Why I’m Not The Biggest Fan of “Shtisel”

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Watching Haredim on TV is all the rage since Shtisel came to Netflix a few months ago. Everyone told me I HAD to watch it, but committing to being awake enough late at night to read subtitles was not something I was ready to do right away. Finally, last month, I took the dive and joined the masses. (I just started the second season.) Countless articles have been written by secular Jews and non-Jews describing their love for the characters, the storyline, and their surprising discovery that Haredim (gasp!) are also human.

So in that regard, the show is good. And on the entertainment side of things, the show is great. But despite the positives, I have had a discomfort with Shtisel from the very beginning. When I spoke to a Reform friend from high school the other day, my fear was solidified.

This friend is due with her second child soon and was feeling nervous about the impending delivery. I imagine she asked herself “Who has birthed the most children that I know?” and she realized it was, in fact, her sole Orthodox friend. (Four, to be exact!) After we talked labor, the conversation went something like this:

Her: Are you watching Shtisel?

Me: Yes, we finally started to. We think it’s great television, but I worry that it furthers the notion that Haredi Jews represent all Orthodox Jews, when in fact the Haredim of Shtisel live a much more insular and right-wing version of Judaism than we do.

Her: Really? That’s funny to hear you say that because…

Me: You think their life is basically my life?

Her: Well, yeah.

Me: I hear you, and I guess it’s all relative, but there are actually significant differences between their practices and approaches and ours.

So how are we and many Jews to the right of me (I consider myself right-wing modern Orthodox) different than the Haredim of Geulah (literally one of the most insular and right-wing Haredi communities in the world)?

We are as strict about adherence to halacha (Jewish law) as they are in that we use the Torah to guide every aspect of our lives, but our rabbis have less stringent approaches to many areas of Jewish practice from modesty, to kosher, to Shabbos, and more.

We live in an Orthodox Jewish community, but our neighborhood is not as insular. We have more non-Jews and non-Orthodox Jews in our lives than the Jews of Shtisel. Our community has a warmth and closeness that exists in Shtisel, although, to the Haredi world’s credit, a positive side of insularity is that there are so many relatives around, someone is nearly always there for you. My community has a lot of that closeness, but also believes there’s a value in having positive interactions with the larger world.

We believe in higher education. Nearly my entire community is a professional with undergraduate and graduate degrees. Not only do we hold the opinion that secular knowledge can be a good thing, quite often, higher education leads to more financial success. This leads to the next point.

While there is extreme poverty in the world of Shtisel, according to the Pew Study, the modern Orthodox community is the most affluent of all the Jewish communities. (Cost of living is also quite expensive, especially in the New York area, so that is a double edged sword.)

We don’t get engaged on the first, second, or even third date! Most people in my community date for a few months. They don’t touch before they are married, which obviously sounds extreme to an outsider, but they do spend time getting to know their prospective mate, meeting their friends and family and only go through with the engagement if both parties are excited about it.

Our rabbis believe that birth control can have a place within halacha.

Our husbands don’t leave the delivery room when we’re in labor.

Sixteen year olds don’t get married (in our community or any community!).

We are religious Zionists. We believe that after 2000 years of being expelled from Our Land and then miraculously getting returned to it is not a coincidence. We believe this may be the beginning of the redemption.

We consume secular media inasmuch as it is kosher, including partaking of technology.

A broken engagement is not shameful like it is on Shtisel.

We believe that science and Torah can work together.

While we dress in modest clothes and yarmulkes and tzitzis, we wear modern styles. Our men’s peyos are just sideburns, our women wear longer and more stylish wigs, and no women shave their head.

We know that smoking is bad, and it’s very rare around here.

Additionally, there is major dysfunction among the characters in Shtisel. While there is dysfunction in every community, I have only lived in two – the upper middle class secular world and the right-wing modern Orthodox world. Without being clairvoyant or sneaking into people’s homes, I can’t fully know what goes on behind closed doors. But my sense is that my current community is a rather healthy one, the most healthy place I’ve seen up close or from the outside.

So while Shtisel is an entertaining show which has done some good in humanizing the otherwise reviled “ultra-orthodox” Jew,  it does a fair amount of damage in terms of making stringent practices seem like “Orthodox” practices and popularizing the idea that observant Jewish life is automatically dysfunctional.

A fan on our Facebook page lamented the fact that none of the actors on Shtisel became more observant in real life, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. While a charedi life can be a beautiful way of life and is for many, for the average secular Jew, it feels like a very big jump from what their life looks like. It feels unattainable.

