Israeli women whose recalcitrant husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, or gett, are known in Hebrew as agunot. Tragically, they are figuratively chained to their husbands, unable to live normally, or restart their lives.
This egregious and unjust system, presided over by Orthodox rabbis and tolerated by the Israeli government, has been in existence since Israel’s formation, and should be reformed or changed.
In the Israeli television series Unchained, which will be available on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform on October 12, Rabbi Yosef Morad (Aviv Alush), a kind-hearted person who works for the rabbinical authority, tries to extricate such women from their misery.
In a subplot, he and his new wife, Hana (Avigail Kovari), try to smooth out the rough edges of their marriage.
Judging by the six of the 12 episodes I watched, Unchained is clearly on the side of the agunot. In terms of production values, it is competently crafted and reasonably entertaining.
Rabbi Yosef possesses the requisite qualities to carry out his duties. He’s empathetic, curious, persistent and strong. And he does his homework. When he encounters one of those stubborn husbands, he gets to the point quite quickly. “You just have to let go,” he says, giving him a valuable piece of advice.
At the end of a day, Rabbi Yosef goes home to his wife, who has been patiently waiting for him. “Do you want to try?” she asks him, referring to the “act.”
Despite all their attempts, Hana still is not pregnant. Their sex comes off as mechanical rather than passionate. Rabbi Yosef’s father-in-law, Rabbi Aharon Shapira (Nathan Dattner), who works in the same office, urges him to keep trying so that his daughter can finally be a mother. Rabbi Yosef regards his questions as intrusive.
Unchained‘s portrayal of sexual relations in a chaste Orthodox household is unique in this genre. In one scene, Rabbi Yosef freely dispenses sexual advice to an unmarried colleague. Shortly afterward, Rabbi Yosef’s uncle, a closet homosexual, offers him advice that turns out to be far too explicit for his tender ears.
Hana is depicted ambivalently. While she appears to be a fine wife, she also comes across as a flirt.
Rabbi Yosef travels to Ukraine to settle a vexing case. Visiting a small town to gather information, he and a Lubavitch rabbi encounter crass corruption, share the back of a pickup truck with several pigs, unwittingly bathe in a river tainted by human waste, and meet an old Ukrainian woman who seems to be of partial Jewish descent.
Unchained sheds light on a socially pressing issue and does it with aplomb.