Israel is plagued by the curse of extremist Orthodox rabbis who reject the authority of the government and egg on their malleable followers to disobey the law and take matters into their own hands.
This disturbing phenomenon is mostly associated with far right-wing Israeli settlers in the West Bank who fervently support Israel’s occupation and occasionally clash with its Palestinian inhabitants.
Joseph Cedar’s unsettling movie, Time of Favor, which is now available on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform, delves into this explosive issue. Strangely enough, the Palestinians go unmentioned, as does Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. This is especially odd since the film was originally released shortly after the eruption of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000.
The main characters here are Israelis from the nationalist religious camp.
Rabbi Meltzer (Assi Dayan), a widower, and his headstrong daughter, Michal (Ravit Rozen), live in a settlement in the Judean Desert. He runs a yeshiva that serves as a pulpit for his radical opinions. Considered a fanatic by Israel’s Shin Bet secret service, he wants to rebuild the Third Temple in the Temple Mount compound in East Jerusalem, a scenario that would throw the region into total chaos and bloodshed.
Dayan delivers a terrific performance as a misguided true believer whose ideas could completely undermine Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states.
Menachem (Aki Avni), a religious army officer who wears a knitted yarmulke, leads a company of soldiers who study at the seminary headed by the rabbi. Given the rabbi’s outlook, Shin Bet officials and army officers voice concern over its formation.
One of the soldiers in Menachem’s unit, Pini (Edan Alterman), is courting Michal. Her father encourages Pini, his star pupil, to pursue Michal, who’s portrayed in fine fashion by Rozen. Michal is not in the last interested in forming a relationship with Pini. She is attracted to Menachem, Pini’s friend, and divulges her intentions in no uncertain terms.
With an awkward romantic triangle fast emerging, the rabbi intervenes. He gently asks Menachem to step aside, while fulsomely praising Pini as an up-and-coming Torah scholar. Meanwhile, he forcefully urges Pini to continue pursuing his daughter.
Much to Michal’s disappointment, Menachem leaves the settlement, prompting Michal to do the same. She is unhappy in this isolated desert outpost, a source of pain and loss to her.
With Menachem finally summoning up the courage to reveal his real feelings toward Michal, the film turns impolitely political.
Pini and another soldier, having imbibed or misinterpreted the rabbi’s teachings, hatch a plot to blow up a mosque in eastern Jerusalem. The illegal mission excites him to his core. We’re going to make history, Pini confides to a fellow plotter.
They have stolen explosives from an army depot and are preparing to implement their highly dangerous plan. The Shin Bet finds out about it and arrests Menachem without a shred of evidence proving his guilt.
Feigning ignorance of the plot, the rabbi subtly tries to implicate Menachem in it. Avni skillfully depicts Menachem as a reasonable, even-tempered person caught in a web of secrecy and intrigue.
Time of Favor, the recipient of six Israeli Academy Awards, is a figment of Cedar’s imagination, but it is far from fanciful in a country running amok with extremists who could easily ignite a catastrophe.