As I noted in my first review of Season 3, Episode 1, what I love about this season of Shtisel is that we get to see examples of better practices in the Haredi world pushing back against worse practices as well as examples of healthier Haredi Jews than we’ve seen in other seasons. In this season, there is a push towards increased safety, a push against racism, and people acting with agency. In Episode 4 (and we’ll see more examples of this later on), we see women in particular having their own voices and using their agency.
We rarely see ultra-orthodox women in media (outside of “Ushpizin” and “Fill the Void”) having opinions which they express and the ability to advocate for themselves. In truth, many haredi women have this and do this. Of course, there are some who feel voiceless and powerless. Such a phenomenon exists everywhere, but it’s almost the only thing we see in media concerning Hasidic and Haredi women.
Not only do women advocate for themselves in this episode, they advocate for the men in their lives as well. We see two examples of the latter – Giti, helping out Akiva, interfacing with the social workers after Devora’le is taken away. Then Racheli takes on a similar role later on in the episode, speaking more effectively than Akiva can for his own daughter. We see she not only has a voice but is a woman with an education and means. Sometimes Giti’s strong advocacy goes too far and turns into judgment and control and we’re happy to see pushback. But for now, in this episode, her voice is clear and helpful.
Ruchami uses her voice in this episode to tell Chananya that she doesn’t feel as if he sees her. This is a very current way of speaking. Part of me likes seeing the actress who played Esty in Unorthodox have a chance to have a voice, use her voices, and say “this isn’t working” and ultimately be able to reconcile with her husband instead of leaving.
Yes, Chananya uses his voice and has misplaced “holiness” guilting Ruchami into feeling badly about the surrogacy, after their rabbi told him it was OK. But while Chananya has the last word in the disagreement, Ruchami has the last word in her actions, when she gets her IUD removed. Both Chananya and Ruchami act foolishly in this episode – both going against Jewish law, and then leading to a dangerous situation. But we see Ruchami is no pushover.
Another woman in this episode who acts with agency is Rebbetzin Yoktan. She’s supposed to have a date with Shulem, but he oversleeps and stands her up in his own apartment. Clearly annoyed at how she’s been treated, Rebbetzin Yoktan takes a liking to Shulem’s brother Nuchem, and basically leaves her date with another man. I don’t know if all the secular women I know would have the guts to do this, but it was pretty cool to see a Haredi woman do this. It is woman who believe they are worth something that have the guts to stand up for themselves. And it was very refreshing to see a few examples of strong women in this episode.