Hasidic actor backs out of Natalie Portman movie

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Today the Daily News reported on an interesting story about a Hasidic actor who was forced to drop out of Natalie Portman’s most recent movie. “New York I Love You” is a film featuring twelve short love stories. Abe Karpen, 25, had to drop out after being ostracized and receiving threats from the Hasidic community. Karpen is a married father of 3, and works as a kitchen cabinet salesman. It’s not clear exactly how he came to be involved in the project, but according to several in the Hasidic community, he should have known better – Hasids are not allowed to watch movies or television, so appearing in them is obviously not a good idea. Trouble first started when Karpen refused to hold Natalie Portman’s hand in the film. Portman plays his wife – and he explained that he’s not even allowed to hold his real wife’s hand in public. Soon Karpen backed out of the film altogether, after receiving much criticism and even threats that his children would be taken out of their religious school.

“I am backing out of the movie,” said Karpen, a kitchen cabinet salesman. “It’s not acceptable in my community. It’s a lot of pressure I am getting. They [the rabbis] didn’t like the idea of a Hasidic guy playing in Hollywood. I have my kids in religious schools and the rabbi called me over yesterday and said in order for me to keep my kids in the school I have to do what they tell me and back out,” Karpen said.

While news of Karpen’s withdrawal sent waves of disappointment through the movie set, the Hasidic community was up in arms over Karpen’s acting gig – forcing him to flee for the weekend, a friend said. “This is when I woke up and saw that I made a big mistake. My kids mean everything to me and my community where I live means everything to me,” said Karpen, who comes from a prominent Williamsburg, Brooklyn, family.

His longtime friend Levi Okunov said the Karpens had to flee the city for the weekend. “The community wants to kill him,” he said. Hasidic community activist Isaac Weinberger said Karpen should have known better. “We don’t watch television. We don’t go to the movies, so to be in a movie is the worst thing. It’s a shame for any Hasid,” he said.

[From the New York Daily News]

Karpen did praise Natalie Portman and her acting. He said the two spoke in Hebrew, and Portman told him she wanted to become more religious. He said he didn’t even realize Portman was a big Hollywood star. This story is interesting, and it’s a bit challenging to comment appropriately on someone’s religion. All communities have their own standards, and certainly the Hasidic community’s are much more stringent than most of us are used to. Matisyahu, the Hasidic rapper who had a Top 40 hit a few years ago, hasn’t seen this kind of backlash from the Hasidic community, from what I’ve been able to ascertain. However until recently he was with a Jewish record label. To me it seems a little sad that Karpen received this level of backlash for taking the role.

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40 Responses to “Hasidic actor backs out of Natalie Portman movie”

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  1. OKgirl says:

    Hollywood just can’t manage to be accurate protraying ANYBODY. they always decide how they want to see people then make a movie that says so. they do that about african americans, hispanics, women, the military, southerners, christians, everybody. any writer who makes in it hollywood has to prescribe to one view of the the world and then they write and film stereotypes all day long. hollywood is the most backwards place in america. here they had an expert on hasidism in their cast, but they still decided to paint them with whatever customs they felt like.

  2. Scott F says:

    As strange as it might sound the rest of us, these are their beliefs and considering he has been a lifetime member of the church, he knew that.

    A Hasidic Jew staring in a movie would be like running across an Amish family running a Radio Shack. Little strange.

  3. geronimo says:

    Did he not read the script? The obvious question here would be why the hell would he take on a movie role which demands he behave and act in a way which is contrary to or forbidden by his religion?

  4. MSat says:

    They should have just hired an actor to play a Hasidic Jew. It would have been a lot easier.

  5. geronimo says:

    Too logical, MSat!

  6. Anna says:

    True Geronimo. Maybe they thought it would give the movie more authenticity? But still, c’mon he read that script… weird.

    Hey everyone at Celebitchy!!!!!! This was one of the last projects of Anthony Minghella who just died! Where is that news? That is yet another absolutely tragic death this year, I am so sad.

  7. geronimo says:

    This is so very sad. And just 54.

  8. Herman B says:

    his loss and perhaps his defeat. and i mean it in terms of bringing truthfulness to eyes that may have only come to recognize lies.

    yet, if every man could gather up the truth and bring it together. i am sure that the heavens would reveal their mystery, as nothing more than a simple truth.

    this is our obligation to god, this is our obligation to survival.

    to eat freely of the fat of the land, but to never know what the fat of the land is. yet the offering is made to angels.

  9. Mairead says:

    I didn’t realise Anthong Minghella died :-(

  10. geronimo says:

    Very sweet, Herman B.

