World’s first Hasidic soap opera airs on Israeli TV

September 04, 2003

"The Rebbe's Court" airs on Israeli TV the first of 26 episodes the drama is set in a community of Hasidic Jews in Tel Aviv and portrays a world normally closed to outsiders.



[Note by Tom Gross]

This is one of six emails I am sending today, detailing recent "human interest" stories from Israel.

SUMMARY OF ARTICLE

"Hasidic Soap Opera" (The Associated Press, Jerusalem bureau, August 15, 2003). It's got the power struggles, intrigue, love triangles and plot twists of any soap opera. But in the world's first Hasidic "telenovella" -- as soaps are known in Israel -- there are no steamy love scenes and dialogue is peppered with "praise the Lord." The first half-hour episode of "The Rebbe's Court" aired Thursday on Azure, a new Israeli cable channel focusing on Jewish issues... The main plot centers on Hanoch, the son-in-law of community leader Rabbi Azriel Rutenberg. Hanoch, who is married to the beautiful Zippora, is expelled from the community and reluctantly settles in the secular world after being falsely accused of gambling with $250,000 of the community's funds. Zippora believes in Hanoch's innocence, and resists matchmakers' efforts to find her a new husband. Meanwhile, her younger sister Ruhi is plotting to snare Hanoch for herself -- and that's just in the first of 26 episodes... Oded Menaster, who plays a young Hasidic man named Gedalia, said the limitations make "The Rebbe's Court" more exciting than a run-of-the-mill soap. "In a secular soap opera, a character like mine chases a girl, he gets her and that's it. In our show it's all about subtlety, slowness and respect." ... Ironically, the subjects of the soap opera, Hasidic Jews, probably won't be watching: Their rabbis do not allow them to own television sets. Orbach said he expects word-of-mouth to change that. "Maybe they'll find good neighbors to let them see the program," he said. "They will not be able to resist temptation."



FULL ARTICLE

HASIDIC SOAP OPERA

Hasidic Soap Opera
By Neil Bar-Or
The Associated Press
August 15, 2003

It's got the power struggles, intrigue, love triangles and plot twists of any soap opera. But in the world's first Hasidic "telenovella" -- as soaps are known in Israel -- there are no steamy love scenes and dialogue is peppered with "praise the Lord."

The first half-hour episode of "The Rebbe's Court" aired Thursday on Azure, a new Israeli cable channel focusing on Jewish issues. The show is set in a community of Hasidic Jews in Tel Aviv and portrays a world normally closed to outsiders.

Uri Orbach, the channel's program director, said the show's goal is to entertain, but narrowing Israel's religious-secular divide is a welcome byproduct. "You see the ultra-Orthodox as real people," he said.

Many Israelis believe the culture clash between Orthodox and secular Jews is one of the nation's most pressing problems. Each side feels its way of life is threatened by the other, and decades of animosity have left the two groups with little common language.

"The Rebbe's Court" opens to traditional music played to a rock beat. The main plot centers on Hanoch, the son-in-law of community leader Rabbi Azriel Rutenberg. Hanoch, who is married to the beautiful Zippora, is expelled from the community and reluctantly settles in the secular world after being falsely accused of gambling with $250,000 of the community's funds.

Zippora believes in Hanoch's innocence, and resists matchmakers' efforts to find her a new husband. Meanwhile, her younger sister Ruhi is plotting to snare Hanoch for herself -- and that's just in the first of 26 episodes.

The show also addresses the tensions between secular and religious Jews in Israel.

A police officer who arrests Hanoch at an illegal gambling club tells him contemptuously: "You Hasids, you don't serve in the army because you're too busy studying Torah. But you have time for gambling, huh? Your Torah allows that?"

Later, a detective demands to be allowed into the rabbi's seminary to investigate the burning of bus stops carrying immodest advertising and attacks by ultra-Orthodox Jews on archaeologists digging up ancient graves. Both are real-life issues in Israel.

Oded Menaster, who plays a young Hasidic man named Gedalia, said the show helps build bridges: "It shows that Hasidic Jews are real people and that we all have something to learn from the other."

Actress Ranana Raz, who plays Zippora, said the soap's steamy story lines are difficult to portray in the Hasidic setting, where men and women refrain even from casual touching. "It is challenging to show desire when you can't do things in the normal manner. The eyes talk a lot," she told Israel TV.

Menaster said the limitations make "The Rebbe's Court" more exciting than a run-of-the-mill soap.

"In a secular soap opera, a character like mine chases a girl, he gets her and that's it. In our show it's all about subtlety, slowness and respect. I try to make Zippora be with me, but it's in a very slow and respectful way. There's always a distance."

Orbach said that's the point. "There's no vulgarity on our channel," he said.

Azure -- named for a dye sacred in biblical tradition -- went on the air five months ago, with $5 million from private investors, including Israeli businessman Shlomo Ben-Tzvi and U.S. cosmetics tycoon Ron Lauder.

Orbach said Azure fills a niche. "There's a history channel and a sports channel. Judaism is very important and we didn't have a channel that gives a point of view. This (channel) says Judaism belongs to everyone," he said.

Azure broadcasts 18 hours a day, including several hours of original programming. Only about 5 percent of the 50,000 subscribers are ultra-Orthodox, the strictest level of observance in Judaism. The remainder are either secular or followers of other streams of Judaism who -- unlike the ultra-Orthodox -- take part in mainstream society.

Ironically, the subjects of the soap opera, Hasidic Jews, probably won't be watching: Their rabbis do not allow them to own television sets.

Orbach said he expects word-of-mouth to change that. "Maybe they'll find good neighbors to let them see the program," he said. "They will not be able to resist temptation."


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