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Jewish Journal

‘Under’s’ Rabbinic Supervision

by Naomi Pfefferman

April 11, 2002 | 8:00 pm

"Six Feet Under" writer-producer Jill Soloway admits the HBO funeral parlor family drama is like a weekly commercial for taharah, the Jewish ritual of cleansing a dead body prior to burial.

Forget the no-open-casket Jewish tradition: On Alan Ball's quirky hit, words like "skin slippage" are de rigueur and corpses are regularly drained and made-up for display. "It's pretty gross," concedes Temple Israel of Hollywood member Soloway, who's invented a rabbi character to proffer Jewish perspectives on death.

In the April 14 episode, 30-ish, single Reform Rabbi Ari (Molly Parker) -- partly inspired by Temple Israel's Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh -- visits the Fisher Funeral Home after a congregant's husband accidentally commits suicide during autoerotic asphyxiation. "This season, we're using the show to explore diverse religious traditions," explains Soloway, 36, who was hired after Ball read her blackly comic short story, "Courtney Cox's A------" last year. Before long, Ari is counseling tormented elder Fisher son, Nate, about issues involving God and spirituality.

As research for the episode, Soloway interviewed Jewish thanatologists and asked Missaghieh how she prepares for funerals and approaches suicides. She also grilled Missaghieh about how she used to date when she was single (non-Jews weren't allowed).

If the fictional Ari says she won't date Nate, she's not above flirting with the guy: "In drama, characters have to be flawed," Soloway says. "Propaganda isn't good TV."

Apparently Ari is. She'll reappear in a May episode when Nate takes his half-Jewish fiancée, Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) to her for premarital counseling.

Meanwhile, single mom Soloway -- whose office is near the mortician's "prep room" set at Sunset-Gower Studios -- has become convinced taharah is best. "Since working on the series, not only do I not want to be embalmed, I don't want to be preserved in any way," she says with a shudder. "That's become a pretty common sentiment among everyone associated with the show."

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