  11. headache says:

    Perhaps they went overboard in their condemnation of him, but he had to know, particularly after reading the script that not only would he be offending his community and but violating the dictates of his chosen faith.

  12. Syko says:

    I’m not so sure I would call Hasidic Judaism a chosen faith. They are born into it, and it’s hard to leave. Not much choosing going on there.

  13. m. says:

    it is not sad that he recieve this backlash. i can’t believe that you would even write that. as a hasidic jew he should have known better and its not our place to say how “sad” it is because it is not our way of living.

  14. Syko says:

    Yes, he should have known better. Perhaps there’s a bit of the rebel in him and he thought he’d give it a try. Who knows? The sadness is that the people making this movie, which obviously features Hasidic Jews, didn’t bother to learn a little more about what they were doing, so they would not be offensive to the religion. And they definitely should have cast an actor playing a Hasid.

  15. Loob says:

    ““The community wants to kill him,” he said.”

    How can they not see how fucking crazy that proves them to be?!
    They want to KILL him. Over that.

  16. mollination says:

    Clearly he got joy from acting and wasn’t hurting anyone. It’s sad to me that there are religions that forbid things (that don’t hurt anyone) that people find fulfillment and joy from. That seems a little archaic and backwards to me.

    Movies are art. Are they allowed to look at books and paintings? Electricity isn’t a gift from the devil, just because Jesus or whomever didn’t have it or write about it in the bible (because they didn’t have it!) doesn’t mean it must be evil. :::sigh:::

    Religions that are outdated, exlusive, and hurtful don’t help, they hinder.

  17. journey says:

    while i agree with most of what you said mollination, there are communities who joyfully embrace their beliefs and the life that goes with it. they don’t see the lack and the hindrances, they see the community ties that link them, the love, the friendship, the commonality. as outsiders we often only see the bleakness, the restrictions they endure. but from the inside, unless they rebel,they feel the warmth, the hospitality, the festivities, the joy of sharing their beliefs, their lives.

  18. mollination says:

    That’s very true Journey. I guess I’m sad for this one person in particular. He seems to like his religion and the comfort it offers him to the point where he has to miss out on something else he enjoys so that his people don’t KILL him…. That part I find sad.

  19. Syko says:

    I’m not sure the “kill” was literal.

    When I lived in the midwest, prior to coming to Florida, I used to go sometimes with some friends to the Lubavich house, the meeting place for Hasids in that area. They were truly a friendly, joyous group. Very strict in their religion, but as journey points out, very joyous in it also. We would all sit around a table and eat lentil soup and homemade bread, drink some of the best vodka I ever ran into, and sing songs all night. Sometimes the men would dance together. It was a very special experience. This guy is very young, and probably fell off the beaten path without realizing it. They will forgive him and welcome him back. Be sure of it.

  20. headache says:

    I think kill was in the sense of my mom is gonna kill me when she finds out I got into a fender bender with her car.

    I really think it’s unfair to characterize Hasidism (if that is the proper term) in such narrow terms. Yes, they are quite restrictive and yes, they do not live as we do but unlike many other cloistered religious societies, they treat women with respect, children with love and adoration and for the most part, seem to be very happy in their communities.

    I am more than certain he would not share the fatalist view of his lifestyle. I’m sure he views his faith, religion and family above some small part in a film he would likely not have watched anyway.

  21. chamalla says:

    That’s how I read “the community wants to kill him” too, headache. I don’t know a lot about Hasidic Judaism, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t known for offing dissenters. : )

    On a somewhat related note, I just love Natalie Portman. She’s proof that being a child star doesn’t necessarily mean being batshit crazy in adulthood.

  22. dancingnancie81 says:

    I find it sad that the cummunity he says he loves so much, is the same community that makes death threats and ostracizes his children? If that’s the loving bond that religion brings, count me out.

  23. mollination says:

    Regardless of whether or not the “kill” was serious, I’m sure the rejection and exclusion registered for this young man all the same. Over something he enjoyed.

  24. a. says:

    interesting point about matisyahu actually. I love his music, and i know he has performed live on late night shows such as letterman, and others. So whats the difference between tv and movies?

