TV review: Unchained

John Nathan enjoys an Israeli drama about a rabbi who frees women from unhappy marriages - but spies on his own wife.


It has been negatively noted in these pages how much modern Israeli television drama likes to dwell on Orthodox Jews being tempted by the freedom of secular life.

On Netflix, Unorthodox focuses on a woman who escapes New York’s Satmar community and on UK JewishFilm, the married Chasidic hero of alternative reality show Autonomies — in which Israel is split between the ultra-religious and the irreligious — has an affair with a female jazz musician (she’s not even klezmer) and in one scene knowingly bites into a pork sandwich.

But what is a dramatist to do? Few things better convey human sprit than breaking free of rules and constraints. Even Fiddler on the Roof expresses this vital part of our condition by loosening the grip of tradition, not tightening it.

In UK Jewish Film’s latest offering, Unchained the symbolic shackles implied by the title of this 12-part series are worn by women whose estranged husbands refuse to give them a get (the divorce document without which Jewish women cannot remarry).

Yet rather than dwell on the misery of agunot, the creators of this absorbing show focus on one Rabbi Yosef Morad (Aviv Alush), a fixer who cajoles, persuades and, as happens in one episode, breaks the bones of stubborn men who refuse to release the woman in their lives. It is pretty clear where the sympathies of writer Joseph Madmony lie.

Morad is a kosher detective who puts the private i into rabbi. Yet it is his own marriage that becomes the intriguing centre of this show’s intricately woven plot.

Morad and his wife Hana have been trying for a first baby for four years. Their devotion is eroded by the pressure of the situation and especially by Hana’s father, who offers advice that invokes talmudic obligation when it comes to conception. Possibly not the most helpful form of foreplay.

Meanwhile Morad uses his spying skill on Hana as much out of curiosity as suspicion. It reveals that Hana does indeed have a hidden life, or at least a life that is richer than is considered seemly for a dutiful Orthodox wife.

The thrill of Unchained is not the conflict between spouses or the fiery confrontations between Morad and men who abuse their power, but unexpectedly from the slow-burn depiction of Morad and Hana’s marriage; the mystery of their secret lives and their own bid for freedom.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive