by Moshe Schapiro
Am Echad Resources
July 5, 1999
It must be a strange sensation to view a film that focuses on a subject you
know intimately - and that makes it utterly unfamiliar.
Everyday surroundings must take on an unpleasant, raw hue on the screen when
outsiders who only think they know the landscape have formed the images. The
knowledgeable viewer must squirm in his seat, beset with a maddening feeling
that the artist is missing the point time and again - fixating on a twisted version of peripheral elements of his subject and overlooking its unique flavor and essence. The experience must surely leave one feeling horribly violated.
Having read reviews of "Kadosh", the Israeli-produced film written by Eliette Abecassis, directed by Amos Gitai that received wide acclaim at last spring's Cannes film festival competition, I can only imagine that is how I would feel actually watching it.
And yet, isn't portrayal of the artist's impressions what art is all about? If superficial aspects of a reality are what captured the filmmakers' attention, is not their film, accurate or not, a legitimate form of creative expression?
Perhaps. But when politics encroaches on the arena of art, poetry can become
Leni Riefenstahl's work is a good example. In 1933, Adolph Hitler commissioned the talented young actress-director to depict the essence of the Nazi Party on film. Her powerful Nuremberg Rally film, Triumph des Willens ("Triumph of the Will", 1935) is widely regarded by experts as one of the most effective pieces of visual propaganda ever made.
Combining melodramatic camera techniques from the silent movies of the
1920's with the dramatic effects of Wagnerian opera, Riefenstahl vividly
portrayed the submergence of the individual into the mass of a movement.
Through her employment of art, she not only won a gold medal at the Venice
Film Festival but infused the Nazi Party with vitality.
"Kadosh" (the Hebrew word for "sacred") is a relentless, brutal attack on
Orthodox Jewish life and its ostensible mistreatment of women. The plot
focuses on the victimization of two sisters, Rivka and Malka, who live in the Haredi neighborhood of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. The beautiful Rivka loves her husband, Meir, but after ten years of marriage, she has been unable to
The film portrays how Rivka's inability to bear children undermines her status in her community, rendering her an outcast. Adding to this bitter insult, Rivka's husband informs her that their living together as man and wife is now a sin, since it is not leading to procreation. Rivka is forced to leave her home, so that Meir can father a child with another wife - although a doctor has told Rivka that Meir may actually be the infertile partner.
While Rivka's situation becomes more desperate, her younger sister, Malka,
finds that she has been condemned to a prearranged marriage with a man she
loathes. She runs off with a lover, but then returns brokenhearted, only to be brutally beaten by her husband.
A truly tragic tale.
And an utterly deceitful one.
For when Haredi couples have trouble conceiving, they don't separate; they
go to infertility specialists, like members of other segments of society.
And should they experience marital stress, they seek assistance from qualified rabbis or counselors. In cases of domestic violence, there are resources to which families can turn; at least three Israeli Haredi organizations operate 24-hour emergency hotlines offering immediate help to battered women from across Israel's societal spectrum.
Halacha, or Jewish religious law, moreover, does not permit men to have two
wives simultaneously. Rivka's husband could not have taken a second wife with rabbinic sanction.
Married couples, further, are permitted, indeed commanded, by halacha to
maintain physical intimacy even when conception cannot result. Even Abecassis and Gitai must know that Haredi marital life does not stop at menopause.
These inconvenient facts, however, did not dissuade Kadosh's producers.
Director Gitai expressed a larger purpose for the film.
"It's my way," he said, "of voting against the religious right. There has been a veritable coup d'etat by the religious community. It is up to us to decide what kind of country we will have."
With "Kadosh," Abecassis and Gitai may or may not have produced art. What they have surely produced, though, is propaganda, aimed at denigrating their fellow Jews.
And that, sadly, is a real, entirely non-fictional, tragedy.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Moshe Schapiro, a former Torontonian, currently lives and writes in Jerusalem]
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