Thursday, February 10, 2005

Doritos and Hillel

Last night while watching TV, I saw a rather odd commercial, with lots of trendy people text-messaging "innw," which stands for "If Not Now When." The commercial never said what product it was shlogging, but there was a follow-up commercial a minute later to inform me that the "if not now when" slogan was for Doritos, in which a large crowd engages in an act of urban destruction. Oy, a classical rabbi's most famous saying used to shlog a product that isn't even kosher!

For those not familiar with the commercial's catch-phrase: it is a quote from the great Rabbi Hillel, for whom the Jewish college student organization was named. In Pirkei Avot (a tractate of the Mishnah recording ethical sayings), Rabbi Hillel is quoted as saying, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

Rabbi Hillel used this phrase to teach that we should not hesitate to do the right thing. Another quote of his along the same lines that I inscribed in my law school textbooks was, "Do not say, 'when I am free, I will study,' for perhaps you will never be free."

I am more than a little troubled at the way Rabbi Hillel's teaching has been twisted into advice to do whatever feels good, much like Nike's "Just Do It" slogan.

To put this into a context that gentiles can better understand: can you imagine if Trojan tried to sell condoms with the slogan, "Do Unto Others"?

Links:
Rabbi Hillel at Judaism 101

Full text of Pirkei Avot - the saying that the commercial uses is in Chapter 1 Verse 14

Doritos "INNW" website