Unlike the Israeli drama Shtisel, which achieved success with its realist portray of the life of a ḥaredi family, the newer series Shababnikim strikes a more lighthearted tone, and focuses on four young men who can’t quite make it as yeshiva students, and are eager to engage with the outside world even if they have no intention of breaking with their communities. Sarah Rindner reviews the second season, and its portrayal of those Israeli media have dubbed “the new Ḥaredim.”
When Shababnikim was introduced to Israeli audiences in 2017 by the religious filmmaker and showrunner Eliran Malka and Daniel Paran (who passed away the following year), its edgy and fast-paced combination of style, romance, and sophisticated religious content was a first. The show detailed the experiences of four shababnikim (Hebrew/Arabic slang for “wayward yeshiva youth”) as they vacillated between the social expectations of their ultra-Orthodox community and the larger Israeli society, not to speak of their own ambitions and desires, and some genuine philosophical and religious questions about how best to live a Jewish life.
In season two, important changes take hold. Avinoam, Meir, and Dov Laser continue to sip lattes, slink around in bathrobes, and generally enjoy the good life. . . . At risk of losing their social capital and marriageability, they decide to establish a yeshiva of their own. . . .
Yet just as the shababniks finally seem to be growing into their (designer) ḥaredi garments, their presence in Rehavia, “the last secular neighborhood in Jerusalem,” threatens to complicate things. A secular yeshiva moves in right next door. Secular yeshivas, where young Israelis can engage with Jewish texts and strengthen their Jewish identity in a religiously open environment, are in fact a growing phenomenon in modern Israel. This one is a spiritual commune whose members write poetry, smoke marijuana, and observe their religious neighbors with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. While Malka is bound to attract some opprobrium for his cynical portrayal of Ḥaredim, he is also ready to show that life without tradition has its own pitfalls. The cheerful neohippies of the secular yeshiva are certainly less neurotic than Gedaliah, Dov Laser, and company, but they, too, lack a framework for finding love and meaning.