Conversely, we polled 600 of our readers a few years ago and 50% of the non-observant ones told us that our content had inspired them to either become more religious or consider doing so. Why? Because we use these pages to show all that one CAN do within the bounds of halacha, all the ways traditional Jewish wisdom can bring sanity to an often scary world. We regularly publicize wonderful Orthodox Jews (from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy) using their talents to make an impact on nearly every industry and show how ancient rituals can have deep meaning in modern times.

In other words, Netflix should consider a show about a Jew in the City!

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly called the community “Hasidic,” said they live in “Meah Shearim,” and used the word “extreme,” which was being misunderstood by many readers as a negative. It has been updated with the word “right-wing” to connote more machmir approaches to Jewish law.


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  • Miryam says on June 12, 2019

    Great article! And thought provoking. I guess the allure is more based on the shows ability to portray feelings and situations among the principals with very few words (speaks volumes), have actors of the opposite sex hint at attraction/longing without even as much as a handshake, “kosher” entertainment … and of course Michael Aloni😄 So yes. As for a/the broader audience, Perhaps the show might do more harm than good.

    Reply
  • AJ says on June 12, 2019

    There’s a series on youtube called “Soon By You.” It’s about Modern Orthodox Jews. There are 5 episodes there. Do you think it portrays the community accurately?

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on June 12, 2019

      Yes. Very much so. And the creator of the show has similar concerns to me. I’d love to see a show like that get more attention.

      Reply
      • Wendy Bennett says on June 28, 2020

        Well coming from a very British Protestant (Church of England) I have decided now to find a Jewish dictionary as I’ve had to look up so many words! The point I’m making is that my husband and i throughly enjoyed binge watching 24 episodes sun titles and all and that was hard going believe me. Whether or not if those particular practicing Jewish people in the show are true to their practising beliefs we wouldn’t know but it was entertaining to us and learnt a lot. I can’t comment on anything about being a Jew but this drama gave me an insight and I now know a lot more. As for the story lines, no violence, no sec, no guns I was happy about that but at times reminded me of the gloomy miserable awful Eastenders which has got to be the worst as it does not portray English life as it really is, same for Coronation Street. We never watch British soaps. We watched nonorthodox with Silva Hass and was fascinated with that. I do hope she gets more happier parts though. So as a ‘soap drama’ I await series 3 and maybe learn a bit more about Jewish life true or not. But, for my husband and me, we couldn’t fathom out why these families seemed to rely on their extended family’s money as no one seemed to have a ‘proper job! Is that typical of some jewish communities?. As for variants of faiths, its the same all over the world how people practice their version of the faith they believe in. Most all tell lies, most alter the rules to suit themselves to. I could go on but I’m not getting too serious or in depth about all that. It is to us, in a simple way, a Jewish drama and we enjoyed it.

        Reply
        • Allison Josephs says on June 29, 2020

          The characters certainly humanize ultra-orthodox Jews. But plenty of us work. Most of us don’t have that many problems. It’s still over the top for anyone real and still depicting one of the most insular orthodox communities in the world.

          Reply
  • Carrie Bradshaw says on June 13, 2019

    Just so I’m clear, you don’t like Shtisel because its fictional portrayal of a Haredi family in Jerusalem is not identical to your experience as a Modern Orthodox woman in New York? How silly. Sounds like you are splitting wig hairs to me.

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on June 13, 2019

      Thanks for your comment, Carrie. As I said, I enjoy the show as a good piece of entertainment. Then there’s a second part of me that laments the fact that this show’s popularity furthers the misconception that insular charedi Judaism represents all Orthodox Jews. I completely get that the producers have no interest in my priorities. But it doesn’t mean that my priorities don’t exist. I think damage is being done with this show even if we enjoy watching it.

      Reply
      • Carrie Bradshaw says on June 13, 2019

        I think there should be creative license in any non fiction. Have you watched Shrugim? I would love to hear your take on that.

