For many Americans living in various parts of the country, just about everything they will ever known about rabbis comes from TV. A person living in New York may run into a dozen rabbis a day while someone living in a small town in Dixie won’t meet that many rabbis in a lifetime. So what have Americans who don’t live in geographic areas with a significant Jewish population learned about rabbis from TV? Don’t get me started!
Ever hear about that series of mystery novels that begin with a day of the week and end with something the rabbi did such “”Saturday the Rabbi went Hungry” or something of that ilk? Peggy Hill references these novels in an episode of “King of the Hill.” But that’s far from the only connection. In 1977, “Lanigan’s Rabbi” transported the mystery-solving techniques of Rabbi David Small from page to screen. Art Carney played the Lanigan of the title who was small town police chief who recognized the deductive reasoning abilities of Rabbi Small and brought him into cases under investigation not far removed from the way that Inspector Queen brought in his mystery writer son Ellery.
What those who are not Jewish learn about rabbis from “Seinfeld” that they can’t learn in real life due to the absence of the Jewish faith in their midst? Well, apparently rabbis are not like fire and brimstone Christian evangelists. Rabbi Glickman speaks in a soothing monotone that would likely put most Sunday worshippers right to sleep. Rabbis are apparently not committed to the same oath of secrecy as their Catholic counterparts since Rabbi Glickman has no compunction at all about blabbing on local TV Elaine’s secret envy of George and Susan’s upcoming nuptials. Rabbi Glickman also hits on Elaine Benes, thus answering the question for non-Jews on the issue of whether rabbis must take a vow of abstinence.
Oddly enough, if someone with limited exposure to actual rabbis wanted to learn something something sincere about them from TV, one of the best places to do that would be “The Simpsons.” Satire and irony may be the show’s stock in trade when it comes to all religions, but its portrait of Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky–father of Krusty the Klown–has always been among the more sacred treatments of religion on the show. From “The Simpsons” you can learn that rabbis like novels by Saul Bellow, deli meat (the chosen meat!) and the importance of meditating on the Torah all day and all night.