Jews in the News: Natlie Portman, Camryn Manheim and Amy Schumer

At the Movies

Opening on Friday, Feb. 23 is “Annihilation.” It stars NATALIE PORTMAN, 36, as Lena, a biologist and former solider. A series of expeditions enter into a sinister, mysterious, and growing (!) area labeled Area X. The expedition members either die inside Area X or die shortly after returning. Lena’s husband, severely injured, returns from the last expedition. Lena joins a new expedition, hoping that she can find out how and why he was injured and thereby help save his life. JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, 54, co-stars as Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and the de facto leader of the all-female expedition.

Oy, There’s a Lot Not to Like

“Living Biblically,” a comedy/drama, premieres on CBS on Monday, Feb. 26 (9:30). It's based on “The Year of Living Biblically" (2007), by A.J. JACOBS, 49, a self-described agnostic Jew who, for one year, tried to follow the letter of the Bible’s rules. In the TV series, the central character is Chip Curry, a Roman Catholic who decides to follow the Bible literally for one year. He frequently consults his priest (Ian Gomez). Recurring characters include Rabbi Gil (DAVID KRUMHOLTZ, 39) and Mrs. Meadows (CAMRYN MANHEIM, 56). The show’s publicity makes clear they have no desire to disrespect religion and they'll glide around tough issues such as homosexuality. They’ll try and walk the fine line of being funny as they are also thought provoking.

I stumbled on a series review by Mark Hodges, an Orthodox Christian priest and religious conservative. He had seen the first few episodes and was very critical. The jist of his criticism was that a Christian can’t and shouldn’t follow “Old Testament Jewish rules” because they had been so modified by the arrival of Jesus and subsequent Christian theology. I could see that religious Jews might have a similar criticism—so many of these rules have been, in effect, modified by rabbinical interpretation in the Talmud and elsewhere. In taking so-called Jewish rules always literally, Chip is not following anything close to normative Judaism or Christianity.  Case-in-point---Chip finds out a co-worker is an adulterer. He asks his priest for advice. The priest says “the old rule is stoning.” The priest fails to tell Chris that the Bible, literally read, does not empower Chip to go out and stone “the sinner.” A hearing and two witnesses are required by the Bible—and subsequent Jewish commentary added other “pre-stoning” requirements. Hodges points out that Jesus was against the stoning of sinners and so Chip shouldn’t stone the sinner. My take away: most conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews will not like this program. It remains to be seen if others will.

Schumer Gets Hitched

I was surprised when AMY SCHUMER, 36, wed chef Chris Fischer, 37, on Feb. 12 in Malibu, California. It was a very small wedding, presided over by a comedian friend. Guests included two of Schumer’s best friends: actress Jennifer Lawrence and actor JAKE GYLLENHAAL, 37.  After reading about Fischer’s background, the marriage makes sense, even though the couple has only known each other for three months-- and, yeah, I would have been overjoyed if she wed a Jewish guy.

Fischer is a New York City chef who recently won a “cooking Oscar”—a James Beard Award for his book, “Beetlebung Farm Cookbook.” Bettlebung is the name of his grandfather’s farm on Martha’s Vineyard. His grandfather was a beloved life-long Vineyard resident who managed a prominent Vineyard farm until he was 65. Then bought his own Vineyard farm and turned it into a horticultural showplace. Shortly before his death in 2011, age 96, Chris took over management of the farm. Candidly, Chris recently said he did so because his restaurant in New York had gone belly-up. But now he’s a success-- the epitome of “farm-to-table”—cooking in New York, while farming part time. The obits of his grandfather and his mother, a teacher who died in 2005, describe a tightly knit family. Even though Chris’s parents divorced, his mother’s obit mentions how close she was to her ex-husband’s children by a subsequent marriage. This all must be appealing to Schumer. She lived through her mother’s three failed marriages and the collapse of her father’s business when she was about 10. Despite this, she remained steadfastly loyal to her mother, her chronically ill father (still alive), and her two siblings. Her father, a suburban dad, bought a hobby farm when he was rich. It was sold when his business collapsed. Amy loved the farm and bought it back in 2016. Farm and family, failure and then success, are the themes of this couple’s lives.


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