therefore not difficult to overlook those scenes in the face of a greater context (this is so obvious it doesn't require verbalization). Therefore if one does watch, they should at least be on guard against the evils of Western Man that are, at times, quite apparent in his films. One should not only be on guard against him when viewing his dramatic productions though, but in all areas of life as well.

There is also the issue of actually entering a cinema. Who attends a cinema if not the lower elements? What place is there for a man of religion to enter a cinema? These are the kinds of thoughts the general population have when they see someone who is obviously a religious Jew entering into a cinema. It is better, therefore, to be sensitive to this possibility of the current applications of "Chilul Hashem", but from a halachic perspective this topic is not very simple.

This is far from the whole story though, there is also the issue of television: From it's earliest days the content of television has been of far inferior quality to film productions. What is one to do in the face of television (television programs availible online are obviously also included; it's a genre)? This is obviously too complicated a topic to discuss here at any length. All I can do is mention some principles. First of all, people "our" age are usually not very interested in television since our own lives are actually interesting. But if one does want to watch, at least they should have some sort of purpose in watching a particular program, and not let a days programming pass them by in a state of vegetation. Also: there have been studies mentioned in length in the book "To Kindle a Soul" that state that screen viewing is mentally unhealthy not only for children but for adults as well. According to them if one wishes to view a dramatic performance, it is far better to do it in a theatre than from a screen, or better yet, from a book. Extensive screen-viewing is just another of the unhealthy products of the 20th century, and if one wishes to keep their mind sharp, they would do well to minimize in it.

This post came out disappointingly...there is no beginning and no end. ...well, the more I write the more I learn I guess... ...I think I should rewrite it..

(The title, by the way, is using a play on words from "מסכה" (mask) to "מסך" (screen). This type of play on words was used by the Palestinian Kabalists, and was made famous by the linguistic usages of the "Chida").

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