The Women’s Balcony: Women Resist Rabbi’s Repressive Rules in Tale of Female Empowerment
A bar mitzvah is nearing its climax in an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem when the balcony reserved for women suddenly collapses. When the dust settles, the members discover that the collapse has left the wife of their rabbi in a coma, and also that her husband, Rabbi Menashe (Abraham Celektar) is in denial about the condition of his wife and is no condition to lead his synagogue’s members.
It becomes clear that neither Rabbi Menashe nor the Mussayof Synagogue will be back to normal anytime soon. With the building closed because it is unsafe, the congregation finds a temporary home in a nearby school. However, its location makes it difficult to assemble a minyan, the quorum of 10, that is required for religious services.
A savior arrives when they ask David (Avraham Aviv Alush), a young rabbi who happened to be passing by, to join them to make their minyan complete. Not only is he willing to join their services, but in the next few weeks he takes over the position of the congregation’s rabbi and their plans to repair their damaged synagogue. However, it turns out that he advocates an ultra-orthodox form of Judaism, and he attempts to convince the congregation that they should embrace his more restrictive interpretation of the laws of the Bible.
For example, he tries to persuade the women to dress more modestly by always covering their heads with a scarf. Next, he announces that instead of using the money that the congregant’s women have collected to repair the balcony, he is going to use the money to commission the writing of a new Torah scroll for the new congregation.
None of this news sits well with the women of the original Mussayof congregation who decide to fight against their new rabbi. As in Aristophanes’ classic play, Lysistrata, and Spike Lee’s latest “joint,” Chi-Raq, they agree to withhold sex until their husbands come to their senses.
All of the above plays out in hilarious fashion in The Women’s Balcony, a delightful tale of female empowerment directed by Emil Ben-Shiron. The movie was a hit in Israel where it won five of that country’s equivalent of the Academy Award nominations. Kudos, too, to Menemsha Films’ Neil Friedman, who has produced several charming sleepers that include Dough, The Rape of Europa, Beauty in Trouble, and The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.
Excellent (****). Unrated. In Hebrew with subtitles. Running time: 96 minutes. Production Studio: Pie Films. Distributor: Menemsha Films.