“Jane Austen for Jews”

Reviewing the Israeli film Fill The Void, Yair Rosenberg argues that religious community is one of the last social spheres that produces the kind of drama captured in the 18th and 19th centuries:

As in a Jane Austen novel, social mores and communal expectations combine to create the moral dilemma at the heart of [ultra-Orthodox writer and director Rama] Burshtein’s film: should Shira marry Yochay, even if she does not love him, for the sake of healing her broken family? In fact, Haredi society is one of the few settings remaining where such a drama can still transpire. In Austen’s time, powerful yet unspoken social forces shaped the lives of both her contemporaries and her female protagonists, and pressures to marry for reasons beyond personal fulfillment were commonplace. But as modern society strips away the bonds of tradition, community, and financial necessity which previously imposed external obligations on individuals—particularly women—tragedies of manners like Austen’s or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre have become increasingly difficult to write. The only way to portray a protagonist beset by such outmoded responsibilities is to set the story in the historical past—or in an isolated traditional religious community.