Monday, April 07, 2008

Question & Answer With Reb TiVo - Television & Orthodoxy


A Simple Jew asks:

Watching broadcast television in a religious home is essentially permitting the viewing of continuous infomercial that is attempting to sell secular society. Within minutes of turning on a television a man encounters numerous sights which halacha forbids him to look at and sounds that he is forbidden to listen to. Yet, there is still a large segment of Orthodox Jewry that doesn't seem to regard this as an issue. What would attribute this to?

Reb TiVo answers:

I hate arguing halacha because it isn't my strong suit. There are many things that our current rabbinic authorities are banning that may not actually be assur al pi halacha, but which may be related to forming extra gedarim to prevent people from getting into trouble. Music is one, the internet is another, and TV has long been the old fall guy.

I guess I don't want to answer this because what it really means is that I choose not to be under full rabbinic authority for certain aspects of my life, particularly for areas for which there isn't a good substitute.

For example:

Kashruth: Yes, it's hard but with minor adjustments to your menu you can still continue eating.

Shabbos: I love my Shabbos, but it is a major obstacle for many career paths. However there are other ways to make a living, and if you’re creative it doesn’t have to limit you that much.

Nidda: There are times when I wonder why WHY for the love of everything WHY?!!! But the other half of the month is…pretty good, y'know?

Banning something outright, like all entertainment, whether it is music, books, magazines, movies or TV, without an ample replacement is just a recipe for disaster, and what I consider "normal" people (people I can sit around a table with and have an interesting dinner conversation) will leave this religion in droves.

I think it's possible to be engaged in the real world, whether professionally, intellectually, or socially, and still be an Orthodox, kosher, Torah learning Jew, and make real contributions to making the world a better place. Pretending the outside doesn't exist doesn't solve any problems.

If one were to follow the premise of your question, one would have to conclude that you can never read a newspaper, never open a magazine, never read a secular book, never listen to the radio, never watch TV, rent a movie or go out, never go to work lest one see or even speak to a woman, and unless you live some place like Bnei Brak, never leave your home between the months of April and November when skin may be seen. I choose not to live that way. It makes Judaism into a negative religion, one of restrictions. It becomes a list of rules about what you can’t do, instead of a positive way to live your life.

I guess I can still remember the days when you could run into a local rabbi at the movies with his wife, or when the cool rebbes could quote Star Trek and Monty Python, and these are the people who inspired me to become frum, because I could see that they lived in the real world and yet were passionate about their Yiddishkeit. It seems to be a type of Judaism that's disappearing and frankly, I prefer it to what I see emerging now.

UPDATE:

For the sake of clarification, my view of television can be read in this posting.

10 Comments:

At April 7, 2008 at 7:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger Yosef said...

It's important to distinguish between medium and content. Television is not intrinsically asur- rather it is the content that is broadcast that is frequently assur. The issues involved often are in fact explicitly halachic. Internet also, although there is more potential use for good, as well as more potential for problems with it. I think it's true that extreme gedarim can be stifling and ultimately destructive, and that positive substance must always be found to fill any vacuum left when a person lets go of a potentially problematic habit l'shem shamayim. But it's important that our intrinsic motivation is exactly that. If we ourselves are thinking and relating to Hashem in a healthy way, we should be able to increase our vitality and engagement in our lives while simultaneously developing our purity and clarity of focus on the tachlis in our lives.

 
At April 7, 2008 at 9:26:00 AM EDT, Anonymous anonym said...

You make some good points but here is where, IMHO, your position becomes weakened. "If one were to follow the premise of your question, one would have to conclude that you can never ... watch TV, rent a movie or go out, never go to work lest one see or even speak to a woman, and unless you live some place like Bnei Brak, never leave your home between the months of April and November when skin may be seen. I choose not to live that way."
There is a vast difference between a decision to eschew a form of media, albeit a prominent form, for fear of seeing or hearing something which may be prohibited by halachah or an accepted more in one's community and refraining from engaging in the necessary activities of everyday living such as going outside and going to work. You seem to be equating warching television with going to work which, I don't think, is what you mean to say.

 
At April 7, 2008 at 11:33:00 AM EDT, Blogger Cosmic X said...

ASJ,

I think that television has always been problematic. However, there is a big difference between what I saw as a child and what is being shown on TV now. If what I saw thirty something years ago is problematic, what is being shown on TV nowadays is super problematic. (I do not own a television nor do I watch TV. I know this from what others tell me.)

People are used to watching TV, and they continue to watch it even though the pictures and messages seen there are anti-Torah to say the least. But being accustomed to something does not make it good. We pray "targileinu betoratecha". This is what we must be accustomed to.

 
At April 7, 2008 at 2:13:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

More of my postings on television can be found here and here.

 
At April 7, 2008 at 3:23:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is lack of a rabbinic presence at the movie theatre a negative thing? (If not the fact that seeing them there reassures us that what we're doing is not problematic..)

 
At April 7, 2008 at 6:26:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The world did not have television for thousands of years and survived quite well. TV can be beneficial in certain circumstances such as relaying news across the world, but the content that is on nearly every channel today is not simply benign, neutral content it is downright impure and nearly entirely from the sitra achra. Even by non-Jewish society there is a growing realization that TV is a very corrupting force.

