- Israeli Film and Television
In the last decade or so, Jewish religiosity has become a hot and sometimes even sexy subject in Israeli visual arts. After decades—if not almost a whole century—of poor public relations, religious Jews are suddenly crowding the screens of movie theaters, televisions, and computers. The last decade has seen them featured in several important films in Israel, and television shows about religious Jews are being produced at an accelerating pace. For anyone even slightly familiar with Israeli history, this is unusual and surprising. Jewish religiosity never enjoyed great cultural popularity in Israel—not during the first fifty years of the Palestinian Yishuv nor through much of the ensuing fifty years of statehood. Yet with the dawn of the twenty-first century, the status of Jewish faith in Israel began to change in increasingly visible ways. This special issue of Jewish Film & New Media is dedicated to exploring facets of this phenomenon, and to the remarkable proliferation of visual references to Jewish religiosity in Israel and beyond.
This issue originated in a small academic conference held at Cambridge University in the spring of 2013, which explored this remarkable change in Israeli cultural history. And although not all the scholars who attended the conference contributed to this issue, the collection of articles published herein represents the main topics that were presented and discussed at the meeting. My article, which opens the issue, provides an overview of the changes in the perceptions of Jewish religiosity and Jewish religious people in Israeli cultural history. The article emphasizes the great ridicule with which Jewish Orthodoxy was popularly presented in the first decades of statehood, reflecting Labor Zionism’s disdain [End Page 1] for it. The article then looks at the evolution of these images, which in the last decade traveled from the margins of the culture to the center of it, and changed from negative to respectable and often also attractive and even sexy.
Dan Chyutin’s article examines the inherent quality of the cinematic medium as an art form capable of creating or conjuring up visual images that can be perceived as spiritual or transcendent. Chyutin examines how Avishai Sivan’s 2010 film, The Wanderer (Hameshotet), corresponds to the cinematic spiritual style as defined by various theorists of cinema and what happens to that style in a Jewish context.
Yael Friedman and Yohai Hakak look at the fascinating phenomenon of Haredi male cinema, a genre of low-budget action films produced by Orthodox filmmakers for the sole consumption of Orthodox men. Distributed within the confines of the Orthodox community and viewed almost exclusively on private computers, this cinematic genre is a testament to some of the major changes the Israeli Orthodox community is undergoing in its incorporation of secular Israeli cultural values.
The final article, by Galeet Dardashti, examines cultural exchanges in the global era by focusing on the profound influence the US-based Avi Chai Foundation has had and still has on the popular imagery of Jewish religiosity in Israel. Dedicated to the incorporation of Jewish traditional values into popular Israeli culture, the Avi Chai Foundation has provided generous financial support to various educational and artistic endeavors in Israel since the 2000s. Dardashti looks at the intricate relationships Israeli filmmakers and television program creators have established with the foundation, and its influence on Israeli television programming and Israeli culture at large.
Concluding the volume are two long reviews of contemporary television shows that exemplify some of the changes the articles explore. [End Page 2]
Yaron Peleg is Kennedy-Leigh Lecturer in Modern Hebrew Studies at the University of Cambridge. His publications include Derech Gever: Homoeroticism in Hebrew Literature (2003), Orientalism and the Hebrew Imagination (2005), and Israeli Culture Between the Two Intifadas (2008). He is also co-editor of an anthology of articles on contemporary Israeli cinema, Identities in Motion (2011). Yp240@cam.ac.uk