Hollywood, the new idol worship

Avodah zara, or “strange worship” in Hebrew, is Judaism’s cardinal sin, arguably even more so than Shabbat or kashrut, judging from the pleas of the prophets.

Traditionally, “strange worship” is the worship of many gods, who are brought to earth in the form of figurines and sculptures. They are put on pedestals, literally and figuratively, as people beseech them for virtues: love, rainfall, victory in war, fertility. Avodah zara doesn’t base worldly success on the logical cause and effect in a unified world created by one God; rather, it makes good fortune dependent upon the whim of a deity.

The Jewish sages say that the desire for avodah zarah has been vanquished with the destruction of the Second Temple. Or has it? Today, celebrities are modern day idols. They might as well be inanimate figurines from the way Western society obsesses over their physical attributes: body type, facial features, fashion sense.

The godly status society gives actors is “strange.” Actors play other people. Their talent is based on how they infuse a character with life; more often than not, they don’t create something from nothing. They usually don’t conceive a story or write a script. They are vehicles for someone else’s story, someone else’s words. The nature of their “rule” becomes tied to their type-cast. For example, Russell Crowe is like Ares, the god of war. Miley Cyrus is like Dionysus, the god(dess) of wine. Mila Kunis, Aphrodite.

In the United States, actors get paid fortunes while teachers, scientists, and researchers struggle financially even after years of rigorous study. An actors’ life is grueling, no doubt, but those with natural talent or the right Hollywood lineage can make it overnight. They become symbols of what people want to become: rich, famous, beautiful.

Celebrity worship is a complete, well-oiled industry meant to maintain the hegemony of the gods. Fashion, song, music, film, and art feed off each other to increase the success and power of these creators. Product manufacturers then seek the patronage of these gods so that the masses believe their products will grant them godly virtues. Their “pagan” holidays are the award shows, with the Oscars as Passover. How appropriate that an actual idol, the “Oscar,” is the pinnacle of Hollywood success.

Lately, and dangerously, politicians and political movements have become idol worshipers. Since actors don’t achieve fame for their innovation in the social sciences, it’s “strange” to give their political opinions special weight. But it’s not about their opinions; it’s about the image they grant. The Obama administration, for example, relies heavily on Hollywood’s idol industry, evidenced in Michelle Obama’s appearance at the Oscars and Obama’s receipt of Steven Spielberg’s “Ambassador of Humanity Award.”

This also explains the BDS obsession with targeting celebrities in their fight against Israel. SodaStream, for example, achieved the patronage of celebrity ambassador, Scarlett Johansson, by virtue of its rational success as an innovator in the beverage industry. But BDS tried to bully her into withdrawing her patronage. How dare beauty and wealth be associated with an Israeli company operating in the West Bank?

Ironically, the Arabs, Muslims, and leftists at the helm of BDS are not idol worshipers. Most Arab and Muslim countries would never roll out any carpet for these celebrities. Since they essentially disdain Hollywood and Western progress, BDSers would never pay a celebrity to endorse the anti-Israel movement. Instead, they bully them. They threaten to take them off their pedestal. By not giving in, Scarlett Johansson actually asserted her own individuality, proclaiming that she is not a goddess, but a person with a mind of her own.

It is time to smash the idols, as she did, and instead to place faith in the good ideas and rational concepts that will truly bring virtue and good fortune for all.

About the Author
Orit Arfa is a journalist and author of "The Settler," a novel following the journey of a young woman into Tel Aviv nightlife following her eviction from her home in Gaza in 2005. Like her heroine, Orit is a good girl gone bad...to better.