“Battling Contemporary Abominations”
(updated and revised from Eikev 5764-2004)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Eikev, Moses, once again, encourages the people of Israel to put their full faith in G-d. He assures the people that this trust will guarantee the successful conquest of the land of Israel, and that every aspect of their lives will be blessed.

The people’s loyalty to G-d, says Moses, will cause all the nations of Canaan to fall before Israel. G-d will deliver the people of Israel, and confound their enemies until they are utterly destroyed. Once again, Moses warns the people, in the name of G-d, to eliminate all vestiges of idolatry and to make certain to burn the carved images of the idols in fire. Concluding boldly and graphically, Moses says, Deuteronomy 7:26: וְלֹא תָבִיא תוֹעֵבָה אֶל בֵּיתֶךָ, “and you shall not bring an abomination into your home, you shall surely loath it and you shall surely abhor it, for it is something banned!”

Although in the literal sense, this verse clearly forbids the bringing of any idolatry into a Jewish home or even to have it in one’s possession, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev homiletically explains that this prohibition forbids “arrogance” from penetrating a Jew’s home or personality. Basing his interpretation on a verse in Proverbs 16:5 that states: תּוֹעֲבַת השׁם, כָּל גְּבַהּ לֵב, All who are haughty of heart, are an abomination before G-d, R’ Levi Yitzchak cleverly includes arrogance among those things that must be excluded from a Jewish home, since self-worship is a form of idolatry. Declares Rabbi Levi Yitzchak: “One who is arrogant, worships himself instead of G-d, and, like the idolaters, seeks to displace G-d and replace Him with somebody else.” (Cited in The Torah Treasury, ArtScroll, p. 476)

Homiletics aside, there is a very clear literal meaning to the Torah’s proscription of bringing an abomination into one’s home.

Since the early 1950s, with the proliferation of television in homes throughout the world, there has been a raging debate concerning the dangers of exposing children to the programming that is broadcast on this wondrous technology. It has become a virtually established fact that there is a direct correlation between children who see tens of thousands of acts of violence on television annually, and the gratuitous violence that now infects society.

Television as a medium has many wonderful qualities, and can, potentially, have a most meritorious effect on society. But much of television programming has been reduced to trashy and cheap fare. In the early days, television broadcasting was free. Now of course many people pay a small monthly fortune for the “privilege” of subscribing to cable tv, digital tv or satellite tv. Given the far coarser programming that is aired on subscription TV, it is almost like begging the sanitation department to dump the garbage in one’s living room every day, and pay hundreds of dollars annually for that “privilege.”

By today’s standards, television programming is rather innocuous, while the dangers of the internet and social media are far more powerful and brutal. We see what’s happened to our country since we’ve graduated from the innocent “Age of Television,” to the new abomination, the “Internet Age.”

Like television, surely the internet brings many benefits and blessings to our civilization. But, the negatives of this cutting-edge high-tech medium can surely be equated to the worst of ancient idolatry, where human sacrifice was a regular part of the ritual. The internet porn industry is raking in billions of dollars and tens of millions of people are spending countless hours transfixed to their screens or cellphones. Surely the economic productivity of nations throughout the world is being negatively impacted by the internet. It has been reported that 30% of users of online dating services for singles are married. Trying to control the internet and the television with parental control devices is almost futile. Far more than television, the internet seems to be rapidly speeding out of control, and taking a good part of our civilization with it.

It is therefore hardly surprising that experts estimate that close to 70 to 80% of entertainment in the United States today consists of sex and violence. The video game industry in America today is larger than the movie and music industries combined, and most of the games played by young people are violent. It is a sad commentary on the country that is hailed as “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” that hundreds of teens throughout America are shot by handguns each day, that mass shootings in schools and other public venues occur every week, that more than 109,000 Americans died last year of drugs. Over 1.2 million Americans are now in prison in the USA, and over 5 million Americans are currently under the correctional supervision of the criminal justice system. Is there any question regarding what is the root of the evil that stalks our country?

Going back decades, rabbis have spoken out passionately against television and cautioned parents about allowing their children to watch television, even when supervised. Campaigns have regularly been mounted to get parents to “Dump the TV.” More recent campaigns have been launched against the internet and smart phones. There are religious schools that will not accept students whose parents have televisions, internet or smart phones in their homes. Although these restrictions seem quite authoritarian, they appear to be making more and more sense as our society steadily advances toward “Never-Never land.”

Although many of us find it hard to see the parallel, it is fallacious to think that there is no idolatry today. No less than the battles faced by the Israelites of old, we today are facing a battle for our own survival and the survival of our children’s souls. Just as the ancient Israelites had to make sacrifices in order to fight off the all-enveloping influences of idolatry, so must we forcefully and boldly declare war on these very basic evils that are rapidly chipping away at our morality and what is left of our humanity.

May you be blessed.

Please note: This year, the joyous festival of Tu b’Av, the fifteenth of Av, is celebrated on Tuesday night and Wednesday, August 1st and 2nd, 2023. Happy Tu b’Av.