Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher movies: Full Time

When I was a synagogue rabbi in the 1970s, I had a conversation with a member who indirectly reminded me of how challenging leading an ordinary life can be. He praised me for my ability to get so many worthwhile things done in the course of single day, a funeral, a wedding, a speech, a visit to the local hospital, a condolence call in the evening and teaching an adult Bible class.

In truth, I never considered my job a burden. I was always energized by the flurry of activity in a solitary day. Moreover, I had the perks of being home around the family and watching my kids mature over the years. My friend made a good living financially, but he was often on the road for long stretches of time and was absent on the Sabbath, a time when family is celebrated. Furthermore, he contributed lots of charity and had to pay large tuition bills to the local Jewish day school for his family. Indeed, I felt that his contributions to the well being of the community were no less important than mine.

The challenges of managing everyday life is the core subject of Full Time, a domestic thriller in which a single mother Julie works frenetically to survive economically. Julie works as the chief maid in an upscale hotel in Paris. She commutes to her city job from a remote suburb where she lives with her two children, Nolan and Chloe. Under financial pressure because her husband is perennially late with alimony payments, she seeks to find a better and more lucrative job where she use her innate talents and spend more time with her children.

Her daily schedule is turned upside down when there is a paralyzing transit strike in Paris. Now simply getting to work becomes a major challenge, Because of the strike, she is often late for work and late to pick up her children from Madame Lusigny, her nanny. When she finally gets a job interview at a marketing company, she has to ask her co-workers to cover for her. Stress is constant, compelling her to re-evaluate her role as a mother. As we watch her deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that everyday life brings to her, we admire her ability to basically stay calm in the midst of chaos.

The Bible offers an important perspective on how we should view work. God Himself works for only six days and rests on the seventh. His implicit message is to balance work with leading a meaningful life. Jewish sources clearly stress the importance and value of work to society. At a a very basic level, earning a livelihood helps us to avoid poverty. Moreover, The Ethics of the Fathers, a seminal piece of Jewish wisdom literature, states: “Torah study that is not accompanied with work is destined to cease and cause sin (Avot 2:20).” If a person does not work, he may cut corners ethically.

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, the director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, offers a balanced approach to work: “Judaism definitely does not view work as the center of life or as its primary source of meaning. Work, like any other area of human endeavor, gives us the opportunity to express our Torah values in our everyday life, but our ability to do this is mainly dependent on our devotion to cultivating these values in the first place. This requires diligent study and solemn commitment. Jewish Law states that a person should work for a living, but he should work to live, and not live to work.”

Julie works feverishly to survive and to care for her children. In spite of the chaos around her, her family comes first. Ultimately her commitment to them brings with it success in business and in life.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at
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