Jump the Shark: Bo 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Fri, 01/10/2014 - 8:59am -- AJ Blog

I asked on Facebook what moment for people 'Jumped The Shark.’

The phrase 'Jump the Shark' comes from a scene in a season premiere episode of the TV series Happy Days from 1977. The central characters visit LA where a water-skiing Fonzie answers a challenge to his bravery by wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket and jumping over a confined shark. Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein  used to describe the moment in the evolution of a TV show when it begins a decline in quality, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of "gimmick" in an attempt to keep viewers' interest. A ‘tipping point’ of sorts.

Here are some of the postings from Facebook -- Views of posters do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the moderator: When Meredith dies on Grey’s Anatomy; When they added cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch & Gazoo on the Flintsones, Scrappy on Scooby Doo, Shemp on the Three Stooges, Tori on Saved by the Bell; When Gary died suddenly on Thirty Something; MASH’s ‘Dream’ episode -- We get it Alda, War=Bad! Tie between Grey’s Anatomy singing surgeons and Carrie Underwood’s Sound of Music; When Warren replaced Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show; and finally, non-TV, when Esau accepted the birthright deal.

It’s the moment a show stops allowing us to suspend our disbelief. As my sister Alana, who takes her TV viewing very seriously, so eloquently put it: The word that comes to my mind is betrayal.  When you choose to believe in a show - you say, yes, I trust you, I will go on this journey with you, because you will take care to shed light on the human experience. You will delight me and break my heart (sometimes in one episode), and then, suddenly here I am with an open heart and mind, and you betray my trust.

Sometimes when I read modern interpretations or assumptions made about the Exodus story, primarily the idea that it rejects the idea of slavery per se, I feel that those interpretations, when held up even to not-so-close scrutiny of the actual text we read year after year ‘Jump the Shark.’

Aside from the fact that post-Exodus Torah legislation doesn’t outlaw slavery but, in fact, explains how it is to be implemented, Moses never goes to Pharaoh and says, ‘Free the slaves!’ He simply demands that the monarch give the slaves a week’s break to go into the desert and worship God.

Here is the back and forth that shows Moses being disingenuous with Pharaoh in the midst of the 8th plague of locusts we read this Shabbat (Exodus 10:7-11):

Moses and Aaron are brought back to Pharaoh and he tells them, “Go worship your God. Who’s going?” Moses says, “Our children, our elders, our sons, daughters, flocks and cattle for it’s a festival for our God.” He told them, “Indeed, God be with you! The day I’ll send you and your children! Look, your evil bespeaks you! No, let the men go and worship God for that’s what you really are asking!”

Pharaoh understands that if all the Israelites leave they won’t return. If he can keep the women or kids or both, they’ll have to come back for the ‘hostage’ population.

In our own American history, the white population that enslaved the black chose to teach them the Bible and convert them to Christianity because they thought that they would become ‘pacified’ to their place in life by the teachings of Jesus. Most became devout Christians but were also heavily influenced by the book of Exodus and seemed to be able to read past the technicalities of the text and become inspired by the language and thrust of its spirit and trajectory, using its language to identify with the ancient Israelites and their plight.

Were they 'Jumping the shark’? Maybe, but maybe not. The Declaration of Independence and initial Constitution of our country allowed for slavery but didn’t enshrine it. In fact, it could be argued, that Jefferson, a slave owner himself, sowed the seeds of the Civil War by including language in the Declaration of Independence that couldn’t sustain slavery forever.

Similarly, the Torah allows for slavery post-Egypt by the very people who were so cruelly treated. And yet, there are hints in the legislation that point towards a future in which such institutions will be untenable, for instance the rule that one is not allowed to return an escaped slave. So when we read the trajectory or ‘moral’ of the story of Exodus as opposed to paying attention to its technicalities, are we really ‘Jumping the Shark?’

Perhaps.  But it’s worth noting that Happy Days was only in its fifth season when Fonzie Jumped the Shark. It lasted for seven more.  Not bad for a series in decline.

Shabbat Shalom. 

David Lipp