I am an Orthodox Jewish rabbi sadly denouncing one of the box office hits of 2004. Which movie has earned my wrath? Here is a clue--it surprised everyone by selling over one hundred million dollars of tickets in its first week in theaters. No, it's not Mel Gibson's Passion. The movie causing me deep distress is a Rosenthal/Tenenbaum production starring Dustin Hoffman, and Barbra Streisand.
I was sorry to see Barbra Streisand involved in the flagrant defamation of Judaism found in this, her latest movie hit. While she was making her film Yentl, for which I served as a consultant, she studied Judaism regularly and diligently with me. She was a warm and gracious guest on the occasions she had dinner with my family. Yentl's nostalgic, if not altogether authentic glimpse into 19th century Jewish life in Poland, evoked a feeling of fondness for the characters, but like many ethnic Jews, Streisand is largely isolated from her religious roots. In the new film to which I refer, she plays not a role, but a heinous caricature of a Jewess.
I am reluctant to name the movie on account of the implied vulgarity of its title. If you are reluctant to part with good money for the privilege of seeing the Jewish people being defamed, you should abstain from this movie. In spite of having several Jewish producers and several Jewish stars, this film's vile notions of Jews are not too different from those used by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
I may be unsophisticated but I am not just a grouch with no sense of humor. I'll fess up; I really enjoy funny movies. However you should know a little about this offensive excuse for entertainment. You might recall that in the first movie we followed Pam Byrnes as she introduced her very Jewish and nerdy boyfriend, Greg, to her parents. This sequel shows the Byrnes visiting their daughter's future in-laws. The movie depicts Greg's conspicuously Jewish parents as sexually obsessed, constantly concupiscent degenerates. Nice people, but depraved. Their home is filled with bric-a-brac that juts with anatomic suggestiveness.
Along with their son's bar mitzvah talit, or prayer shawl, they have preserved the foreskin from his circumcision. To add to the hilarity, this souvenir makes a distasteful reappearance at an awkward moment. In reality, Jews treat the foreskin with reverence and bury it rather than turning it into a scrapbook joke. The hosts, who never miss an opportunity of exuding Jewish ethnicity, boast of their son losing his virginity to the gentile maid and they keep their guests waiting while they themselves practice what they preach in their bedroom upstairs. There are many more vile examples of Jewish people being defamed in this horrible excrescence. I am not sure that labeling it comedy excuses the defamation.
I do not particularly care for dark, socially significant films. Give me funny movies like The Blues Brothers and Hopscotch. However I really loathe movies that perpetuate hideous stereotypes about racial, religious, or ethnic groups, no matter how funny they may seem. What is more, I cannot see how racial bigotry is lessened if perpetrated by blacks or that anti-Semitism is diminished if delivered by Jews.
This movie defames Jews in a way that I haven't seen since the worst that Woody Allen dished up. And Woody at his worst was breathtakingly hostile to Judaism. One need only recall how many of Woody's films portray Jews, not to mention rabbis, as loathsome liars, desperate psychotics, pathetic perverts, and ridiculously lecherous losers. If Woody Allen were not Jewish, surely every Jewish organization would have roundly denounced him. And they would have been right. The problem is that he is Jewish and they don't denounce him. Instead, we self-destructive Jews celebrate Woody Allen Week at Jewish Community Center film festivals.
It is not only in movies that Jews besmirch Jews as sexualizing the culture. Ruth Westheimer told The New York Times of her love for Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people. Meanwhile, as Dr. Ruth, with her grandmotherly appearance and her high-pitched Jewish accent, she titillates her audiences with shockingly explicit sexual advice.
Radio shock-jock Howard Stern intersperses his displays of dehumanizing depravity with a constant stream of "Oy veys" as if subconsciously compelled to highlight his Jewish ethnicity.
Jerry Springer, widely known as the Jewish former mayor of Cincinnati, normalizes depravity by projecting a deviant sub-culture and its cheering hooligans right into America's living room.
A few years ago, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal gushingly profiled a Jewish pornographer whose stage name is Ron Jeremy. The piece praised the huge sums he's been paid to "bed more gorgeous women than James Bond." Jeremy, who proudly admits to have acted in or directed over 1,500 porn videos, cited the preponderance of Jewish men in porn and explained, "Jewish families tend to be more liberal than Christian ones, they aren't obsessed by the fear of the devil or going to hell." As if to eliminate any lingering doubt about Ron Jeremy's Jewishness, the Jewish Journal breathlessly assures us that Ron Jeremy plans to marry in a synagogue.
You'd have to be a recent immigrant from Outer Mongolia not to know of the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture. Almost every American knows this. It is just that most gentiles are too polite to mention it.
Naturally, I am not suggesting that Americans of Jewish descent should conceal their ethnic identity. I am urging those for whom Judaism is a link to the eternal values of Sinai, to wake up and realize how other Americans increasingly perceive us. Furthermore we ought to recognize that this unwholesome perception of Jews is the result of anti-Semitism perpetrated by Jews rather than by non-Jews. It would seem that Isaiah's twenty-eight hundred year old prophecy to the Jewish people has come true today--"Those that destroy you and those that wreck you go forth from thee." (Isaiah 49:17)
By now, some Jewish readers will be cringing. You might be cursing me for making public the role of Jews in debasing the culture. Perhaps you subscribe to the notion that nobody has noticed. I sympathize and want you to know that I write about it only for the purpose of trying to solve the problem. Make no mistake, it is a problem, and the solution lies not in attempting to defame the critics, but in stepping forward to criticize the defamers. Indeed, if we Jews do not ourselves condemn the wrong that our brethren do, others with less sympathy eventually will do so.
