The New Religious Wave in Israeli Documentary Cinema: Negotiating Jewish Fundamentalism during the Second Intifada


Morag, Raya. 2015. “The New Religious Wave in Israeli Documentary Cinema: Negotiating Jewish Fundamentalism during the Second Intifada”. In A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film, ed. Alexandra Juhasz and Alisa Lebow. New York: Wiley Blackwell: , p. 366-383.


Since early in this decade, Israeli cinema has witnessed the emergence of a new religious wave that presents mainly ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture. Its emergence is influenced by the global rise of religious politics in the post-9/11 era and the subsequent global war on terror, but most of all, by the major forces at work in the Israeli milieu – the heated divide between religious belief and the secular worldview, the threat of a large and growing Orthodox population, socio-political trends to the right, the increasing influence of the settler movement as a powerful social and political force, and the specific socio-political complexity of the second Intifada period. Narrative religious cinema made during the second Intifada does not deal with the extreme and highly influential figure of religious national-Zionism, the settler; instead, it represents the minority figure of the ultra-Orthodox Jew as its ultimate other. This displacement sets the ultra-Orthodox as a benign substitute through which multiculturalist and religious conflicts and left-right clashes might be negotiated. In fact, narrative cinema critically celebrates the ultra-Orthodox otherness as harmless entertainment for both secular and national-religious Zionist audiences. In this climate of intensified repression, a number of documentaries, all by women directors, though not dealing with the settler, present the intolerance and oppressive violence prevalent in ultra-Orthodox culture. By calling attention to the political dimension of fundamentalism, largely hidden in narrative films, these documentaries grasp the distinctiveness of Jewish fundamentalism in the socio-structural sphere rather than in the realm of ideas. Negotiating the different facets and body-lines of the ultra-Orthodox male (and female) stands at the core of films like Black Bus and Gevald. By mobilizing a discussion of pre-modern vs. modern forms of fundamentalism, these documentaries protest, on one hand, the modesty revolution set against women and, on the other, the extreme violence aimed at the (secular and religious) GLBT community. Analyzing this wave in a highly debated socio-political climate therefore reawakens classic questions regarding access to and visibility of marginal groups in documentary cinema, as well as current questions along the lines of multi-religiousness, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation. 


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Last updated on 05/14/2018