Oct 26, 2011

Nisuch HaMayim - Mayim Bialik Speaks About Working on Sukkos Yom Tov

Mayim Bialik, the actress with a PHD in Neuroscience who is a very Jewy person and is a self-declared "Conservadox", wrote a very honest and self-aware piece explaining why she went to work on the recent holiday of Sukkos - not Chol Hamoed, but on Yom Tov itself.

Bialik writes:
I work on “The Big Bang Theory” and I was required to work on the first two days of Sukkot. We had rehearsal and run-throughs of the script for producers, writers, and CBS; there was no filming involved. Normally, I would have been in synagogue, but this year, I wasn’t and it’s okay. This is my life right now, and here are 3 ways I made it work for me (in addition to making festive meals, drinking kiddush and lighting candles at home.)

1) I hired a car service to drive me to work. Sure, being in a car is halachically different than driving a car myself, but it’s not how i would choose to observe the holiday. That being said, it was relaxing and a nice change of pace to commemorate the holiday this way. And, no, my driver wasn’t Jewish, so I didn’t cause any Jew to break the holiday on my behalf. That would’ve been a bummer so close to Yom Kippur, because I totally just atoned for everything I have pretty much ever done, thought, or fantasized about. Gotta keep the slate clean.

2) I didn’t use my laptop or my phone from work. What a lovely break this was, and it made it really feel like a yontif (holiday)! I normally keep my laptop constantly running at work, and I respond to dozens of emails a day about meetings, publicity, my book being edited, etc., right when they come in. I am a real slave to technology, and for those 2 days, I really embraced the aspects of observance that force us to focus on ourselves, and not on the things we distract ourselves with.

3) I dressed fancy. I grew up with parents who were snazzy dressers, and who encouraged me to have special “shul” clothes. It always made holidays and Shabbat special, and I have carried this pattern into my own adult life, and have passed it on to my sons, who also love dressing fancy for shul, even though they call it dressing like “Maccabeats” (of Yeshiva University fame). Anyway, I dressed in shul clothes for work this year, and it felt really special. I don’t tend to wear sparkly dresses to work in general, or my hair in a French twist with pearl studs. I didn’t wear heels, since we work long days, but I put on proper make-up before the holiday started (it’s customary not to put it on during the holiday) and really felt like I had brought the holiday with me to work by dressing fancy.

One day, I hope to be in a position to set my taping schedule around the 8,000 Jewish holidays that I want to observe according to halacha, but for now, I remain a Jew in exile, a soul yearning for its way home, and a happily employed actress on “The Big Bang Theory.”

I wasn’t sure if I should be so public about me working on the holiday, but I have never claimed to be perfect in observance, and I hope that by sharing ways I make observance fit my life, I can give someone else the support to know that it’s it’s not all or nothing as we learn and grow, that while we are on any particular path, we can still enjoy it even if it’s not moving exactly where – or as fast as – we want it to.
Some people would criticize her for working on the holiday, and then again for justifying it and explaining it and publicizing it.

I say, first of all, jewy as she might be she is not Orthodox. She grew up Reform and while she has been increasing her level of observance over time she is still not Orthodox. Not justifying her choices, but just saying - what do you expect? You criticize her for not living an Orthodox lifestyle with orthodox choices, but she is not Orthodox.

Secondly, and more importantly, I am actually impressed with her explanations. Whether or not she actually did anything against halacha is debatable - while perhaps inappropriate to work on yom tov, it looks like she did a pretty good job of avoiding any actual melacha and transgressing prohibitions. I don't know if she completed her day perfectly with no transgressions, though she seems to have tried to do her best.

So, whether or not she transgressed is besides the point - that is between her and God. I am impressed and inspired by her honesty, her willingness to share, her attempts to do the right thing to the best of her ability, her  attempt and effort to make the best of a less than ideal situation.

Is that alright - impressed with someone working on the holiday? Wearing her yomtov clothes while she works? Perhaps that is like going into a [non-kosher] McDonalds and making a bracha on the cheeseburger? Perhaps. But nobody does what they do in a vacuum.

One cannot look at an isolated incident and judge the person based on that alone - in which direction is the person moving? Is she moving towards more observance, getting better along the way and while still not perfect, still needing to work on the holiday at times, it is still better than 2 years ago or 5 years ago when she might have worked without a second thought or without attempts to imbue the workplace with a yomtov atmosphere of sorts. Or, is she moving towards less observance.

So while one might feel her observance is lacking and she should not be applauded, I point out that she is in the process of taking on more observance and faith, and not the other way around.

One might even call this, appropriately for Sukkos, the Nisuch HaMayim - the pouring of the water - the pouring out of Mayim, the expression of Mayim.


  1. Yishkon L'vetachOctober 26, 2011 4:34 PM

    I also prefer to adopt your take on it. She's brave to be so frank about it - I don't imagine many other Hollywood-folk really get it.

  2. Completely agree with your take on it.

  3. absolutley agree bro. I think any connection is better than none at all and none of us are in a position to judge her anymore than a "frummie" who cheats on his taxes.

  4. Your post got linked back on the Official Mayim Bialik Facebook page.

    (I blame Yitzy.)

    She wrote what a nice article it was... except for the McDonald's reference.

  5. The original article was written on Kveller.com, a Jewish twist on parenting. For more of Mayim's thoughts on parenting and Judaism, head to

  6. Actually Lorien, it was me. I just posted it on her wall! How crazy is that?

    I'm a little addicted to social networking!

  7. I think she's really brave for being so open about her journey to becoming more and more observant. I've met her personally and she's delightful. And I agree, do we know of any other Jews in Hollywood who are as open on these topics? I've met other Jews in Hollywood who didn't know anything about Judaism at all and still others, like actor Ron Rifkin, who grew up Orthodox, who I think felt he had no choice on whether he could stay Jewish and have a career as an actor. I felt sad hearing him talk about how all or nothing it became for him and I hope that it will be different for Jews like Mayim.

  8. I think it's terrific. I think it's great that she publicized it. Not only is it a Kiddush Hashem but it also gives Chizuk to others who are struggling with these issues.

  9. Mayim is married to Mike Stone who is not even Jewish because he converted through a fake strain of Judaism. Too bad she lives in sin everyday that she is married to a gentile.

    1. She is not even married, and you are a mean-minded idiot. Who appointed you God's judge? And FWIW, conversion does not, according to halacha, require the candidate to convert via any particular "strain of Judaism" -- it requires immersion in a kosher mikva, circumcision in the case of a male, and the proper intention. And you are in no position to know what anyone's intention was at the time they converted.

    2. Ms. Bialik is recently divorced


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