Mourn the Second Temple or Become a Star? The Israeli X Factor Dilemma

A 1997 law deeming it illegal for places of entertainment to be open on the eve of Tisha B’Av didn’t take reality TV into account.

If there is a time in the year where one truly feels the massive divide between mainstream secular Israeli pop culture and traditional Jewish observance - it’s precisely at this point in the summer.

The nine days of the Hebrew calendar during which Orthodox Jews refrain from swimming, dancing, and any other kind of frivolous entertainment or enjoyment, devoting themselves to serious contemplation of the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, falls in July and August - right at the time their secular countrymen are smack in the middle of engaging in the kind of summer frolicking that are forbidden to them.

The culture clash bangs the loudest on the ninth day - Tisha B’Av - a day of fasting and contemplation in remembrance of the destruction of the First and Second Temple and other assorted catastrophes (in what would have been a very efficient move, Menachem Begin reportedly wanted to unite all the depressing memorial and mourning days into one on Tisha B'Av - combining it with Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers).

In the past, the conflict has primarily taken the form of political battles over whether restaurants and other temples of relaxation and entertainment should be closed on the eve of the holy day.

The issue was officially resolved by a law in 1997 deeming it illegal for places of entertainment to be open on that evening - but some occasionally dare to open their doors subjecting themselves to fines, reopening the controversy.

This year, the big Tisha B’Av controversy is the fact that the law didn’t take reality TV into account.

On the heels of the success of the singing competition show The Voice in Israel, the latest import, The X Factor, has been preparing to hit the airwaves. The network producing the show, Reshet, put out the call for the next big Israeli talent to show up and dazzle a panel of judges with their audition.

The first night of taping for the auditions? Monday night, the eve of Tisha B’Av, when good Jews are supposed to be in synagogue.

Religiously observant hopefuls who were scheduled to sing for the judges Monday called foul when they realized the day on which they were supposed to perform.

Prospective audience members didn’t seem thrilled about it either. On the show’s Facebook page, on a post promoting to audition night which was recruiting audience members, the comments were scathing:

“Auditions on Tisha B’Av? Do you have no god?”

“You couldn’t have done it on another day? When the haredim have a cookout in Jerusalem’s Gan Sacher, everyone goes crazy, the media is outraged. But this? No one cares.”

“Infuriating!”

“I just ‘un-liked’ this page!”

“Shame on you! You have no respect for tradition!”

Angry X Factor hopefuls told the NRG website that when they complained about the timing, the response was, essentially - tough luck. If they preferred to mourn the Temple instead of belting out a Celine Dion ballad, it was their problem and they’d have to sacrifice their shot at stardom. The network, Reshet, defended itself by saying that contestants who had made it clear to them that they were Orthodox were not scheduled to audition on Tuesday. The problem is that not all Israelis wear their level of observance on their sleeve.

Backtracking, the network now says that those who are traditionally observant and ended up being scheduled to audition on Tuesday could now be rescheduled to sing at a different time, instead of being forced to choose between their Judaism and their quest for stardom, or guiltily sing on an empty stomach.

But that’s not good enough for everyone. The Tadmit Center for Strengthening Democracy in Media reportedly delivered a letter to the chairman of the Second Television and Radio Authority called for the cancellation of the taped auditions, writing that "the holding of auditions on such a day is a shameful act which hurts the feelings of religion and nationality of a wide public in Israel.”

Will offended religious sensibilities take the shine off the glitz and glamour of the show? For that, we’ll all have to tune in. Lucky for religious fans of the format, the broadcast itself won’t happen on a day of mourning and they’ll be allowed to enjoy themselves thoroughly - presuming, of course, the performers are any good.

Emil Salman