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by Jordan Hiller   




 


ON THE PASSION

            Genesis


Of all places, a kosher restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee while on line waiting to pay for a couple of hot dogs. The price of kosher meat down south took me by surprise and at first sight of my bill I uttered in disbelief, “Jesus Christ”. The clerk behind the counter stared at me and my yarmulke in awe. I, suddenly becoming uncomfortably aware of my words, quietly apologized. She smiled a proud and comforting smile believing she had witnessed my salvation. “If you need him, you can call him”, she said. 

Growing up in New York where everyone within daled amos was a Jew, married to one, or working for one, and all Christmas meant was a bonus episode of He-Man in prime time, I never had to take Jesus seriously. Jesus (with or without the “H. Christ” accompaniment) was a word I learned through pop culture to be interchangeable with “Wow” or Holy Smokes” or “Holy four letter word.” Yes, on the periphery I knew the word beheld some gravity because there was occasionally some older, wiser, grumpier Jew around to admonish my careless speech practice. “Don’t say that name!” Why not sir? “Just don’t say it…say Yushky or cheese and crackers.” The most I could get out of the adults of the world was the following impression: As Jews, we don’t “believe” in Jesus.

During the years that followed new and sometimes stunning revelations dawned on me – all through various educational resources, not limited to but certainly not assisted by yeshiva. I was living during one of the rare moments in the past two thousand years where Christians (followers of that unmentionable name) were not making life difficult for Jews; that Jesus himself was a Jew; that people hate Jews because we killed Jesus by pegging him to a cross (yes, the cross – that symbol I see all the time glowing, shining in lights – especially on Sunday morning when nothing good is on TV and all those men are yelling about Jeezuz). Later, I learned that we really didn’t kill him, but we were the only one who knew that. It was quite the relief finding out that we were not responsible (the Romans were I was informed), but did it matter if all these people believed otherwise? Again, not that it made a difference either way. No one ever called me a Christ-killer or accused me with a blood libel. I never felt threatened by that little slice of our history. After all, Jesus was Jewish, right? We don’t kill our own and even if we did, how were we to know how popular he was going to be?

Then the bombshell (maybe eighth grade or so). Jesus’ death was not just an age old factual event to which we can apply the rules of logic and reasoning. You see, according to those cross wearing masses, Jesus was not a man at all. He is divine. The child of God and a human mother who died for “our” sins. To take a page from our book (as Christianity does rather liberally), he was the messiah.

Of course in college I would get the run down regarding the further interconnection between our faiths, the edited Gemara in Sanhedrin, the work of Saul of Tarsis etc.

            Exodus

Now, that was a rather elementary foray into the mind of a sheltered orthodox kid growing up at the close of the millennium. The point being that our generation has been miraculously pulled from the flames of history and live in relative harmony, side by side with our good neighbors who believe and are instructed that we had a hand in killing God and that Hell is our likely reward. This peace affords us somewhat of an arrogant and unfeeling perspective. Of course I am not complimenting restraint, civility, or morality as if crusades and inquisitions are normal, expected behavior – but we must appreciate and acknowledge our good fortune in this blessed United States. It is a monumental historical event that a Jew like me can even post an article like this for all eyes to see and not fear for my life.

The collective Jewish national fear in quiet times is always the same: What cataclysm will disturb this peace and set into motion the cycle that keeps us always guarded and ever alert for our security.

What Mel Gibson’s new film opening today about the last twelve hours before the crucifixion represents is that tremor, an expanding of the crack that blips our sensors to code orange and warns…is this it? Could this be it? Has it come to a movie in Latin and Aramaic?

                                                            Leviticus 

Times are different you will say and you will be right. Times are different, however do not be foolish enough to believe that popular entertainment cannot trigger real dangers and incite real violence. Passion plays (performances historically depicting the suffering or “passion” of Jesus) notoriously were staged throughout Christiandom to drum up the ire of Christians against us heathens, resulting many times in marauding and plunder.

The questions pacing nervously in the back of our minds today is simply this: Will the movie instigate riots, usher in an era of modern day pogroms, or something less, or something more? I can’t reasonably imagine riots and pogroms, but will it set off a few fanatics and cause harm to Jews in this country and around the word? Undoubtedly it will. The director himself confesses that his intention is to push his audience over the edge. Can you imagine what kind of reaction he will elicit from those watching who were previously over the edge? In an effort to remain above all the drama we have to ask a second, more intellectually important question: Does this make the movie and by extension Mel Gibson, the auteur, bad or wrong? 

Mel told Diane Sawyer the other night that he is not anti-Semitic and he does not deny the Holocaust. He enjoys parading around Maia Morgenstern, (a daughter of survivors) who plays Mary in the film, to physically show his lack of bias. As one church lady used to say, “How convenient.” Regardless, a talented actor and director like Mel Gibson (who clearly had gone through a traumatic religious metamorphosis) can hate Jews and deny holocausts. He is not a historian of any merit or a political leader affecting international policies. His opinions as an educated layman are as valid as the rest of ours, whether he is misguided or not. True, he made a movie which appeals to a wide public audience, but crazed men have been making crazed movies with crazed messages ever since the early days of racist cinema in the 40’s, and history will judge these filmmakers accordingly. With the press this movie has received, at the very least, we must admit that the film will not blindside anyone. Those in attendance are well aware of what they bought tickets for, they have been armed with whatever preconceived notions their environments have wrought. If you go in thinking the damn Jews killed Christ, you’ll see bloodthirsty Jews accursing themselves for eternity. If you believe they didn’t, you’ll see a violent but inaccurate depiction of an historic episode. If you could care less, you’ll see a gory murder where Jews and Romans are the bad guys (and it won’t be the first movie where a Jew is the villain and it won’t be the last).

Gibson had at least one valid point during the bizarre nationally televised interview where Mad Max truly seemed mad. He said a movie like Schindler’s List depicts Germans in a most unfavorable light and yet we don’t blame the Germans of today for the atrocities of their fathers. He’s correct. I don’t hate Russians after seeing Red Dawn, or Vietnamese after seeing Platoon. I have the capacity to separate a movie from reality and between the past and the present. Why should we not attribute the same sensibility to Christian audiences?

The simple answer in opposition to his allegory is that the Holocaust is a human tragedy; the crucifixion is deicide. While his idea is conceptually sound, one can’t compare the motivations and zealousness surrounding religious fervor with anything else in creation. Mr. Gibson has plucked at the rawest of nerves yet I cannot blame him. He is expressing himself through the medium of film and using the text of his bible as the basis. I am sure that we, as Jews with our biblical commentaries and super-commentaries enough to fill all the garden apartments in Queens, can understand that when it comes to bible interpretation, there are thousands of possibilities - and who is to proclaim which are meritorious and which are to be disdained? Gibson has chosen one of the thousand – the one he believes is most correct.

Mel grew up in a home where Jews were (at the very least) spoken ill of and the Holocaust was called fiction …but to be fair…I grew up in a home where the New Testament was called fiction. I deny him and he denies me. It’s a draw. Jews and Christians (even more so than Muslims) are not even, at this point, remotely on the same page from a theological perspective (The Rambam says Christianity is Avodah Zarah at the level of Yaharaig V’al Ya’avor, but not Islam). We are an intrusive, scrappy thorn forever sticking in their religious sides, but we have found a way in our time to agree to disagree and wait it out until the apocalypse to decide who’s right. This movie merely reminds of the disagreement, but let us not pretend it creates it.

                                                                        Numbers

Mel Gibson, the filmmaker, is not bad or wrong under the common definition. He is or is becoming a religious fanatic, and the most dangerous kind – the kind with money and influence. Being a fanatic is bad and wrong because in one’s eagerness to serve God, a fanatic never stops to consider that this same God has put us on a planet with many different people with many different beliefs – and we all have to live here together. 

