Unlikely killer stalks Chasidim
BBC1, Wednesday, October 22, Thursday October 23
tHiS WARning may be a little late seeing as Silent Witness has been running since 1996 and is now in its 12th series but, if you haven’t watched before, do not plan your tV dinner around this programme.
i made the mistake of reaching for a dry-roasted peanut as the opening credits rolled only to be confronted soon after by the dead, decomposing, maggot-ridden body of a Chasidic man called Yitzchok whose body was discovered on waste ground. i have not watched a tV pathology series since Quincy and clearly the genre has moved on since the ’70s.
the suspected murder of yeshivah student Yitzchok was one of two strands in part one of Judgement. the other was the sudden, suspicious death at a party of an Aussie backpacker.
the show bravely entered Chasidic territory and, one has to say, had a pretty good stab (if you’ll excuse the expression) at getting it right.
one can see why this community might be a tempting place to set this kind of thriller. it is a closed, secretive and exotic sect with (to the outside world) peculiar rites and rituals. one of the traditions of orthodox Jewry was at the heart of this episode. Rabbi noach Warowski (Ron Cook) implored pathologist Dr Harry Cunningham (tom Ward) not to perform a postmortem on the body as this would be in contravention of Jewish law.
Harry agreed to perform a non-invasive procedure using a Ct scan. We discovered that Yitzchok had been savagely kicked to death. All clues led to a far-right-inspired beating by a polish neo-nazi and his mates who were working on a nearby building site.
But to ascertain the crucial time of death the body needed to be cut open, despite the despairing pleas of Yitzchok’s widow, esther (Laura pyper). this led to almost certainly the first and, i hope, last scene in which a tV pathologist pulls a half-digested kneidl from a dead man’s kishkes.
the strictly orthodox community has been a graveyard of tV drama in the past because of inadequate research and unconvincing portrayals. Here, the actors never quite knew where to pitch the accent along a spectrum from cockney to mittel europe (although the Chasidic Yiddish-inflected version of the north London accent can be a tricky one to pull off). the pronunciation of Yitchok was notably ropey — but then the Aussie accents were hardly fair dinkum either.
on the plus side, the show did give an insight into the sensitivities of the community, and how policing (in fictional dramas at any rate) has become organised in a way much more sensitive to its proclivities.
towards the end of the first part of Judgement, Dr nikki Alexander (emilia fox) was able to confirm from DnA evidence that the unknown person who held Yitzchok’s hand at the moment of his death was a carrier of gaucher’s Disease — an affliction which overwhelmingly affects Ashkenazi Jews.
Could this mean that the murderer was not a polish antisemite but a fellow Jew? And could the murder have related to the fact revealed late in the episode that Yitzchok was gay?
Actually, the motive was antisemitic but the murderer was Jewish. implausibly, Rabbi Warowski’s estranged and mentally ill son had joined the poles and applied the fatal kick.
Until this point, the story-line was suitably tantalising but the acting was persuasive, the script cleverly sardonic and it was all beautifully shot (even if not all the shots were beautiful).
i shall be tuning in for next week’s epsiode but the nuts will remain safely in the cupboard.
Poles apart: Ron Cook as the rabbinical father of a would-be Polish Nazi