Maybe we don’t laugh enough about the tensions between men and women in Orthodox synagogues. But the new Israeli film The Women’s Balcony finds a way to make us, while raising some provocative questions about the role of women in Orthodoxy. The film starts with the collapse of a women’s balcony section during a bar mitzvah. But then it gets surprisingly funny.
After the collapse, the rabbi’s wife is seriously injured and the congregation is homeless. Factions form in the synagogue as they search for a new home and leader. Some of the women are determined to build a new balcony and reclaim their spot. Others are loyal to the new ultra-Orthodox rabbi who wants female worshippers to stay in a small room to the side. Meanwhile, the husbands, brothers and uncles try to rebuild their spiritual home without pissing off their beloved female counterparts.
Directed by Emil Ben-Shimon and written by Shlomit Nechama, The Women’s Balcony has been a critical and box office success. The acting is strong and the sisterly love is palpable. But it’s not all laughs. Under the squabbling between couples and friends lies some fundamental arguments about devotion to faith and the role of women in ultra-Orthodox society.
In the end, the question of whether the women get their balcony back takes on a bittersweet tone. They may stand up in that lofty spot, but do they ever get the respect and inclusion they seek?
‘The Women’s Balcony’ opens in New York on Friday, May 26. Check for local screenings here.