Shtisel, the Israeli TV show about an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem, has become an international phenomenon. In December 2018, it began streaming across the world on Netflix, with subtitles in English and other languages. Millions of international viewers discovered the world of a community that observes strict religious and social rules and often causes controversy because it doesn’t respect the laws of the State of Israel – ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t serve in the country’s military service, they don’t pay taxes and most of the men are not incorporated in the economy because they spend the whole day stuying the Torah and the Talmud.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews live in almost total seclusion, their everyday life is a mistery to most Israelis. But thanks to the award-winning Israeli TV drama series Shtisel, we get a glimpse of their life, beliefs and traditions, discovering that when it comes to family and relationships, their world is not that different from ours.
[This article was first published on 24 March 2021 and updated ever since, given the fact that it‘s our most clicked article.]
[Netflix has just announced that the three seasons of Shtisel will be removed from Netflix globally on 24 March 2023. Therefore, hurry up if you want to see all the episodes of this highly acclaimed show.]
TRAILER SHTISEL (2021)
27 FACTS ABOUT SHTISEL SEASON 3
The third season of Shtisel launched on March 25, 2021 on Netflix. It is the first season to be branded as a Netflix Original. It consists of nine episodes and picks up four years after the events of the previous season.
Season 3 was filmed throughout Israel and Jerusalem. Production started and finished after Israel’s first Covid-19 lockdown, that is to say in spring and summer 2020.
With 1600 views per day, 27 Facts About Shtisel Season 3 is currently the most clicked article of VERTIGO, our international online magazine which is being read in more than 150 countries. The average time online readers spend reading the new Shtisel article is 6.40 minutes. The two most successful tag are “Neta Riskin” and “Racheli Shtisel”. In 2020, our most clicked article was 25 Facts About Netflix Film Mosul with up to 20’000 views per day.
Akiva is Rabi Shulem Shtisel’s youngest son. In Season 1, he lives with his father and is in no hurry to get married. He takes part in arranged meetings in hotel lobbies to meet potential wifes, but he prefers to live as a single, to work as a temporary teacher in a school and to paint. One day, he meets Elisheva Rotstein (Ayelet Zurer), the attractive mother of Israel, one of his pupils, and immediately falls in love with her. She’s a widow for the second time, a few years older than Akiva and works in a bank. Even though they love each other and she gets to know his family, Elisheva decides not to marry Akiva because she doesn’t want to stay in his way.
In Season 2, Akiva starts seeing Libbi, one of his cousins who grew up in Belgium. She encourages him to continue painting and finally he’s discovered by an art dealer in Jerusalem who exhibits and sells his paintings. Akiva and Libbi get married and have a daughter, Dovah’le, who is named after Akiva’s mother. Libbi dies a few months later of cancer. They don’t mention the illness in the show, but in episode one Libbi says to her husband who’s holding the baby: “I wish I could breastfeed her just one more time in my life.”
Akiva’s exhibition at an art gallery in Jerusalem is a huge success. The beautiful portraits of Libbi are sold on the opening night. The portrait of Libbi in her wedding dress was painted by Israeli artist Alex Tubis.
Michael Aloni (37), who plays Akiva Shtisel, the youngest son of Rabi Sthisel, is an Israeli actor, film director and TV presenter. In the film Out In The Dark he played an Israeli who falls in love with a Palestinian. In the successful TV show When Heroes Fly, which is available on Netflix, Michael plays Dotan Friedman, a rich war veteran of a special forces unit in the Lebanon who reunites with four friends to find a missing woman in Colombia. He has cancer and he knows that it will be his last adventure.
This year, Michael Aloni will appear in the TV drama The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem. Michael has a dog named Bruce and he is in a relationship with Moriya Lombroso who moved from Los Angeles to Israel when she was 14.
Shira Haas (26), who plays Ruchami, Giti and Lipa Weiss’ daughter, rose to international fame in 2020 with her role as Esty Shapiro in Unorthodox. Esty leaves her husband and her ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg, New York, for a new life in Berlin, where she discovers freedom, music and herself.
