"7th Heaven" creator Brenda Hampton is chortling at an image of her star, Stephen Collins, wearing a kippah on the bimah of University Synagogue. "That's something we haven't seen on '7th Heaven' before," she concedes of her hit WB series about a reverend, his wife and their seven kids. "It's very visually shocking to see the Minister Camden in a yarmulke."
For five episodes starting Feb. 25, all of America will be shocked when television's most popular Christian family gets a Jewish infusion -- literally -- as eldest son, Matt (Barry Watson), gets engaged to a the daughter of a rabbi (Sarah Danielle Madison). Rabbi Glass is played with hilarious anguish by kvetch-meister comic Richard Lewis. "Saturday Night Live" alumna Laraine Newman plays his wife. The rabbi bickers as boisterously with Camden over the intermarriage as Lewis' character does with prickly Larry David on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." "Brenda is really letting me mine my Jewish angst," Lewis says.
It's Judaism 101 as the Camdens learn about Shabbat, circumcision, conversion and Jewish baby-naming practices. "We'll name our first-born after you," Matt gratefully tells one of his sisters. "Uh -- not unless she's dead," replies his bride-to-be.
It's the last thing you'd expect from television's most "Waltons"-esque drama, but that's the point, says Hampton, 50, a liberal Protestant who previously worked on the interfaith sitcom, "Mad About You." "I thought at this point in our history it might be nice to include people of other faiths on the show."
But Hampton -- who has a Catholic husband and adopted children from Russia and Vietnam -- doesn't think the interfaith plotline will be controversial. The show works, she says, because it focuses on what all religions have in common. "We never use the word, 'Jesus,'" she says. "We try to be as harmless as possible."