The Good Wife: Unorthodox, From a Rabbi / Law Student Perspective

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The Good Wife UnorthodoxThe Good Wife is a new legal drama on CBS. The show is great. Usually the legal issues are portrayed correctly (at least from a law student’s perspective) and the character development of the main character has been superb.

This week’s episode revolved around a chasidic couple living in Chicago who were responsible to fix a fallen eruv wire, but since it fell on Shabbos they had to wait until Shabbos had ended and in the meantime a woman claims she fell over the wire and is suing for 1.2 million dollars in punitive damages. The title of the episode does not refer to the couple, rather it refers to their lawyer with an unorthodox approach to law.

Read on for my comments, critiques and a HUGE PLOT HOLE.

The defense is based on the 1st Amendment, freedom of speech, and claims that the couple has the right to practice their religion and a jury should decide if they are liable when they believe it would be wrong for them to fix the eruv wire. That defense fails when the wife (a recent baalas tshuva / one who returns to Orthodox Judaism later in life) is found to have been making phone calls to her father on Shabbos. If she calls her father on Shabbos she should also be able to fix the fallen wire. Ultimately, the defense shows that the entire slip and fall was concocted and the jury finds for the defense.

You can read a full synopsis of the episode here or, even better, you can watch the show (at least for the time being) on CBS.com.

The portrayal of the chasidic community, the laws of eruv and the relationship between the chasidic couple were pretty good. BUt there were a few things that they got wrong. It is so funny to me that any orthodox Jew would notice the nuances that are incorrect but the entire staff of the show does not see the mistakes. Ironically, last week’s episode of The Good Wife revolved around a witness who could not tell the difference between 2 black men. It seems that people from other ethnicities have a hard time seeing the nuances of other ethnicities. It is no different when Hollywood tries to portrays Jews. They simply don’t have the sensitivities to the finer details of orthodox Judaism, especially chasidic Judaism.

Things They Got Mostly Correct

The chasidic garb. She was wearing typical women’s dress. Subdued colors and very modest. He was in black and white with his hat nearby at all times.

Strollers. Everyone had strollers in the chasidic neighborhood.

Kosher markets. There was a kosher market within walking distance.

The shomrim guy. He looked like every non-chasidic Hatzalah (Jewish volunteer ambulance core) guy I know.

The intimacy between the couple. Most couples on the show celebrate victory with public hugs and kisses. The chasidic couple did not embrace in public, but their connection was displayed by touching each other’s hands secretly.

Mistakes

The chasidic guy never smiles. That is just not nice.

The chasidic guy has a “tchup”(coiffed hair), chasidic men have hair that is cut very short.

The chasidic guy has a trimmed beard, that is not common at all.

The chasidic guy has a RING! (I mean, come on, that’s an easy one!)

They say an eruv “creates a symbolic courtyard“, that’s not quite true, an eruv joins many domains into one common domain by surround the entire community with a wall. (But that is a hard one.)

A young chasidic boy has a leather kipa perched awkwardly on the back of his head.

Something That Bothered Me

The wife was a twice rehabbed drug loving party girl who found chasidic Judaism while incarcerated. Showing her revival as a chasidic Jewish woman bothered me slightly. It was if to say, one has to be so crazy to find chasidic Judaism attractive. Maybe I am nitpicking, but it bothered me just a little.

HUGE PLOT HOLE

When the plaintiff got injured it was Shabbos. She was asked why she was walking through this neighborhood and she said she was going to the market. She was asked why this market if there are four markets closer to her home and she said because this market is the kosher market where they sell gluten free products.

Do you see the problem? (answer below)

This is an inexcusable error. CBS, next time you want to do a show with chasidic or Orthodox Jewish characters and plot elements you can hire me. I will be your rabbinical consultant and make sure you get it right.

The Good Wife is a great show. One of the reasons it is great is not the attention to detail. A twitter buddy of mine also noticed a legal problem a few weeks ago. I guess when you are law student and a Rabbi you are going to notice the mistakes of Jewish culture and law.

(Plot hole answer: The kosher market is closed on Shabbos. She could never be walking to a kosher market on Shabbos!)

Read this blog post by @matthue about his experience as an extra for the episode!

  • Wow, what an analysis. You are right on target about the ring and the hairdos and the leather yarmulke.

    The phenomenon of a party girl becoming “chasidic” exists. I would say, though, while the number of former party girls who became “chasidic” is not negligible, they would be married to other baalei tshuva, not to an FFB chasid. Since I don’t watch the show, I don’t know if the husband’s background was mentioned.

    • Thanks.

      His background was not significant. He may have also been a baal tshuva but he was more devout than she as he was visibly hurt by her breaking of Shabbos.

  • I caught it too and thought, okay, it’ll be addressed later on and that’ll be the clue discovered that makes her story false!!!! But then, she had already been to the grocery (she had broken bottles all around her the hatzalah guy said). I was ticked off too. Although, thought the eruv description was pretty good. When I try to explain it to non-observant people I sound like an idiot.

    • The eruv description was pretty good just not precise.

      We have an eruv issue in Venice so I have explained it very rationally to many uniformed people. Use the explanation I gave in the post, it is very simple for a non-OJ to ‘get’.

  • I enjoyed the episode as well as your thoughts on it.

    The fact that the chassidic guy doesn’t smile could be because he was getting sued and upset about it then he finds out that his wife was being mechalel shabbos when calling her father. I understand your point, I’m just sayin’.

  • Yankev

    My wife and I caught the supermarket hole too. Other things that bothered me:
    1. Why chassidim to begin with? Chassidim make up a very small part of Chicago’s frum community. Out of that percentage, many are Chabad (which this couple clearly was not) and do not use the eruv. Many of the rest are Satmar; I’m not sure whether they use they eruv or not. Why not show a couple who were yeshivish or moderni, except to emphasize the otherness of shomrei shabbos?

    2. Why the semi-accent on the husband? He was clearly not European or Israeli, but he spoke English with a slight hesitation, as though not fully at home in that language. Again, emphasizing the otherness?

    3. The closeup of the juncture between the eruv wire and the house did not appear to have a lechi; the wire went straight into the wall, horizontally.

    4. The frum nieghborhoods in Chicago — West Rogers Park and Peterson Park — look nothing like the NY-style row houses in the episode. You can find those row houses in older, gentrified neighborhoods of Chicago like Linclon Park, but the West Rogers Park and Peterson Park are a mix of single family houses WITH front and side yards, and two-to-four story brick apartment buildings. Were they trying to make the scene look more like NY?

    • Excellent points.

      I am unfamiliar with Chicago so I figured the neighborhood was at least close to W. Rogers Park – I guess not!

      The accent was awful.

      I can excuse them for not knowing about a lechi. That is an more intricate detail.

      Welcome, and thanks for checking out the blog!

  • He doesn’t even smile when they win.

    It was completely unnatural.

    Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • Interesting post even though I’ll probably never get to see the show (too little time just now and maybe impossible to watch from my side of the Atlantic).

  • Naftali

    My wife saw the episode. She noticed the plot-hole herself. She told me about the episode and I said that there is a second flaw and that is:

    If an eruv wire breaks on Shabbos, even though the eruv cannot be fixed on Shabbos, it is absolutely muttar to pick up the wire and wind it around something or some other similar procedure to move it out of the way l’imnuyei hezeika (to prevent damages). This is the same reason one can sweep up the pieces of a broken glass on shabbos even though the pieces themselves become muktza.

    Thus, unless the characters were real amei-haaratzim, if they were aware the wire broke, they would have moved it away and the story wouldn’t start.

  • I agree that the guy’s haircut and beard didn’t look at all Hassidic.

    I didn’t think that the Kosher market was a plot hole, I don’t know the situation in Chicago, but in other cities (I’m thinking Toronto as an example) there are large non-Jewish supermarkets in Jewish areas with big kosher sections that are open on Shabbat, I got the impression that this was the type of store she was referring to.

    I also liked the way the couple didn’t embrace (which was in character), the point when they discreetly touched hands was a great way to portray affection in the Hassidic community (and they contrasted it nicely with the way the lawyers touched in a similar way)

    • The show insinuated it was a Kosher type of market with only Kosher foods. The type that would never be open on Shabbos.

      Thanks for checking out the blog!

  • Lisa

    I’m embarrassed I didn’t catch the supermarket thing.
    But what bothered me the most out of what I thought to be a pretty interesting and fairly accurate episode, was, why would she choose Friday night to call her father? I could understand her need to call him, but why was it necessary to do so on Shabbos? Did I miss something? I didn’t hear any explanation for why she called him then. And I *think* her husband would have been more forgiving if she had done it on another day.

  • Great point. Maybe it was the only time she was sure she could reach her father due to his eccentric schedule…

    • Mike

      Maybe her father was opposed to her becoming a frum Yid/ baal teshuva, and disowned her as part of the family once she became religious. Therefore, she had to make the phone call on Shabbat.

      As for the supermarket, AWESOME catch. You ought to call the show and find out b/c it’s really a moronic mistake.