Thanks to her outstanding performance in Unorthodox, Shira Haas was the first Israeli actress to be nominated for both a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Globe Award. She has nearly half a million Instagram followers.
According to Deadline, Shira Haas will play Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister from 1969 to 1974, in a US drama series executive produced by Barbra Streisand.
In Shtisel Season 3, Ruchami and her husband Hanina, who have been married for five years, opt for surrogacy after having consulted a Rabbi, because Ruchami could die if she got pregnant again and gave birth to a child. Four years ago, when Ruchami was 21 weeks pregnant, she had to be hospitalized because she suffered of pulmonary arterial hypertension, which ultimately leads to heart failure and death. The doctor told her that she had to have an abortion in order to survive. When she refused, her husband called a rabbi who told them on the phone: “The Torah rules say that a mother can’t be at risk. If the risk is conclusive, you must listen to the doctors.” After the operation, Ruchami had a IUD (coil) inserted into the womb, a small, T-shaped contraceptive device that prevents pregnancy. Except for Giti Weiss, Ruchami’s mother, nobody knows about the young couple’s plans. When they sign the surrogacy contract, Ruchami receives three baby bump pillows to feign pregnancy.
According to a BBC article, some Orthodox rabbis will allow surrogacy if the surrogate mother is single and not related to either of the couple and the genetic material is from the parents who will bring up the child. In Judaism, a person is only considered a Jew if their mother is Jewish. Therefore, any form of surrogacy where a donor egg is used from a non-Jewish woman might make it difficult to identify the child as Jewish.
19-year-old Yossale, the son of Giti and Lipa Weiss, goes to an arranged meeting in a hotel lobby, where he’s supposed to meet a girl named Shira. By accident he meets Shira Levi instead of Shira Levinzon and falls in love with her. When Giti Weiss, an Ashkenazi Jew, finds out that Shira Levi is a Sephardi Jew whose family is originally from Algeria, she asks her husband to lie to their son and to tell him that it was impossible to find Shira.
Reef Neeman, 23, who plays Shira Levi, is an Israeli model and actress. She’s best known for her role as Yaara Zarhi, a student who’s been taken hostage by Hamas in Fauda Season 3. The family of Reef’s mother immigrated from Morocco, while her father immigrated from Uruguay.
Why does Giti reject Shira Levi as Yossale’s potential wife? The pre-modern Diaspora communities are divided in four major ethnic groups: Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Mizrahi and Ethopian. The Sephardim are descendants from Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal. During the Golden Age of Spain (1492-1659) Sephardic Jews reached the highest echelons of secular government and the military. Ashkenazim refers to Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. The Mizrahi Jews come from Middle Eastern ancestry. Geti Weiss doesn’t want a Sephardi daughter-in-law because the Sephardim are identified by their relationship to Christian Europe and the Arab-Muslim world.
Giti Weiss, who runs a small restaurant with her husband Lipa, is Akiva’s elder sister and Ruchami’s mother. In Shtisel Season 1, her husband left her and the family with the excuse that he had found a job in Argentina. During that time, Giti had to make a living for her family. After having worked a few weeks as a home help for a non-Orthodox boutique owner, she started to work as a money exchange trader, first for an elderly woman who lived in the same home for senior citizens as her grandmother, later she started a business of her own at home.
For her outstanding performance as Giti Weiss in Shtisel, Neta Riskin won the Israeli TV Academy Award for best actress in a drama series in 2015.
“When I was offered to audition for a role in Shtisel and I read that it was about an Orthodox family in Jerusalem, I said to myself: I don’t want to do it,” said Neta Riskin in an interview with VERTIGO Mag. (Read our first and our second interview with Neta Riskin.)
Shtisel is one of Israel’s best reviewed series and has won a total of 10 Israeli TV Academy Awards including Best Drama Series, Best Direction and Best Actor/Actress for Doval’e Glickman and Neta Riskin. This year, the nominees for the Israeli TV Academy Awards are Shira Haas and Neta Riskin (both lead actresses), Dov Glickman (lead actor), Zohar Strauss and Sasson Gabay (support actors), Miki Kam (Nechama, support actress), Alon Zingman (director) and Ori Elon (screenplay).
