FINALLY CATCHING THE Binge Bug this late in Covidtide. I’ve been Rapidly Consuming the Israeli TV Drama Srugim – סרוגים (the word means knitted or crocheted as a plural adjective) from 2008-2011. If you’ve been watching Shtisel on Netflix, this was Israeli TV’s Shtisel-before-Shtisel. Many of the ways Netflix show is said to break ground were already broken on Srugim. Yes, I realize it’s over ten years old so it’s hardly “binge-worthy” but previously I’d been found binging MASH and Mary Tyler Moore, not to mention the original seasons of Roseanne. Don’t bother me: I’m old.
NEway, Srugim is billed as a drama but it’s somewhere between Friends and 30 Something. I recognize the characters both from my past and from my present: not only did I run with folks like this in the 1980s and 90s, but I know these people intimately now from Church, on the one hand, and from Tech on the other. They all suffer from indecision and a strong fear of missing out. I used to think that was a millennial issue, but it’s an Xer one as well. And I’m only halfway through season two (of three) so my evaluation of the morals that follow may be way off. But so far I’m impressed.
There are five or so main characters in their mid-to-late twenties. They are all single, Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. I’m not sure if it’s this way now, a decade later, but at the time of the show it had the reputation of being a “Swamp of singles“. In that way, it reminds me of life in Hoboken in the early 90s, Asheville at the turn of the Century, and Buffalo in 2008. And my life in Tech for 25 years where I was nearly always the oldest person around – often old enough to be even the founders’ father. All of the characters in Srugim are looking for love and stressed out: it’s Orthodox practice to be married much younger than nearly thirty. They walk around second-guessing their choices, worried about Mr or Miss right instead of Mr or Miss right in front of me, and wondering if religion was the right thing for them to stick with.
The plot line that’s currently holding my interest is about Roi and Reut. Roi experiences same-sex attraction although he’s never acted on it. Reut wants to date him but Roi is torn between being 100% honest (and scaring her away) or breaking it off entirely. He tries the latter but she pushes through and demands a fully explained reason. After a very rough spot, they agree to try the relationship and work towards marriage.
To me, this is the right way for most folks to deal with SSA. Full stop. Get you a spouse that will support you in your struggle and, being 100% honest with them, keep working out your salvation. That is literally the way most of human culture has dealt with SSA since forever. The full, self-sacrificing love a man offers his wife or a woman her husband is a sign of Christ and the Church. Marriage is a sign of Christ and the Church, of God’s Covenant with Israel, of how humanity and divinity are united in Jesus. It’s a real union of opposites for the purpose of fructification in human lives and in the world. Where we take it, where it takes us is a participation in grace. There is a purpose for love: it heals us. Real love really heals.
In Transformation in Christ we are invited to consider contemplation in one of two forms: I-Thou-Contemplation for relationships and It-Contemplation for things (ie, of Beauty, as in a sunset). The author, Dietrich von Hildebrand, says that I-Thou contemplation involves a reciprocal nature on the human level. When a man and woman love each other in a self-sacrificial way it can be compared to contemplation. Friendship also is a form of contemplation, but disordered disire is not – for it posits misuse and anthropological mistakes. Building on my earlier post on Celibacy, contemplation then opens up the fuller meaning of forgoing the natural good of marriage. We get bored or selfish and these vices disrupt our contemplative action. It-contemplation is one-direction and very stable. But there is no real return.
Contemplation of God, however, combines these two: yes, God is a person who loves us, but he is also infinite being, so far beyond our experience that we cannot at all comprehend him with our minds. When we contemplate God we are engaging in I-Thou and also It-Contemplation. Reciprocity, here, cannot be – but the weakness is on our part. God’s infinity loves each and every human infinitely. We can only ever love in finite terms. Celibacy pulls us away from the natural good of marriage to engage in the supranatural good of Divine Contemplation.
The folks in Srugim spend a good bit of mid-season plot-time asking two questions: Can someone who’s never had gay sex be properly called gay? And can someone be gay and religious? At least as it stands now the answers in the show appear to be No and therefore No. One character in the show even paraphrases a rather famous line from the late Rabbi Moshe Tendler זצ״ל, then Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He said (in 1999) that being Gay and Orthodox was like saying, “I’m an Orthodox Rabbi and I eat ham sandwiches on Yom Kippur.” I agree. And if one is not actively engaged in (or promoting) same-sex sexual activity, it seems illogical to lump them into the “gay community”. It is a mistake (if not an outright lie) to label someone by a psychological accident. When we tag an entire person with a misken label we can no longer enter into self-sacrificing love (contemplation) with them. And – with that in mind – while there are many (o)rthodox Christians of various denominations who experience same-sex attraction, there are, properly speaking, no (o)orthodox Christians who can be called gay. I recognize the word “orthodox” is doing a lot of work there, but there are many liberals in many denominations who disagree with me. I think that disagreement makes them liberals rather than orthodox. Using gay as shorthand for everyone who experiences SSA only confuses the issue: it’s blending too much in with the world, I think. It’s making the one broken thing to be the totality of the person – to which the Church expressly says no. Additionally, labeling something as not-broken when it is actually broken only leads to more brokenness.