Friday evenings we went to see Ha-Sodot. It’s a film set in Safed, Israel, which Avi Nesher has used to give it lots of shots of beautiful scenery for the background to the story. The story itself focuses on a midrasha where the young Orthodox students live and study Talmud. while in many cases also searching for prospective husbands. We meet several of the students attending and learn a bit—though only a bit—about each of their reasons for making a choice to attend—be it to learn more about a newly rediscovered religion, to avoid a marriage not desired, to find a prospective husband, or to—if it ever became possible—become a woman rabbi. The story gets more complicated as two of the young women—an unlikely pair to begin with—are sent to help an older woman from the town who has become critically ill. What starts off as help with grocery shopping and house cleaning quickly begins to interweave with spiritual help. Kabbalistic rituals (or pseudoKabbalistic rituals, since many are concocted specifically for the situation that has presented itself) and pratices begin to take over the lives of the three and lead them to a series of secrets (thus the title).
The dialogues throughout the film switch back and forth between Hebrew and French. My French was up to what was being said, but I was appalled to find that my Hebrew has gotten so weak that I could only pick up the most simple exchanges without looking at the subtitles. And, because lots of the scenes are dialogue-laden, keeping up with the subtitles while watching some of the complicated visuals is asking a lot of American audiences.
While I found some of the scenes with Fanny Ardant, who plays the ill, older woman, weak, the movie as a whole was well-done and raised interesting issues and questions. How would, for example, women these days adapt the Kabbalah to their modern lives? How would well-educated modern Orthodox teens respond to personal relationships between women and between Jews and non-Jews? And, though I’m sure it wasn’t true for any of the other people in the movie theater that evening, the question that was most interesting was how many of these midrasha exist in modern Israel that are pushing for and training young women to be ordained as Rabbis?