Binge Watch Israel: Religious Diversity


“The Israeli Jew practices Judaism like no Jew before. Israeli Judaism is unique to a place and to a time. An amalgamation of tradition and nationality. In many cases it is very hard—maybe impossible—to determine where the Jew ends and the Israeli begins, or where the Israeli ends and the Jew begins.” (Source: The Jewish People Policy Institute) In addition, according to Shmuel Rosner and Camil Fuchs, authors of #IsraeliJudaism – A Portrait of a Cultural Revolution, Israeli Jews mix tradition and national identity to create unique variations on Orthodox Judaism.

While the shows highlighted here deal with the challenges of faith and living in a community with strict rules, few of them deal with the real-life rift in Israeli society between religious and secular Jews. Many Israelis see this schism as more damaging to the future of Israel than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Disagreements include whether or not to ban public transportation and other activities on Shabbat, control by the Chief Rabbinate on issues of marriage and divorce, not allowing sales of non-kosher foods in supermarkets, and other laws that restrict life for secular Israelis. In addition, there’s a deep resentment from secular Jews over the government stipends that are given to Haredi Jews, especially since most of the men in that community are considered exempt from serving in the army, and since they choose to study in a yeshiva all day instead of working. 

A relatively new word hadata (religionization) has become commonplace and demonstrates an escalation in this conflict. Issues of exclusion of women from the public sphere and religious content in public school books are but a few examples.

Nearly all Israeli Jews identify with one of four categories: Haredi (commonly translated as “ultra-Orthodox”), Dati (“religious”), Masorti (“traditional”) or Hiloni (“secular”). The categories are based on levels of Jewish observance and belief, among other factors, and each one contains several sub categories. The series in this pod give a glimpse into different groups of religious Israeli Jews:

Both Shtisel and A Touch Away explore the Ultra Orthodox, or Haredi, community; Srugim takes place in the Religious Zionist (Dati Leumi) community; and Mekimi shares the perspective of the newly Orthodox, or Chozer B’Teshuva, among the Breslover Hassid.

Shtisel takes place in Jerusalem’s religious Geula neighborhood and centers on the Shtisel family, led by Rabbi Shulem Shtisel (the family patriarch and a rabbi at the local Talmud Torah school). The main plot focuses on the relationship between recently widowed Shulem and his youngest son Akiva (Kiveh), a bachelor who still lives at home.

The Srugim storyline follows a group of 30-something modern religious singles in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem as they attempt to navigate the frequently contradictory worlds of contemporary Israel and traditional observance.

A hopeless Romeo and Juliet love story, focusing on the relationship between a young secular Jewish immigrant from Russia (Zorik) and a 17-year-old Ultra Orthodox girl (Roha’le). The evolving relationship serves as a backdrop to explore the lives and meeting grounds of secular, religious and new immigrants in Israel.

The series follows a young secular Israel woman on her journey from leading a fast-paced life as a TV show host to becoming a newly Ultra Orthodox bride-to-be.

This globally-relevant tale centers on the burning issues of identity, religion, politics and personal freedom.

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