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How Not to Express Concern and Defuse Bigotry

Consider the implications of what Rabbi Avi Shafran is saying here:

So while Mr. Gibson may himself have not a Jew-hating bone in his body, he cannot escape that the imagery he has so vividly and movingly portrayed has over the course of millennia yielded the maiming and murder of countless Jews. His Technicolor resurrection of that imagery will surely bring solace to Jew-haters everywhere -- if not things considerably worse. ...

If it one day swings back to the Christian sphere, religious pornography like Mr. Gibson's new offering will probably have played a role. Blood libels have thrived on even flimsier fodder than movies.

One cannot help but wonder why his faith didn't lead Mr. Gibson to portray instead one or another of the New Testament's stories of kindness or love. And even if he wanted the sort of blood-and-guts violence so popular with audiences these days, he could have recreated other religious events for the camera -- entirely historically verifiable ones, like the Crusades. Or the Inquisition. Or he could have presented audiences with a depiction not of Romans and Jews but of Christians in more recent times whose theologies inspired the Polish and Russian pogroms that preceded -- and some say helped inspire -- the Holocaust.

I realize that such thinking may be par for the course of modern inter-religious dialogue, but consider the sheer audacity and offensiveness of it. To a Christian, the hours of the Passion and Resurrection were the most significant in all of human history — and beyond. The imagery inherent in the event itself perfectly encapsulates humanity's relationship to God. We spit on Him, we torture Him, we kill Him and declare Him dead. But He rises and gives Himself to us again. Shafran is suggesting that dwelling on this event — this core of Christian belief — is too ugly, hateful, and prone toward ignorance to be presented to the public.

But this is not enough for Shafran. No, not content to insist on ignoring a dark time in Jewish history, he must go on to emphasize dark times in Christian history. Yeah, that's the way to defuse the hatred of those inclined toward anti-Semitism. One might be justified in wondering whether the good Rabbi considers Christians "today to be blameworthy" for the atrocities that he lists. One might also suggest that Shafran get his facts straight when writing that it "is not clear whether Mr. Gibson considers Jews today to be blameworthy for the crucifixion." This likely comes from Frank Rich's New York Times deliberate misrepresentation of Gibson on Bill O'Reilly's show (could one call that "blood libel"?).

Rabbi Shafran would do well to observe mainstream Christians' responses when such events as the Inquisition are raised. Some insist on keeping it in proper historical perspective, but none deny that it was a time of theological perversion. Rather than declaring the Biblical description of the Crucifixion as something akin to historically inaccurate hate speech, Jews who are concerned with the message that some might take away from works such as The Passion should ensure that it is not left up to Christians to explain that Jesus and all of his followers were Jews.

It is understandable that Shafran and others are concerned about the hatred of Jews that festers in the Middle East and seems once again to be fashionable around the well-decked tables of European high-society. But I'll tell him this: publishing such essays as his in American newspapers is not winning them any friends.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:53 PM EST

1 Comment

You make a great point - I've heard it said over and over that Christians (and Catholics in particular) need to keep apologizing for all the horrible things they have done to Jews, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust (not that I even agree these events were a result of Christian doctrine, etc. - obviously, they were the results of perversions of it). Its as though they keep blaming later generations for actions of earlier generations that were taken IN SPITE OF doctrine to the contrary. But on the other hand, they expect to be exonerated for "blood upon us and our children." So we exonerate, admit that some of us inaccurately presented the purpose/meaning of the crucifixion, etc. So, if it is unfair to hold them responsible for the actions of their predecessors, why is it fair to hold us responsible for the actions of our predecessors? It is a one way street, despite the ADL's and other's protestations to the contrary. Besides, if MEl did an historically accurate depiction of the Inquisition or the Holocaust vis-a-vis the Catholic Church, I doubt Rabbi whatever would like it.

c matt @ 08/19/2003 06:07 PM EST