Print | Email  

Perverted priorities

by: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach - Last updated: 2004-05-28



The views expressed in this article are solely those of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and not those of SomethingJewish. Readers can comment on this article by email:

A selection of your views appears at the end of the article.

Perverted priorities

Every day it seems that the world devolves into further disorder and chaos. International leaders seem clueless about basic right and wrong.

On Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi humiliated himself and his country by traveling to Pyongyang to see the tyrant Kim Jong Il and pay him millions of dollars in tribute for the freeing of Japanese hostages who were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s. Kim did everything he could to disgrace the Japanese premier, including canceling meetings and not even offering him food. Koizumi was forced to eat a boxed lunch of rice balls that one of his aides had brought from Tokyo. Here was the head of the world's second largest economy allowing himself to be bullied by a bully.

The only hope for the world to crawl out of its directionless mess in an age of upheaval and terror is to follow the moral path. It is always wrong to appease tyrants. It is always right to stand up for human freedom and punish, rather than reward, those who make a mockery of human rights by taking hostages.

It is troubling that the world today lacks simple moral direction. The Jews, who gave humanity the Ten Commandments, the cornerstone of world morality, should be at the forefront of providing moral illumination. But we seem too morally confused to help ourselves, let alone others. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a man of once unshakable principles, is now adrift and is about to evict thousands of Jewish settlers in Gaza who committed no crime other than to cultivate a barren land and absorb the full brunt of Palestinian terror. They are being punished for watching their comrades die, and Sharon is committing the double sin of making a mockery of the party referendum that he himself called for, as well as reward terrorism.

Then there is the American Jewish community. This past week the glorious Salute to Israel Parade took place in New York. It was a magical spectacle that drew upwards of 100,000 spectators and tens of thousands of marchers to honor the Jewish state. But why was Donald Trump chosen as the Grand Marshal? To be sure, we should be very grateful to Trump for agreeing to be publicly associated with Israel. But did he have to lead the parade? Is that the best American Jewry can come up with? Israel needs moral giants to front its defense, not some famous rich guy.

THEN THERE is Judaism, which seems equally directionless. Throughout the world this week, two Jewish stories dominated even the secular press. The first was that rabbis in Israel and England had forbade the use of Indian hair for women's wigs because the hair might have been used in an idolatrous ceremony.

Jews are dying every day in Israel, we are about to hand over another huge chunk of our land back to people who want to destroy our state, courageous American soldiers are battling to establish the first Arab democracy, and the brains of Israeli soldiers are being kicked around like footballs by terrorists in Gaza. But what are Judaism's representatives thundering about? Idolatrous hair.

Let me be clear. I too am an Orthodox Jew, and my wife covers her hair with a sheitel. But having been in Israel last week and walked through the city of Hebron with its mass of memorials to dead Israeli civilians, the last thing on my mind was the origin of my wife's wig.

While Jewish legal prohibitions against idolatry must be taken seriously, I would prefer seeing rabbis providing direction as to the advisability of further territorial concessions that will only bring Israel's enemies closer to its major population centers.

AND THEN there was the second "Jewish" story. Madonna was about to launch her American concert tour, and the New York Post revealed how she would sing Kabbala-inspired songs while "simulating sex with a female tango dancer."

You know your religion is up a creek when your people are facing mortal danger but your religious leaders are obsessed with Indian hair, and the most famous representative of your mystical tradition is simulating lesbian sex with scantily clad pregnant dancers.

Earth to Phillip Berg: Do us all a favor and dump Madonna as your principal spokesperson. Sorry to be so crass, but Madonna is a slut. Yes, she may sing, and she may dance. But she is famous for being a slut. And no religion dare have a slut as its principal representative.

To be sure, I am not advocating that the Kabbalah Center throw Madonna out. Every human being should be encouraged to approach God, regardless of other choices they have made.

