JERUSALEM — I was trying to think of something to write for Yom Kippur — the Jewish Day of Atonement, which begins this Friday at sundown — and a few other news sources found something for me that may also interest top model agencies.
Eighteen-year-old Esther Petrack is a contestant on the American reality show “America’s Next Top Model.” She is from Boston — where, incidentally, I lived for nine years to study at Boston University and then work as a journalist — and she is a modern Orthodox Jew. Petrack even went to the Maimonides School, and she was born here in Jerusalem.
Here is a clip from her introduction during the first episode of the new season (caution for those who may not want to see, Petrack appears in only a bra and underwear at the end):
Why am I writing about her on the day before Yom Kippur?.
After Petrack tells Tyra Banks about what (modern) Orthodox Jews can and cannot do on the Sabbath — from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday — Banks replies that contestants on the show must work seven days a week. After just a moment’s pause, Petrack says that working during the time will not be a problem. (For the record, I have yet to understand why models cannot forgo work one day a week.)
I once worked for a former television producer who told me that women had offered to sleep with him in exchange for a chance to appear on his program. Petrack is coming close to that offer. Women are generally more concerned about public image than men — hence the competitive desire of girls, often as a result of their insecure natures, to be “famous” and have more “dating market-value” than other women. After all, why else do women tend to be more obsessed about Hollywood celebrities and gossip than men? Girls want to be princesses. Men could care less — just give us a beer, a good girl, and the game on television.
And, unfortunately, Petrack decided in the clip to forgo thousands of years of tradition and her own stated beliefs in order to have a chance at stardom. Still, in her defense, she is young and likely naive. People in the West tend to mature much later than people in, say, Israel — where nearly all eighteen-year-old people are in the military after high school.
But my issue does not stem only from her disregarding of the beliefs that she herself said that she has. In the short clip, she agrees to violate the Sabbath and dresses in a way that is not modest in the least — both of which are violations of (Orthodox) Judaism. (For example, Orthodox women must wear skirts that reach below the knees, not pants, and they must cover their upper bodies up to the neckline and down to the elbows.) My general concerns stem from something else.
Dvora Meyers writes in Tablet magazine:
It was welcome that Esther was open about her need to figure out her observance through trial and error.
And personally, I think it’s a good thing to have a Modern Orthodox woman on a reality show such as ANTM, not only to see her struggle with her own personal boundary between religious and secular but to give The CW’s young viewers a different perspective on observant Jews (though we are unlikely to see her doing any practicing on the show).
I have no issue with anyone searching for something to believe — as long as it is for the right reasons. (Those who know me personally will understand.) A person who ponders the theological, philosophical, and political issues that have perplexed humanity for thousands of years will hopefully reach his own conclusions. But Petrack, as we can see in her comments in the video, seems not to have done that — she is making her decisions based on what will allow or prevent her from becoming a model.
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