In the United States, he’s known colloquially as “The Jewish Dr. Phil.” In Israel, he’ll simply be Rav Boteach. Rav is Hebrew for “rabbi.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, for two years the host of the “Shalom in the Home” reality-advice program on the TLC cable channel, is bringing his brand of low-key Jewish wisdom to the Jewish state. He arrived in Israel this week to start filming of an Israeli version of the program that will premiere on Channel 2 this spring.
The rabbi, who speaks fluent Hebrew, is already better known in Israel than Phil McGraw, aka Dr. Phil, host of the popular talk show that deals in dysfunctional relationships. “Kosher Sex,” Rabbi Boteach’s 2000 book about intimacy and Jewish tradition, “was a bestseller here,” he tells The Jewish Week in a telephone interview from Israel.
In the U.S., his show made him a familiar face on TV, a bearded, Orthodox rabbi going each week into the homes of strangers, usually non-Jews.
The weekly, hour-long Israeli show — they haven’t picked a name yet — will be loosely based on the U.S. program. Again, he and a camera crew will spend several days with a family in the throes of an infidelity or drug-related problem. Rabbi Boteach brings his counseling background and yeshiva education to each problem.
“We’re not copying the same format” in Israel, says the rabbi, whose latest book, “Shalom in the Home,” based on his U.S. program, just came out. In Israel he’ll add secular-religious tensions and the Arab-Israeli divide to the mix. “We’re dealing with families, but we’re not dealing only with families.” He’ll go to the nation’s “hotspots … wherever we find friction. It could be the Kotel [Western Wall].”
His goal, he says, is to “bring reconciliation between warring factions, to appeal to their sense of heroism.”In Israel, the rabbi says, he hopes his notoriety and non-judgmental brand of Judaism will open doors.
There he will apply to society-wide problems the same Jewish sources he applies to family dynamics on the U.S. program. “A rabbi can appeal to non-Jews.” He did this at Oxford University; now a resident of Englewood, N.J., he does it in the States.
In Israel, Rabbi Boteach says, the show will “be slightly more Jewish, because the concepts will be familiar.”