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Want to Represent Orthodox Jews Accurately? Take This Test Before Production Begins

In light of NBC’s recent pulling of the controversial episode after misrepresenting Orthodox Judaism in their show “Nurses,” as an author and screenwriter, I suggested to Jew and the City that they follow the trends that have been created for other minority groups, like the THE BECHDEL TEST. THE BECHDEL TEST names the following three criteria to create a piece of content that is fair to women and then scores the production with one point for each question: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

Therefore, I’d like to propose what I will call THE JOSEPHS TEST: (which I have named after Jew in the City founder and director, Allison Josephs). This can be a quick checklist for creators and viewers of media of Orthodox Jewish narratives, themes and characters to see if a reasonable and accurate depiction has been created.

  1. Are there any Orthodox characters who are emotionally and psychologically stable? (Half a point if they occasionally smile. Two points if you’d want to hang out with any of them.)
  2. Are there characters who are Orthodox whose religious life is a characteristic but not a plot point or a problem? (Half a point if they can get through an entire scene without touching a religious object, mentioning a Torah verse, or speaking pedantically to the other characters.)
  3. Can the Orthodox character find her Happily Ever After as a religious Jew? (Or does it ONLY come about through leaving observance, and then all of her issues magically resolve?)
  4.  And if the main plot points are in conflict due to religious observance— are any characters not Hasidic or Haredi and have the writers actually researched authentic religious observance from practicing members of the community they are attempting to portray?

Consider the TV shows and movies you’ve seen and put them to THE JOSEPHS TEST. Let us know how they scored in the comments below. (With thanks to Aroma Writers for their contributions.)

 

 

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  • Avatar photo Daniel says on March 25, 2021

    I don’t think I’ve *ever* seen a non-Charedi, kippa-wearing, Shomer Shabbat modern Orthodox Jew portrayed on screen. For good or for ill.

    Can someone give me an example?

    Reply
    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on March 26, 2021

      Grey’s Anatomy has a crazy Baal teshuva who does not seem to be charedi. And “Chicago Med” has a doctor in a kippah srugah who they gave a personality disorder to.

      Reply
    • Avatar photo Akiva says on May 26, 2021

      Ron Rifkin’s character (Ben Meyer) in “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill” (CBS TV, 1990-92) was a perfect example of how to do it right.

      Reply
  • Avatar photo Chris Carter says on December 12, 2023

    I am not Jewish but I would like to contribute.
    About 20 years ago someone recommended that I watch “A Stranger Among Us” (1992). It’s about a female detective who is sent to investigate a robbery and a missing man in a New York Orthodox Jewish Community.To investigate she has to learn about the Community and live with them for a while.
    I was very impressed with the movie because it seemed to show the Community as just people who live a different way from other New Yorkers, but it was shown with full respect for them and their customs. It also showed the detective as just a detective, and being female was merely incidental.
    Two scenes that I remember particularly are:
    1. After the body of the missing man is found and they prepare for his burial she comments: “You people just care so much for each other!”.
    2. When they track down the killer and are about to confront him she hands her companion, an orthodox man, a gun and says, “If he is going to shoot you, you must hold the gun like this, aim it at his body and pull the trigger”; but he has never killed anything and he doesn’t think he can do it.
    Of course I do not know if the depiction was accurate but it was most certainly respectful and not slanted in any way.

    Reply
  • Avatar photo Francesco says on May 26, 2024

    5. Are they NOT in New York?
    6. Are they 50% Sephardim?
    7. If set in Israel are the majority non-European?
    8. Do they NOT all eat bagels and prefer Chraime or Hamin?

    Reply

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