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Reality Show Sends Haredim into Radio Daze

In Israel, ultra-Orthodox contestants compete to become ‘The Spokesman’

Liel Leibovitz
June 10, 2013
The contenders on 'The Spokesman.'(Reuven Castro/Maariv)
The contenders on 'The Spokesman.'(Reuven Castro/Maariv)

The contestants in The Spokesman, one of Israel’s hottest new reality shows, look nothing like what you’d expect of the genre. They’re all men, most of them are short, and nearly all have thick beards. Not that it matters: No one will ever see their face.

That’s because The Spokesman is Israel’s first ultra-Orthodox reality show, and as such shuns the corrupting medium of television for the more heymische radio. Each week, its dozen or so participants compete for the ultimate prize, the right to become the haredi community’s liaison to the rest of the population, explaining its intricate needs and improving its overall public image. The task at hand is particularly acute as the Knesset debates the possibility of drafting haredi men en masse for the first time in Israel’s history. And the show’s such a hit with the haredi community that its participants have all become minor celebrities in their community.

The show’s dynamics are just like that of any other reality franchise—there are tasks, and one contender is voted off each week—but the black-hatted men vying for glory dislike the comparison to Israel’s other hit reality shows.

“This is not a reality show like Big Brother or The Amazing Race,” Itzik Bannon, 17, one of the contenders, said in an interview to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. “Over there [on secular TV], it’s just to get ratings and make some money off commercials… Here, there’s a cause. If you win, you become the spokesman and you go and promote the haredi public.” Also, he added, “the people [on this show] aren’t freaks.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.