Today there are many novels being written, targeted for religious, frum women, which are authored by religious, frum women. Is there anything wrong with these novels for the frum woman to read? On a related note, today there are many “stand-up comedians” which are events made “for frum women only”, and some of these events even have separate seating for men and women. Is it permitted to go to these shows? Also, is it permissible to view the “Chareidi” films which are made today? What about viewing all of the “Chareidi” videos and films which are made for girls, teenagers, or children? And what about viewing a film about nature [Ed. i.e. National Geographic]?
I am asking these questions not only for myself, but for all of us who feel confused about these outlets. In my house, I don’t allow any of this entertainment, but my wife loves to read novels, so that particular question is very relevant to me personally.
The Ramchal in the beginning of sefer Mesillas Yesharim has taught us what the proper and true kind of life should be: Anything which brings a person closer to Hashem should be pursued, like iron after a magnet, and anything which distances a person from Hashem should be avoided, just as much as you would run from a fire. All of the things we have on this world are “tools” which offer a person yishuv hadaas (settling of the mind), which is needed to calm the material needs of the body.
Therefore, in whatever you encounter, you need to examine if it’s forbidden or permissible. After knowing that, the next thing to examine is that even if it’s permissible, you need to know what purpose it has to you, what it consists of, and how you will be affected from your connection to it.
This is a subjective matter, because every situation, person, and time is different.
In order to be clearer about this, we will try here will siyata d’shmaya to give you several contemplations to think about, which will aid you in uncovering the different aspects contained in the subject you are asking about. The following are just examples, and not all of these factors will be present in every situation. We will mention here both the pros and the cons about what you are inquiring about.
1) [By watching “kosher” comedies, films, entertainment or reading “kosher” novels] you are entering into a world of imagination, which at times can be a total disconnect from reality.
2) It [involvement in these forms of entertainment] also enters you into a dramatically emotional realm, which can cause you to become an emotional storm inside yourself, opening you up to emotions in general and nerve-wracking emotions in particular.
3) It also exposes you to the many different kinds of problems that are in our world, which enters you into a world that is filled with all kinds of suffering [which is unnecessary for you to read about it and thereby detrimental, because it awakens unnecessary anxiety].
4) Reading a storyline of a novel [or film] can also cause a person to absorb a certain lesson from it which affects him on a very inward level, which can also have an actual effect on how a person behaves – sometimes the changes of behavior that result from it are obvious, and sometimes they are not that obvious. Sometimes the person is precise about the lesson, but at other times, a person is off-mark from the lesson.
5) It opens a person to all kinds of venues and it awakens different thinking patterns, which are sometimes good but sometimes not good.
6) It educates a person about different ways of living, which results in reflection and inner change, which is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes the exact opposite.
7) It causes a person to have different perspectives towards life. Sometimes [a novel or film] can offer an inner, truthful perspective, but at other times it offers a perspective that is just superficial, and other times, it gives over a perspective that is completely non-Jewish.
8) The characters in the book or film may be Jewish, but they are really gentile ideas that have been ‘dressed up’ with a Jewish look to it. At other times, it is an obvious mentality of the street which comes from the gentiles.
9) Intense emotional experiences [through films or novels] accustom one to receiving information by means of sheer experience, as opposed to inner clarification and thinking of a matter.
10) Films draw a person out into the world outside. In films, you can see scenes of beautiful homes, which certainly awaken a desire in a person to own such a beautiful home. Watching a scene where there is a lot of food can make a person salivate, causing him to increase his desire to eat all kinds of foods. There are also scenes of different places in the world which a person would be very tempted to go visit or take a vacation to. Watching a film of a career woman can cause any woman to think that she will only be successful woman if she becomes a businesswoman, or any kind of career which draws her outside into the world, which uproots a woman from her mainstay in the home and transforms her into a woman of the street. It gives a false message to a woman that if she is “just” a housewife, a stay-at-home mother or a playgroup teacher, she is too “simple” [and that she needs to get more ‘with it’ and become worldlier]. In simple terms, anyone who watches these films is not the same person again afterwards. [Through watching any of these films, even when they ‘kosher’ and geared to a frum audience], a person becomes opened to all of the so-called “good” that the world has to offer, and the person becomes part of the “big world out there” – to varying extents. Slowly a person [who views these films] becomes changed inside [and acquires newly acquired thinking patterns, ideals, and beliefs, with detrimental results], and he/she may not even be aware of it. Viewing films has changed this entire generation [for the worse].
