January 29, 2004
Let There Be Bart
Do you pray? Do you watch "The Simpsons" religiously? Do you pray while watching Bart and Homer and the rest of the Springfield gang?
Answer yes to any of these queries and you belong at Sinai Temple in Westwood for its unique, February-March Torah study program centered on the theological wonders of that prime-time TV staple, "The Simpsons," with the sitcom's eternal life questions being deconstructed by Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei.
"He studied it in rabbinical school, with some of the great masters of 'Simpsons' lore," said Sinai Senior Rabbi David Wolpe, who announced the course after his Jan. 9 Shabbat service sermon.
Wolpe was kidding because Schuldenfrei, Sinai's newest rabbi, is not an obsessive "Simpsons" fan, but instead will leverage the animated Fox Broadcasting hit's popular culture stature to create a prism through which to discuss theology.
"I'm not a big TV watcher," Schuldenfrei told The Journal. "My level of expertise is the Jewish part."
Slated as every-other Wednesday night classes, "The Simpsons from Sinai: A New Look at God, Judaism and the Torah" will have students watch one episode each evening and then discuss its theological components.
"It's using 'The Simpsons' as a springboard for discussions about Jewish values," he said. "There are deeper issues to explore that don't have to be necessarily Jewish."
"The class is not a joke," the rabbi said. "The class is a comical way of leading to a serious discussion. "
Schuldenfrei taught a similar course last fall, using 10 "Simpsons" episodes to explore theology with Sinai's high school-age students. This new course targets the temple's young adults, with both courses based on Jewish writer and Orlando Sentinel religion reporter Mark Pinksy's 2001 book, "The Gospel According to 'The Simpsons.'"
"We as Jews need to understand that Judaism has something to say about the modern world," Schuldenfrei said. "'The Simpsons' are very much a representation of the modern world and modernity. If Judaism doesn't have something to say about modernity, about the modern world, then Judaism is useless. We're in modernity. Judaism is not a religion of antiquity."
The class will be held at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood, 7:30 p.m., Feb. 18 and March 3, 17 and 31. Price is $5 per session (members), $10 (nonmembers) or $30 (whole series). For more information, call (310) 481 3244 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .