"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Women and Halacha

As part of our series WOMEN MAKE MOVIES at Beit Avi Chai, we hosted Anat Zuria, the director of two artistic and controversial documentary films about women's issues, halachah and the Israeli rabbinate – one about laws of family purity and the other about women who are unable to obtain a divorce.

Anat Zuria is a Jerusalem filmmaker, a graduate of the Ma'aleh Film School, who describes herself as someone with a secular background who became interested in a Jewish way of life. Before she turned to filmmaking, Zuria was a painter, and her artistic eye can be seen in both of her films.

Purity טהורה (Anat Zuria, 2002) is a sensitive documentary about the subject of family purity, laws of impurity and mikveh. In 2002, the film premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival and won the Mayor's Prize for best documentary in the category of the Jewish Experience. These were the comments of the Judges: “Best documentary, for its aesthetic qualities and its mature and courageous approach to its subject. The filmmaker’s ability to take an inner voice and create an objective outsider’s perspective about the problems of religious women, coping with halachic dictates, was surprising and authentic.”

In the film Purity, Zuria focuses on three women –
 Natalie is recently divorced, a mother of twins, who exposes her tragic story of a marriage to a man who divorces her because she refuses to continue having babies after a very difficult pregnancy and delivery of twins.
 Katie, an Orthodox American-born immigrant, married plus, living in Beit Shemesh, has a uterine problem and bleeds on and off almost all the time, making it impossible for her to have intimate relations with her husband. She relates that they have made an accommodation by differentiating between intimate relations and normal, everyday affection and contact such as a hug at the end of the day. In a very compelling scene, she relates that they have decided that the latter is acceptable, even if she is “impure”.
 Shira is a young Orthodox bride, who is being taught the laws of family purity by her mother. They go to the mikveh and Shira expresses her extreme ambivalence to the entire subject.

These Orthodox women are a diverse group. Some wear pants. All wear hats. They are all surprisingly outspoken, sensitive, and hurting because of the halachah.

Sentenced to Marriage מקודשת (Anat Zuria, 2004) is about Israeli women whose manipulative and cruel husbands have refused to give them a "get" (divorce). (A differentiation was explained to the audience between these women and agunot -- agunot are women whose husbands are missing or who have disappeared and therefore the women are unable to get a divorce and remarry.)

In the modern state of Israel, marriage and divorce are controlled by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate which deals with divorce in an archaic manner. One woman is seeking a divorce since her husband has left her and is living with another woman and has fathered 2 children with that woman. Another husband withholds child support. But the rabbinical courts repeatedly refuse to force these men to behave in a manner that the Jewish tradition would consider honorable. The film follows women caught in this terrible legal battle as they try to go on with their lives even though they are in limbo and are forbidden contact with other men. In some cases, these women are forced to pay off their husbands, thereby actually buying the divorce for large sums of money.

Watch for Anat Zuria's third film which will also deal with issues of gender in the ultra-orthodox community -- the physical separation between men and women on buses, on airplanes, and even in the supermarket!

Purity and Sentenced to Marriage are both available in North America from Women Make Movies at www.wmm.com

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