Religious-Secular Divide in Israeli Theatre

Hitting at the Haredim.

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Though the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community does not usually attend the theatre, it ironically has had great influence on Israeli drama. Since the 1970s, at least 30 original plays on the topic of the internal religious-secular divide have been staged in Israel, concerned in particular with the powerful political influence of the haredi community and its expanding control over the ideology and legislation of the Jewish state. Playwrights displayed controversial anti-haredi grievances, which fed the religious-secular divide and provoked calls for theatre censorship. One particularly illustrative example is Yigal Even-Or's Fleischer, written in 1993 and performed through 1994.  


The protagonists, Bertha and Aryeh Fleischer, are Holocaust survivors and owners of a butcher shop in a secular Israeli neighborhood. They are confronted by members of a haredi community who are settling into their neighborhood, and encouraging secular families to leave. Some non-religious families do in fact move away when haredim throw stones at them for watching television on the Sabbath.

At first the Fleischers do not object to the developments in the community. They see it as a positive economic opportunity, and they choose to invest in beautifying their shop. But no one buys from the Fleischers. They are finally told by a haredi lawyer named Hund (Yiddish for dog) that they need to purchase a kashrut certificate for an exorbitant sum of money. They buy it, and this sends them into debt. However, they continue to sell non-kosher meat even when they are certified kosher. According to Even-Or’s program notes, the Fleischers, "Try to stay afloat like survivors on a life-raft, on the sea of the ultra-Orthodox that rages around them, threatening to drown them. They even attempt a partial return to Orthodox Judaism [by wearing a skullcap and head cover] in order to attract the ultra-Orthodox customers. The butcher shop remains empty and boycotted."   

habimah theater

Habimah Theater, Israel's national theater in Tel Aviv

In debt from the money they gave to the religious community, the Fleischers are no longer able to keep Shloymele, their 30-year-old mentally disabled son, in an institution. Shloymele's character brings even more sympathy to the Fleischers, who are also lauded for fighting in Israel's War of Independence. However, this sympathy is rescinded when Shloymele rapes a young haredi woman, giving the religious community, as well as the audience, good cause for wanting the Fleischers to move away. Ultimately, the couple dies in a fire accidentally set by Shloymele, and the conflict ends in a victory for the haredim.

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Etta Abramson

Etta Abramson is an Arts Fellow in the Beit Midrash program at Drisha Institute in New York. She is a graduate of York University's undergraduate theatre studies program.