March 31, 2013


THE DISPUTATION: A Passion for Censorship (David Klinghoffer, 8/01/03, The Forward)

[T]he second reason we Jews need to learn some deep-breathing and other relaxation techniques is the one that always gets lost when others less meticulous than Fredriksen publicly humiliate a Christian for espousing his beliefs. If we are empowered to edit their doctrine, then why are they not empowered to edit ours?

In the past, Christians felt justified in telling Jews what we were entitled to write and read if it touched upon their savior. The Talmud was censored with their denunciations, and worse, in mind.

There seems little danger "The Passion" will incite violence. However, if it were to arouse Christians to demand that Jews similarly submit our faith for their approval - well, then, the attempt to cow Mel Gibson will have been most helpful to would-be Christian censors in making their case.

If Gibson someday says he would like to have a look at the Talmud with a view to fixing it up with some additional corrections, we should let Paula Fredriksen have a go at explaining to him why this would be inappropriate.

This dispute has reached the point where both the story of the Crucifixion and Mel Gibson's attempt to defend himself against charges of anti-Semitism are being characterized as inherently anti-Semitic. Such arguments push anti-anti-Semitism towards anti-Christianism.

-Passion Play: The controversy over Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie on the death of Jesus Christ. (Michael Novak, 08/25/2003, Weekly Standard)

The claims Christ made for himself seemed at the time divisive and dangerous. Many people, the Jewish authorities told Pilate, were following this man's lead. His history, they said, showed that he worked magic, performed miracles, and consorted with demons. He had been sent by God, he as much as said, to "fulfill the Scriptures." His continued preaching might lead to riot and rebellion. But only the Romans had the power to do to Jesus what was actually done, and so it was under the authority of Pontius Pilate, and at the hands of the Roman Empire, that Jesus "was crucified, died, and was buried."

AT THE TIME of Christ's death, Christianity was still internal to Judaism. The Christian Church itself began not at the Passion, but fifty-three days later on Pentecost, when the apostles left an "upper room" in Jerusalem speaking in tongues. With his preaching Jesus had clearly put a challenge to Judaism, expressly announcing a "new" covenant, whose mandate was to "complete" and "fulfill" the "old" covenant. And there is no doubt that Jesus' death meant a parting of the ways between Christians and Jews. Nonetheless, from a Christian point of view, the life and teachings of Jesus and his new covenant do not remove or destroy the old covenant. God cannot be unfaithful to his promises. Besides, if the Creator is not faithful to his first covenant with the Jews, how can Christians expect Him to be faithful to His new covenant with them?

Thus, Christians hold that Christianity fulfills the hopes launched into the world by Judaism. They also hold that those Jews who reject Christianity remain vessels of God's first love. In God's mysterious plan, the continuation of Judaism in time is a grace to be respected, on the same principle on which the faith of Christians rests--the fidelity of God to his everlasting promises.

The Jewish leaders of the generation that knew him did in fact reject Jesus and his claims, and they did accuse him of blasphemy. "Nevertheless," as the Second Vatican Council said in its statement on Judaism, "the Jews still remain very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made." The Council strictly forbids Catholics to hold Jews to be "repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the Holy Scriptures." And it deplores "all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time and from any source against the Jews." This condemnation includes the Church's own sins. The Council stressed the two covenants' common spiritual heritage and foresaw a future in which both communities would serve God "shoulder to shoulder."

Gibson's film is wholly consistent with the Second Vatican Council's presentation of the relations of Judaism and the Christian Church. But "The Passion" will not be easy for Jews to watch. One reason is simply that its entire subject is the death of one who, for many Jews, is a
figure of division, Jesus Christ. And a second reason is that it is never easy to relive a moment in which the leaders of one's community, however justified they might have been by their own lights and their own sense of responsibility, do not appear to viewers to be acting in a noble way. As a Catholic, I cringe every time I go to the theater when a pope, cardinal, archbishop, or even priest is portrayed in an unflattering light. Even when they deserve it, I do not enjoy the spectacle.

In the first part of the gospels' account of the Passion, the high priests of Jerusalem standing before Pilate are, painfully no doubt to contemporary Jews, the voice for the prosecution. During the early scenes of the movie, which I tried to watch as if I were Jewish or seated alongside a Jewish colleague, I thought: This is too painful. Having sat through many analogous moments as a Catholic, I did not like the experience.

VERY SOON, though, the action in the film belongs to the Romans. Roman soldiers inflict systematic pain on Jesus with gusto, lighthearted bantering, and the practiced sadism of those who know how to keep subdued populations subdued. The overwhelming drama consists in Christ's willing endurance of unbearable suffering, for the purpose of inaugurating an entirely new order in human life. The movie, like the gospels, is unmistakable in setting this meaning before our eyes. It is, somehow, our sins for which Jesus is dying.

The Passion of Jesus Christ is not a drama about ethnicity. It is about our humanity. The hero of this movie is Jewish, his mother is Jewish, his apostles and followers are Jewish. But one misses the whole point of the Passion of Jesus unless one sees that he submitted to his suffering for all of us.

-Are observant Jews racists?: Intermarriage bad. Jewish continuity good. Discuss. (Rabbi Avi Shafran, October 11, 2003,
Countless Jews of faith work closely with, are neighbors of, or are friends with, non-Jews. And while the Torah clearly identifies the Jews as God's "chosen nation," and imposes upon them special obligations befitting that status, at the same time Jewish tradition clearly regards non-Jews as created as well "in God's image" and as full partners in humanity, as per the Talmudic assertion that meaningful lives and the World-to-Come are the potential provinces of all people.

What is more, while Judaism neither demands nor seeks converts, any non-Jew who is truly willing and ready to undertake observance of the Torah's laws can, according to the Torah itself, join the Jewish people. How objectionable, in the end, can an "exclusive club" be if anyone at all can join it by sheer force of will?

There may well be prejudiced people within the religious Jewish world, as there are among all communities, but they are not representative of that world. In fact, the Jewish religious imperative of "darkei shalom -- the ways of peace" mandates exemplary behavior toward all humankind.

And yet, all the same, it is certainly true: observant Jews do not choose non-Jews as spouses and want all Jews to marry other Jews.

How can that be understood?

Well, for starters, it needn't be. Judaism is a religion of laws, some of which are understandable and others puzzling. Like eating pork or creating fire on the Sabbath, intermarriage is prohibited by the Torah, period.

Leaving aside, though, the religious component, is Jewish support for Jewish in-marriage really beyond comprehension?

[Originally posted: October 30, 2003]

Posted by at March 31, 2013 1:00 AM

I still want to run a pool about the gross of the Passion. A two and a half hour film in Latin and Aramaic? Give me a break. Foreign language films don't sell even when they have lots of steamy sex. I don't think it will pass Gigli.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 30, 2003 9:28 AM


Maybe, but mightn't hundreds of thousands of secularists go and see it in order to be shocked and conclude that everybody else in the theatre is an unredeemed anti-semite?

Posted by: Peter B at October 30, 2003 12:17 PM

I'm with Robert.

Speaking as a blinkered Secularist, I'm betting the boffo box office will scarcely pass what I get for my home videos of the kids.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 30, 2003 6:39 PM

It would benefit from subtitles. Still, you have to respect Gibson for making a work of art, rather than a work of commerce. If there is any subject that calls for artistry, this is it.

Posted by: pj at October 30, 2003 7:42 PM

The fuss about the film is admittedly a teapot tempest, but it is understandable. Illogical though it may be, the crucifixion has been used for centuries as a justification for a number of anti-Semitic actions, including some quite violent ones. In this respect, Christians have a very bad track record -- one which they still seem reluctant to face squarely.

But it is unfortunate that the Gibson film is being used as the focal point of this controversy. It seems to me that the prospect of Christ going Hollywood should trigger off alarm bells for believing Christians rather than believing Jews.

Posted by: Josh Silverman at October 30, 2003 8:17 PM


It's not illogical, but it is unChristian.

Posted by: oj at October 30, 2003 10:09 PM

OJ -- Unchristian in what sense? Quite a number of Christians did it, frequently with the full backing of their churches. As a very eminent authority once said, you judge a tree by its fruits.

Posted by: Josh Silverman at October 31, 2003 5:33 PM

One bad apple don't spoil the whole dang bunch--the sweet fruits of Christianity far outweigh the bitter. The confrontation with Jews--who deny the Messiah in the Christian view--was inevitable. Banishment seems within reason but killing goes too far. Luckily, there were fairly few and Jews, for the most part, survived in Christendom until Christianity dimmed in places like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

Posted by: OJ at October 31, 2003 6:59 PM

Robert: Did the pool close yet? Apparently it's at $370M+ and counting. Must be the steamy sex.

Posted by: John Resnick at April 16, 2006 10:05 AM

John, that's just the US box office. It's $612 million worldwide (wikipedia).

Posted by: Patrick H at April 16, 2006 1:08 PM

Patrick: I know......just trying to lull Robert into doubling down ;)

Posted by: John Resnick at April 17, 2006 1:41 AM
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