I realize that Madonna has brought the Kabbalah Center great notoriety and is, according to reports, a contributor to the tune of millions of dollars. But is the Kabbalah Center really so desperate that it is prepared to promote itself through a vulgarian whose main contribution to the culture is porn rock?

Can the center's leaders not see the contradiction between having Madonna as a front-woman amid their claims that Kabbalah is a life-altering experience?

The principal text of Kabbalah is the Zohar, which means "book of illumination," and indeed Judaism's biblical mandate is to be a light unto the nations. Islam suffers today because of an inability on the part of its clerics to condemn the darkness being spread by many of its practitioners. Judaism dare not make the same error by having rabbis be consumed by inanities and failing to provide moral leadership on the critical questions of our time.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and not those of SomethingJewish. Readers can comment on this article by email:

What you said:

The teachings of the Zohar were not meant to be used as a marketing campaign to re-invent celebrities whose image may have become burned-out and in need of a "facelift in the public eye". This Material girl has no business here. If she wants to something good for Judaism tell her to reschedule her canceled performances for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem! Scott Silverstein

Thank you for your comments about Madonna.  As a religious person I agree whole heartedly with everything you wrote.  Thank you. Tyler Seamons

I wholehearted agree with the comments Rabbi Boteach said concerning Madonna being a spokesperson for the Kabbala religion.  Madonna changes her persona with each decade that passes. She is no role model for the youth and certainly not for any religion. It amazes me how celebrities grab hold of any spiritual belief system but continue to live or promote their life as is, i.e. Madonna, Britney Spears, Demi Moore. This is not being sexist, narrowminded or any other negative statement the world makes. I read the comments of other readers. But I bet you none even cracked open a book to learn what they were talking about. So it goes with our shallow world.  Kudos to Rabbi Boteach. Marilyn 

I am moderately observant myself, my family attends a Chabad Shul, and I am & have always been an admirer of Madonna. That being said, she is one of the reasons I've made many a positive choice in my life, and never a negative. She has never influenced me to do anything other than better myself, embrace change & growth & be an accepting & open minded human being.

I totally agree with your comments about Madonna. I am glad someone has finally stood up and decried the tendency in modern culture for performers, and just about everyone else, to use sex to sell themselves, and then act as if there is nothing morally wrong with it. Madonna has been particularly guilty of this in the past. I remember seeing a video of one of her tours where she was simulating sex, a practice which I see Britney Spears has now adopted on her latest tour. However, when I read that she had embraced the teachings of the Kabbalah, I assumed that these shenanigans were behind her. Her kiss with Britney on TV set me straight. I don't understand how these performers can justify this kind of moral corruption. Is this something she would want her children to see? I can remember an interview with Arnold Shwarzennager where he declared he wouldn't allow his children to see his movies because they were too violent - oh, pardon me, but let everyone else's children be exposed to it. I am not Jewish; I am Catholic, but it constantly amazes me how people, who claim to follow or to belong to a religion, whatever it may be, can act so totally against not only the tenets but the spirit of what they profess to believe. Sandra L

To judge her on some early career decisions she made (or more-so how the media portrays her), and not to acknowledge her almost unfathomable growth as a human being is just sad to me. Change is one of the, if not the, main principle of Judaism. We are here on earth to constantly embrace the challenges of life & grow through them, constantly moving upward & forward. I cannot think of another person on the planet who has done this more successfully or with more bravery than Madonna. Terri G

I found the language of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to be extremely offensive. As a Jew, I've been told not to be jealous of someone and to use sexist words to describe someone. Furthermore, after attending one of Madonna's shows in Los Angeles, I saw no simulated sex, masturbation, etc. It's funny how Rabbi Shmuley Boteach gets his information from news organizations such as The New York Post, which is extremely sexist. Dan Goldberg

Madonna doesnt simulate lesbian sex with scantily clad pregnant dancers in her most recent concert, previous concert or any of her concerts, videos, movies or books. Marc

Clearly there is a tendency to believe the worst of people, but to repeat rumours and condemn someone for them is a poor reflection on the Rabbi. Daniel