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The Rabbi and the Reverend: Intermarriage on TV's "7th Heaven"

April 2002

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and is reprinted with permission of the author.

"7th Heaven" creator Brenda Hampton is chortling at an image of her star, Stephen Collins, wearing a kippah (head covering) on the bimah (podium) 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 (head covering)."

For five recent episodes, television's most popular Christian family got a Jewish infusion--literally--as eldest son, Matt (Barry Watson), got engaged to 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 (the Sabbath), 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 is 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."

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "skullcap," also known in Yiddish as a "yarmulke," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Naomi Pfefferman is Arts and Entertainment editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

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