Un­likely killer stalks Cha­sidim

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

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

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