'Shababnikim': Television's bad boys of yeshiva

As "Shababnikim" wraps up its first season, audiences are dying for more of the four haredi youth who aren't afraid to peek at the outside world.

"Shababnikim" (photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/HOT)
(photo credit: OHAD ROMANO/HOT)
It all came down to a showdown in the beit midrash. As the season finale of Shababnikim opened, the students in a Jerusalem yeshiva were looking to overthrow their rosh yeshiva, or head rabbi.
And while it almost looked like things were going to come to fisticuffs – which it might have if this were any other show – in the end they settled it the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) way: by appealing to a respected rabbinic arbiter for a ruling.
Throughout its 12-episode run, which finished this week, Shababnikim has become one of the most buzzed-about new shows in Israel. Discussed at Shabbat tables, workplaces and in bars, the comedy brought to a wide audience a lens rarely trained on the haredi community: humor. Creator Eliran Malka and producer Daniel Paran hit the right tone at the right time – and left audiences wanting more.
While HOT, which aired the sitcom, would not confirm a second season pick-up, Malka told the Srugim website earlier this month that he already has big plans for more episodes. And HOT would be silly to pass them up, in particular because in ratings it published on Tuesday, Shababnikim was its most-watched show in the past year, beating all its other original offerings and even imports Game of Thrones and Handmaid’s Tale. It was also nominated for eight awards by the Israeli Academy of Film and Television, which will be decided upon in March.
The show focused on four students at a prominent (and fictional) Jerusalem yeshiva, who, at least as the season progressed, fit the “shababnik” stereotype: a haredi youth who is more focused on what’s outside the beit midrash than on his books.
With some more serious moments and some uproariously funny ones, Shababnikim offers up the hard truth that not all yeshiva students are focused solely on learning and many of them have more than a passing interest in the outside world.
The four eventual friends – Avinoam, Meir, Dov Lazer and Gedalia – have fairly different backgrounds, personalities and learning capabilities. But as the season unfolds, they find themselves caught up together in all sorts of distractions, from hanging out with women to befriending a movie star, and even setting a billboard on fire. Some of the show’s most insightful and cutting moments involve dating and the incredible Guri Alfi playing matchmaker Shlomi Zaks. The world of shidduchim (matchmaking) on the show reveals many of the racial tensions between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, the expectations that women not be “too smart” and the class, financial and other divisions that play a role.
The series even touches on the exemptions of haredim from army service, the roles ultra-Orthodox women are expected to play, relations between haredi and national- religious figures and the tensions of rabbinic succession.
The show’s portrayal of the purportedly insular community is not without flaws, and not every detail is exactly in place. But Shababnikim tells some hard truths – and offers up some big laughs – and will hopefully return to Israeli TV screens soon.