        Reply
        • M says on November 15, 2020

          With the coming of season 3 I figured let me as my 2 cents to these comments: What’s funny about this article and unintentionally hypocritical, is that the author herself paints all charaidim with the same brush as her secular friend had painted all orthodox. Surely unintentional but never the less written. Among charaidim there is a wide spectrum as well. The characters in shtisel most probably are not even chasidim but Yerushalmi charaidim which can be originally from Lithuania (non chasidic) but over the two hundred years of living in Jerusalem had taken on similar dress to chasidim. In the last episode of the second season Kivi rightfully corrects the host of the talk show hes on that hes from Geula not Meah Shearim. In the Meah Shearim neighborhoods there are Chasidic sects that originate in Hungary. These are the most extreme type of Charaidi and most rabid anti Zionists and to them, Kivi and his family are considered modern charaidm and in their view Modern Orthodoxy is basically not religious. The Shtisel family type would never consider Modern Orthodox not religious but would call them Mizrachi or Tziyonim referring to Dati Leumi (modern orthodox). Even in Meah Shearim the neighborhoods on the right side are Yerushalmi Charaidim and to the left Hungarian Chasidim very different views. So here is the short version of Charaidim; the Yeshiva Torah World “Litvish” or “Lithuanian stream of Charaidim which runs the gamut from whats considered modern yeshivish to whats considered True Litvish Yeshivish, to Brisker/BMG Yeshivish the later being the Chasidic version of the Lithuanian camp. With Chasidim it runs the gamut from similar to the True Litvish Chasidim with Chasidish customs to Hungarian originating sects that not only hate Zionism but loaths the outside world. Articles could be written about the various subcultures within the Orthodox community, this writer just hopes one day soon we can all come together.

          Reply
          • Allison Josephs says on November 16, 2020

            Thanks for your comment. Please note that I wrote “So how are we and *many Jews to the right of me* (I consider myself right-wing modern Orthodox) different than the Haredim of Geulah (literally one of the most insular and right-wing Haredi communities in the world)?

            I understand that the charedi community is diverse. We try to showcase that diversity regularly on this site. Shtisel still depicts one of the most right wing of charedi communities in the world.

      • Dainy Bernstein says on June 13, 2019

        Anyone who thinks it represents all of Judaism is just as likely to watch a show in Arabic and think it’s representative of all segments of all Arabic-speaking countries. That’s not a fault with a single show but with the way some people view “others.” The same problem lies with a show about Jew in the City, ie you… It represents one segment of a multi-faceted society. The solution is not to have a you-focused show INSTEAD, it’s to have more shows in addition. But how self-centered do you have to be, to see a show, any show or movie, about a slightly different segment of Jewish society and leave with “ugh now I have to tell my friends that’s not me?” Like, seriously, that’s your takeaway? “Representation is good, but only if it represents me?”

        Also, the actors didn’t become Hasidic for much the same reason Chris Hemsworth doesn’t go around in real life swinging a giant hammer after playing Thor – they’re actors playing a role. Your writing is active proselytizing. The scripts they read and interpret are not.

        Reply
        • Allison Josephs says on June 14, 2019

          Thanks for your comment, Dainy. My friend is not trying to paint with a broad brush and I was not either in my pre-observant days and yet we could not see the nuances from the outside, though they certainly exist.

          To clarify, since you don’t know me – I’m not actually looking for a Netflix show. It was a joke to say that I wish moderate observance could become a known thing. Not because I have a need to proselytize, because I really don’t. I truly believe every adult gets to decide their life. I do however believe that with knowledge comes power and there is a lot of misinformation about Orthodox Jews and Judaism as abuse and dysfunction which have been practiced by and then covered up by groups of Orthodox Jews have become known as the people and practice itself, when hurting another human being is the exact opposite of what a Jew is supposed to do.

          I understand the show has no responsibility to be anything be entertaining and authentic – which it is. And I don’t find explaining my life to a friend to be the biggest bother.

          It is the larger damage being done that concerns me. That insular charedi Judaism is the only flavor that people know about and for someone like me, who struggled to find meaning in life to the point that I was having panic attacks and insomnia, discovering a moderate and meaningful observance improved my life greatly.

          So that is all I want – for this information to be known and accessible to any Jew, and they can do with it what they want.

          Reply
        • M says on November 15, 2020

          One more very important comment; the Shtisel family depicted on the show is by far a dysfunctional family and represents only that. For someone like myself who grew up modern orthodox and am part of the charaidi world can attest that while dysfunction exists in every community and society, to what I’ve witnessed, the Charaidi seems to be by and large happier, healthier and less dysfunctional that other communities. Its also important to note that many of the things the Shtisels do on the show would never happen. There are so many things that would just never happen or they would be carried out in a different fashion. Although the writers have the personalities, language, and nuances spot on they seem to be lacking in their understanding that even for the dysfunctional Shtsels some of their actions in real life would never happen…food for thought.

          Reply
  • David says on June 13, 2019

    I was at the Shtissel event in the city. They unabashedly describe using “guerilla filmmaking”. What that means is they set upon the community of Meah Seharim and film that community with hidden cameras. This is a community that has signs begging to keep modesty, outside influences (western culture), internet, and the such, out of their small enclave. I saw them tell to a room packed with over 2,000 people. Not 1 person batted and eye, and in fact there was a collective comedic sigh that swept the room. After that, I finally saw what this show was about. It’s a brilliant couvert exploitation. The shows actors are fantastic, and the writing matches it. Personally I only saw a few episodes, so all my friends argue with my take. They say I need to see all 2 seasons, then come back to discuss. I say, they are at a bigger disadvantage than me, because they have already lost themselves in the characters (which are quite lovable). Flip the script for a second. Can you imagine Ultra Orthodox filmmakers sneaking cameras into some ancient Tibetan monastery, where there were signs begging for privacy? Then admitting that to a room full of people? The next day the event would be protested and scathing articles would be written on the disrespect and manipulation shown to these G-d fearing people. However, what I witnessed was a false pretense of art. The room had not 1 Hasidic Jew in it. This show was made for secular Jews and now the the Netflix nation. It is strictly entertainment. So let’s leave it at that. When I heard the main actor go on about this being some sort of bridge builder between the Ultra Orthodox and secular, I then finally saw the danger of this “movement”. This isn’t a bridge builder that breaks down barriers. This is a way to make a distant people more relatable, somewhat comical, and now easier to dismiss. The notion that “these people” also have problems, is what I keep hearing as being such a beautiful thing. The fact that all humans have issues, isn’t really groundbreaking. Has 1 person decided to change their lifestyle and become Charedi because of this show? I would bet no. The brilliance, and danger of this show is the carefulness used in not being disrespectful to the naked eye. It takes a person who intimately knows the neighborhood, to see the subtlety and nuances, that make this show and the storylines of this show outrageous. Personally, I wouldn’t be writing this, had the shows actors and producers, taken the “this is just entertainment” path. Once they start up with this show being altruistic and barrier busting, I say it’s time for a reality check and a pushback.

    On the strictly “artsy” side of this show, I further find it humurous that Netflix nation really has no idea what they are watching. Any person purchasing (non-jew and perhaps unaffiliated Jew alike) think they are watching a series about real authentic Hasidic actors who are playing fictional characters. The wider audience thinks they are actually seeing the real thing. The show is in Hebrew and the actors look and talk authentic. They have no idea that the actors themselves are not Hasidic. So for all the art they preach, the wider audience isn’t even understanding the basic premise and roots of this show. It’s secular actors…portraying Hasidic people…who are acting in a fictional story..about Hasidic ultra Orthodox Jews. The masses are deprived of this information, which actually makes this series into somewhat of a comedy.

    Reply
    • Marlene says on June 15, 2019

      This is a very intereting insight that you have provided, David. I wonder what those above who chided Allison for writing this article would respond to what you just wrote. Will we hear anything else from them? I doubt it. Some people just love to sound off and make the next person sound wrong, stupid, petty, BIG EGO, etc.

      I’m curious, Allison. That person who wrote under the name “Carrie Bradshaw”…she isn’t the REAL Carrie Bradshaw…is she?

      Reply
    • H says on April 27, 2020

      I thought it was very obvious the actors are secular? I’ve never heard of Orthodox actors–from any religion.

      Still, I thought it was a beautiful show and artistic. Maybe I give people too much credit, but I feel the majority of viewers understand this is not a documentary but a drama loosely based on a bit of reality.

      Reply
  • Angela O'Donovan says on June 13, 2019

    Well… I’m a non practising Catholic and so have an outside view which us probably less hung up on details and differences.
    I loved Shtisel. And Fauda. And Prisoners of War. They have a Jewish / Israrli setting but are all about human nature too. So much depth in these series that is lacking in ‘fast drama’ so many live nice, ie Homeland (enjoyed for a couple of series).

    Reply
  • Catholic Mom says on June 13, 2019

    A minor correction but the characters do not live in Mea Shearim, they live in Geula. I lived in Israel for a year and even I know the difference. They make a point of it in the show to explain the greater openness to the secular world demonstrated by the characters in the show.

    I actually loved the show just for its entertainment value. I watch (and read) pretty much zero modern non-fiction because 99% of it garbage, but this was wonderful. I binge watched the whole thing in 10 days!

    My only criticism was that the show didn’t make any effort to comment on what was clearly a massive dysfunctional aspect of the characters lives — namely that they had enormous families with very little income and with many of the men not working at all. For example, the 15 year old girl Ruchami, falls in love with a 16 year old yeshiva boy. He is passionate about studying Torah and it is clear that he will never hold a secular job and if he has any job at all it will eventually be teaching Torah to others. They get married and the big issue is whether or not her family will accept him (spoiler: eventually they do) and that’s clearly intended as the “happy ending.” But the real ending is that she has three kids while still a teenager and they have no money and nowhere to live. And then they end up living on welfare which is why there is so much animosity towards the haredi on the part of secular Israelis.

    Reply
    • Catholic Mom says on June 13, 2019

      Meant to say “pretty much zero FICTION.” 🙂 Non-fiction is pretty much all that I read or watch shows about now. It’s not that I don’t love fiction — I do and have read most of the classics of English, German, and Russian literature. But classic fiction is to modern fiction as Maria Callas is to Miley Cyrus. And made-for-TV is usually worse than that. That’s why Shtisel was such a pleasure. (BTW, note that Ruchami was reading “Anna Karenina” (disguised as “Hannah Karenina”) to her siblings as a bedtime story!)

      Reply
    • herb says on August 12, 2019

      @catholic mom. I really wish you had had the courtesy to put ‘spoiler alert’ at the top of your post…

      Reply
  • Shay Miller says on June 13, 2019

    A couple of facts that are important to note: 1)There truly are observant Jews in the world who behave simlarly to the characters portrayed in Shtisel 2) Those people are generally content with their lifestyle 3)People are allowed to be exposed to the existence of such people.

    There is no one way to ‘accurately’ represent the observant Jewish community; it is diverse. The fact that you would like everyone to think of observant Jews in your specific way doesn’t mean that people cannot act differently from you and that people who act differently from you cannot be seen by the world. I respect your views on what you consider to be an ideal for observant Jews. Honestly, up until now I really appreciated the postive message you give about Judaism. This exclusivity, however, is a bit disconcerting.

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on June 14, 2019

      Thanks for your comment, Shay. Let me clarify two important points – I am well aware that happy insular Haredim exist and I don’t ONLY need people to know about Jews like me. It’s why we profile a range of Orthodox Jews on this site. The point I’m trying to make is that when the insular flavor gets much more attention – and it does – all the time – many people have no idea that other possibilities exist. And I care that people know because for anyone considering increasing their observance, it is much easier to make a move to a more moderate type of observance than to live in Meah Shearim.

      Reply
      • Catholic Mom says on June 14, 2019

        You know that in all religions, anybody to the right of you is an extremist nut and anybody to the left is a heretic. 🙂

        The truth is that making a show about Modern Orthodox Jews is probably just not that exciting a prospect for a writer/producer because the community is too much like the world that viewers are already familiar with. Are you going to make the movie “Witness” about a Mennonite family that lives in a suburban house and drives a car to work, even though their beliefs and many of their practices are very close to the Amish, or are you going to go for the full horse-and-buggy no-electricity plowing-the-fields-with-horses look?

        Reply
        • Allison Josephs says on June 14, 2019

          I hear that but as a religious Jew, I get offended when Christians are portrayed in TV and movies and whackadoo judgmental people. I know it’s possible to be a normal, healthy person and have faith as a way to make life more meaningful. So if there were a show where there were several types of Orthodox families featured, I think that would be fascinating to see how they cope with different life challenges and where their boundaries are.

          Reply
          • Catholic Mom says on June 14, 2019

            Things you mentioned not currently popular in modern entertainment: Normal, healthy, faith, meaning, boundaries 🙂 Compared to most of what is served up these days, I’d give Shtisel a solid A-.

      • S H says on June 14, 2019

        Allison, your mission in life is to defy incorrect stereotypes. From that perspective, the popularity of Shtisel in the US may not be helpful. It represents just one segment of Jews and is full of possible but unlikely plot twists.

        There is, however, a (perhaps) equal value of helping us see the humanity in every person. So many people who never saw beyond the black hat and long coat are forced to acknowledge that these are people with challenges and feelings and emotions. All of us suffer from others not seeing us as people. I think the writers combated that very cleverly. Rather than focusing on the dating system or the husband’s role in delivery, the viewer is forced to see that the human aspect exists in a way that may surpass the romance and love that many of the viewers experience in their own lives.

        I write from the perspective of someone who didn’t need the subtitles. I lived among and identify to some degree with the community portrayed. It’s a caricature but it captures a lot of true feelings.

        (And it is mostly set in Geulah – not Meah Shearim – so only the second or third most insular community).

        Reply
        • Allison Josephs says on June 14, 2019

          I truly appreciate the humanity that is created and I think for your average secular Jew/non-Jew, it’s an awesome way to build a bridge and even see admirable aspects to a life so very foreign to them. But for the Jew considering exploring observance or a possible candidate for it, the vast differences I think may it so unimaginable. As it is, switching to kosher, keeping shabbos, being modest are major life changes. So I think it’s ok to say the show has caused some positive results and some less positive ones.

          Reply
      • noam says on March 11, 2020

        If the people you are trying to reach are getting their information from TV shows on Netflix, then you are in big trouble. Shtisel is simply entertainment, insert any dysfunctional family here and it will work the same. Enjoy it or not. Look for meaning where it exists, not on Netflix or Sitcom TV. Two shekels worth.

