It is a holiday for me today. I heard on the radio this morning that the Oscars will be awarded tonight in L.A., and my heart did not jump even one bit. Nothing. Not even a small palpitation or a droplet of sweat on my palm. I couldn’t care in the least. I have no idea what movies have been nominated, or what actors, and I couldn’t care less. That’s the incredible power of t’shuva, of repentance, of giving up the lie that we are Americans, and Frenchmen, and Italians, and returning to our roots. I feel like I have exchanged every cell in my body. A spiritual overhaul of prayer, and Torah study, and tears of atonement, and thousands of dunks in the mikvah, has transformed me into a different person, with totally different thoughts, dreams, and aspirations than I had when I was trying to be an American success in L.A., trying to be as rich, and handsome, and famous, and gentile as all of the Hollywood stars who will flock to the Oscars tonight.
Tzvi Fishman in Hollywood Days
Thank G-d, thank G-d, thank G-d. Halleluyah. “He has raised me out of the dunghill to sit me with the princes of His people.”
In honor of the occasion, I am posting an article that I wrote for IsraelNN a few months ago regarding the evils of movies. If you want to save your souls, don’t watch the Oscars tonight. If you want to be a holy Jew, you have to work on it. You can’t have the best of both worlds, as the Modern Orthodox like to believe. Holiness and impurity don’t go together. All of those actresses may look lovely in their sparkling, low-cut gowns, but is it worth it to frizzle your brain? When you pollute your eyes with things you shouldn’t see, the soul which sits in your brain is polluted as well. When that happens, your spiritual radar is smashed, and for example, the Land of Israel, becomes just a nice place to visit, like a Disneyland for Jews, and you think you can be just as serious a Jew in Beverly Hills, or Monsey.
So take it from someone who’s been there. Don’t watch the Oscars. Don’t watch movies at all. Do your brain a favor and study Torah instead.
Fishman Goes to the Movies
The truth is I haven't seen a movie in the last five years, and that was for only a minute. Even though I graduated from film school and wrote screenplays in Hollywood, and still make short videos from time to time on subjects like Gush Katif and Amona, after becoming a ba'al t'shuvah, I gradually lost all desire for the make-believe world of the movies.
But five years ago, my wife had an urge to see a movie, and she insisted that I take her.
"Go with a friend," I suggested.
"I don't want to go with a friend," she answered. "I want to go see a film with my husband."
I offered to rent a video that she could watch on the computer. But she was adamant. Either we go to a movie together or we get a divorce. Of course, I am exaggerating, but she made me understand that if I didn't give in, I was going to be in for a lot of trouble.
So, I went downstairs in our building to my parents' apartment to take a look at the Jerusalem Post movie guide. Finally, I found a movie that seemed alright. The blurb said that it was based on a true story about an aging British novelist, Iris Murdoch, who had Alzheimer's disease. How sexy could that be, I thought? Since my mother suffered from Alzheimer's, I figured maybe I could learn something about the disease and, at the same time, make my wife happy.
At the ticket window, I asked if there were commercials before the film, since commercials in Israel are usually filled with models who are not exactly dressed according to the standards of Jewish Law. After being assured that there were no commercials at this theater, we bought tickets and made our way inside. Indeed, there were no commercials, but there were previews of upcoming attractions. The first was a new Italian release featuring a half-naked actress.
"Gevalt!" I yelled out.
Heads turned our way in the darkened theater. My wife tugged at my arm. "Don't you dare!" she whispered.
The next preview was even worse.
"Gevalt!" I screamed out again.
My wife sunk down in her chair as if she wanted to disappear. I heard a scattering of chuckles and someone shouted for me to shut up.
"I told you we should have stayed at home," I said to my wife.
Finally, the movie started. Up on the screen, in poetic slow motion, a pretty young woman walks through the woods, down to the bank of a pond, obviously a flashback to the old woman's youth. In one deft motion, she takes off her dress and dives naked into the water.
Cut to underwater. Still in slow motion, the naked actress swims through the crystal clear depths....
"Fire! Fire!" I screamed out in Hebrew. Continuing to scream, I jumped out of my seat and made my way to the corridor. "Fire! Fire!" I yelled as I hurried out of the theater, leaving my poor wife to watch the movie alone.
Needless to say, my wife doesn't ask me to take her to films anymore. I waited for her in the car.
"You were right," she said, when she rejoined me after the movie. "Every ten minutes of the film, they returned to the flashback of the old lady as a young woman swimming naked underwater."
