Last night, someone shared with me a recent episode of Law & Order. I don’t think this episode would have aired while Stephen Hill, one of the entertainment world’s more famous baalei teshuva, was playing the role of District Attorney. He would have pointed out the inaccuracies that former Sen. Fred Thompson, and the rest of the cast and crew, simply don’t recognize. What the world got was another wildly skewed version of the life of a Jewish woman, with the Get process playing a supporting role.
A warning to those who might actually plan to watch the show… the following is what’s called a spoiler. In order to discuss what’s wrong with the show, I have to tell you how it ends.
The episode depicts members of the Bukharin community, a group of traditional Sephardic Jews from a region in the southern part of the former Soviet Union. They are described as traditional though not necessarily religious, which is fair enough as it goes. And the idea that one of them could get mixed up with the Russian mob isn’t terribly far-fetched.
We learn, however, that the wife wanted to divorce her mobster husband, but he was refusing to grant a Get, a religious divorce. So the wife remains in their shared home, because were she to leave the house she would lose custody of her children, and no one in her community, including her children, would speak to a woman who left home without a Get!
The truth, of course, is exactly the opposite. A couple must separate before beginning the process. Not only is the woman leaving home not “shunned,” but a host of community support services come into play, helping her to find housing (if necessary), a job, and/or anything that a single mother might require. While a failed marriage is never a pleasant prospect, a separated couple offers a far more visible target for a community known for kindness and generosity. Not only is the wife in search of a divorce not shunned — she is surrounded by care and support.
While the Bukharin community portrayed is “traditional” rather than religious, it’s hard to imagine that the practice there is so profoundly different. Needless to say, no religious person would fear the issues of a Get, and then use murder to get out of the marriage…
Custody is, of course, a secular rather than Rabbinic matter. Nonetheless, though I’m familiar with all too many divorce cases, I am not personally aware of even one where the husband has primary custody of his children, without child abuse and/or mental illness on the mother’s side. The truth is the exact opposite of that which is portrayed on screen: it is the husband who faces an uphill battle. I know personally of one case where the mother disappeared with her child, and another where the father has been fighting for years to get minimal visitation, even living right in the same town (in this, of course, the secular courts are entirely to blame). I know of no case off-screen even remotely similar to the charicature on Law & Order.
So… another media misportrayal of Jewish practice. Just why we need a blog like this, to educate and inform.