        Reply
        • Allison Josephs says on March 11, 2020

          Thanks for your comment, Noam. So I would say that most of the world who knows anything about Orthodox Jews gets their knowledge from TV shows, movies and newspaper headlines. This is the exact reason I founded our organization.

          Reply
  • Jennifer Meltzer says on June 14, 2019

    This is what I posted when I read this article on Facebook earlier this week:
    Generally, I’m a big fan of Allison Josephs and what she’s accomplished via JewintheCity.com and highly recommend that website. However, when it comes to groups who are more to the right then she has chosen to live, she often seems to have issues. I’d also call myself right wing MO, but having sons in Beis Medrash and a son-in-law who’s a fulltime Kollel guy in Israel leaning Chareidi, I guess I have a somewhat different perspective. Aside from her most obvious blunder, that Shtisel are not Chassidic despite the peyos, she fails to realize that this is a drama, not a kiruv film. If everything was always going great in the Shtisel family, it wouldn’t be a compelling TV show at all. Unfortunately, in the first two seasons they’ve neglected to have a scene taking place around a Shabbos table. But again, that’s not the purpose of this show, and if there were Shabbos segment I have a feeling that an argument would break out. It’s a TV show, let’s keep it in perspective.

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on June 14, 2019

      Thanks for your comment. My husband learned in kollel in Israel for two years after we were first married. You have, unfortunately misunderstood what I’m trying to express. While my community is right for me, I respect and celebrate the range of communities. It’s why we regularly feature positive stories about charedim. Secondly, I know Shtisel has no kiruv goal. I wouldn’t expect them to. They wanted to make great tv and they succeeded. All of those things can be true while this next part is true:
      Having such strict and insular orthodoxy popularized will likely dissuade a number of Jews from exploring observance since they will paint with a broad brush and orthodoxy will remain beyond where they could see themselves.

      Reply
      • Jennifer says on June 19, 2019

        While it’s true that it’s an insular community, something I personally could never live in, for the most part the right wing has been successful in kiruv then the MO sector, with NCSY being the shining exception. Some of my own problems with my previous MO community was that the tam was missing. Shabbos was great but that was it. I wanted/needed to be in a place where Yiddishkeit was the primary focus (yes, some of this appeared in my comment about communities). But where I could still be me, someone who has never fit into a round peg in her life.

        Reply
        • Allison Josephs says on June 19, 2019

          Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. First off, NCSY is part of the OU, the leading Modern Orthodox umbrella organization of the US. When I say “modern” here, I am referring to halachic modern orthodox. Also, I am not claiming it is a perfect community. Every community has shortcomings. I’m just saying that Shtisel, while a wonderful piece of art and a great way to humanize charedim, unfortunately publicizes very strict practices which many people will conflate with Halacha. My friend, who I wrote about, just asked me how getting married at 16 works because she believes this is actually taking place. We really do try to show a spectrum of orthodoxy at jitc and our mission statement makes no mention of modern orthodox ideals but rather speaks of mentchlichkeit, erhlichkeit and seichel as the foundational values for making Yiddishkeit positive. When it comes to watching a frum life being lived in a show though, strict practices could feel unrealistic to a non-observant fan.

          The fact that you wrote a public comment that I seem to be uncomfortable with more right wing people is extremely hurtful and reputationally damaging. I have a problem with abusive behavior, which has come to my attention through Project Makom and from an outreach perspective, showing non-frum people the most stringent practices could dissuade them from considering exploring an observant life. But for a healthy charedi person to live his life is a beautiful thing and we try to highlight people like this regularly.

          Reply
  • Marlene says on June 15, 2019

    I’d really LOVE for jewinthecity to write about the Marvelous Mrs. Meisel! This show is totally over-the-top and offends me as a Torah obsevant Jew who is a ba’ales t’shuva. I’ve been on both sides of this great divide and the stereotypes in this show are awful. I know many Jews who love this show…NOT ME!

    Reply
  • Baila says on June 16, 2019

    The problem that I have with this film is that it gives the impression that orthodoxy = dysfunction; displaying such dysfunction in a culture that is otherwise not known to the secular world is misguided.

    Reply
    • H says on April 27, 2020

      Really? I feel they showed normal problems that can happen in any society (though people often hide them to keep up appearances)
      Yet they eventually worked out all their problems in a beautiful way.
      Every human being on earth is a bit “disfunctional”. But in Stisel, they depend so much on their families and faith to work out their problems.That’s nothing to be ashamed of?
      I would be more afraid to be a part of a community that pretended to never have problems.

