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Hidden Light

Judaism and Mystical Experience in Israeli Cinema

Dan Chyutin

Published: September 2023
ISBN: 9780814350676
Pages: 294 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 24 bw illus.
Published: September 2023
ISBN: 9780814350683
Pages: 294 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 24 bw illus.
Published: September 2023
ISBN: 9780814350690
Pages: 294 Size: EPUB
Illustrations: 24 bw illus.

Over the past several decades, the prevailing attitude toward Judaism in Israeli society has undergone a meaningful shift; where the national ethos had once deemed Judaic traditions a vestige of an arcane past incompatible with the culture of a modern state, there is now greater acceptance of these traditions by a sizeable part of Israeli society. Author Dan Chyutin reveals this trend through a parallel shift toward acceptance and celebration of Judaic identity and lifestyle in modern Israeli cinema. Hidden Light explores the Judaic turn in contemporary Israeli filmmaking for what it can tell us about Israel's cultural landscape, as well as about the cinematic medium in general. Chyutin points to the ambivalence of films which incorporate Judaism into Israel's secular ethos; concurrently, he foregrounds the films' attempt to overcome this ambivalence through reference to and activation of experiences of transcendence and unity, made popular by New Age–inflected understandings of Jewish mystical thought. By virtue of this exploration, Judaic-themed Israeli cinema emerges as a crucial example of how film's particular form of "magic" may be exploited for the purpose of affecting mystical states in the audience.

Dan Chyutin is a teaching fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. He has authored essays on Israeli and American cinema in peer-reviewed publications including Cinema Journal, Shofar, Journal of Film and Video, Jewish Film & New Media, Short Film Studies, and Journal of Jewish Identities. He also coedited the anthology Casting a Giant Shadow: The Transnational Shaping of Israeli Cinema, which received The Janovics Center Award for Best Book in Transnational Film and Theatre Studies in 2021. In addition to being a scholar of cinema, he also works as a film curator, including in the capacity of Artistic Director for the EU-funded "Another Look: The Restored Film Project."

Hidden Light analyzes the ‘Judaic turn’ in Israeli cinema during the 2000s in riveting and rigorous detail. But that is only one of this book’s many impressive achievements. Chyutin grapples with nothing less than film theory’s links to religious and mystical concepts, building new bridges between film studies, Jewish studies, and religious studies.

– Adam Lowenstein, University of Pittsburgh, author of Horror Film and Otherness

Hidden Light is an act of reclamation. Moving beyond a seeming dichotomy between a text-driven legal tradition and the visual poetics of cinema, Chyutin brilliantly illustrates how the recent wave of religiously inflected Israeli cinema is deeply rooted in Jewish traditions of longing, prayer, and transcendence.

– Shayna Weiss, associate director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University

Hidden Light is essential for anyone interested in contemporary Israeli cinema. Bringing deep theoretical and historical knowledge to bear on the ‘Judaic turn,’ Chyutin presents new ways of thinking about religion on-screen and ideas of spiritual transcendence endemic to the concept of ‘the cinematic’ since the art form’s birth.

– Kyle Stevens, editor of The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory

Dan Chyutin’s timely study brings the ‘Judaic turn’ to bear upon a rich and engaging analysis of Israeli cinema. It does so by paying attention to cinematic appeals to the Judaic New Age, or what some scholars have recently termed the ‘Jew Age.’ Hidden Light: Judaism and Mystical Experience in Israeli Cinema is an important contribution that, through its Jew Age analyses, brings into question simplistic binary thinking regarding the Israeli secular-religious divide in favor of a more complex reading of Judaism’s relationship to Israeli notions of identity.

– Brian Ogren, Anna Smith Fine Professor of Judaic Studies and Religion Department Chair, Rice University

Hidden Light makes a singular contribution to the study of Israeli cinema, exploring and delineating one of the most important developments in Israeli cinema over the past three decades: the emergence of religious-themed Israeli films. Chyutin’s analysis of films is meticulous and enlightening, as he expands and challenges our perceptions of the Israeli cinematic canon.

– Eran Kaplan, author of Projecting the Nation: History and Ideology on the Israeli Screen

Film scholars will find merit.

– Publisher's Weekly