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KADOSH (1999)

PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Jewish Talmudic philosophy, feminism

CHARACTERS: Rivka (childless woman married to Meir), Meir (Yeshiva student married to Rivka), Malka (Rivka’s younger sister), Yossef (Yeshiva student engaged to Malka), Yakov (Malka’s love interest)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR AMOS GITAI: Kippur (2000), September 11 (2003)

SYNOPSIS: Kadosh (Hebrew for “sacred”) explores gender roles within Israel’s Hassidic Jewish community – a tradition governed by Talmudic law. Set in Jerusalem’s orthodox Mea Shearim district, the film follows the story of two unhappy sisters, and their respective spouses who are students in a Yesheva. Malka, the younger sister, is trapped into an arranged engagement, forsaking her true love. She reluctantly follows through on the marriage, but quickly leaves her husband when he proves to be an unloving and sadistic monster. Rivka, the older sister, has had no children in her ten years of an otherwise loving marriage. An Orthodox rule allows her husband to divorce her after ten years and, pressured by his religious duty to procreate, he does just that. Rivka subsequently dies. Although the movie is critical of Hassidic treatment of women, it impartially presents the lifestyle of the believers. One movie reviewer wrote, “Gitai by showing the daily rituals, tight living quarters and close-knit community, has shown how difficult it would be to not accept what you were brought up with are for those who have never seen another world and have been kept in the dark all their life.”


1. The movie opens with Meir waking up and going through a series of prayers and rituals while getting dressed. One of his prayers is “Blessed is our Eternal God who has not created me a woman,” which encapsulates the gender issue in the movie. Religious traditions often depict God as choosing favorites – such as the Jews as God’s “chosen” and Calvinistic Christian notions of predestination. Is it any worse for God to play favorites with gender roles?

2. Meir and Yossef debate about the proper method of making tea on the Sabbath, and a dispute arises about whether the tea leaves become cooked when pouring hot water over them in a cup. This debate typifies the dialogical style of the Talmud, and the often focus it displays with routine matters. What might be the religious significance of such subtle disputes?

3. Meir thinks that he and his wife are living in sin because they are childless. What might his rationale be?

4. Yossef drives through the streets speaking into a megaphone, inviting secular Jews to attend his Yeshiva. “Join us at 8 tonight to enjoy one another’s company, to pray, and to love one another.” Is this a sincere invitation? That is, wouldn’t the secular Jew have to convert before the Orthodox Jew would enjoy their company?

5. Meir’s father, a Rabbi in the Yeshiva, explains to Meir the proper roles of men and women. “You know that the only task of a daughter of Israel is to bring children into the world, to give birth to Jews, and enable her husband to study. God created man to study the torah. Woman plays an indirect part in fulfilling the Torah by keeping his home clean, preparing his meals and especially by raising his children. A woman’s only joy is raising his children.” What’s so bad about this division of labor along gender lines?

6. Meir’s father continues arguing that it is Meir’s religious duty to divorce his childless wife. Secular Jews do not have as many children as Orthodox ones, and “Thanks to our children, the future is ours.” The Orthodox mission is to control Israel through sheer numbers. To the extent that Meir is part of their struggle, he must divorce his wife and remarry. Is this a good rationale?

7. Rivka describes a belt that Orthodox men wear that separates the spiritual from the material world. What’s the rationale?

8. On Malka and Yossef’s wedding night, Yossef prepares for the big event by reading a prayer: “I am ready to fulfill your commandment and unite my body with that of my spouse as one flesh. Grant me your strength and sustenance and ready me for this union. ... Aid me at every step as I lay with my wife.” What follows looked almost like a rape scene. To what degree was this a consensual act for Malka?

9. Yossef was more impassioned about his religious belief than other in the Yesheva – crying for God’s guidance with the Torah, and driving through the streets announcing the coming of the messiah. Yet he was not only unfeeling for Malka, but quite brutal towards her. The sadistic religious fanatic is a recurring stereotype in films – including the Seventh Seal. What is the message behind this stereotype?

10. Two quite extreme statements are made at different points in the film: “a barren woman is no woman,” and “a woman without a child is no better than dead.” Rivka dies at the end of the movie. What does this say about her?

11. In the final scene Malka walks away from Jerusalem. What does this say about her?

12. In a documentary on the film, Amos Gitai, the director, states “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all relegate the woman at the same position; the woman’s only function is to assure the continuity of the community.... Women are not equal partners in the process of religious study and the elaboration of religious decisions.” The movie presents an extreme example of this; in what less extreme ways might this be evident in American churches?