      Reply
  • Lew Dennen says on June 29, 2019

    So I’m a little late to the conversation, but as a Reform Jew who’s been married to a Modern Orthodox woman for 17 years, I wanted to share my opinion on the show. We loved it! We can’t wait for the new stuff to start. However, before I married my wife, I had a very narrow view of anyone to the right of me, read that even Conservative. All you observant folks were just plain nuts. My Mom thinks my wife is nuts and probably me for marrying her. 3 granddaughters later, she’s made peace with it. But because of the exposure I’ve had, watching the show was not only easy, but I ‘got’ pretty much everything that was going on. I recognized characters and situations from things we’ve dealt with in our lives and travels. It’s pretty accurate as far as I’m concerned. Some of the rules I think are insane, but my wife follows them and we are raising our kids to be observant, so I’ve made peace with the insanity of some of it. I honestly think it does a great job of showing a segment of Judaism and humanizing it in terms of ‘here’s religious people dealing with the stuff everyone else is”. Which is why I thought it sort of took the cover off of Orthodox Judaism and said ‘they’re human too’. But, it also showed some of the divisions within Jewish society, for example the Gallery owner…and when he won the award…know how many times I’ve seen what his father did? Ask for money? Good grief, I’ve come to expect it. Anyway, I loved it and hope it continues…

    Reply
  • Shirley Feldman says on February 8, 2020

    I grew up in Montreal in a very Jewish neighborhood. I love the show because I can hear some of them speak Yiddish and I love the language so but I’m puzzled about something and I hope someone can answer my question. Why do some of the women wear a “shaitel” (I don’t know how to spell it in English but I mean wig that married women wear)in the house, even to bed and then when they go out they do not wear one. That is the exact opposite of what I’ve know all my life. I really find that confusing. Thanks to anyone who will take the time to reply.

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on February 9, 2020

      Thanks for your questions, Shirley. I don’t know if we can take this show as the most accurate depiction of this community but I have heard of a concept before that the scarf or turban is the look for the street – not to be too attractive to other men – and then the wig (because the head is shaved) is a way to look beautiful for your husband. BUT – I don’t think Yerushalmim even shave their heads (these are not hasidim, but rather charedim) so honestly, I have no idea!

      Reply
  • sucobali says on April 3, 2020

    hello, i´m from germany and i´ve just started watching “shtisel” because of actress shira haas (rachima in “shtisel”), whose outstanding acting impressed me in “unorthodox”. though not knowing too much about jewish orthodox communities, it took me only 10 minutes of research to learn about some basic differences between orthodox and ultra-orthodox beliefs and manners. so when i saw the headline of this article, i thought it would refer to a completely different point which – though basically realy enjoing the show – makes me a bit uncomfortable. there are certain characters that correspond almost 100% to the cliche of the “dishonest, backtracked and greedy jew” the nazis used to spread in their propaganda. to name them, it´s the old lady doing money-changing buisness ( i beliebve she´s called erblich) and the “artist” who makes akiva paint for him (i forgot his name). haven´t finished season 1 yet and REALY hope for them to break those characters at some point and give them more and other dimensions. i hardly couldn´t stand seeing the “self-portrait” akiva made of the “artist” before adding the red nose – could have been taken from a nazi propaganda poster of the 1930ies/40ies. i asked myself, if the show had been made and originaly released in germany, if it would´nt have provoced a shitstorm and accusation of anti-semitism, at least here in germany. (though i have to admit that we have a shameful rise of anti-semitism, very rightwing and neonazi beliefs in our societey, there are at the same time more and more people aware and very sensitive towards anti-semitism). did anyone else have similar feelings while watching the show, or was it just me because of the awful history of the country i live in?

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on April 3, 2020

      Thanks for your comment. That is impressive that you took the time to learn about the different groups. I don’t think most people do. Also, because this is television, maybe there’d be one or two issues in a family. But for good drama they give these characters like 10 big problems at once.

      I could see a woman without a husband being a money-changer. And the self-portrait didn’t bother me. My main issues were hoping most viewers understand there is much more drama than any real life situation and that this is literally one of the most insular, extreme sects in the world and many of us who are deeply religious Jews find these practices and attitudes something we strongly disagree with.

      Reply
  • H says on April 27, 2020

    I loved the show, but the thing that bothered me the most was that they seemed to lie so so much.
    Can anyone address that for me? I always thought “you shall not lie” was a big commandment? Is there a different interpretation of lying in certain groups of Judaism or was it just for this drama they did this?
    I guess I just don’t understand the point of keeping smaller commands but breaking bigger ones? Obviously I’m not judging them because they are fictional characters, but I’m just curious if anyone else was bothered by this?