  • Thanks for the insight. I caught the supermarket thing and I wondered if that was the acutal plot 🙂

  • Karen

    Hello; apologies for coming to this blog entry so late, but, here in the UK, the episodes of this series are delayed by a few months. I enjoyed your observations, and I hope the issues raised by the plot still interest you, because I’d welcome your opinion on a couple of points…

    I, like Naftali, felt that the plot was a bit of a non-starter, and for the same reason. Surely an observant Jew is not only permitted, but required, to break any Shabbat law which might (if strictly observed) endanger life. Would a trailing eruv wire not be considered sufficiently hazardous to justify the act, on Shabbos, of tying it temporarily out of harm’s way?

    The Friday night phone call also bothered me; since the Loebs would celebrate Shabbos together, when would Anna even have the opportunity to make a phone call unobserved? unless she did so while Isaac was attending the synagogue service marking the beginning of Shabbos. (Although that, it seemed to me, would place the call too early to be referred to as Friday “night” by the characters who weren’t observing Shabbos; I got the impression that the episode might well be placed at a time of year when it starts in the afternoon.)

    I forget whether we learned enough about Isaac to be able to surmise what his schedule might be. Are there no other occasions during the week when he’d routinely be out of the house? Was his ignorance of her phone calls Anna’s primary consideration? Or might she believe that an act of reconciliation, such as calling her estranged father, consituted an act of piety somehow specifically appropriate to Shabbos? (Particularly in the light of his developing dementia, which she may already know about, although the audience at this point doesn’t.) I wondered whether you thought there might be any Talmudic justification for such a belief…

    BTW, I’d assumed the portrayal of Anna the ex-party girl’s revival as chasidic wife not as a suggestion that you had to be crazy to be attraced to chasidic Judaism, but as a device for pointing out Kalinda’s cynicism and judgmentalism, in doubting Anna’s commitment to her new life. And then deflating the cynicism with Anna’s evident joy, and those subtle displays of intimacy between the Loebs (cruelly emphasised by the distress caused with the revelation of the cellphone calls). Maybe to invite us, the audience, to sympathise with Kalinda’s point of view, and address those same character flaws in ourselves? I think TV writers rarely pass up an opportunity to play Aesop.

  • Ken Goldberg

    Thought exactly the same thing! That kosher market on Sabbath thing would come up later as something suspicious. However, I couldn’t stop thinking there might be some sort of animal somewhere, just as there are strictly kosher restaurants open on the Sabbath whereby one might be able to arrange for kosher meals. In Rochester, NY there was a restaurant open Fri. night and Saturdays considered by the local Committee to be kosher. They were not as strict as some in other and typically larger cities, such as Cleveland. Such bakeries were also Certified in Rochester for many years (these no longer exist).

  • rosel

    This show is not filmed in Chicago but it is set in Chicago. I think it is filmed in NYC. I didn’t notice all the cultural errors, but I certainly noticed the setting errors. They should have used a bungalow area of Queens to look more like West Rogers Park or Peterson Park. The constant setting errors make the whole show feel inauthentic.

  • Great post. I just discovered The Good Wife and this episode and your post. One addition. The community has security cameras all around it in the neighborhood. No frum community would allow that to happen, since it is against halacha to be filmed on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

  • S. Malkah Cohen

    Actually, tesyaa, I personally know a ba’alat teshuva (kinda wild in her youth, though I’d hesitate to declare her a “party girl”) who married a Chassidic FFB. He was (and is) involved in outreach and was able to see the intelligence and yearning for a truer life in her, and she has become a true credit to her adopted community.

  • Dr. Bert Miller

    To my Jewish Brothers and Sisters,

    In my English language sefer, Eruv Manual, which Rabbi Moshe Heinemann edited and endorsed, I explain what to do in this situation. The procedure is somewhat complicated but the bottom line is that someone (i.e. a member of the local committee which administers and maintains the eruv) should ask a non-Jew to repair the eruv. A Jew in authority should tell the non-Jew what to do and ensure that he repairs the eruv correctly. Obviously, the Jew may not perform any melachah or handle any muktzeh during the repair job.

    Reach me at guidetobaisdin@gmail.com

    Dr. Bert Miller

    (Baltimore)

  • Michael

    If you are a law student and think that “usually the legal issues are portrayed correctly” you need to study harder. The legal issues and procedures portrayed on the show are laughable. The show is riddled by instances where the lawyers and judges portrayed blandly say things that are absolutely contrary to established law and legal procedure. There are so many instances of stupid legal theories and litigation based upon causes of action that don’t exist that I can’t even begin. I understand that there must be some license taken to make a show fit into an hour time slot, but anybody who has been in a courtroom will tell you that lawyers do not interrupt the judge or shout each other down. It’s called contempt of court. If the show hires attorneys as legal advisors they must hide their faces in shame every time a new episode is aired.

    • I wrote this three / four years ago. It was a lot different then.