Costume Jewelry

  There's a new movie out about a woman’s struggle for independence and self-discovery. To follow her star, this woman must escape the shackles imposed by her family, by her community, and, most of all, by her religion. That's right, it's another film showing religion as the source of much of the world’s misery. But surprise: This time the oppressors are not Christians but Jews. The film is called A Price Above Rubies, and its protagonist is Sonia Horowitz, a member of a Brooklyn Hassidic community, who is married to a Talmudic scholar. Her husband is kind, but he does not fulfill Sonia's need for sexual passion, and she finds Hassidic life stifling. To escape, Sonia takes a job in her brother-in-law’s jewelry business, which allows her to travel outside the community. However, there’s a catch: In return for giving her a job, the brother-in-law demands sex. Sonia accepts this sinful quid pro quo. Violating the Fifth Commandment, it seems, is a small price to pay for something more valuable than rubies: freedom. Eventually, the newly empowered Sonia leaves her husband, her child, and her community behind. The New York Times calls the film "gripping." But The Jewish Press, an Orthodox weekly, called the film "an "abomination." And New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew, accused the film of depicting the Hassidim as "people without feelings, who don't know how to love, to show emotion." That’s apparently what the film’s director, Boaz Yakin, intended. Yakin, who was educated in an Orthodox Jewish day school, is a committed secularist. He says he is suspicious of any religion or culture that he considers "rigid" or "close-minded." This "rigidity" makes it difficult, in Yakin’s estimation, to express passion or individuality. His film's message is that adherence to any religious tradition is unhealthy and must be overcome at all costs. For Yakin, as with many of our cultural elites, the greatest good of life—what philosophers call the sunam bonum of human existence—is autonomy, the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Devout Hassidim, like faithful Christians, put their commitment to God above personal fulfillment or conformity to cultural norms. They believe that perfect freedom is found only in service to God and in loving service to the people of God. Christians sometimes feel our age has become hostile to our faith. But the truth is, our secular age is hostile to any faith that takes an authoritative moral stance, any faith that is lived out in a community, any faith that makes demands and whose benefits accrue to those willing to live by those demands. I don't recommend that you go see this R-rated film, with its graphic sex and course language. But you need to know about it, because your neighbors will go see it. We ought to help them understand why this is not just another film about female empowerment. It's an attack on all Christians or Jews who put obedience to God above whatever the contemporary culture defines as personal fulfillment. Lest you think I'm overstating this point, consider this: Yakin’s next project is a movie about Pentecostal Christians. He says it will be a horror film. In Yakin's world, those who take their faith seriously will always be "the bad guys."


Chuck Colson


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