The Israeli film The Women’s Balcony, recently screened in the U.S., tells the story of an Orthodox congregation undergoing a period of upheaval and of the resulting conflict between, on the one hand, a charismatic but overzealous new rabbi and, on the other hand, a group of female congregants. In his review, Liel Leibovitz writes:
Despite the movie’s immense popularity in Israel, or maybe because of it, the country’s bien-pensant critics dismissed it as a feel-good folk comedy, the sort of fare that appeals only to the tragically unsophisticated. They were missing the point: entertaining as the movie may be, it still delivers one of the most profound meditations on religious life ever captured on film. Even more impressively, it does so not through metaphor or . . . through meditation, but by letting us in on ordinary lives powered by faith and fellowship. . . .
Socially, [the film’s heroines have] a far healthier approach than those taken these days by so many strident social-justice warriors who stand on principle and allow their spiraling rage to drain life of its comforts. When [the women trying to save the congregation] are approached by professional organizers, who suggest they take their fight public and launch a national media campaign, they refuse. They’re not interested in winning big, symbolic victories; they’re here to make sure that the tradition in which they so wholeheartedly believe continues to afford them the place and the space they need and deserve. Along the way, they teach us that reform is possible even without holy ire, that you can refuse to compromise your principles without becoming a mirthless zealot, and that, no matter what, you should never forget that Judaism regards ahavat yisrael, or kinship among Jews, just as highly as it does scholarly excellence or religious observance.