Hadar Galron spins comedy from Orthodox roots


Maria Heines | Staff Photographer

Jewish comedian and playwright Hadar Galron discusses the formation of her stand-up comedy show “Passion Killer” Monday evening in the Frick Fine Arts building.

By Maggie Young, Staff Writer

After the age of 12, Orthodox Jewish women are told they can’t sing because the sound of their voice is “indecent.” Jewish comedian and playwright Hadar Galron is familiar with Orthodox traditions like this. She was raised with them.

More than 50 people gathered in the Frick Fine Arts auditorium Monday night to listen to Galron discuss her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and how she defied the restraints she felt the community imposed on her.

Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in London, Galron was raised under the traditions of Jewish law and felt restricted because of her gender. After hearing a rabbi on the radio turn those strict customs into jokes, Galron realized she could share her experiences through stand-up comedy.

“I felt I was growing up in a space where everything I wanted was considered impossible,” Galron said. “Everything I wanted to do is, ‘No, you can’t do that because you’re a girl.’”

Monday’s event was organized by the Jewish studies and religious studies programs, along with the gender, sexuality and women’s studies program. Haya Feig, a lecturer for the Jewish studies program and a personal friend of Galron, invited the comedian to speak at Pitt. Feig hoped learning about Galron’s theater and film career in person would complement a new course Feig is teaching this semester on Israeli film and TV.

“I think it’s good to see someone who comes from the outside and explains something we all probably ask ourselves [about],” Feig said. “It’s very important to talk about the diversity within the Jewish community.”

Specifically, Feig said, Galron offers a personal look into the controversy surrounding Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities as someone who lived the experience.

Galron saw firsthand the effects marriage had on the Orthodox Jewish women around her. The rules of marriage in Orthodox law permit only the husband to request separation, Galron said, and if a woman wanted to leave the marriage, her husband would often blackmail her into staying married.

“Women’s status in Jewish law is the status of a belonging of your owner. Your owner is your husband,” Galron said. “The whole ceremony of getting married is a ceremony of being bought.”

After explaining the steps she took to distance herself from the Orthodox community — becoming a teacher in the army and leaving home to study theater in Tel Aviv — Galron showed the audience a clip of her stand-up show, “Passion Killer.” She explained how she channeled her experience and exaggerated it in her performance, aiming to bring attention to the issues Jewish women face.

“‘And why, why is it natural for a man to court a woman, and not natural for a woman to court a man?’” Galron said, mocking the rabbi she heard on the radio. “Kind of a primitive question, his answer was a killer. ‘This is like a man who has lost his wallet, can a wallet go look for his owner?’ It took me a moment to realize I was the wallet here in this story.”

Galron said exploring these issues through her comedy helped her realize that change has to come from the women in these Orthodox communities themselves. Even though these women are still seen as “secondary” to their husbands in the house, ultra-Orthodox women have established a growing presence in the workforce.

After having trouble with one specific Jewish tradition, Galron began writing a play about it. “Mikveh” is about the tradition of the same name, in which a woman undergoes a ritual bath in order to purify themselves after menstruation or childbirth. The most recent time she went to the mikveh, Galron said she was made to feel unclean because she had only participated in the ritual three times.

Each of the eight female characters in “Mikveh” has her own issue, Galron said, but they all come to the mikveh “to purify themselves for their husbands before marriage.” By having the play take place in the mikveh, Galron intended to have the women actors be completely naked, though her director convinced her to cover them following an argument.

“What enticed me about writing in a location of the mikveh is that you can see everything … the question is what you do with everything that is seen,” she said.

Galron presented part of the script of “Mikveh” on a projector and asked for three participants to read lines. Amalia Baker, a sophomore studying theater at Carnegie Mellon, was one of the participants.

“I was not aware of the situation because I didn’t grow up Orthodox, I’m a reformed Jew. It was really enlightening, and I’m really interested in the theater she’s making because that’s the world I come from,” Baker said.

After the play was read by the participants, Galron showed a preview of the play in Hebrew — as it was written — which Baker said was much more “invigorating” to watch.

“I got much more of a sense of what the character was experiencing in the original language,” Baker said.

Galron said she considers herself an outsider of the Orthodox community because she strayed from it. But because she never officially left, she said she is still connected to the issues of the community.

“I say I traded my religion for belief. My criticism is not for the community,” Galron said. “It is the law that is above that needs to change. I feel like I can make a stronger change from within than from standing outside throwing stones, because I don’t have all the answers but I do want to ask the questions.”