Israeli TV's love affair with haredim

New HOT comedy ‘Shababnikim’ features yeshiva students who are not all that pure.

New HOT comedy "Shababnikim" features yeshiva students who are not all that pure (photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/HOT)
New HOT comedy "Shababnikim" features yeshiva students who are not all that pure
(photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/HOT)
The Haredi community would likely find some fault with the plethora of television shows featuring ultra-Orthodox characters that have cropped up recently. But there is little protest to be heard – perhaps because the majority of Haredim don’t actually watch TV.
A new HOT comedy that premiered Sunday night is just the latest TV show to spotlight the ultra-Orthodox community. The show, called Shababnikim, features a group of four Haredi students who study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. One of them, Gedalya, is on the straight and narrow, while the other three prefer their Talmud study with a side of hanging out in the park, shopping at the mall and general goofing off. Shababnik is a Hebrew slang word for a Haredi youth who is off the path – but not entirely. Shababnikim don’t leave the community, but stretch the limits of appropriate behavior and dilute the focus on intense study.
The new show follows several scripted TV programs in recent years that shined a spotlight on Haredim. Just a few months ago, Keshet premiered Kippat Barzel, which features a group of ultra-Orthodox youth who – for a wide variety of reasons – chose to enlist in the IDF.
And that show followed the wide success of the Yes TV series Shtisel, set in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood. Shtisel, whose second season aired in 2015, is slated to return for a third season in 2018. While Amazon reportedly purchased the show to remake a version about hassidim in Brooklyn, no strides appear to have been made toward production. Nevertheless, within Israel,
Shtisel received very positive feedback – and a slew of awards – for its sensitive, intimate portrayal of a hassidic Jerusalemite family. Shababnikim is a very different show, a comedy that pokes fun at the young men who skirt the line between intensive Talmud study and a peek at the outside world. Unlike Shtisel, it doesn’t take itself too seriously – barely anyone bats an eyelid when (spoiler alert) the rosh yeshiva is crushed to death by a falling chandelier in front of the entire student body. The four young men – or at least three of them – basically do whatever they want, whenever they want, and simply hope that nobody is paying too close attention.
Shtisel brought the Haredi familial world to mainstream Israeli audiences, but in an intense, deep, serious way. Kippat Barzel showcases a unique set of Haredi youths who chose a path unlike that of most of their compatriots. In contrast to both shows, Shababnikim brings a much-needed dose of humor to a community that, yes, takes itself seriously, but also knows how to laugh. It’s not that the HOT program is a top-notch production, or even that well-written. But it offers just another peek for secular Israelis into the diversity of Haredi life.