The questions that I will discuss this time are: is it
possible to have religious entertainment, entertainment with
a "hechsher" produced with good intentions and
containing religious motifs? Can a Torah-observant Jew live
peacefully with the modern entertainment culture, even
before checking its programs and the quality of the
The world of entertainment is not a modern phenomenon. In
ancient Greece various popular diversions were invented that
were presented in amphitheaters specially built for this
purpose. Chazal frequently warned against visiting theaters
and circuses, since they harm man's soul.
Entertainment has changed its form through the ages and in
the various parts of the world it appears in different hues.
The common denominator of them all is the aim of fulfilling
man's desire to forget his daily yoke, to free himself from
all constraining values. A person escapes from seriousness --
where his intelligence dictates his actions -- to the more
comfortable domains of permissiveness, haughtiness, and
Entertainment in all its diverse fashions is radically
opposed to the Torah way of life and to genuine Jewish
feeling. Even if there is no explicit prohibition against
it, entertainment's essence is the antithesis of Jewry and
HaRav Yosef Lipovitz zt'l (in Nachalas Yosef on
Megillas Ruth) enlightens us with a midrash
that teaches us to what degree this subject is considered a
cardinal principle of Judaism.
When Ruth sought to cling to the Jewish Nation and accept
the Torah's yoke, Naomi delineated to her the limitations
and restrictions that the Torah demands of Jews. "As soon as
Naomi heard that [Ruth wanted to enter the Jewish Nation]
she began setting before her the halochos of
geirim. She said to her: `My daughter, it is not the
way of Jewish women to go to the theaters or stadiums of the
non-Jews.'[Ruth] said: `Where you go, I will go . . .'"
(Ruth Rabbah 2:23-24).
HaRav Yosef Lipovitz zt'l writes about this: "It is
simply magnificent! According to the explanation of Chazal,
Naomi started learning hilchos geirim not from the
actual laws of the Torah -- from the 613 positive and
negative mitzvos -- but from the side issues of not going to
theaters and stadium shows. It can be inferred that Chazal
saw in refraining from this [i.e., keeping away from these
sources of entertainment] an essential principle of
accepting the yoke of Heaven's kingdom. This is truly
amazing. How can it possibly be so important?
"`Chazal are sometimes terse in what they write in one
place, but elaborate in other places' (Yerushalmi, Rosh
Hashanah 3:8). The gemora (Avodoh Zorah
18b) calls all these places of entertainment moshav
leitzim, about which the posuk writes: `. . . nor
did he sit in the moshav leitzim; but his delight is
only in the Torah of Hashem' (Tehillim 1:1-2). From
the posuk in Tehillim we understand that a
moshav leitzim and the Torah of Hashem are two
opposing factors that contradict each other . . .
"Let us now return to the subject of theaters and circuses.
We do not know when people started patronizing them, nor
what their motive was. From Chazal, however, who included
them in the definition of a moshav leitzim, we learn
that they were not just places of entertainment. The aim was
to tutor man and to provide him with a direction for his
life. Chazal in the past criticized them severely, declaring
that they are mere leitzonus; present reality has
shown this criticism to be conclusive. How many ornate
phrases have been repeatedly used by the various types of
theaters, assuring us that they will serve as a mortal
`temple' for culture and the improvement of character
traits? Not only have they not improved these things, they
have even served to incite all sorts of evil inclinations.
One cannot seek relief, or the bettering of oneself, by
using the cures prescribed by doctors of idolatry.
"When Naomi began guiding Ruth along the way of Judaism, she
needed first to cancel all the principles and concepts that
Ruth had inherited from Mo'av. In her first talk with Ruth,
Naomi said: `My daughter, you must be aware that all our
axioms are different from those of other nations. It is not
the way of a Jewish woman to look for truth and beauty in
theaters and circuses, because according to our outlook
there is only falsehood and depravity there.' What the book
of Ruth begins to teach us, Tehillim concludes:
`Happy is the man who did not go . . . nor sat in the place
of jesters; but his delight is only in the Torah of Hashem.'
We have one way and that is the Torah. Only the Torah can
pave the way for us in life and only it can educate man as
to how to refine his life."
The weltanschauung of show business
offers man an "alternative" for spiritual experiences: a
cheap replacement that will help him push aside the
spiritual hunger ingrained in his neshomoh. The world
of entertainment is the opposite of how a Jew should live
and fulfill his obligations in his world. The Torah demands
that man concentrate on his duties in life, that he utilize
his capabilities to their fullest, that he engage in the
study of Divine wisdom, dominate his yetzer and
refine his nefesh.
In contrast, entertainment helps a person run away from
himself and disregard man's lofty level and sacred soul by
diverting his attention to the follies of this world, to
worthless matters, while creating an atmosphere of conceit
and disregard for one's duties in life.
For these reasons the world of entertainment is truly the
foremost enemy of Judaism. This was true even in the distant
past, but how much more is it true today, when all these
things are just as true, and one does not even have to
bother going out to a theater? All the spiritual garbage is
readily available through radio, television, the computer
(Internet), video and films.
