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Slaves of the Lord

In a scene from the new film “Slaves of the Lord” by Hadar Friedlich, it is the night before Passover. A slight 13-year old girl stands frozen in her living room. As her parents lie sleeping in their bed, she is shouting, over and over again—silently—in her head:

”I say shut up as I always have and it’s like a vow, SHUT UP. I say shut up as I always have and it’s like a vow, SHUT UP. I say shut up… “

She darts back and forth to the piano to check inside for leaven, writhing with worry over any stray crumbs. During the preparations for Passover, the epitome of rigorous cleaning, Tamar’s feelings of impurity intensify, bringing the film to its dramatic climax.

“Slaves of the Lord” is the poignant story of Tamar, a Jewish teen growing up in a stern Orthodox family in Israel. This film raises a serious, unaddressed issue for the Jewish community and beyond.

“By telling this story, I’m trying to show the dangers that loom when religious education is delivered by ways of intimidation, by instilling fear, by building on guilt feelings and emphasizing extreme self-criticism,” says Friedlich. “I’m trying to show what happens when we move away from the essence of faith and adhere only to the ceremonies and rituals, thus turning ourselves into slaves, following the rules without thinking about their meaning.”

Tamar is interrogated at the dinner table by her father about what she has learned in Torah study class and harangued by her mother about playing the piano at her bat mitzvah. When her first menstruation comes, instead of seeking any comfort from her mother, she reads from the Jewish book of ethical codes—and determines that she is impure. She repeatedly, obsessively carries out ritual hand washing before eating to restore her purity. As she isolates herself from those around her, she secretly throws away her bat mitzvah invitations instead of handing them out to friends.

Although the film has an obvious Jewish context, Friedlich emphasizes that the story applies to all religions. She says she does not regard her film as a condemnation of Orthodox Judaism.

At a viewing at the 2003 Israel Film Festival in New York, audience members spoke out about the role strict region played in their own childhoods. Freidlich told LILITH she is using the film as a springboard of education and advocacy, to incite people to pay attention to this issue. “I wasn’t concerned about the reaction to the ‘message’ of the film because I tried to make people think about this issue, and 1 did not care if they agreed or not, were mad or not, as long as it made them think.”