Compared to Season 1 and 2, Season 3 focuses on more contemporary aspects of the ultra-Orthodox Jews, e. g. surrogacy, abortion when life is in danger, the loss of custody in case of neglect and the rigorous control of the welfare authority, the financing of Torah and Talmud schools, alcoholism, mental health problems, the breaking up of an official engagement, the use of mobile devices and the internet, and ultra-Orthodox women driving a car etc.
In Shtisel Season 3, there are less dialogues in Yiddish than in Season 1 and 2. This is due to the fact that the new season focuses more on the younger generations that speak Hebrew. In Shtisel 3, only Shulem Shtisel, his brother Nuchem and a few Rabbis speak Yiddish, a German dialect which integrates other languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic and Romance languages. Giti Weiss and her husband Lipa also speak Yiddish in a scene in which they don’t want their son Rossale to understand what they said. When Neta Riskin, who plays Giti Weiss, speaks Yiddish, German native speakers will notice immediately that she’s been living in Germany for a few years.
Less than a year after his wife’s death, Akiva gets married again. It is the only way to get back custody of his daughter. Racheli Warburg, who bought three of his paintings for the Warburg foundation, offers to help him and to marry him. A few weeks later she tells him that she suffers from manic depression, a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings.
Racheli is played by Daniella Kertesz, a 32-year-old Israeli actress who played alongside Brad Pitt in World War Z. In a recent interview with Jewish News, Daniella said: “My character buys art for the family estate and is religious. Women in the religious communities have babies, run the home and might even teach art, but they usually deal in art behind the scenes because it’s men’s work. Racheli is also single at the age of 30, which is really rare in their community and this raises questions.”
Sasson Gabay plays Nuchem, Shulem Shtisel’s younger brother who worked in Antwerp, Belgium, as a travel agent for many years. After the death of his only child Libbi, who passed away two months after she gave birth to a baby girl, Nuchem falls into a depression. He even attempts suicide on the balcony of his brother’s apartment.
The 73-year old actor, who was born in Iraq, won several Ophir and European film awards. He’s best known for his role as Lieutenant-colonel Tawfiq Zacharya in the highly acclaimed movie The Band’s Visit (2007), in which he played alongside Ronit Elkabetz.
In an interview with Jewish News, Dikla Barkai said: “Our writers think that all the women in Shtisel are stronger than the men.”
The scene in which Shira meets Yossale by accident on her way home at night was shot near the Al-Aqsa Mosque which was built on top of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (see building below). The shrine is Islam’s third holiest after Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia. The Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif is the most contentious religious site in Jerusalem. It is revered by Jews at the location of two biblical temples and is the holiest site in Judaism.
Shtisel was created and written by Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky and produced by Dikla Barkai an Abot Hameiri Barkai, a Fremantle company.
Yoav Rotman, who plays Ruchami’s husband Hanina, has known Shira Haas for several years. They both had a leading role in Broken Mirrors, an Israeli film which was released in 2018. He also played the doctor’s son in the Netflix series Hostages.
VIDEO INTERVIEWS WITH MICHAEL ALONI, AYELET ZURER, NETA RISKIN AND DOV GLICKMAN IN NEW YORK (2019)
Needless to say that there’s much more to talk about than our 27 Facts About Shtisel Season 3. Watch the videos with the leading actors of Shtisel.
VIDEO: JERUSALEM, THE JEWISH QUARTER AND THE NEW CITY
Why do Orthodox Jews mainly wear black? Why do they wear earlocks? What significance do hats have?
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Photos: Courtesy of Yes Studios and Vered Adir
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Read our German travel article about Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Read our articles about Ronit Elkabetz, Israel’s greatest actress.
27 Facts About Shtisel Season 3 is one of three articles about the drama series Shtisel and its actors (see below). Read the article about Shtisel Season 1.