A Higher Standard: The Price of Fame

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A businessman stands on concrete background under the light of a single working industrial lamp. Business and success. Right place and time. Good starting place.

You’ve probably seen the news about the recent college admissions cheating scandal, in which wealthy parents paid exorbitant sums to buy their children’s way into prestigious colleges. The last time I looked, about 50 people had been indicted in this scandal but one name stands out, featuring again and again in news stories and social media: actress Lori Loughlin.

Honestly, I was not familiar with Ms. Loughlin before the scandal broke. Apparently, she played a character called “Aunt Becky” on the television show Full House (which I never watched) and its currently-running reboot, Fuller House.

There is another celebrity whose name comes up in this context, albeit less frequently: Felicity Huffman, from the television program Desperate Housewives. (I guess she was desperate enough to buy her child’s way into college!) But Ms. Loughlin seems to be receiving the lion’s share of this undesired spotlight, including being evicted from the Now-Slightly-Less-Full House.

This seems unfair. Loughlin is by no means the only offender – she’s probably not even the most grievous offender – but most average people would be hard-pressed to name a single co-conspirator (with the possible exception of Ms. Huffman). But fair or not, that’s the price of fame. Along with the riches, awards and accolades, a celebrity is burdened with the inability to walk down the street unmolested by paparazzi or to eat in a restaurant without autograph hounds asking for their signatures. It’s part of the package. Another part of that package is being held to a higher level of scrutiny when it comes to even minor offenses, let alone major felonies.

Double standards, as inequitable as they may seem, are an inherent part of life. No one knows this better than the Jews, as we have lived with this reality for as long as there have been Jews.

For starters, we see that our great leaders were held to much more stringent standards than the average person. Some examples:

These are relatively minor flaws. You or I might not be blamed for Moshe’s faux pas but that’s because we don’t talk to God face-to-face and the nation doesn’t hang on our every word. Like Yaakov, I look forward to retirement; unlike Yaakov, I don’t have the God-given mission to forge a nation. And Yoseif? You and I would be expected to use every means at our disposal to free ourselves but we weren’t raised in Yaakov’s house! Great people are held to higher standards.

In a recent article, we discussed the concepts of kiddush Hashem and chillul Hashem (a sanctification and desecration of God’s Name, respectively). There, we cite the case of Rav, who said that it would be a chillul Hashem if he were not to pay his butcher on time (Yoma 86a). Being aware that he was under scrutiny, Rav held himself to a higher standard than would normally be expected of people.

Our Biblical leaders knew this principle as well, and they acted accordingly. Avraham, for example, made sure that his fighting force received their share of the spoils but he declined to take anything for himself, “not so much as a thread or a shoelace,” so that others could not claim to have enriched him (Genesis 14:23). Moshe did not take so much as a donkey, a minor expense that surely would have been justified (Numbers 16:15). The prophet Elisha refused payment for curing the Aramean general Naaman of his leprosy, and when he discovered that his attendant Gechazi had gone behind his back to accept payment, Elisha was furious because of the way it would make him look (II Kings 5).

As much as expectations of our leaders exceed those of the average Jew, those of the average Jew exceed those of other nations. We see that we are so charged in a variety of places, including:

This is not some theoretical Biblical principle; it’s actually something we see every day vis-à-vis Israel, the world’s only Jewish nation. Counter to international protocols, they’re expected to give back land they acquired in defensive wars. Despite having civil rights for people of all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations, Israel is routinely brought up on “human rights” charges by nations that have none of these. Israel – the country that uses leaflets and text messages to evacuate enemy non-combatants before bombing military targets – has been condemned for not sharing “Iron Dome” technology with those attacking them. In perhaps the most outrageous example, IDF soldiers have been criticized for not raping Palestinian women! The list goes on and on. The reality is that Israel is held to a ridiculously high standard. This is because they’re Jewish – the holy nation, the kingdom of priests, the light unto the world.

So, yes, Ms. Loughlin, it’s tough being under the microscope. Some of us got here when we were cast on popular, long-running sitcoms and some of us got here when our ancestors said naaseh v’nishmah. Either way, that’s where we are now. So take it from us. When you’re in the spotlight, that’s the time to hold yourself to a higher standard than most people, not a lower one. And if our experience is any indicator, no matter how high a standard we set for ourselves, the world will always expect more.

That’s the price of fame.

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz is Torah Content Editor at the Orthodox Union. He is the author of six books, including The Tzniyus Book and The Taryag Companion. His latest work, The God Book, is available from OU Press as well as on Amazon.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.