    Reply
    • Shecando says on May 5, 2020

      H, the lying is gaslighting which is common in all families. It’s to maintain control. I hated Shulum for his lack of empathy, selfishness and lying. He was/is a user and wants it to be his way all the time. That however could be anyone (any religion) and happens at every level, familial, career, and politics…this is a soap opera…nothing else. Being pious and God have nothing to do with it. IMHO.

      Reply
  • iules says on May 14, 2020

    Tell me about it… I am italian and since the godfather i have to explain everyone that i am not a mafioso and i do not call my friends ‘paisan’.

    Reply
  • Rafael says on August 15, 2020

    “While there is extreme poverty in the world of Shtisel, according to the Pew Study, the modern Orthodox community is the most affluent of all the Jewish communities.”

    You must be talking about American Jews. The show is in Israel, where haredim are in fact substantially poorer than average.

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on August 15, 2020

      Thanks for your comment. You are confirming my point. My non-orthodox friend thought that my life is Shtisel. I was explaining all the ways it’s not. Income disparity is one way that Shtisel doesn’t represent other orthodox groups.

      Reply
  • Ari Dale says on December 19, 2020

    I don’t understand your concern about any confusion between Geula Orthodoxy and that of self-styled “Modern Orthodox”, such as yourself Ms Josephs. The story isn’t about your group and no one, except you yourselves, is interested in any identity confusion. Why would we care who you are- we know who we are.?

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on December 21, 2020

      Thanks for your comment, Ari. I don’t understand what “self-styled “modern orthodox” means. There are many communities that live like how I described. I brought this slice of orthodoxy up because my non-Orthodox friend thought that my life was pretty much the same as a Geulah orthodox life. Now let me make something clear – for anyone living a happy, healthy life in Geulah, they have all my respect. I believe that there are numerous valid paths to Torah. But for purposes of Jewish outreach, the Geulah life is deeply foreign to a less observant Jew and seems as attainable as getting to Mars. The Orthodoxy that we describe at Jew in the City is meant to show less knowledgable and observant Jews that a life of Torah and mitzvos “lo b’shamayim hi.” A show like Shtisel only furthers the confusion that this slice of Orthodoxy IS Orthodoxy, when it is merely representative of a particular group.

      Reply
  • Jason says on January 14, 2021

    Why I’m Not The Biggest Fan Of JITC
    Just feel like I have to express my disappointment with this ‘organization’. I was just watching another episode of ‘Shtisel’ and was looking around on the web for the ultra-orthodox’s response to these films, and I came across your website. I was sure I was going to find some perspective, some explanation for some of their customs, perhaps some idea on where their insecurities might be coming from, etc. But as I started reading your post about this, I realized that you too are merely trying to ‘disown’ your ult-orth coreligionists and make clear ‘not all Jews are as terrible as that’. Your response to all the fanaticism and apparent abuse is: “We do believe that Torah and science can work together,” or, “Our husbands don’t leave the delivery room,” etc. Without mentioning a word to suggest that perhaps the Hasidics too are misrepresented — as they themselves claim. Is that all you’ve got to say about them? Do you not realize that you are falling into the same trap of ignorance and bigotry than the people outside the Jewish community?
    I don’t think it’s a good idea for you guys to ‘kosher’ your way of life by means of separating yourself from other religious groups. Instead, perhaps be an example of respect for people who may be more conservative than you are.

    Reply
    • Allison Josephs says on January 17, 2021

      Thanks for your comment, Jason. The purpose wasn’t too put charedim down (Shtisel is not about Hasidim, btw). It’s to show that the stringent approaches shown in popular media is not what is required by Jewish law. Why is it important to make this distinction? As I mentioned in the article, for a secular Jew who is interested in exploring more observance, Halacha alone is a HUGE change.

      Clarifying what is the basic Halacha vs. what is community norms or stringencies of more right wing communities could mean the difference between a person venturing down the road of growing in observance vs. feeling like this is more than they can handle. That is completely the motivation of why I wrote this and none of the motivation was to put down other groups or claim superiority. If this way of life is working for the people in these communities – and it is for many – more power to them. I have written before about the beauty I see in the diversity of Orthodox communities https://jewinthecity.com/2017/07/what-i-love-most-about-my-fellow-jews/ and I wrote about the value of not dressing stylishly (even though that is not my personal way of dressing) https://jewinthecity.com/2015/02/why-some-orthodox-jews-dress-un-stylishly/ and we have an entire section of the website profiling Hasidim to humanize the community and show the wonderful acts of kindness so many do as well as how the box is bigger than many of us imagine.

      Reply

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