Trauma, Guilt, and Ethics in BeTipul and in Treatment: The Universalist Approach and (Jewish) Particularism of Psychoanalysis in Transnational Television

By Wuensch, Michaela | Jewish Film & New Media, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Trauma, Guilt, and Ethics in BeTipul and in Treatment: The Universalist Approach and (Jewish) Particularism of Psychoanalysis in Transnational Television


Wuensch, Michaela, Jewish Film & New Media


Produced by the network HOT3, BeTipul is an Israeli television series consisting of eighty episodes that were broadcast over the course of two seasons, from 2005 to 2008. The idea of its creator, Hagai Levi, was to make a "series that imitates therapy."1 Five episodes are presented over the course of one week, with each episode depicting a single therapy session. In each of four episodes, the therapist, Reuven Dagan (Assi Dayan), meets a different individual patient; one episode each week is reserved for Reuven's supervision and therapy with his clinical supervisor, Gila (Gila Almagor). The series has been hugely successful in Israel in terms of both ratings and awards, and so far it has been adapted in fourteen different countries, including the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Russia, the Netherlands, and Italy.2 This success is particularly surprising, given the show's low levels of action, which instead feature "two almost motionless actors talking" in a consulting room in front of a mostly static camera that "almost contradicts dramatic principles."3 To produce drama, and to translate psychological language into televisual language, the writers create conflicts between the therapist and his patients. Instead of their merely talking about the conflicts that take place with people outside the consultation room, the patients develop conflicts with Reuven, which involve a love story, jealousy, a miscarriage, and even suicide attempts. Most of the subsequent adaptations have used similar consultation-room sets and the same scripts. As many have pointed out, BeTipul and its adaptations closely follow conventional television formats, especially those of daytime programs, with their frequent close-ups, shot/counter shots, and talking heads. But the show's modular storytelling also marked an innovative approach to television drama. With recording technologies such as TiVo and the show's availability on DVD, viewers could choose to watch only the episodes of their favorite "cases."4

It is not unusual for an Israeli television series not to be broadcast worldwide, but this article explores why adaptations of a series like BeTipul might be necessary, despite the program's minimalist setting and universal themes. I also explore the differences that emerge from comparing BeTipul with the first adaptation, the US series In Treatment (HBO, 2007-2010). I first analyze the Jewishness of BeTipul and subsequently trace how it is transformed into Paulinian universalism in In Treatment. Even though all the characters in the Israeli version are Jewish, the Jewishness of the series is not easy to identify, due only partly to its lack of religious topics and its secularism. I am following here Vincent Brook's claim that it is hard to define what is Jewish in Jewish televisual representation: "Jewish themes need not be treated on the shows, nor will protagonists be held to any rigorous standard of religious affiliation or ethnic consciousness. The quotes around the word 'Jewish' acknowledge the constructed and highly contested nature of Jewish identity generally, as well as the tenuous, largely inferred, and increasingly 'virtual' nature of Jewish televisual representation specifically."5

Because the question of what is Jewish remains "subject of debate,"6 and also because of the psychoanalytic/psychotherapeutic focus of the series, I refer primarily to Sigmund Freud's definitions and discussions of Jewishness. Freud's most important essay on Judaism and Jewishness, Moses and Monotheism (1939), offers very unusual interpretations of Moses-"who set the Jewish people free, who gave them their laws and founded their religion," but was later killed by the Jews7-and of the Apostle Paul, who is generally regarded as the founder of the Christian religion. Christine Lang, in her essay on In Treatment, emphasizes that psychoanalysis itself follows dramaturgical formulas and narratives ranging from Oedipus and Cassandra-and, I would like to add, Moses-to Saint Paul. …

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