Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The worst thing about Ushpizin


Finally saw the Ushpizin, the other night. It's a well made flick about believing Jews being rewarded by God, with enough good feeling and chuckle to take it out of the parochial.

Moshe Balanga, a Hasid, lives in the religious quarter of Jerusalem. He and his wife Mali are childless and broke, but they pray for miracles and they happen. Others have said that the worst thing about the movie is that it teaches that all prayers are answered.

I disagree.

In the universe the film inhabits miracles make sense. An envelope full of money appearing in response to the beleagured Balanga's esctatic chanting is as reasonable as a broomstick appearing for Harry Potter when he says "Accio." This is the logic of the film, and giving yourself over to the fanatsy is part of the price of admission.

No, the worst thing about Ushpizin is the sly way it attacks the religious person's tendency to assign meaning to ordinary events. When guests arrive, the Balanga's become convinced that honoring the visitors will put a baby into Mali's womb. And indeed the guests are honored and the film ends with the announcment of Mali's pregnancy and the rejoicing of the Balangas who believe that God respected their innermost wish only because the guests were respected.

But they are wrong.

A woman is most likely to conceive when she is ovulating and for a few day approaching ovulation. Ovulation usually occurs mid cycle, or about 14 days before the onset of bleeding. Likely, it took Mali a few days to notice that her period was late, and another day or two passed before she took a pregnancy test, which means it probably took her about three weeks to realize she had conceived. Yet, when Mali brings Moshe the news of her preagnancy he is disassembling the sukka.

Unless Moshe (a man with no job) let almost three weeks go by before he took down the sukka, we must infer that Mali was preagnat during Sukkos, which means she conceived before the guests arrived! What they thought was a divine test, was really no test at all!

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