- Also, going to these entertainment outlets causes a woman to leave her home for many hours and she often comes back very late. This greatly weakens a woman’s aspect of “The entire honor of the daughter of the king [the Jewish woman] is on the inside” – to the point that there are even so-called “Chareidi” women who are running for Knesset. The same detriment applies to women who become lawyers, or supervisors of kashrus, and other such positions [which take a woman out of her mainstay in the home].
- It [the world of ‘kosher’ entertainment] has also caused a violation of the separation that should exist between men and women. Simple fundamentals of Yiddishkeit have become uprooted because of this breakdown of our age-old boundaries.
- Also, when going to any of these entertainment outlets, a person is going to a place which is often used for the immoral society. The people that are setting up the film or the stage can often be people who are involved with the secular world and its culture. Regularly seeing these kinds of people and being involved with them is enough to draw a person into the outside world and its culture.
- Sometimes, those who are in positions of chinuch are the ones ‘behind the scenes’ in the scriptwriting of these films or entertainment, and they want to infuse the content with inner, spiritual messages. But in other cases, the ones who are ‘behind the scenes’ are scriptwriters or producers who are trying to incorporate various beliefs into frum society, which are contradictory to Torah values. Sometimes these people are even called “Chareidim”, but their intention is to change the entire direction of this generation. Sometimes they are doing so because they want to make money from such events. Sometimes the person ‘behind the scenes’ is very far from Torah and mitzvos, and sometimes they are not even Jewish – and sometimes, these people are actual “heads of the Erev Rav”.
- It [the kosher entertainment industry] is a way to bring basically everything that is found in the outside, secular world and its culture, into the world of frum people who keep Torah and mitzvos, who are currently very vulnerable and becoming weaker in their ideals.
- Finally [going to all of these entertainment outlets] is a way to waste a tremendous amount of time.
In conclusion: In this confused generation, there is a choice given to every person, if he will seek content and lessons about life either from Torah literature that we have had throughout all the generations – or, to seek the dirtied “good” parts that have been collected from the garbage of the outside world [via the “kosher” novels, films, etc.] – which contains very little good, and of which even the good is mixed with bad elements. The content and lessons that are learned from the “kosher” entertainment industry, which comes from the outside world, is a mixture of secular culture together with some inner content, in a way that violates our accepted boundaries of the Torah. The “kosher” novels contains lessons having to do with Torah and mitzvos but which are also mixed together with all kinds of secular elements, filled with the nonsense of the world.
Only the books and sefarim which have been written by those who served Hashem through a richly developed internal world of their own – whether the author was a man or a woman – are appropriate for a bas Yisrael (Jewish girl/woman) to read. There aren’t that many of these books/sefarim available, but they do exist.
In short, the entire “kosher” entertainment industry (which includes the novels, films, or comedies that are geared towards frum people) should be avoided entirely, because it is in fact not completely kosher – from beginning until end.
In our generation, most people who will hear this will feel that this view is completely out of touch with the reality, because they will feel that it’s already too late, since there are so many Jewish homes by now in which all of these forms of ‘kosher’ entertainment [novels, films, etc.] exists on a daily and hourly basis, freely and without constraint.
Practically speaking, each person needs to conduct his home with kedushah (holiness), but sensibly, with sensitivity, with feelings for others’ needs, with an understanding of the situation of the generation today, and the actual level that one’s family members are on, what they are emotionally capable of doing or not doing. One needs to go about this with tremendous sensitivity to his family members. But the most important thing of all is that one needs to build for oneself a rich internal world of their own, of mitzvos, good middos (character) and richly developed feelings, and true closeness to Hashem.