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Are the haredim coronavirus villains, and awful at love, as Netflix says?

Read the news and you’ll probably get the impression that haredim (ultra-Orthodox) are villains. They refuse to close their synagogues and large religious gatherings during the coronavirus crisis. They are insensitive miscreants getting people sick. And to be sure, anybody not practicing social distancing in accordance with medical and legal guidelines is culpable.

But what troubles me is why the haredim attract so much more opprobrium than the drunken millennials on Miami Beach or the partygoers at Mardi Gras in New Orleans?

Sure, the haredim in their black garb don’t look as attractive as the young people in speedos and bikinis in Florida. But both groups were responsible for not distancing, and the Mardi Gras especially is now seen as a superspreader, as Louisiana was hit with catastrophic consequences.

All groups were wrong and the haredim must stop any and all public gatherings – even for the most spiritual purposes – period. But why the singling out only of this group?

My fear is that the unfair portrayal of ultra-Orthodox Jews is becoming the norm in global media.

I was offended for haredi Jews by the utterly fraudulent portrayal of their lifestyle in the Netflix series Unorthodox.

It was four hours of ugly caricature as I watched an entire community tarred by the awful experience of a single individual. I know the story was based on a book by a woman who experienced terrible cruelty.

I don’t doubt it or question the author’s motives. My point is that it is outrageous to suggest, as the series does, that her experience is typical of haredi women in the United States.

And how offensive to orthodox Jews to suggest that women are seen as nothing more than baby-making machines and married to emasculated wimps who lack virility?


The main character, Esther, flees her community for Germany. It is portrayed like the great Passover escape from enslavement. When Esther gets to Germany and is finally unshackled, she can now find sexual fulfillment with a boyfriend, gets to remove her oppressive sheitel and wear jeans. Free at last.

I hate religious oppression or coercion of every kind. And if “Esther” hates her haredi life and believes she’ll find fulfillment elsewhere then so be it. Religion is all about freedom of choice, including the freedom to abandon religion and a religious community. If the author was abused or harassed, thank God she escaped.

But the suggestion that all hassidim are hostages to political oppression is offensive and absurd. Were the American-Muslim community portrayed in a Netflix series as being a prison cell for women, utterly misogynistic, with terrible, medieval sexual practices, there would rightly be accusations of Islamophobia. The same is true if a series portrayed the Amish as backward and primitive Neanderthals who won’t even use electricity.

Haredi women have repudiated the disgusting portrayal of their community in the series.

The Talmud says men are supposed to treat their wives better than themselves. And this includes satisfying their sexual needs.

It seems that whenever bigots want to belittle a community, they will always caricature their sex lives. When it comes to sex, Hollywood typically portrays Orthodox Jews as miscreants, perverts and ignoramuses, so I was not surprised by the absurd sex scenes in the series.

Esther and her husband try and fail to have sex for six months. Esther is convinced she doesn’t even have a vagina.

The young wife must go to a coach who treats sex as something robotic. Then when they finally have sex, it lasts for about 15 seconds.

But it is such an offensive lie to suggest that hassidic Jews are so naïve and unromantic?

Why do Orthodox Jews have so many kids if they don’t ever have sex, don’t know what they’re doing and don’t enjoy it? Does Netflix think their children are delivered by storks or FedEx?

Twenty years ago I wrote Kosher Sex. Since then thousands of both religious and secular couples have written to me about sexual problems that run the gamut and are not tied to a person’s religious affiliation.

Indeed, religious Jews have far fewer sexual hang-ups than most, owing to Judaism’s liberating views on sex.

We celebrate sex and see it as something beautiful. Every sexual position and practice is allowed, except sex during the monthly period of separation, which stimulates desire. We also don’t watch porn in part because we want to be excited by our partners rather than strangers.

Satisfying one’s wife is a biblical obligation. In Jewish law a wife must climax before her husband.

Sex is not simply an act for procreation. It is a passionate and intimate experience.

Is the secular world so much better off? I write books on the subject and I know the data. The average American married couple has sex once a week for seven minutes at a time. And one out of three married couples in America is entirely platonic.

Orthodox women are also not all plain-looking and mousy like the portrayal of the character of Esther. In fact, if you go to hassidic neighborhoods in New York, you will find that the women are incredibly fashionable, wearing clothes from the finest designers and boutiques.

Even more outrageous than the portrayal of Esther is the depiction of her cousin as a primitive thug with a gambling problem who seems to be a regular at houses of prostitution.

Why are there no Jews with any humanity in Unorthodox? Even Esther’s grandmother is heart-less, hanging up on her daughter when she calls seeking compassion and a sympathetic ear.

The haredi community is insular. They’re not that impressed with the outside world. I think they’re wrong to reject it and I believe their insularity undermines the biblical mandate for the Jews to be a light unto the nations. Which is why I don’t live in the haredi world. But I can’t say they’re completely wrong in fearing some of the influences of secular culture. They believe women are sexualized, demeaned and degraded.

I am not trying to defend the haredi lifestyle or their beliefs. I disagree completely with them, for example, when it comes to the State of Israel. They believe that a Jewish state should not be established until the Messiah comes. They’re absolutely wrong. And their unforgivable opposition to Israel is all the more mystifying given how they – largely Romanian and Hungarian Jews – were decimated in the Holocaust. But the fact that I have disagreements gives me the right to debate and oppose their beliefs but not vilify them.

If the producers wanted to tell “Esther’s” story, they could have done it honestly without condemning an entire faith and culture. There is no need to extrapolate from the negative experience of one individual – horrific as it may have been – to indict an entire religious community.

Not all Muslims are terrorists, gays flamboyant, Jews greedy, African-Americans in gangs, as they are too often represented in Hollywood. Stop stigmatizing Orthodox Jews. And stop this nonsense about religious Jews having the worst sex imaginable.

Header: HAREDIM GATHER en masse in Bnei Brak. Is their leadership’s political model sustainable? (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)