I am now returning to a life of Torah and have been given different answers to whether or not observant Jews watch movies. Is there a reason not to, and if so, should I quit going to the theater or even watching movies at home?


I understand you confusion. Many religious Jews don't watch any movies, let alone visit a theater. Others might watch an occasional movie but won't go to a theater. And some do both.

Amongst the many concerns are:

  • The improper images, themes, and language in a movie.
  • The taking of two hours (or more) for something without any substance.
  • The perspective gained from watching movies. In a subtle manner, movies mold our mind and affect the way we think.
  • According to some opinions, going to a theater goes against the Torah's command "not to follow in the ways of the gentiles."

You ask about what you should do. A question like this depends so much on who you are and where you are holding in your journey towards a life of Torah and mitzvot. And for this it is best to turn to someone that knows you and your family well. You are probably aware of the words of our sages, "Make for yourself a rabbi" - advising each of us to have a spiritual mentor with whom to consult.

Especially for the baal teshuvah, it's often advisable that the change of lifestyle is gradual. First comes fulfilling basic mitzvot and avoiding those things the Torah specifically prohibits. Too much change too soon makes it difficult to remain balanced and stable. Only after this becomes routine, does one work on syncing the gray areas of life with Torah values.

This is a life-long journey. It takes constant avodah. It may eventually take you to a point where every moment of the day - word said or idea thought - is in sync with your service to G‑d. Needless to say, on such a level, a movie is not even a possibility.

So keep that ideal in the back of your mind, even if you are very far from it at the moment. And on a very practical level, keep the above-mentioned concerns in mind when choosing what you watch, how often you watch, and where you watch it.

Let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Yisrael Cotlar