Monday, January 24, 2022

In “My Unorthodox 5781 (August 12, 2021),” Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein characterizes Julia Haart of the Netflix series “My Unorthodox Life” as someone who (a) “publicly mocks her previous life in a rigorously insular orthodox locality,” (b) “left her husband and went the full limit by marrying out” and (c) “assiduously tries to go the opposite extreme [regarding tznius] at every opportunity.” Rabbi Adlerstein continues that “worst” of all is that she attempts to “infect her four children with her values [sic],” including “getting two of them to walk out of observance,” and “pushing the exploration of sexuality on her kids.”

While from most accounts, this characterization of Julia Haart seems accurate, the conclusions that Rabbi Adlerstein draws are disturbing and false. Initially, Rabbi Adlerstein questions why Haart waited until she was 43 to take up her “cause,” when it would have been more “understandable” had she done so while she was still in her twenties. He then rather absurdly comments that “[s]he doesn’t seem to have the intellectual depth to be a serious atheist,” as though the hallmark of so-called “serious” atheism is intellectual prowess.

But the worst inference that Rabbi Adlerstein makes is his attempt to derive some sort of universal lesson for all of us from Julia Haart. The article concludes:

“Julia Haart is beginning to sound like every one of us. Don’t we all trade long-term happiness—and eternity—for the thrill of the moment? Our Sages instruct us to weigh the temporal reward of sin against the infinitely greater reward of avoiding it. Do we stop ourselves often enough to consider what we are trading for and against? Don’t we sell out on our principles, choosing profit and bling over substance? Do our decisions make more sense? Has she done us a favor by presenting to us a vivid caricature of ourselves, through which we can be shocked into making the changes we know we need? We are all Julia Haart.”

The answers to the questions posed by Rabbi Adlerstein towards reaching this misguided conclusion are “No, no, no, no and no.” The fact is, most of us are nothing like Julia Haart, nor is she some “vivid caricature of ourselves.” The broad strokes which Rabbi Adlerstein employs in attempting to give mussar are offensive and inaccurate. Far be it for me to suggest that there is no one among us who needs to klop “al chet.” But no, we do not all trade long-term happiness and eternity for the thrill of the moment, and I think most of us do not “sell out” on our principles, and choose profit and “bling” over substance. Adlerstein’s conclusion of “We are all Julia Haart” is cynical, and while I understand the point that Rabbi Adlerstein is trying to make, I suggest that reference to Julia Haart is forced and a disservice to his readers.

Yitzchok Alper


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