A rabbi known for books like ”Kosher Sex” and for his now-lapsed friendship with pop star Michael Jackson is turning to reality television with a new show about troubled families called “Shalom in the Home.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has made headlines since he founded an organization of Jewish students at Oxford University that hosted the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev, Shimon Peres and Jackson, with whom Boteach at one point planned to write a book on parenting, until they fell out.
His newspaper columns are popular as far afield as Israel and Britain, and he’s published 15 books, including “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Adultery.” But the son of divorced parents says his life’s mission is to counsel troubled families.
“The insecurity of my childhood led me to want to be recognized for my work. I’ve battled that urge for recognition all my life, not that it’s intrinsically evil, but it is shallow,” he said. “I want to be the real thing. I’m a rabbi. I’m not a television host.”
Still, in the show that debuts on Discovery’s TLC channel on Monday, Boteach plays the television host to the hilt --bouncing with energy as he works to bring peace, or “shalom,” to the homes and lives of his subjects.
Inner voicesIn the first episode he enters the home of Beatriz Romero and her four children, whose behavior has deteriorated since their parents divorced because father Luis had an affair.
Boteach first observes, then counsels family members before offering advice through an earpiece as they go about trying to fix their problems, from 16-year-old Janice’s abusive boyfriend to Luis’s efforts to prove he can be trusted again.
He may be a rabbi, but his opinions are blunt. He scolds Luis for his infidelity and makes comments to the camera such as, “He’s got to get over this ’Poor me, victim’ crap.”
“I don’t feel my approach is to berate people, it’s the opposite,” he said, adding that the idea of offering advice via an earpiece is “to attune people to their inner voice.”
Boteach says the producers were nervous about his advice, notably when he encouraged a mother to stop breastfeeding her 11-month-old baby because the couple’s sex life is non-existent and, as Boteach told her: “One of the most erotic parts of your body has become a cafeteria.”
“That advice was highly contentious,” he admits. “It was debated whether it should be in the show.”
In another episode Boteach visits a lesbian couple and their two children. “A boy in her school always says to her: ’Your mother did it with a straw.’ That’s a lot for a 12-year-old to take,” Boteach said.
“That particular episode is not about ’Is gay marriage right or wrong? Should gay people adopt?’ It’s about real life,” Boteach said, adding that he is not trying to shock or make political points.
“Religious people have to get used to the idea that religion is not about evading reality,” he said.
Other episodes tackle the grief of a mother of two who has trouble moving on after her husband died in a car crash.
“She had the dress she was wearing that her husband bled into. She had it in her bedroom. We got her to bury it,” Boteach said. “Now she’s started dating.”
The 39-year-old father of eight said that just as “Kosher Sex” appealed to non-Jews, the themes in “Shalom in the Home” are universal, and the families he meets are diverse.
“They didn’t think I was going to superimpose my views on them,” he said, adding, “Wait ’til you see a white Jewish rabbi working with a black Baptist family.”