It’s rare that on-screen rabbis are played by real rabbis. Ben Stiller, for example, portrayed a rabbi in the movie Keeping the Faith, and Kathryn Hahn plays Rabbi Raquel Fein in the Amazon series Transparent.
But The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is an exception. What is probably the most Jewish series on TV cast an actual rabbi to play a rabbi in a pivotal scene in one of its Catskills episodes.
In the scene, Astrid — Midge’s sister-in-law — is observing Tisha B’Av, one of the saddest days in the Jewish year. She’s praying with a rabbi when Midge’s mom, Rose, comes to find her.
Rabbi Mark Getman is that rabbi; he is a 46-year-old Reform rabbi who currently leads a congregation in Canarsie, Brooklyn.
“When I got to set, they said, ‘You must be our rabbi,'” Getman tells Kveller. “I said, yes, I’m Rabbi Getman!”
The production assistant’s response? “Oh, you’re in character already.”
Which, of course, was technically true, although Getman happens to be a rabbi all the time.
According to Getman, IRL rabbis make for much better on-screen rabbis. “Having someone there as a rabbi could make it more beneficial because you could get more technically real,” he says.
For example, with Maisel, Getman says he was told during the wardrobe fitting that his scene would take place during Tisha B’Av services, and when he arrived on set, he was asked to help make the scene more authentic. He was asked: “Would you sit or would you stand? What would you normally do?”
Getman explained that more observant Jews would sit on the floor during these prayers, while Getman, personally, wouldn’t. “They said, ‘OK, we want it to look as authentic as possible,'” Getman tells us, “So I said, ‘OK, we’ll sit on the floor.'”
Such authenticities notwithstanding, there are many differences when it comes to playing a rabbi versus being one IRL. On set, “You’re doing the same thing over and over and over” to make sure they get a good take. “I actually had to mumble,” he explains, adding that it’s “very hard cause you’re used to saying it out loud.”
Since it was supposed to be Tisha B’Av, we wonder if he was actually reading a Tisha B’Av service.
No, it turns out.
“I was reading the Mi Sheberach prayer,” Getman says. Which, coincidentally, Midge recited in an earlier episode of the season. (What a moment for the Jewish prayer for healing!)
As it happens, Maisel isn’t Getman’s first on-screen rabbi gig. He played a rabbi in another buzzy show this year: Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. The sixth season was surprisingly Jewy — mainly because of one episode that dived into the backstory of Jewish inmate Nicky (played by Jewish actress Natasha Lyonne), and it featured a real-life mohel who plays a judge.
In Season 6, episode 4, Getman plays the rabbi at Nicky’s bat mitzvah.
Although it was a nonspeaking part, they were looking for someone to make the rabbi “as accurate as possible.” The role was “basically lifting and raising the Torah,” which was “exhausting,” he says, because of all the takes they shot. “My arms and legs were sore for four days!”
“I had to lift the Torah up and down for about 20 times, until they got the take they wanted,” Getman tells us. “It was harder because I was on a raised stool, and I just couldn’t get that grip that [I] normally would. And many thought I was an actor playing a rabbi. I said, ‘No, I’m a real rabbi who does this every Saturday, but you have to understand, I’m standing on a step!'”
Such are the complexities of making a television show — often things will be done that don’t make sense ritually.
Getman’s path to the TV rabbinate began we he started doing background acting work in 2008, the same year he began rabbinical school. The first movie he was in? Freakanomics.
One of the shooting days conflicted with school. “I obviously missed class that day,” he says. (Priorities!)
Getman also appeared in season one of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as a congregant at Midge’s parents’ synagogue. (Which was filmed at the East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn.)
On the whole, Getman thinks Maisel does a pretty good job at representing Judaism in 1950s America. However, he does hope for greater Jewish representation on screen, in general.
“A lot of shows think Jewish is only Orthodox,” he says. “And it’s not true! We have to do a little bit better portraying [that] not all rabbis are with a beard and 60 years old. There are women rabbis! We have to portray that more, what some parts of Jewish society are leaning towards.”