Can a Television Serial Help Bridge the Divide between the Ultra-Orthodox and the Rest of Israeli Society?

March 1, 2016 | Liel Leibovitz
About the author: Liel Leibovitz, a journalist, media critic, and video-game scholar, is a senior writer for the online magazine Tablet.

Debuting in 2013, the Israeli television serial Shtisel, most of whose cast is secular, focuses on the internal dynamics of a ḥaredi family. It has proved surprisingly popular even with the Ultra-Orthodox themselves—despite the fact that their rabbis generally discourage or forbid television. Liel Leibovitz writes:

[I]t is clear that Shtisel heralds a new era in the fraught relationship between secular and ḥaredi Israelis. While the two groups maintain their traditional mutual animosity—the secular seeing the Ḥaredim as parasitic bums who live off taxpayer money while refusing to work or serve in the army, the Ḥaredim seeing the secular as heathens who have abandoned Judaism’s core tenets—Shtisel, it is now clear, has served as a bridge between these two feuding camps in two important ways. First, it has given many secular Israelis their first glimpse into ḥaredi life, portraying the otherwise foreign men in black hats and long black coats and women in head-coverings and ankle-length skirts as facing just the same familial and emotional tribulations as everyone else.

More importantly, perhaps, it has given Ḥaredim a prime-time lens through which to glance at themselves, not in the tightly controlled way typical of the community itself, where imperfections are frequently concealed and virtue portrayed as effortless and absolute, but in an intricate, sensitive, and candid manner, unafraid to take on even thorny topics like the difficulty some people have in finding a [mate] and the suffering of those who fail to couple early and well.

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