Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher Movies: Fill the Void

As a young teenager who went to public school, romance to me was an emotional and physical response to a pretty girl. I did not think much about the mental component of a relationship. The ideal date in my juvenile mind was to go see a great movie, then to an ice cream parlor where we would talk about “things we had in common,” and end the evening with a goodnight kiss. The kiss was a sure indicator that she liked me and that I could call her again. If someone had asked me what were the “things we had in common,” I would have been hard pressed to articulate a coherent answer.

As I evolved in my religious growth, I began to realize how shallow was my high school understanding of romance and love. I remember how my inner light bulb turned on when I was studying Isaac’s courtship of Rebecca as described in the Bible, which focused on finding a kind girl of good character. Achieving a romantic epiphany of love came only after marriage, as the Bible states “Isaac brought her into his mother’s tent, and he took Rebecca and she became his wife, and then he loved her.”

Fill the Void is a love story but without the heat of a physical relationship. Shira Mendelman, an 18-year-old religious girl living in Tel Aviv, is looking forward to an arranged marriage with a young man to whom she is attracted. However, tragedy strikes when Shira’s older sister Esther dies in childbirth, leaving a son, Mordechai, who is tended to by Shira in the aftermath of this family crisis.

When Yochai, Esther’s husband, is approached to marry a girl from Belgium, Shira’s mother suggests that he marry Shira instead. This will allow the baby to remain close to her grandmother and provide the best situation for the child. Yochai and Shira first reject the suggestion, but as time goes on they begin to consider the possibility.

Obstacles intervene and the possible match is terminated when the family rabbi senses that Shira is not emotionally committed to Yochai. The rabbi will not bless the match unless Shira genuinely desires it. Shira, in truth, has free choice and does not have to marry someone unless she wants to. The resolution of this dilemma provides a window into a world where physical love is real, but is only one facet of a complicated life decision.

The Orthodox world in which Shira lives is bound by many rules. Yet within that world, there is room for free choice and for the manifestation of love before marriage albeit without physical expression. This love, however, is no less potent. Shira is a sensitive soul who weighs the wishes of her mother, the needs of her deceased sister’s child, and her own desire to determine her own destiny as she navigates the complex emotional landscape in front of her. Her needs are important, but they are not the only needs to consider. Her decision-making process is very mature and thoughtful.

Judaism values physical love between husband and wife. It is a rock upon which true love is built and nurtured after matrimony. But there is no Tristan and Isolde narrative in Jewish tradition. Indeed, Judaism views with suspicion the undisciplined sexual drive. Even though there are many Jewish sources that extol the power of physical love, most notably the Song of Songs written by King David which, in graphic terms, describes the passion of two lovers as they manage a tumultuous relationship, physical love is the not the end-all and be-all of a relationship. Interestingly, the Hebrew term for sexual intimacy in marriage is yadah, to know. Adam knew Eve says the Bible, because intimacy implies a profound knowledge of one’s spouse both emotionally and intellectually.

Reason does and should inform the heart. Fill the Void reminds us that love is more than a physical encounter, but one that involves the mind and heart as well.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at
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