|Directed by:||Timna Goldstein; Hadar Kleinman||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2000||Running Time:||60 min|
|More Info:||African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem Website||Category:||Israel|
Polygamy has seen a revival in contemporary Israel. Sister Wife reveals the story of the African Hebrew community, which endorses the taking of multiple wives, and follows one couple who, after 21 years of marriage, decide to take on another wife.
“It’s going to be a great accomplishment for him to have another wife,” Zipora Khazriel explains before her husband’s second wedding. “It’s something that he always wanted to do…I have no problem with it,” she says with a nonchalance that suggests that she has no idea what she’s getting herself into.
Sister Wife offers an inside look at the Khazriel’s polygamous marriage over several years, and a rare exploration of Israel’s unique African Hebrew community. Zipora and her husband Atur, like many of the people in their community, grew up in poverty in America’s inner cities. Atur struggled with a heroin habit at the age of thirteen, and watched his best friend die on the way home from buying a slice of pizza. “We left America because America was our slave country,” Zipora explains. Tired of the crime, poverty, chaos, and death that were a fixed part of their lives in America, the Khazriels and others like them fled to Israel, named themselves the Yehudah tribe, and established peaceful lives for themselves that revolved around family and faith.
The documentary captures the goings-on in the Khazriel home without any sense of moral judgment, letting their complicated situation speak for itself. We learn how all three members feel about the big issues: the wedding day, the sleeping situation — even the second wife’s first child. But equally as fascinating are the seemingly insignificant, intimate moments of marriage that become strained when three people are involved — like Atur riding in the backseat of a car with one wife sleeping on his shoulder and the other jealously stroking his thigh. He stares straight ahead, his look more that of a terrified deer caught-in-the-headlights than of an excited master-of-his-domain.
The community sanctions its practice of polygamy by pointing to the Bible, where it’s written, “And in the day, seven women shall take hold of one man…” (Isaiah, chapter 4, verse 1). But the African Hebrews’ women don’t need Biblical justification to explain their husbands’ behavior. It’s simply man’s nature to want more than just one wife, a group of women joke. They suggest it’s better to know the woman their husband is sleeping with than to have him sneak around with some tramp who could have AIDS or other STDs.
Maybe. But it’s hard not to think that the licentious man who needs to be between the thighs of lots of women relies on passive women who will accept any kind of behavior.
Sister Wife is a reminder that “normal” can have many different definitions. Zipora even sees her husband’s new marriage as an opportunity for her own self-improvement and progression. “I’m on a mission to perfect myself,” she says, explaining that this new experience will make her grow and develop into a better person.
It’s not until the wedding day that the look on Zipora’s face changes. Sitting in the front row in a white dress, watching her family and friends celebrate her husband’s enthusiasm for a young girl, she suddenly realizes what the rest of her life is going to feel like.
Yet, the real love story in the marriage comes as a shocking development. Erella, the second wife, is a lonely, quiet girl who’s about as old as Zipora’s marriage. Nine months pregnant, soon after their marriage, she already feels the gap that age has put between her and her new husband. “It’s his tenth child and my first child,” she says in a tired, aloof tone. It is Zipora who comforts her, taking her in like a little sister.
No one argues when a mother says she loves all her children fully and equally, and Atur claims to share an equal love for both his wives. It certainly seems to be working for him: After explaining his new sleeping situation to the camera he exclaims, “It’s a king’s life!” and starts laughing. Suddenly self-aware, he corrects himself to appear more politically correct. “And a queen’s life,” he adds.
But his words drone with insincerity, and one needn’t wonder long why neither of his wives shares the sentiment.