A Christian co-worker of mine told me that Mel may have an evangelical motive here and Mel has not contested this point. Bottom line is if you are the type of person who develops an opinion about faith and God via a movie made by the some Hollywood playboy gone preacher, you were a lost cause to begin with. If this kind of film enhances your religious experience, more power to you. Spirituality is hard to find in these dark, confusing times. 

                                                          Deuteronomy

Finally, I think there is some truth to the argument that Jewish organizations generally overreact in these proceedings. I completely understand where they are coming from and that they are our protectors first, but sometimes - sometimes we need to tone it down a bit because the net result of all the hoopla is…a chilul Hashem. Jews look worse for it – to Non-Jews and fellow Jews alike. We become the media manipulating, control obsessed connivers of stereotype. In the case of this film, Jews organizations attacked the movie before seeing it – that’s an uglier version of censorship, a major no-no in America. If you reap the benefits of the freedoms in this country, it’s bad form to demand others to compromise their own. Sure a movie like this hits us and pretty hard at that, but we have to realize that in this First Amendment  land of unrestricted lunacy, everyone gets knocked around now and again. The church and Christianity got pummeled last year in Dan Brown’s number one bestseller The DaVinci Code and again in Norman Jewison’s The Statement. Of course we can do without more anti-Semites, but this is and was and always will be who we are. We are hate magnets wherever we go. So I’m always a bit shocked when there is an uproar over an anti-Semitic comment made in the media. That this governor or that actor is not a fan of Jews. I expect nothing less.

Here’s my gospel: Instead of constantly worrying from where the next anti-Semite will pop up, an event we have not control over, let us each be fair, decent, sincerely friendly, and respectful to ANYONE we come across, and then let our Lord and Savior, in His infinite wisdom, judge the Mel Gibsons of the world b’mihara b’yamenu.

                                                            AMEN

Epilogue: The press screening Bangitout.com was invited to for this film took place today, Wednesday, February 25th. I have an urge to see the film,  but may not. I have no place there. As far as I know Jesus did not die for me. The movie is a deeply religious experience for someone of a different religion. I would not expect a Christian to sit through a film graphically showing the skin flaying and the burning alive of our martyrs (R’ Akiva etc. as read on our High Holy Days). If I do by chance end up committing myself to a showing, I will report back here.

If a Jew chose to see this movie, I imagine it would stem from pure curiosity. Jesus is the most famous Jew who ever lived (right up there with Moses) and his history is ours – however, there are far more productive and appropriate ways to study his intriguing life. 

Bangitout.com looks forward to hearing from any readers who saw the movie and choose to contribute relevant comments.

