Hidden Light: Judaism and Mystical Experience in Israeli Cinema

Wayne State Univ. Sept. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9780814350676. pap. $39.99. FILM
This intriguing work explores Judaism’s role in Israeli society through cinema, focusing primarily on how films appeal to New Age and inflected Jewish mysticism, a modern dynamic of social importance. Cerebral with impressive academic architecture, this book is not meant for movie enthusiasts looking for more popular discourse. For example, in discussing the mystical role of the esoteric Sefirotic diagram, Chyutin (film and TV studies, Tel Aviv Univ.; coeditor, Casting a Giant Shadow) writes, “The Sefirotic diagram and the Hebrew alphabet share with the ‘spiritual style’ an aesthetic mélange of figuration and abstraction, which wears its ascetic partialness on its sleeve.” That’s a powerful statement that begs substantial erudition of its presumed audience. Some of the book’s concepts don’t fit together neatly: Walter Benjamin’s theory of history amid a fulsome discussion of feminist films and New Age spirituality attempts to synthesize cinema studies, philosophy, gender, history, and religion in a way that is likely satisfying to only a select few scholars.
VERDICT International-film enthusiasts will applaud the author for providing such in-depth consideration of Israeli films; others might simply be grateful for a list of new movies. Best for only the most comprehensive film studies collections.
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