A few weeks ago, Matthue Roth, associate editor at MJL, worked on the set of the new CBS drama The Good Wife as an extra. The episode, “Unorthodox,” is about the Hasidic Jewish community in Chicago. It airs on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 10 EDT.
I’ve protested so frequently about the portrayal of Hasidic Jews in movies and TV that one would probably figure that I should know how to do it correctly. Being one myself, I’m pretty quick to catch the common errors: eating in non-kosher restaurants (Pi), mixed dancing (A Stranger Among Us), being in inappropriate situations between men and women (pretty much every movie out there that involves Hasidim in any capacity).
In my head, as I’ve gone through the everyday movements that make up our life, I’ve thought several times about how perfect something would be for a movie — probably due to a healthy amount of egotism combined with a cinematic outlook. Swishing my talis around me before morning prayers would make a great pan! Washing hands from a double-handled cup would look so meaningful in slow motion! Walking down the street with my black overcoat swishing against my calves like a cape is — well, yeah, that’s my fantasy of being a superhero combining with my fantasy of living inside a movie.
The reality of Hasidic Jews on film, from The Chosen to New York, I Love You, is a different story. When we’re not represented as shadowy figures crossing streets in the background, we’re old, un-English-speaking naÃ¯fs with poor posture and weird hair. The weird hair part, we are totally guilty of, but the rest of it is due in large part to the dumbing down of culture to its barest essence — when it’s not straight-out making stuff up.
But nothing quite prepared me for this: Sitting at a bridge table at 5:45 A.M. with a dozen men dressed as Hasidic Jews, discussing the new Quentin Crisp biopic. Or, more specifically: how one of the 70-year-old rabbi-lookin’ guys at the table, whose payos are much straighter and more even and perfectly grayed than mine, is telling me about his role cross-examining an actor playing Quentin Crisp in a new film.