“Law & Order” takes such care to get New York right–its people, its cultures, its attitude–that I am always surprised when it messes up the small stuff. Last night’s episode revolved around a synagogue that couldn’t seem to decide whether it was Orthodox or Reform. Perpetually-yarmulked men and head-covered women who talk like they went to the Jackie Mason school of East European accents, a shul with multiple daily services, the setting in the Lower East Side all point Orthodox. But a grandiose, cathedral-like shul interior and a clean-shaven, smooth talking rabbi who speaks of biblical stories as mere allegories… that screams Reform.
Either way, those denominationally-ambiguous shul-goers were up in arms about a man who entered the synagogue and desecrated a Bible.. and who promptly turned up dead. But while religion might cause frequent conflict in New York, this case was about another top Big Apple angst-inducer: real estate. The building’s co-owner was trying to scare the congregation into fleeing for suburbia, so he could sell the building for millions of dollars.
My favorite moment was when Alexandra, the assistant district attorney, subpoenas the entire synagogue membership list, only to be confronted by her boss, the D.A. himself, for failing to show “historical sensitivity.” But if it was a church, she protests, they’d subpoena the list. His response: “You can’t ask for a list of Jewish names.” (In truth, desecration of a printed Bible would be unlikely to induce the level of fear and hurt the episode suggested; next time, the writers may want to consider making it an actual Torah scroll… or would that be too historically insensitive?)
For loyal “L&O” fans, perhaps the most important thing to come out of the episode was another–albeit tantalizingly small–glimpse into some characters’ lives. The question “Are you a religious person?” kept recurring, and the answers we got were: Detective Green was raised religious; Jack McCoy, not surprisingly, has no religious inclinations (other than, as the DA points out, his fundamentalist, uncompromising belief in law and the legal process); and Alexandra chimes in to say that she, indeed, is religious… though we’re left to guess at what religion that is.