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the synagogue to taking
into consideration his age
and making an exception
to let him drive.
me with complete
courtesy and respect.
Rosie had a lot to say
about everything since
it was a new show.
Since I was the head
writer, I had to talk to
her a couple of times a
day. She had an under-
standing and respect
for her viewers.
JN: How does your
Judaism impact on your
RC: I take a secular
approach to questions. But
the values with which I was
raised have a profound
JN: There seemed to
influence on me.
be an outpouring of
Although I am a secular
Randy Cohen: Mixing
Jew now and do not con-
humor with moral
advice to a
sciously refer to those
woman who was
things, I am sure they have
offended after her
shaped my values. And I
Orthodox Jewish real estate agent
was exposed to Orthodoxy through
wouldn't shake her hand following a
my relatives who were Orthodox.
real-estate deal. She asked if she
should tear up the contract and you
JN: What are some of the most diffi-
believed she should, saying, "Sexism
cult questions you are asked?
is sexism, even when motivated by
RC: Questions about loyalty and
religious convictions." Were you sur-
telling if you know someone is doing
prised at the response?
something wrong are the most diffi-
RC: I knew, as did my editor, I was
When is minding your own business likely to get a lot of mail, but I had no
idea I would get this much. Usually I
a virtue? When is it just callousness?
The wrongdoings of others add to this get a couple of hundred letters or e-
mails — I think we are now up to
level of complexity and are not easy to
1,500 or more.
People overwhelmingly disagreed
If you tell friends their spouse is
with the column. When religious val-
cheating on them, you are messing
ues clash with civic values, it's a really
around in someone else's marriage. Yet
conflict to resolve.
if you don't tell, you are helping to
If you act in ways that are incredibly
deceive your friends.
sexist, but assert it's for religious rea-
sons — that tends to win the argu-
JN: Have you ever received any anti-
ment. And that was the cause of con-
RC: Surprisingly, no. Since I have a
flamboyantly Jewish name, I was sure
JN: If you had it to over again, would
I would get tons of anti-Semitic mail.
you have answered differently?
But I have only gotten one — it start-
RC: Yes, but my position hasn't
ed, "Dear Jew Cohen." And it was
changed — I just would have written
from a real nut.
something longer and focused on the
JN: What was it like working with
I have now read a great deal about
this particular aspect of Jewish law.
RC: It was like being drafted by a
Many people justify that one doesn't
World Series team.
touch someone of the opposite gender,
Before I started I thought it would
except for your family members, on
be ruthless, but it wasn't at all — my
the grounds of sexual modesty.
colleagues were helpful, funny, gener-
Maybe it's understandable in a sexu-
ous and smart. Also, I was given all
ally conservative but egalitarian socie-
kinds of opportunities to learn.
ty, but Orthodox Judaism is not like
For example, I was sent to the edit
room to edit my piece and I had never that —women can't be rabbis, can't be
used in a minyan [prayer quorum].
been in an edit room before. But
The marriage laws affect men and
when I got there, a director, a video
editor and a sound editor were there
So my conclusion is this: When peo-
to help. So as the years went by, I
ple who disagreed assert that this cus-
developed all these skills.
tom is free from sexism, and when an
esteemed Orthodox woman rabbi can
JN: What was it like working with
justify this on non-sexist grounds, I
would be delighted to listen to her.
RC: She was tough, but always treated
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