I think that one of the interesting things that was said in the article was the desire not see Judaism as a bunch of restrictive rules, but instead to live life. Is watching TV living life? Is wasting hours reading secular magazines and novels living life? I have complete faith that the tzaddikim of each generation are truly alive in a way that we cannot even understand, yet they will not be found wasting there lives in front of a TV. No one can tell me that R' Nachman or R' Araleh Roth were deprived of a life well lived because they never had the oppurtunity to watch television!

Concerning rabbonim of the past going to see movies it was stated: 'these are the people who inspired me to become frum, because I could see that they lived in the real world and yet were passionate about their Yiddishkeit.' Since when has the secular, non-Jewish world been the real world?

 
At April 7, 2008 at 6:55:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

For further clarification, I don't endorse the views of Reb TiVo. Rather, the whole point of this posting was to examine the perspective the believes that it is permissible for a religious Jew to watch television. This Q&A was merely an attempt to gain insight into the thought process that differs from my own not an attempt to sway people to Reb TiVo's way of thinking.

 
At April 7, 2008 at 7:05:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid said...

"This Q&A was merely an attempt to gain insight into the thought process that differs from my own not an attempt to sway people to Reb TiVo's way of thinking."

Given that you clarified your point in the question, its self, it would seem that the fact that you are not trying to get others to agree with "Reb TiVo's" perspective would be obvious.

-Dixie Yid

 
At April 8, 2008 at 1:57:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Yirmeyahu said...

ASJ,

I understand your intent on posting your Q&A with “Reb TiVo” but I cannot help but feel that it was inappropriate to do so. He opens by stating that he has no expertise in halachah but then immediately proceeds to opine that it is permitted when, as I understand,leading authorities have ruled that television is prohibited. We are left with an opinion piece without any supporting sources, halachic or hashkafic. If you can support your position fine, but in my opinion pseudo-utilitarian arguments against the halachic or hashkafic statements of Gedolei HaTorah fall into the category, “There is neither wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against Hashem” (Prov. 21:30). Even if this matter is in the realm of geddarim, geddarim are within the purview of Gedolei HaTorah.

Reb TiVo notes how with regard to other issurim there are permissible outlets. His conclusion that it is somehow unreasonable to have an all-inclusive prohibition in such matters is faulty for multiple reasons. First of all, as already noted by commenters, there is a huge dis-analogy between those examples which he cited and the topic under discussion. Each example he gave reflected a fundamental need of humanity without which we would not survive while “normal” people survived for millennia without television. Furthermore, insofar as he extended the discussion to other forms of recreation, there are other forms of relaxation which are far less problematic or permitted.

It is an out and out non-sequitur to argue that insofar as one can incidentally encounter certain prohibited sights when going out in public one can therefore willfully introduce such sights into their homes. For one thing one cannot control what other people do in public while one can, to a great extent, control what goes on at home. Furthermore when one confronts such sights in public one is obligated to not look while at home “not looking” defeats the purpose of watching something and minimizes it’s effectiveness as a mean of relaxation. There is a well known Gemara in Bava Basra (57b) where we learn that one who passes by women doing their wash is called a rasha even if he averted his eyes if he had the option to go another route. This is the source for a halachah found in E.H. 21:1 and is brought more fully in Aruch HaShulchan E.H. 21:1. The Igros Moshe E.H. 1 56 explains that when necessary for one’s parnassa our other needs one may rely on himself to divert his attention from such distractions. But when going on an outing there is no need and it is prohibited even when no other route is available.

Each of the various forms of entertainment mentioned are different but each have very real halachic issues. Some issues are more clear-cut than others. Nevertheless the halachic aspect must be evaluated before any ideological factors are considered. So far I do not see those who do not view television as an all out prohibition speak of the potential halachic pitfalls in anything other than the most generic terms. Meanwhile many specific programs and films that are questionable at best are being viewed by our community. People will watch something simply for fun without knowing (or knowing full well r'l) what prtizus, leitzanus, nivul peh, or apikorsus they will encounter. We would never approach kashrus in such a haphazard manner.

 
At April 9, 2008 at 11:02:00 AM EDT, Blogger Moshe David Tokayer said...

Reb Tivo, give us a break! There are plenty of good reasons for not having a TV which are not necessarily associated with religion. I have an uncle who (rachmana liztlan) married a non-Jewish woman. This man observed nothing and yet refused to allow a television in his house while his children were growing up. "At best," he said, "it's a waste of time."

Richard Nixon, of all people did not watch TV for this reason and advised youngsters to spend there time in more meaningful and valuable activities.

What does having or not having a TV have to do with participating in society? You write, "I think it's possible to be engaged in the real world, whether professionally, intellectually, or socially, and still be an Orthodox, kosher, Torah learning Jew, and make real contributions to making the world a better place."

Well, I have news for you. Having a TV is not a prerequisite for being engaged in the real world. It's possible to be engaged in the real world without having a TV. I do it and I know plenty of others who do as well.

What this post boils down to, really, is one guy who does not want to give up watching TV. This is unfortunate but understandable. What is unacceptable is turning the attack and making us look like we're the primitive backward ones.

 

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