New TV Series About Women in ultra-Orthodox Community Isn't Mere Anthropology

Shany Littman
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A scene from the series 'Women Between Sacred and Profane.'
Shany Littman

At first, but only at first, the series Nashim Bein Kodesh Lehol (“Women Between Sacred and Profane”) currently showing on Channel 8 looks like another one of those anthropological films that deal with closed and interesting communities to which even access is a kind of documentary achievement.

But the real achievement of the series lies not in revealing the “crazy and strange” lifestyle of the religious community, but in the effective search for universal human stories. We identify with the characters, each of whom deals in her own way with the desire for the “sacred” – not necessarily in the religious sense but in the philosophical sense also – and on the other hand with the “profane,” with life’s challenges, which are also probably not unique to ultra-Orthodox society.

The heroines of the four episodes of the series, created by director Revital Oren Kalinsky and producer Udi Kalinsky, are newly religious Haredi women who live in Safed.

The first episode centers around Leah, who became newly religious together with her husband, and gave birth to a son and daughter when she was over 40. The fact that the children were born when the parents were relatively old is perhaps one reason for their forgiving attitude toward their children. And the children, opinionated teenagers, definitely exploit their parents’ weakness, which is the entertaining aspect of the film.

Other than that, nothing is particularly amusing in the lives of Leah and her partner. They suffer from financial problems, their house burns down, and in the background is the attempt to find an educational institution for their son, who left the yeshiva where he was studying after it was discovered that the educational staff abused the students physically and sexually.

The problems don’t affect the close relationship between the couple, nor their concern for their children and the patience and seriousness with which they relate to their needs, and their respect for them and their difficult questions. Although I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the content of the answers.

At times, to secular eyes, Leah’s acceptance of the vicissitudes of her life and her anticipation of salvation from heaven seem like infuriating passivity. But because this is a woman who in the middle of the street bravely chases a rabbi accused of pedophilia, it’s clear that when there’s something to be done she definitely takes action, and doesn’t make do with prayers.

The second film in the series, about the girl Hava and her disintegrating family, presents a situation in which obedience to religious laws gradually crumbles after the clash between them and human needs becomes intolerable. Here too there is a mother whose love for her daughter causes her to oppose the rigid society, but here the relationship is far more riddled with problems.

Aside from the female characters, the other heroine in the series is Safed, which is portrayed as a suffocating, poor, dark and isolated place, but also as a place where nature and the city intermingle in a unique and moving way.

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