Silver Screen, Hasidic Jews: The Story of an Image

Silver Screen, Hasidic Jews: The Story of an Image

Silver Screen, Hasidic Jews: The Story of an Image

Silver Screen, Hasidic Jews: The Story of an Image


Motivated by Woody Allen's brief comedic transformation into a Hasidic Jew in Annie Hall, cultural historian Shaina Hammerman examines the effects of real and imagined representations of Hasidic Jews in film, television, theater, and photography. Although these depictions could easily be dismissed as slapstick comedies and sexy dramas about forbidden relationships, Hammerman uses this ethnic imagery to ask meaningful questions about how Jewish identity, multiculturalism, belonging, and relevance are constructed on the stage and silver screen.


Science, history and art have something in common: they
all depend on metaphor, on the recognition of patterns, on
the realization that something is “like” something else.

—John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History

A “SPECIAL REPORT” on jon STEWART’S satirical news program, The Daily Show, from March 23, 2011, covered a controversy that was taking place among Jews in Long Island. the conflict and eventual lawsuit revolved around the Orthodox community’s attempts to erect an eruv, a ritual boundary that enables observant Jews to carry objects in public spaces on the Sabbath. the eruv, as the report explains, is a barely visible line often made of fishing wire and usually suspended near power lines. Once in place, the eruv alters the legal characteristics, but not the aesthetics, of a space. Interviews with Westhampton Beach’s Jewish residents, both for and against the eruv, brought to light the conflict’s irony and thereby its comic utility for Stewart’s show. “It will totally transform the look of this town which I enjoy,” pronounces business owner Charles Gottesman. But when comedian-reporter Wyatt Cenac asks what an eruv looks like—with the faux naïveté made famous by Daily Show investigative reporters—Gottesman, apparently missing the irony, explains that “it really is almost invisible.”

The group who filed suit, Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, grounds its opposition on the notion of religious infringement on public spaces. But members like Gottesman are candid about their feelings: they are not concerned that the eruv in itself will transform the town’s look; instead, they worry that by its barely visible presence, it will turn the seaside village into a Jewish ghetto. As Cenac jokes in his report, Jews like Gottesman fear less the . . .

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