  ---------------------- 

Send your comments to bangitout Film Editor, Jordan Hiller at jtrick1@aol.com 


READER COMMENTS

From Shimra (again)
Hi Alex,~
I don't know you, but boy did you take me the wrong way. I was not biased at all. Truthfully I am not totally familiar with the Gospels but before I posted I read up on as much as I could from movie reviewers who were more familiar with it. As for the nun, her name is Sister Anne Emerich if you'd like to look her up. The Vatican condemned her writings in the 60's for being incendiary and anti-semitic. So according to the Pope at least, she wasn't a prophet. And if she wasn't, well...ever hear the old joke, If you talk to G-d that's great it's if G-d talks to you then you're crazy? For a complete list of what in the movie is in the New Testament and what isn't look up this link www.beliefnet.com/story/140/story_14097_1.htm. This details everything scene by scene. Once you see how much of the movie is embellishment maybe you'll be more sympathetic towards Jews like me who feel deeply frightened by this movie instead of accusing us of not wanting people to find G-d. As a Christian do you have to take the Gospels literally? Like they were written by G-d Himself? Because Jews don't quite go that way. We leave a lot of room in the Torah for interpretation by the qualified and gifted commentators we've produced throughout history. Do you believe that anyone who disagrees with the Gospels is anti-Christian? I don't. But I know they were written a century or two after Jesus's death by men who were trying to spread Christianity to the masses. Of course they're going to lessen the blame of the Romans if they're promoting the religion to Romans! That's why Pontius Pilate is so angelic in the New Testament despite the fact that history knows better. And no, history is not anti-Christian. And history also knows that the high priest was never the head of Sanhedrin, they did not hold cases at night and certainly would never never hand over a Jew to non-Jews which is a HUGE sin worthy of execution. Besides which there were no Sanhedrin at the time, they were all murdered by Herod who is not the fag he's portrayed as in the movie. Read Josephus sometime. You'll get the Jews' side of the story if you're at all interested. Since you do seem to take the New Testament literally surely you know the line from Matthew where the high priest says "his blood is on us and on our children". Mel Gibson left that in the movie though unsubtitled. THIS is the source for accusing Jews to be Christ-killers throughout history. For the Inquisition, burning Jews at the stake alive, pogroms, Christian silence during the Holocaust. Don't deny that. That's history. You can look that up too. Or better yet read Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell. It'll enlighten you a little bit. Yours in knowledge, Shimra P.S. Jews don't believe in faith, but rather intellectual knowledge that G-d exists
From Alex
Dear Mr. Hiller~
I too believe you talked too much about your opinion on a movie which you haven't seen. You need to be an unbiased observer to write your true feelings. To that extent, I don't understand why you allowed "Shimra"'s response on your page. It was biased in the worst way.
RE: SHIMRA's comments below
How dare you say some of the things you said. I don't know what faith you are, but I will *Assume* you're jewish, because of some of the remarks in your response. Who is this 19th century nun you talk about? I did not read up on the film, but I DID read up on the gospels, all of them, as they are part of my bible. So what if you've read reviews of the movie in mainstream newspapers praising Jesus' bringing of those new ideas (love and forgiveness)? Anyone who is Christian will know that what Jesus preached was a direct throwback, a quotation if you will, of Old Testament teachings. So the only people who will think that the Torah teaches people the oppisite are the people who have not found God. And perhaps it is our job to help them find him..(but isn't that against your laws?).

Gibson's "inacuracies" 'from the beginning of the movie' are only to show a point. A beaten and bruised Jesus was brought before Pilate. We don't really know how badly he was beaten, whipped, stabbed, kicked, before he was brought before him. Yes, Joseph of Aramathea and Nicademus weren't in the picture, but what of the 3 or 4 priests who said things that proved Jesus to be crazy, not the blasphemer which Ciaphas wanted him to be? SO what if the "trial" took place at night? This was a pretty shaky attempt to prove a man guilty, so I think Mr. Gibson did a fine job portraying what HE THOUGHT might have happened.

But on to Pilate. It is my belief that Pilate resides in heaven with Jesus. He did everything in his power to save him from being crucified. He beat him to try to satisfy the people, but they were egged on by Ciaphas. Weren't these the same people, wasn't this the same crowd who layed palm branches in front of Jesus as he rode into town??? Pilate had direct and severe orders to keep the peace. If he didn't do something, the high priests would have paid the crowds to start an uprising. But, since he did kill Jesus, an uprising began anyway. Either way he was fucked. Pilate 'washed his hands' of Jesus' death. Both Pilate and Herod found no cause in Jesus for him to be condemmed to death.

I do not believe there was anti-semitism in this movie. The jews who had Jesus killed were or a certain order, and that order is now dead. Ciaphas and Annas are dead, they killed Jesus, YOU (Jews today) did not. Let it be.

Your argument seems to be based on the fact that Gibson took his script from the words of a "schizophrenic visions from a nun." Now, what made her schizoid? The fact that God spoke to her? If that is the case, then by your argument, every prophet, from the Old Testament onward is Craaaaaazy.

Your last paragraph has to do with the 'little Jewish children" who taunt Judas untill he hangs himself. Those children WEREN'T REAL. Did you not notice they weren't there after he fell to the ground next to the dead cow? Those kids were meant to show the Demons that plagued Judas after he did his deed. When Jesus falls from the bridge, and Judas is there, at the end of the scene a demon flies away, and scares most of the audience. Same thing...a demon which lives in Judas. Therefore, those kids DON'T represent actual jewish children pissing Judas off. I hope you read this.

Mr. Hiller, a response to this email would be appreciated, and any response from this other person would also be appreciated. If you wish to post this letter on your site, feel free to.
Yours in Faith, Alex

From Keppy
I saw the movie. I was curious. This article is great!
turned my head for the gory parts. I felt that the Jews and the Romans looked equally Barbaric. Obviously the "Governor" was made to look like a nice guy and historcally - he was evil and the Romans say that - fine they'll do the crucification but it is not their fault - and they wash their hands of it - well you can't just say that. My focus actually the whole time was on the Kohein and his helper- elite group of Rabbis- and wrong or not - my point of view is that some people who think they are elite and have huge egos will be so stubborn when it comes to their opinion - that they are right and anyone who doesn't do what they do is wrong and bad - and they will go to any lengths - no matter who they hurt - to prove that that person is wrong. So maybe it is wrong for Mel to portray people that way because we don't want our people to be portrayed as barbaric - especially if he didn't have that experience - it is so wrong to judge - but let's face it - some people in the "elite" group are barbaric. and my hope is that people will learn from everything around us- including this movie -and strive to be better people and Moshiach can come and make this world a better place - Omein!!!!!!!

From GED
Didn’t see it, can’t review it. im not saying i didn’t appreciate the article, just that as a movie reviewer (with some loyal readers) you have an obligation to see the movie and expound upon it.

From Pamela
I saw the Passion. I saw it mainly because I needed to satisfy my own curiosity; I needed to see for myself what all the hoopla was about. It is difficult to get past the unrelenting graphic violence; I had to look away more than once. I can't tell you if it is accurate or not because I don't really know my New Testament facts. Obviously I didn't find anything uplifting or any spiritual message from this movie, ( I cannot figure out how anyone can), but that is for others this isn't my story.

Is it anti-Jewish? Well, the "priests" look pretty mean and vicious. They are very intent on making sure the Romans execute Jesus, they are the ones screaming crucify him. The Jews seem to have to push the Roman Governor to act, he seems reluctant. What I don't get is, so what. If Jesus had died in his sleep at a ripe old age the Christians wouldn't have any story. The crucifixion is the central point of Christianity; the whole thing rests on that happening. Maybe it was the Jews whipped up into a frenzied mob screaming for crucifixion, (it isn't very likely) or maybe it was all the Romans, either way it all ends up the same.

In my home I was taught that the whole story doesn't make any sense. To me. The question is, will Anti-Semitism bubble up to the surface because of watching this Passion Play, played out in a hollywood movie, (history would seem to tell us yes) or ironically from all the hype and furor surrounding it.

Last week that movie permeated just about everything, including my daughters 8th grade Gemara class. They left Pesachim and got a brief tutorial in Jesus in his time. Purim Sameach, Pamela

From John Church Brighton, Michigan
As a Roman Catholic, I was concerned as I watched the Passion if there was an underlying theme of an anti Semantic nature. In my opinion, the only "bad guys" were the sadistic Roman soldiers drooling at their excitement to torture this Jesus. The Pharisees were the ones insisting on Jesus' death. That was just a small portion of the Jewish people at the time. I dont feel that the viewer of the movie nor the subject matter would imply anything that is anti-Semantic. I loved reading your insight and opinion. The film suggests some topics that are still controversial even for us Roman Catholics. Thank you for allowing me the time to write to you. SHALOM!! The warmest hello from Brighton, Michigan (USA)

From Shimra

I don't know why you chose to ramble on and on (and ON) about a movie you never planned on seeing. But what I find truly offensive about your review is that you have the gall to compare Rashi and other commentators to Mel Gibson's "interpretation" of the Gospels. If you had actually read up on the film you'd know Gibson is not very faithful to the Gospels at all. He relies heavily on a 19th century nun's "mystical visions" which are notoriously anti Jewish and were condemned by the Catholic Church in the 60's.

I've seen the movie. I have never been so angry and terrified in my life. Mark my words, Jews will die because of this movie.

