New reality show pits religions against each other
Rabbi competes on Turkish show with priest, imam and Buddhist monk.
By RACHEL GEIZHALSPublished: JULY 6, 2009 02:14Advertisement
Have you heard the one about a rabbi, an imam, a priest and a Buddhist monk?
It's no joke, but rather Turkey's latest reality show, which brings together leaders from four religions who attempt to convert non-believers to their respective faiths.
Penitents Compete features select religious authorities seeking to make believers out of 10 atheists - on camera.
Istanbul-based television station Kanal T plans to launch the show in September.
The prize for the converts? A trip to a holy site of the winner's newfound religion: Muslims will go to Mecca, Christians to the Vatican, Jews to Jerusalem and Buddhists to Tibet.
But the religious establishment and personalities are neither amused nor impressed. Jewish authorities, for example, are vehemently opposed to the program, since according to Halacha, active proselytizing is forbidden.
"As a Jew, it is against our world outlook to seek to proselytize," Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs, told The Jerusalem Post. "We respect other people's attachment to their faiths."
Rosen added that proselytizing is dubious by nature and could be destructive to the religion and its reputation.
Rosen is also opposed to the show from a more universal perspective.
"I think it's very tasteless," he said. "Matters of faith, profession and lifestyle commitment are not something that should be decided on a reality show."
Turkish religious personalities expressed the same sentiment. In fact, Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate will not send an imam to represent - and proselytize for - Islam on the show.
"Doing something like this for the sake of ratings is disrespectful to all religions. Religion should not be a subject for entertainment programs," Hamza Aktan, chairman of Turkey's High Board of Religious Affairs, told a state news agency when he learned of the program, according to the Reuters report.
The producers of the show disagree.
"We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God," Kanal T chief executive Seyhan Soylu told Reuters. "We don't approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn't matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe."
Religious controversies aside, reality show buffs are also unsure that the show will do well.
Scriptwriter, film producer and Kochav Nolad judge Gal Uchovsky is heavily involved in the world of Israeli reality shows. He stressed that it is virtually impossible to judge how a show will turn out in advance and without seeing actual episodes, but he is unconvinced of the success of such a show, mainly because of the subject matter.
"I would be very skeptical if they would give the people they work with enough rope to develop a good show," said Uchovsky.
In general, religious personalities do not have enough of a sense of humor regarding their own religions and conduct, both of which would be necessary to produce a successful reality show, Uchovsky explained.
However, he was not willing to say the show is a definite bust.
"Almost anything can be a reality show if it's good," Uchovsky said. "It all depends on the inner stitches of the show."
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