Nathan Bigman


When I was a child in Detroit, long before I was aware that there were other places in the world, we used to play a trick on my mother. She’d pull her carpool station wagon into the parking lot of Hillel Day School and we’d all pile in, and never mind about the seat belts. While she ran in to the school office to take care of grownup stuff, we got to work. We cranked the volume knob on the radio as high as it would go, and put the windshield wipers on “high”. Imagine her surprise when she started the car. We thought it was hilarious — every time.

Imagine my own surprise many decades later, when I learned that my wife, Rachel, repeatedly suffers from a similar experience. Starting the car after I had last driven it, she’s blasted with Hareidi radio. It’s Kol B’Rama, and it’s fairly horrible, unless you like that kind of stuff — which she doesn’t.

Why, oh why, do I do this to my dear wife? I assure you that it’s not intentional, nor do I find it hilarious. It’s just that Hareidi radio, or as I call it, Hareidi-radi-radio, is the programming that I love to hate. Well, hate is a strong word. Let’s say that I tolerate some of it, and have an intense, overwhelming, nauseating dislike for much of it, with a heady finish of flammable anger.

Some of the programming is entertaining, such as the continuous advertising for grill restaurants, tooth implants, and kosher telephones. Does eating at those restaurants result in the need for tooth implants, which you schedule using your kosher phone? Let’s leave that to the investigative journalists, not the smart-asses.

Some of it is just not my cup of tea, such as the shows featuring the latest in Jewish music.

Some of it is silly, such as the edge cases in Jewish law that are called in to the “Ask the Rabbi” segments. To be fair, some of the rabbis do pull the callers back from the brink.

And some of it is just disgusting or offensive (but riveting). That’s the stuff I dislike, such as:

  • A hareidi member of Knesset calling you and me Hellenists. Surely there’s a label for us somewhere between Hareidi-ism and Hellenism.
  • A radiothon featuring 30 orphans standing by in a cemetery. They’ll pray for you if you donate 90 shekels/month to support orphans. Comes with a written guarantee from Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky that your prayers will be answered.
  • A radiothon to support guys who are learning in kollel (see Torah for Dollars). For 90 shekels/month you get a certificate that states that your prayers blah blah blah Rabbi Kanievsky.

It’s worth noting that the radio personalities who run these campaigns refer to Rabbi Kanievsky as “שר התורה” – the Minister of Torah. That’s apparently a divinely assigned title,  not a governmental one (yet). This is the same Rabbi Kanievsky who is associated with the charity Kupat Ha’ir, which recently sold indulgences guarantees of Covid protection for 3000 shekels. The best that one can say is that Rabbi Kanievsky probably doesn’t listen to the radio, or if he does, chooses Galgalatz.

I find the radiothons to be horrible, and I hate the idea that people who work give their money to those who don’t, but could, and who don’t serve in the army, but should. Giving money to orphans seems better, but exploiting them on the radio to make it happen is troubling, to put it politely. Also, it’s not clear if the orphans are 5 years old (oy), 55 years old (eh), or nonexistent (nu!).

And it’s not just the orphans who are being exploited. It’s the listeners, who part with their money, trying to buy salvation. It’s also Rabbi Kanievsky, who seems old and frail, and probably more focused on his scholarship than on radio programming. I don’t know, I’m just guessing. And I truly don’t believe that the good Rabbi is strapped to a gurney in a dark Jerusalem basement, and is only trotted out for fundraising.

Meanwhile, I’ve cut way back on my Hareidi-radi-radio consumption and wonder why I got so caught up in it. I definitely want to understand how that culture affects our politics.  And maybe, in spite of my loathing for the radiothons, I feel some kind of loose bond. Three generations ago they and I were the same town, the same shul, the same family. I refer, of course, to the Hasidic family, not that other one. A decision by a grandparent and some luck in World War II, and I’d be writing a check to Rabbi Kanievsky and believing that an act of charity would buy me salvation. In place of that, I’ll try to earn salvation by not exposing my wife to that noise.

About the Author
Nathan Bigman is the author of the book Shut Up and Eat (How to quietly become a triplitarian) .