  25. jk says:

    i actually know a few people who grew up with him and his first cousin .. i was told the real story was he did finish all the scenes they needed to do .. and no he didnt have to hold her hand or anything else that would be against his religous beliefs .. however noone in his community found out he was in the movie untill after the papparazzi who were following natalie also got him and his mug was posted everywhere .. when his cell started ringing off the hook and he got a call from his rabbi did he realize he was in mud far more than he bargained for and only after the rabbi threatened to kick his kids out of the school and ostracize him from the comunity and a whole bunch of other threats (no they wont “kill” him)they would simply make his like unbearable as long as he stays in the community did he agree to quit .. so the next step is probably to replace his scenes from the movie with probaby a pro actor or an jewish actor from a different community (not satmar williamsburg).. hehe

  26. jk says:

    i just wanted to comment about your line about matisyahu the jewish reggae artist he lives in a different chassidec communiy he lives in crown heights or where the “lubavitch” hasidic group is they are lots more lenient when it comes to what “profession” you choose so if abe karpen wants to be chassidic AND be a actor they would allow it providing he doesnt act in scenes that are detrimental or against the values of the lubavitcher group

  27. Jag says:

    If the “kill” isn’t a real threat, then why did he have to flee, even after backing out of the movie? He stopped, just like they wanted, yet still felt scared enough to flee – not my idea of a loving, forgiving community.

  28. Syko says:

    I think the difference between acting and singing is the “graven image” thing. Hasids adhere closely to the Torah.

  29. jk says:

    jag– he meant he had to leave for that weekend so can have a quiet weekend to think through what he did accoring to his cousin that i spoke to he didnt realize what he was getting into whith the movie he was a bit naive unfortunatky since his particular community is so effing strict more so than other orthodox jews they are naive with many hings and once they go out into the big world like when they have to get a job and many travel to manhattan to find work .. naturaly there eyes are opened to haha many many “worldly” things many of them “discover” netflix bottom line is that at thi point he realizes as long as he lives there and sends his kids to their schools and goes to those synagoges hes going to have to toe the line and follow their rules but he is free to move soemwhere else and when he does trust me he will be “back” as the saying goes

  30. bros says:

    the image thing is similar to muslim beliefs about images or people or pictoral renderings of god or holy figures. when television was first introduced to saudi arabia, the religious clerics at first were vehemently opposed to it and sought to outlaw it in the country, but the royal family (who wanted TV for obvious reasons) framed the question in terms of God, shadows and light, asking, “did god make shadows, and did god make light?” to which the clerics could only answer, yes. and so the family said “well, all TV is is shadows and light, and cant be haram (forbidden)” and so TV was made ok in saudi arabia.
    i have a feeling that if this stroy were reported about a muslim actor in new york who faced the same threats and was pissing off his conservative community, the comments would have been a lot less congenial and understanding and more condemning of the community, so i just wanted to point that out and hope we show just as much tolerance to all religions and their conservative factions.

  31. ash says:

    Well said, bros. I was thinking the same thing – if this had been a Muslim, I’m not sure how tolerant everyone would’ve been.

  32. monica says:

    What i definitely dont believe u!! It was all a prank on the paparazzi!! Its that new show on E! Pop Fiction. Its freakn awsome. The celebrities play pranks on the pap. What a genies idea. Paris Hiltons one was great all the paparazzi bit right into it. Shes not religious come on people. I love this show. Heres the link you wanted. Tell me what you think

    http://www.eonline.com/on/shows/popfiction/index.jsp

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41Iw4qvy8jQ

  33. jk says:

    bros– muslim actors have it worse

    i read a blurb about an egyptian actor who will have to face the wrath of the egyptian govt because hes appearing in a movie togetehr with an iraqi born israeli actor .. yes even muslim actors or athletes can’t appear in the same venue with an israeli actor/athlete or he/she may face “charges” by their govts/religion spooky huh and retarded if you ask me

  34. bros says:

    well, jk, you can imagine if the hasidic jews had their own countries and their own sovereign government then the same kind of action would probably be taken for infractions against the faith.

  35. Ro RO says:

    I understand his choice to drop from the film. I really wonder how he was cast in the first place. He was probably told that he would not do anything that would disgrace his religion. The fact that they are not allowed to watch TV or participate in it surprised me. But all religions have stipulations that their followers must abide by. I am just glad that he chose his faith and the safety of his family over a bit of fame.

  36. jk says:

    ro from what i heard he didnt have to do anything that would disgrace his community .. he was cast because the producers wanted so0meone authentic .. with an authentic look and accent .. from what i heard he was actually a walk on …but the producers liked him very much .. he backed out after he realized he was in over his head remember he comes from a very narrow minded community and he had no idea what it entails to be involved in a movie along with all the attention .. when he started getting attention he didnt want he backed out it was final when the rabbi went bonkers

    bros- they would have their own govt if the secular israeli jews would move out of israel i wouldnt be scared at all i think actually things would be more peacefull if the religous orthodox groups and chassidim ran israel since they are very similar in conservative as the moslems

    the world is nuts what can we do
    ecept haha watch movies and listen to good music

  37. mat says:

    Have you seen “New York I Love You”

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  39. Cleo says:

    He looks adorable. I know that’s indecorous to say/to even NOTICE!

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