Through this film, I learned that if I ever decide to convert faiths, it will not be to Judaism! I really just felt confused and offended during this film. The treatment of Jewish women as means rather than people was actually pretty shocking to me. I can respect a religion where its followers actually obey their faith, but it is hard to believe that they would interpret the teachings of their “just God” in such a way. Though this movie was very eye opening into the lifestyle of the Hasidic Jews, by the end of the film, I was glad it was over and walked away with little more than bitterness towards the men of this faith and confusion as to why Rivka died. It also didn’t help that the subtitles were written in white, so I basically missed half of the dialogue. Whoever the genius was there deserves a pat on the back. I also feel they could have omitted the painfully embarrassing sex scenes. I do not feel it would have taken away much from the plot and I would not have went home feeling so disturbed. I don’t regret seeing the film because it did teach me a lot about this particular Jewish culture, but it is unlikely that I will watch it again. It was a little too drawn out and extremely depressing. Plus I just can’t enjoy a movie where I feel like slapping the women and telling them to get the hell out of there. -- Back from the Dead

This movie pretty much blatantly points out that being an Orthodox Jewish Woman sucks. Yossef and Malka are engaged to be married, but as Malka has pointed out, her parents have just become tired of her turning down proposals. If she had just chosen someone or her love, Yakov had asked her, and then she wouldn’t have ended up with the guy who “Likes the way she sits and walks.” The movie showed a lot of their rituals, and the thoughts that run through the minds of the Jewish people. Such as when Malka cheated on Yossef, she was beaten. Though the movie didn’t go into whether this is considered a tradition or not, Muslims catch so much flak for it but not the Jews? The thing I found most interesting was the fact that if a woman does not bear a son after ten years, the husband is expected to remarry and have children. It just goes to show how far the Jewish people will go to keep their numbers up to keep their chosen race alive and outnumbering those around them. I felt like this movie moved far to slow. Every scene in which Rivka and Meir were in the same room suddenly went into slow motion it seemed, just for the sake of prolonging the movie to its two hour long goal. -- Flying V

I enjoyed the movie but it was very hard to watch. The abuse or acts of slavery toward women were uncalled for. No religion gives the right to abuse anyone. Being subservient should be by choice not demand. We should be respecters of patience with others no matter who they are or what they believe. The only value that these women have is for reproducing a male child or to be a slave to a man who is supposed to love her. The movie is about two sisters that take their vows differently. The older sister has such love for her husband just as he does her, she does not feel like she is any less until she is caused to leave her home so that the priest can find her husband a more suitable wife to bare children. She becomes withdrawn and then seems to die from a broken heart. The younger sister is deeply in love with someone, but is ordered to marry someone else. She does as she is told, unhappily, and then goes to her love later. The man she is forced to marry tries to beat her and runs her off. She is going to live in another city because she knows what is happening is wrong. Religions are so different because of the area they are in, the people involved, and how much they are dedicated to living by the rules set down for them. I know that many interrupt that woman in the scriptures should be subservient but it also says that women are help mates not To be ruled over. If only people would read the Bible for what it is and not try to interrupt it so many ways they would realize that Jesus was always surrounded by children and women. I have not read anywhere that Jesus ever mistreated either one. If Kadosh was based on facts then it would be a sad religion to belong to. --Hippy

Now here's a movie that pales in comparison to other philosophical films. Let's start with its basic problems. As a rule, you want your target audience to be able to understand your movie. For instance, let's say that you make your movie in a language that not just a whole lot of people outside a specific region of the world speak, like Arabic. Well, then, you need to include subtitles in a more popular language like English. What really helps more than anything, though, is making sure that these subtitles aren't all white if 75% of your movie is filmed against a white background. Supposing anyone can possibly tell what is going on, your next step is to find a movie formula that works for you. One general formula that you might follow is three-act form, which basically entails having a beginning, middle, and end. It is frowned upon, however, to have a cyclic "pray about sex, have sex, pray about sex some more" theme running throughout the movie in lieu of the three-act format that is generally used. Since this is a review of a philosophical movie, it would probably help to talk some about the philosophical issues that were developed during the movie. Were there any? Well, if you happen to be a radical feminist living in the middle of an Orthodox Hassidic community, you will likely find this movie empowering in the extreme. If you aren't, well I can't help you. And neither can this movie. -- Godboy

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