What else is new? After spending several years in Hollywood, you learn that in movie-making, the bottom line is the box-office gross. You can't expect your average moviegoer to sit two hours through a movie about an old lady with Alzheimer's disease without throwing in a little nudity every ten minutes to keep them munching away on their popcorn.
For the same reason, I couldn't watch Schindler's List. Every ten minutes, some Nazi butcher was jumping into bed with a naked Jewish girl. Spielberg could have gotten the point across without the nudity, but that's what sells tickets.
Think I am exaggerating? Let me give you another example. Several years ago, I was asked to lecture to a group of yeshiva students from South Africa. When they showed up late, I asked what happened. They explained that they had a few free hours, so they went to see a movie, Titanic.
"The Titanic!" I exclaimed. "Seeing a movie like that is worse than eating pork!"
All the guys booed. "The cinematography was great," they proclaimed.
"Since when does great cinematography override the Torah prohibitions of, 'You shall not turn after your hearts and after your eyes to lead you astray,' and 'You shall guard yourself from every evil thing,' meaning you should not look at prohibited matters by day and come to impure emissions at night?" (Avodah Zara 20B; Niddah 13A)
"It's a completely clean movie," one of the students insisted.
"Look, guys," I told them. "I haven't seen the movie, but you don't have to have ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) to know that there is bound to be a pretty girl and a good-looking guy on board. Once the ship hits the iceberg, they have to find some way to consummate their passion before the ship sinks into the cold, unloving ocean. Am I right?"
They answered with grumbles.
"Whether you guys like it or not, watching an attractive actress on a movie screen for two hours, and exposing yourselves to that kind of ongoing visual stimulation, is a no-no for a Jew."
A year later, I drove one of my sons to an out-of-town yeshiva for an interview. Finishing late, we decided to spend the night at a hotel, rather than starting out on the long trip back to Jerusalem. "The movie Titanic is playing on cable," my boy informed me. "Can we watch?"
"What the heck?" I figured. Many people had advised me to see the movie, to see all of the wondrous cinematography and special effects, so I agreed to watch a few minutes.
How does the great award-winner start? We are back once again underwater. This time, we are following the point of view of the camera as it is moves toward the sunken ship and enters into a porthole. After a few mysterious turns down empty corridors, we enter an eerily undisturbed cabin. We pass by a large canopy bed and move toward a dresser, zooming in to a screen-filling close-up of a framed photograph of - you guessed it - a beautiful naked girl. And this is the movie that almost every Jewish boy in the world, from the age of eight to eighty, has seen who knows how many times.
The point is that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and forbidden images, whether we want to face it or not, pollute a Jew's soul with a terrible impurity.
In his book Kuntres HaAvodah, Rebbe Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch, one of the early great rabbis of the Chabad Hassidic movement, writes the following:
Everyone who is concerned about his soul, not to pollute it, G-d forbid, should guard over his eyes. And if this is difficult for him, he should endeavor to restrain himself with all of his strength and might. He must take to heart that this matter is instrumental to the well-being of his soul. If he does not guard himself in this matter, then all of his Divine service is accounted as nothing, and all of his achievements are as naught, and his service of G-d will fall lower and lower....
Behold, there are people who are far from actually committing evil deeds, G-d forbid, but their hearts pull them to look and stare [at women]. They gaze with a seemingly cold detachment, and they do not feel any immediate excitement when they look, but the reason for their being attracted is because they experience an inner pleasure.... This gazing, even with seeming detachment, creates an impression and a great stain on the soul, which will not go away without arousing some actual evil in its wake, G-d forbid....
Thus, it is every man's duty to control himself and to guard over the things he sees. In so doing, he will save himself from evil, and his service of G-d will find favor. He will bring salvation to his soul, and he will rise higher and higher. (Kuntres HaAvodah, ch. 2. For an English translation and commentary, see the book Love Like Fire and Water, Moznaim Publishing Corp)
The nation of Israel is called upon to be a holy nation. Just as we have to be careful what we eat, we have to be careful what we see. When a man feasts his eyes on the beauty of another woman, even if just her face, these images poison the purity of the Jewish soul.
As Hanukah approaches, we recall in our prayers how the Greeks polluted all of the oils in the Temple. It was not only the lights of the Menorah; the hedonist Hellenistic culture caused us to stray, polluting the lights of our Jewish eyes, our Jewish minds and our holy Jewish souls. The movies of today, with all of their nudity and sensual imagery, serve the same function as the erotic Greek sculpture and nude Olympics of old.
A Jew who strives to enjoy the best of both worlds is fooling himself. He may have a good time at the movies, but in doing so, he is darkening the light of his soul and severing his connection to Torah.