From the beginning Gibson adds details that are pure embellishment. Before Jesus's trial even begins, the Jews are already beating the shit out of him. Including the Kohen Gadol, who despite not being in the Beis HaMikdash is wearing the Choshen Mishpat and the Tzitz etc. Better not let the kiddies dress up as Aharon this year! Oh and most of the Jews (except Jesus's followers) have hooked noses (surprise), payos, and wear taleitim at ALL times. The two members of the Sanhedrin mentioned in the Gospels who were sympathetic are NOT EVEN MENTIONED. For the record their names are Nicomedus and Joseph of Arimathea.

More inaccuracies: Jesus's trial takes place at night (assur), with no witnesses (ditto), the only judge is the Kohen Gadol (nice touch), hundreds of Jews rioting in the streets screaming for Jesus's execution (exxagerated number not even mentioned in Matthew), Pontius Pilate is a sweetie pie who is forced to execute Jesus because if the Jews (who he calls a filthy rabble) started a rebellion one more time it would be HIS ass up on a cross courtesy of Caesar. Because the Jews were ALWAYS rebelling.   But of course. Pilate in reality was a psycho whose ass was recalled to Rome for his brutality. There actually WAS no Sanhedrin b/c Pilate and Herod had them all murdered!!! But that was in the Gospels so it must be true.

Oh and as for the apologetics regarding the anti-semitism..."but there were nice Jews in the movie...are you going to say Schindler's List is anti-German?" First of all, that comparison is bigoted in the extreme. How dare people bring the Holocaust into this! Schindler's List is history! The Passion is mostly based on a nun's schizophrenic visions!
And as for the "nice Jews" they were all followers of Jesus. Not one was just a Jew.

One last thing: the absolute worst part about this movie is that it makes it seem as if g'milut chassadim, love and forgiveness are Christian concepts, totally foreign to Judaism. I've read film reviews in mainstream newspapers praising Jesus for bringing up these "new" and "controversial" ideas . So on top of everything else people will think the Torah is against loving your fellow man.

Oh yes, forgot to mention that the Jewish children running around become demons who torture Judas till he finally hangs himself. Also NOT in the Gospels or anywhere else for that matter.

 

Reviews by Jordan Hiller

The Passion  

ALILA

Hiding and Seeking:  Faith and Tolerance after the 
Holocaust

Decryptage

The Ten Best Films of 1993 

The Statement

Big Fish

Hebrew Hammer

Forget Baghdad

The Missing

Master and Commander

Kill Bill

Trembling Before G-d

Girlhood

Veronica Guerin

Pieces of April

Wonderland

Bubba Ho-tep

Casa De Los Babys

Dummy

American Splendor

Gigli

The Holy Land

Return from India

The Shape of Things

City of Ghosts

Anger Management

Levity

The Guys

Assassination Tango

Gaudi Afternoon

Spun

Nowhere in Africa

Foreign Sister

Spider

Relentless

L’chayim, Comrade Stalin
part 1

part 2

Chicago

Divine Intervention

The Pianist

Best films of 2002 1992

8 mile


Punch Drunk Love


Signs


Gaza Strip

The Kid Stays in the Picture

MIB II

Minority Report

Insomnia

Spider-Man

Spring Movie Preview 2002

Panic Room

The Oscar Preview 2002

Royal Tenenbaums

Harry Potter

The Man who Wasn't There

From Hell

Training Day

Hearts in Atlantis

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

the others

Planet of the apes

Jurassic Park III

A.I.

Shrek & Atlantis

The Mummy Returns

Enemy At the Gates

Heartbreakers

Exit Wounds

15 Minutes

You Can Count on Me

The Mexican

Down to Earth

Meet the Parents

EXTRA! THEATER THAT BANGS:
Golda's Balcony HERE

SPECIAL EDITION:
Tribeca FIlm Festival 2003

Daily Coverage: HERE

Photo Gallery HERE


Film Reviews:

A Breach in the Wall

Every Child is Born a Poet: The Life and Work of Piri Thomas

Paper Chasers


Resisting Paradise


MC5: A True Testimonial


Sweet Sixteen


The Shape of Things


Yossi and Jagger


Persona Non Grata



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