Monday, January 26, 2009

Loving Leah

Last night I watched an interesting Hallmark film with my mom. It was about a woman from a Traditional (Orthodox) Jewish community (Leah) whose husband had passed away, and her husband's brother who was not observing Judaism at all. (He offered her an apple and a slice of cheese, saying that one of these must be kosher...)

The premise of the story is that when the husband dies, if he leaves no children, then his widow is supposed to be married to his brother in order to carry on his name. Despite being in some sort of relationship already, the brother decides that he actually wants to take this tradition, because to not take his husband's widow as a wife would seem like denying his brother's existence, something he didn't want to do.

So the widow agrees to move to Georgetown with her brother-in-law, though they insist on living as "roommates" instead of as husband and wife. Now, eventually the couple ends up falling in love and making a happy marriage, but there are a few things that I found interesting.

First of all, we can see how a woman who is not observant of the traditional practices regarding dress and modesty feels uncomfortable by wearing a short dress, while in a room of women wearing longer clothes. There was also a point made about the segregation of men and women at the funeral which might have seemed to some to be overkill. It looked to me, however, that an attempt was being made to show the Traditional Jewish community as being weird by being so "religious."

What ends up happening is that instead of bringing her new husband more towards faith, Leah actually ends up leaving many of her own customs behind. She decides to uncover her hair for instance, while shortening her skirts. She doesn't leave her faith entirely, but begins attending a Reform Temple (something that really upset her mother.)

I couldn't say for sure, but it seemed that there was a subtle message that it was better for her (according to the filmmakers) that she be less strict in her religious observation. Every time she encountered a new situation she would use religion as an excuse for her awkwardness. At times it was endearing and at times it was... obtuse.

I wonder why it is that Americans so love to see religious communities being assimilated into the mainstream. Why is it that religious observation is seen as oppressive and backwards? Overall that's what bothered me about the film.


Anonymous said...

Because religion is evil?

No, really. Religion, of any stripe, tells you that 'this' is right, and 'that' is wrong. And if you go through life with that framework, then you are going to have to disapprove, or condemn, someone elses desires at some point. You're going to offend someone, at some point. And that's just mean...

We think we're so civilized, because we don't want to hurt anyone, or offend. Somehow, that's become the mark of evolved thinking. It's getting to the point where you can't say or do anything without being concerned that you're going to offend someone.

They're whittling away at religion by picking one thing, say head covering, and making it seem extreme. They'll shame some into removing it, convince others that it's not, actually, required, and others won't wear it because they don't want to stand out. And once they think they've won that battle, they'll pick something else. Until we're all too afraid of 'Big Brother' to do anything, for fear of winding up like those 'extreme' people over there, who don't fit in with society.


Bob said...

I understand the point made by Amy. First, let me say I'm not Jewish by faith. I've always been interested and impressed by those who follow the Jewish religion faithfully. I didn't think it made Judaism look wired. But I can see how some may have percieved it in such a way. I do however share the concern that our society wants all things conservative to be seen as backward or opressive. Liberalism is slowly but surly diluting so much that we once stood for. Back to the movie though, I liked it. Another good and clean Hallmark film!

Jamilah said...

Its so strange you wrote about this.. the woman that drives my son's school van asked me if I watched it because it reminded her of me! She knew me before Islam and remembers my hair and always says she misses it! Anyway, I had turned on my laptop and seen my Igoogle page which has all of the blogs I read on it and I say your title of 'loving Leah' and for some stupid reason I thought it was the name of your new soon to be husband and in my mind I was like hmmm thats an odd name for a boy... I'm rambling now.

ANYWAY...thanks for the post because now I can talk to her about it. She did say that she was 'so hoping that the girl would take her wig off', so your words ring true that the average American would like to see people that follow religious tradition assimilate into the mainstream.

Amy said...

Amber, That was a very deep and interesting comment--it gave me a lot to think about.

Bob, thanks for stopping by...

Jamilah, thanks for commenting. Your friend's comment definitely goes along with my theory. While I was watching I was hoping that she wouldn't start to uncover, but I kinda felt like I was going against the grain. :-)

Amber said...


Who me?

Not that realism is important in television, but I find it bizarre that the brother who doesn't even know what food is kosher would decide to honor the law that says to marry his brothers widow.


Amy said...


I guess I didn't fully explain the brother's decision. The reason he decided to honor that law even though he wasn't practicing anything of Judaism, was that in order to basically annul the marriage he had to say that he denied his brother's existence.

And he had some personal conflict about that--he hadn't been close to his brother but still loved him and missed him, and didn't want to officially deny his existence. (There was a line he had to repeat, denying his brother's existence, to not have to marry his sister-in-law.) So because of that, he decided to keep her as his wife.

It was kind of weird... and didn't go over very well with his girlfriend.

Amber said...

That makes a lot more sense, actually. Thanks. Now I kind of want to see this movie.


Shamsuddin Waheed said...

As salaamu 'alaikum,

Interesting article.It should be noted that many cultures, including some Muslim nations, practice this as well, and that although Jewish texts speak of this, it has more to do with custom and family honor/preservation rather than religion.

Authentic religion asks us to change our attitudes and behavior for the better, to be in line with the teachings of the religion, but society sometimes asks religion to change, to alter fundamental principles [especially of an ethical or moral nature] to suit the trends.

I will rent the movie,Insha-Allah, and hopefully have more to say about it.


أم ترافيس said...

Assalamu alaykum....

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Anonymous said...

As-salaamu Aleikum!

Great review and comments about an important topic!

It is OUR growing and complete fascination with SECULARISM and HUMANISM as a 'substitute' for the so-called "excesses" committed by religion and religious communities that makes it "fashionable" to bash traditional religious practices.

In some ways, Obama's victory is a victory for secular humanism and its many subtle evils. This ideology is one wherein all opinions and viewpoints are EQUALLY valid and NO distinction is made between RIGHT and WRONG in absolute terms. And those who adhere to such standards are depicted by Hollywood and popular culture as rigid, fundamentalist and, therefore, un-progressive and backward.

At least, that is my take among the many here!


Amber said...


Another thing is that many people who have embraced secularism, and/or atheism, leaving religion entirely, are very angry. Sometimes irrationally so.

I came across a website of an ex-Muslim, and she just seethes with animosity towards any expression of any religion, at all. Even the most innocuous religious observance is likened to torture by her. She's just one example, they exist in every sort of religious background. They've 'freed' themselves, and would now like to 'save us from ourselves'.


Anonymous said...

I am an American woman, not a muslim, but I wanted to say that
Faris is absolutely right about secular humanism and very, very, rarely do I see secular humanism pinned as the real culprit.

Secular humanism is not traditional western values of rationalism and objective morality, but rather was born of a combination of utilitarianism and logical positivism at the turn of the 20th century.

Your description of how the woman adopts short skirts cracks me up. Secular humanist movies make no sense because they represent fantasies of the way they wish the world worked rather than the way it really works.