Monday, September 27, 2010

ANTM and Orthodox Judaism

Since I’ve lost any hopes of spare time with this blog and all my other extracurricular projects, the only TV shows I really follow anymore are American Idol and Glee, and even those I watch while at the computer or doing homework. Sadly, I have had to abandon regularly watching America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), stuck with watching the reruns on Oxygen. Yes, I know - a feminist? Watching ANTM? It's kind of my dirty little secret. I started watching way before I really identified with feminism, and it's a bad habit at this point. I know the modeling industry objectifies women so much and makes women bodies, not people, and ANTM is just a way to bring that horrible mindset to the masses, but it really is a fun show to watch. Whatever the case, I’ve had to stop watching it due to lack of time. As a result, it was only when I saw the article on JWA when I learned that a self-identified Orthodox teenager was a contestant.

As seen in the above video clip, Esther Petrack, an 18-year-old from Brookline, MA, identifies herself as a Modern Orthodox Jew. When she was introduced to Tyra Banks, runway coach J. Alexander, and photo shoot director Jay Manuel, Tyra asked her, “Do you honor the Sabbath?” Esther replied, “I do,” and then explained the general rules of Shabbat (Sabbath). When Tyra said, “No days off,” and Jay asked her, “What would you do?”, Esther replied, “I would do it.” When being interviewed alone, she said, “I’m at a point in my life where I’m figuring things out. I’m gonna try to do as much as I can religious-wise, but I did kinda draw my line in the sand when I auditioned for this.”

This girl interests me, I think because I’m torn between blacklisting her and praising her. On one hand, she’s almost bragging about her heritage, saying how she was born in Jerusalem and is a Modern Orthodox Jew; on the other hand, she’s saying that she’s willing to put her modeling career before her religion. It’s definitely a no-no. No truly Orthodox Jew would ever be willing to break Shabbat (Sabbath). While she may technically be able to not directly violate Shabbat while modeling on Friday nights and Saturdays (and even that would be very hard), working is a no-no in general. She’s also obviously not keeping tzniut (modesty in dress), considering she modeled in her underwear for the judges, and will most definitely have to model in clothing that you definitely wouldn't find in Borough Park. She may be keeping kosher in the house, though - I haven’t seen her eating anything yet, so I have to give her benefit of the doubt.

Honestly, my biggest criticism of Esther is for calling herself Orthodox. I’m Femidox (feminist Orthodox), a sect of Modern Orthodoxy, and I can say that anyone who is really Orthodox, modern or not, would not violate Shabbat. I know too little of Conservative and Reform Judaism to say whether she belongs in either, but she shouldn’t identify with a sect that she does not really adhere to. She’s trying to figure things out in life; I understand that. I’m doing that, too. But if I ever decide that Shabbat isn’t for me, I’m not going to be calling myself Orthodox. It just gives Judaism a bad smell to it - "Oh, those Jews, they're all look-at-how-religious-I-am, but as soon as there's money or fame in the equation they're willing to do anything."

All in all, I find Esther an interesting person. Do I support her action in willing to violate Shabbat to model? No. But I have to give her kudos for being proud of being Jewish, and for wanting to try to adhere to Judaism as much as she can. We all should practice what we’re comfortable with and shouldn’t feel pressured into practicing anything we don’t agree with or understand. So all in all, I look forward to seeing Esther continue on ANTM.


  1. There's more to being Orthodox than observance. People do not categorize themselves denominationally simply based on what they observe--it's based on many larger issues, such as how to interpret the Torah, where Halakhic authority stems from, etc. I think you're trying to generalize something that is much more personal than you're making it out to be. Why do you think Shabbat is what defines someone as truly Orthodox? There are literally hundreds of Mitzvot, and I doubt everyone you think of as Orthodox observes them all. Even within the Orthodox community there is disagreement on how things are to be observed.

  2. You're completely right. However, due to secular and Judaic society's small-mindedness, the benchmarks of Orthodoxy tend to be considered kosher, Shabbos, and taharat mishpacha/niddah (family purity), and anyone who does not keep those three is deemed non-Orthodox, since those are the main three that define a person's life. So by calling herself Orthodox and saying "I'm willing to break Orthodoxy," she's not making Jews, let alone Orthodox ones, look so great.