ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Contracts Issues in Shtisel, Season 3, Part I

I am a big fan of the Israeli television series Shtisel.  I was thrilled when Netflix made Season 3 available but also a bit apprehensive, because I just didn't think the writers could maintain the intensity of their dramedy without drifting into formulaic schtick or melodrama.  Season 3 begins with a grieving widower, an orthodox woman unable to bear children, and a school principal facing removal from his position as a punishment for some pretty brutal corporal punishment caught on a smart phone.  The season was tipping towards melodrama.  But the show sustains its remarkable balancing act, revealing unexpected depths in its characters, brought out through fabulous acting, inventive plot twists that don't overtax the viewers' indulgence, and brilliant pacing and editorial interweaving of different threads. 

I just watched an episode in which the main character from Seasons 1 & 2, Akiva Shtisel (Michael Aloni) did not appear at all.   I didn't miss him, even thought I am very intrigued by his journey in Season 3, because I was so caught up with what was going on with the other characters.  The show is especially fun for me, because it provides just the life-support needed to sustain my dwindling recollection of Hebrew and Yiddish.  In addition, the show depicts strong-willed, even stubborn, characters constrained by fervent religious belief.  They constantly collide with one another while stuck between a rock and a hard place. The show's women are remarkably practical, creative, and determined, but also vulnerable and thus inevitably brittle; its men are deeply flawed and often shrewdly self-interested but also passionate and sometimes endowed with a softness and compassion that the women cannot always afford -- or don't think they can risk.

Contracts, formal and informal, and negotiation pervade the series.  I am only halfway through the season, and I don't want to provide too many spoilers, but here are some of the contractual/transactional interactions that arise:

  • Has a school principal been effectively terminated from employment if he has been informed of his termination but does not agree to it?  If he responds by setting up a rival school and sets out to poach his former employer's students, has he breached any obligations absent a covenant not to compete?
  • If an art collector agrees to exchange paintings she has purchased from a gallery for new paintings by the same artist of equal quality, is that a subjective condition of satisfaction or a an illusory promise, given that the collector seems to have total discretion to determine whether the substitute paintings are of equal quality?
  • Can a young man get out of an arranged marriage when: the prospective bride and groom have no real connection, and the groom has fallen for another woman; and the bride's family has asked for additional consideration above the amount agreed upon at the start of the arrangement?
  • If an orthodox Jew providing catering services for a secular tv producer promises to supply orthodox Jews who will perform as extras on demand, has he breached when he substitutes hipsters for the orthodox Jews?

I expect I will add a Part II to this post once I finish the season.

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