I started watching this show a few years ago. I’d seen documentaries about its real-life setting, Highclere Castle, and I’d been hearing rave reviews about it, but I’d never actually seen it. But I could not for the life of me get the commercials out of my head. So I checked Season One out from the library.
I was hooked. Wealth, servants’ gossip, and illicit affairs (Yes, I’m talking about you Lady Mary; you didn’t really think I’d forget the whole Mr-Pamuk-died-in-your-bed affair in a hurry, did you?) It was everything that a good story should be.
But the further in I got, the more it began to disturb me. Downton was uncannily similar to biographies I had read about the Hasidic rebbes. A passage in Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman particularly stuck out to me: “Where, I wonder, is the brotherly love that G-d commanded Jews to feel for each other, now, in this community that calls itself holy? Back in Europe, Zeidy says, no one would dream of fighting to be called a rabbi. In fact, they often turned down the position when it was offered to them. A man truly worthy of being a rabbi is a humble one. He is not in search of power or recognition. But in this day and age, rabbis are chauffeured in black Cadillacs and have private ritual baths built into their opulent homes. They are the celebrities of the Hasidic culture.Children trade rabbi cards and boast of having rabbinical connections. On Purim, the holiday of masquerades, they Scotch-tape long beards made of white cotton balls to their chins, drape themselves in faux-fur coats, and walk with the aid of a shiny wooden cane. What more does every child dream of than to grow up to be a rabbi, or at least a rabbi’s wife?”
Deborah is right. Modern-day rabbis have become entirely too damn much like the stuffy, English well-to-do Crawley family portrayed on the show. A man who really is worthy to be a rabbi is humble, modest and doesn’t try to climb up the social ladder.
What do you think?