The Jewish Chronicle
SHTISEL IS BACK
BETTER THAN EVER
AMONG. THE sadistic drug lords and lycra-clad, body-ripped narcissists that characterises most of Netflix’s villains and heroes, Rabbi Shulem Shtisel is a walking oasis of modesty. Perhaps he and his show is even unique. When in the opening episode of this keenly-anticipated — to the point of salivating — third season of the Israeli hit, the rabbi whacks one of his Charedi students around the chops for subordination, the moment has the force of a Jason Bourne drop kick.
To fans of action blockbusters (of which I count myself as one), in which violence is both spectacular and casual, the rabbi’s explosion of temper is meat and drink.
What may shock newcomers to Shtisel however is that their attention is gripped by nothing more spectacular than the sedate pace and simple story-telling of Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indusrky’s scripts. Or that and the show’s emotional heft which is achieved though understatement rather than the overblown emoting of people declaring Oprah-style ‘personal truths’. What stands out in Shtisel is humility.
Set four years after series two ended, series three is still set in Geula, Jerusalem and anchored by the relationship between Shulem (Doval’e Glickman) and his artist son Akiva (Michael Aloni).
And when Akiva visits his father they still sit at opposite ends of that little kitchen table. Drama is generated not at full volume as is the case in almost every other show that focuses on father and son, but in near silence, with each man having experienced loss in their own way, and occasionally movingly united by their own version of solitude. Only the English express so much by saying so little.
Elsewhere scandal brews in the form of forbidden love between Giti’s son Yosa’le and the girl to whom the matchmaker accidentally introduces him.
Another plotline sees Ruchami (the always excellent Shira Haas) discovering that after five years of marriage her health may not be a barrier to having children after all.
Meanwhile Shulem is forced fight for his job as charedi headmaster after his violent outburst. Yet through all this warmth and wisdom – yes, even Talmudic wisdom – is as present as ever, as is the humour which could have been wrought by Sholem Aleichem himself.
Most shows focusing on Jewish life tend to argue that existence is diminished by the rules of strictly Orthodox observance. For instance Unorthodox — the show Hass starred in between making series two and three of Shtisel — followed the fate of a woman whose can only be fulfilled by escaping her community. From the progressive or secular perspective this remains a convincing take.
Yet Shtisel is philosophically different. Whether by design or accident it holds that life can be enriched, deepened even, by the strictures of Charedi tradition — if it goes hand-in-hand with humanity, that is — something that Shtisel is full of.
It is also written with great skill. When the reason why Akiva cannot bear to sell his paintings of his wife fully emerges, the reveal has more impact than a hundred action-hero drop kicks.