Fifteen years ago one of the famed baalei teshuvah in
our generation, R' Uri Zohar, published a book called
Uvocharto Bachaim (later translated by M. Weinberg
and called My Friends, We Were Robbed!). In this book
R' Zohar portrays the deliberating and questioning that led
him to return to Judaism and become Torah-observant. As
someone who was well aware of what is happening on the other
side of the fence, he depicts sharply and bluntly, without
covering anything up, the various offerings of the
entertainment world which take up most of the average
secular Jew's free time. He notes that as long as he was
engrossed in the secular world he was unable to examine
objectively questions such as: "What is the point of
comedy?" or "Why is it so right or important to laugh and to
make others laugh?"
He writes that the answer to this question can be found by
first analyzing the word "entertainment," which in Hebrew is
bidur, literally meaning "dispersal."
"When performed at its best, it consists of the spontaneity
of improvisational comedy mixed with equal portions of self-
deprecation, social satire, and that distinctively bitter-
sweet laugh-cry which characterizes the Jewish sense of
irony. The whole mixture is then presented to, or rather
scatter-gunned at, the audience. This catch-as-catch-can
dispersal of straight lines, punch lines, body movements,
changes in modulation, tone, and expression induces in the
audience another kind of dispersal, the dispersal of pent-up
tensions and emotions in the form of laughter."
R' Uri Zohar writes that the entertainment profession can
never make any tangible change in society or the individual.
There is no one in the world, among all those who watch
shows, i.e. the entertainment "consumers," who ever made any
significant decision as a result of the influence of theater
art's creativity on him.
Once a driver stopped near R' Zohar for a red light and
recognized him as being the famous Uri Zohar. The driver
said to him angrily, "How could you do such a thing? One day
there you are on stage making us laugh, and then poof! You
just pick up and leave -- just like that. Who's going to
make us laugh now? You should be ashamed of yourself."
"That incident," relates R' Zohar, "along with others of a
similar if less dramatic nature, confirmed the accuracy of a
conclusion which I reached after having learned quite a bit
of Torah, namely, that the nature of the artistic life is
essentially barren. I realized that each of my performances
had accomplished nothing more than the temporary dispersal
of repressed energies (both mine and those of the audience)
which, by the next day, would inevitably accumulate again,
to be dispersed once more until the next show -- Sisyphus on
R' Zohar writes in reference to the above: "Who says that it
is so important to take part in this specific process? Torah
life concentrates one's entire spiritual capability and
makes it his goal in life. Entertainment is only scattering
light; the aim of Torah and mitzvos is concentrating light.
For someone who has a clear view of his aim in life,
entertainment is negative. It interferes, sterilizes, and
We do not really need anything written in modern times to
understand the detrimental influence entertainment has on
man. As cited above, Chazal warned many times against
theaters and circuses (stadium shows). Even Naomi told Ruth
that distancing oneself from those entertainment sources is
a principle of a Jew's uniqueness. Today's baalei
teshuvah can acknowledge this since they themselves are
eyewitnesses -- "There is no one wiser than an experienced
person" (Akeidah, chap. 14).
They experienced personally and directly the demoralizing
influence of self-conceit, permissiveness, and escapism that
characterizes the audiences of these shows. They are fully
aware of the damage that was done to them and their friends
because of this "leisure culture." There is nothing like
those bewitching pleasures, shallow and lacking any essence,
for preventing a person from arriving at the "hour of quiet"
about which the Chazon Ish zt'l (in the beginning of
his Emunah Ubitochon) writes that it is the first
condition necessary for a person to realize emunah
and his duty in life.
It is a mistake to say that entertainment was prohibited
because "chodosh (in this sense meaning innovation)
is prohibited by the Torah," that is, that the Torah is
against anything new. Entertainment is not chodosh at
all. Its source is in the ancient heretic world of Greek
culture. Entertainment is opposed to Judaism not because of
it is an innovation but because of its essence.
Judaism does not oppose using modern technical ways of
spreading Torah for chinuch purposes. If the role of
a pen and an inkwell is replaced by a tape recorder,
computer printer, CD-ROM, and modem, there is no reason not
to use them to relay educational and Torah messages. This is
with regard to an electronic means of communication.
But entertainment is not only or mainly a means of
communication. It is the expression of a superficial
spiritual existence that is alienated from reality and is
diametrically opposed to the way of Torah and
Under the conditions created and forced upon us in Israel,
in the process of continually grappling with the attempts of
secular groups to capture the nation's soul, gedolei
Yisroel have permitted representatives of the chareidi
community to appear and be interviewed on the media. Their
aim is to let the nation know what daas Torah is and
to rebut those who attack us. In this way we can utilize
modern technology for our purposes and not leave the arena
for the exclusive use of enemies of the Torah. If we do so,
perhaps some traditional Jewish message will be absorbed by
hearts that are aching with emptiness and nourished on
secular incitement against the Torah.
On the other hand, Torah-true Jewry has never taken part in
entertainment and amusement programs, whose essence is
totally opposed to the basis of our Torah. We can pass on
Judaism using the latest technical innovations, but not
through theater. Just as the theaters and Greek stadiums
could not be used as a proper place as "entertainment in the
spirit of Judaism" for the cultivation of any positive
influence, so this cannot be done by today's theaters and
Entertainment and Judaism are two enemies and a moshav
leitzim is the absolute opposite of Toras