Is Israeli TV ready for Rabbi Shmuley?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, host of The Learning Channel’s "Shalom in the Home" program, returned from Israel last week after three days of filming a pilot for an Israeli version of his show.
Boteach, who is also a columnist for this newpaper, said he and his producers are trying to develop a show similar to "Shalom in the Home" but also different. On his TLC program, Boteach travels around in his Windstream camper counseling dysfunctional families. But, he said, he wants the Israeli version to go beyond family counseling into wider issues.
"We’re not looking at big political things like solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict," he told The Jewish Standard this week. "The rabbi as the problem solver is what we’re looking at."
Whereas Boteach visits mostly non-Jewish families on "Shalom in the Home," he would face a different demographic in Israel both on the show and in the audience. Because of that, the religious/secular divide has attracted his attention.
"It’s one of the strongest divides," he said. "There should be Jewish unity, but there isn’t. Judaism in Israel, on the one hand, flourishes. But on the other hand, it alienates."
There is also a lot Israelis can learn from Judaism instead of turning to other sources, Boteach said.
"Because of this divide many Israelis are unaware Judaism has a lot of wisdom to offer about how to master our lives," he said. "They finish the army and go to the East Tibet, Thailand looking for Eastern teachings about life when, really, they have this jewel in their hands and don’t utilize it."
Also missing from the Israeli version will be his ever-present Windstream, where he stays while visiting families on his U.S. show.
"We discussed staying away from a mobile studio," he said. "The symbolism is much greater when I go into the home."
The focus of the show is still up in the air, but Boteach said family issues would probably make up only 30 percent of the show, unlike its American inspiration.
The pilot episode, however, focuses on a woman with six children whose husband refuses to grant her a get a Jewish divorce.
"That’s not going to come up in the U.S.," he said. "New tactics have to come up because these are issues that pertain directly to Israeli society and Jewish society."
That is not to say that Israel’s Arab minority will not have a role in the show, though. As for going into the home of an Israeli Arab and giving advice, Boteach doesn’t foresee any problems.
"It would be no different than in the U.S. with a Christian family taking advice from a rabbi," he said. His TLC show also featured a Muslim family last year from Bethlehem, Pa.
Beyond the different demographics though, there is another issue Boteach is considering in the Jewish state.
"Israel has so many rabbis, why do they need me? We [American Jews] don’t have the same degree of division, thank God. By and large, we respect each other and get along. Israel should be doing the same thing," he said. "The inspirational voice of religion will be welcomed by Israeli society."
While "Shalom in the Home" airs in some countries outside the United States, it is not shown in the Middle East. Israel’s Channel ‘ had approached Boteach about airing it with Hebrew subtitles and possibly creating an Israeli version. "It’s a great honor," he said.
Newsweek this week reported on a list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America that ranked Boteach as No. 9. The list was compiled by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, Newscorp’s Gary Ginsberg and Jay Sanderson of JTN Productions. Boteach, who said he has not seen the list yet, shrugged off the ranking.
"They’re all meaningless," he said of lists of this nature. "It’s because I have a TV show and if I don’t have a show tomorrow that would change. Everything in America is about quantifying things."
While many friends called him and his children were excited by the listing, he said there were many people who deserved to be on the list who weren’t, as well as people who were but should not have been.
"It’s pure ego. Judaism’s not about ego," he said.
"Shalom in the Home" recently began its second season on TLC and airs Sunday nights. All of the season’s episodes have been filmed. This leaves Boteach available to film the Israeli series this summer, which would then air in the fall.
"The main hurdle is to craft a new and exciting show," he said. "That’s what we’re in the process of doing."