“We justify making movies because we understand that this is the way of expressing ourselves in this generation,” says Eitan Alpert, chief executive and a former student of Torat HaChaim, an ultra-Orthodox film school in Israel. “If 200 years ago it was telling stories, today it’s making films.”
Recognisable by their distinctive appearance – men in black suits and hats with beards and payot (long side curls) and women that are conservatively dressed and bewigged – ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, are not naturally perceived as film-makers. On the contrary, Haredim – a Hebrew word meaning “those who tremble at the word of God” that encompasses a multiplicity of ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects – tend to isolate themselves from secular society, which they see as a threat to their traditional way of life. They generally appear to shun film and television, so it is a surprise to discover that many have been making films with considerable zeal, viewed by both religious and secular audiences, for some time.
Restrictions - Films - Jewish - Law - Rules
There are restrictions: films must adhere to halacha, Jewish religious law, including the rules of tzniut, which concern modesty. Men and women can appear together on set but there is no touching, singing, dancing, sex, violence, swearing or nudity, and scenes with female actors are often directed by a woman. No work is done on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays. The films vary from exploring Judaism and religious issues to dealing with more universal themes of family, relationships and identity – albeit presented through the prism of Haredi life.
Torat HaChaim is one of the few places where Haredim can study film. Set up in 2005, it was originally situated in the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip but, following Israel’s withdrawal from that part of the occupied Palestinian territories, it relocated to Yad Binyamin, a religious...
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