This excerpt from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf shows how that evil megalomaniac roused his nation to hurl an avalanche of destruction at the Jewish people:
Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? What had to be reckoned heavily against the Jews in my eyes was when I became acquainted with their activity in the press, art, literature, and the theater....It sufficed to look at a billboard, to study the names behind the horrible trash they advertised....Is this why the Jews are called the "chosen people"? The fact that nine tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy can be set to the account of a people, constituting hardly one hundredth of all the country's inhabitants, could simply not be talked away; it was the plain truth. (Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, Chapter II)
It does not excuse Hitler or his Nazi thugs for us to acknowledge that this maniacal, master propagandist focused on a reality that resonated with the educated, and cultured Germans of his day. Not once in Mein Kampf did that monster charge Jews with being complicit in the killing of Christ two thousand years earlier. He knew that long-ago event, shrouded in mystery and theological profundity, would never goad enlightened people to murder. Instead, he drew attention to the obvious and inescapable; that which every German knew to be true.
The sad fact is that through Jewish actors, playwrights, and producers, the Berlin stage of Weimar Germany linked Jews and deviant sexuality in all its sordid manifestations just as surely as Broadway does today. Much of the filth in American entertainment today parallels that of Germany between the wars.
About twenty years ago, one of Ayn Rand's protégés, Leonard Peikoff, wrote a book called The Ominous Parallels in which he described how Germany's cultural decline helped bring the Nazis to power. With haunting precision, Peikoff proves how similar is America's cultural decline. I am not predicting vicious anti-Semitism in America but I am suggesting that most decent Americans today feel more viscerally outraged by the assault on decency than by the Crucifixion.
Bill Cosby rightly condemned black entertainment that hatefully glorifies destructive behavior. By contrast, Barbershop, the 2002 movie starring Icecube, and Cedric the Entertainer, limned a loving portrait of a hard-working African-American family valiantly struggling to achieve nobility in the face of formidable challenge. In the same year, Nia Vardalos did her hilarious My Big Fat Greek Wedding, clearly demonstrating her love for her warm-hearted and decent relatives. Contrarily, we Jews routinely depict ourselves in repugnant caricatures of people you'd want nothing to do with in real life. Why do my colleagues in Jewish communal leadership never condemn this anti-Semitism? For if it is not anti-Semitism, what is?
Ah, but wait. The leader of a famous Jewish defense organization that exists to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, recently denounced, in The Jerusalem Post, one of the most profitable movies of 2004 for its "vile notions of Jews." Reluctant to "contribute to the overflowing coffers" of the producers by encouraging attendance, he nonetheless insisted that "only by viewing it can one understand how offensive it is."
Was he describing the horrible sequel I am refusing to name? Sadly, not. He was referring to Mel Gibson's The Passion. Nearly a year after its release, and after polls show increased regard for Jews among the film's audiences, Jewish organizations still condemn The Passion as defamatory to Jews. Yet, astonishingly, they don't consider the examples I cite above as defamatory to Jews.
Here is a simple question: Do you suppose that people's view of what Jews are really like is shaped more by Caius, an obscure two-thousand-year old character in The Passion or alternatively by the contemporary couple played by Streisand and Hoffman? Which movie more egregiously defames Jews? Consider the meaning of the word "defame." To de-fame means to undo the fame currently being enjoyed. Jews used to be known for having endowed the world with the notion of sexual restraint and modesty. Judaism is now being defamed by Jews.
Inexplicably, nearly a year after its release and without a shred of proof that anyone thinks the worse of Jews on its account, The Passion continues to trouble some Jewish leaders. Hinting that their real target was Mel Gibson the religious conservative, rather than Mel Gibson the defamer of Judaism, a Jewish leader last week criticized Gibson for opposing the changes in Catholic teaching advocated by the Vatican II council. This is tantamount to a Christian leader criticizing an Orthodox Jew for opposing the acceptance of homosexuality advocated by the leadership of Reform Judaism. The only word for this is "Chutzpah"--indescribable impudence.
For years the same Jewish leader has ignored Jews who flagrantly and fraudulently defame Judaism but he incessantly continues to condemn Mel Gibson. He fails to realize that it is his exaggerated attacks on Mel Gibson, whose movie recently took top honors at the 31st annual People's Choice Awards, that do considerable harm to American Jews, not the film itself. Apparently Jews may behave outrageously while Christians, however, will be held to a higher standard. This abolition of honest objectivity lays the foundation for a frightening form of censorship and arbitrary prosecution. It would surely cause the most cynical KGB commissar of the bad old days to drool with envy.
A paramount principle of paleontology is that failure to adapt is a symptom of impending extinction. Anachronistically obsessing on yesterday's dangers blinds one to contemporary perils. It is true that in the past, mobs of European Catholics did murder Jews. That has never happened in this most philo-Semitic of countries. American Jews are not threatened by rampaging Christians seeking revenge for the blood of Christ. However Jews are threatened by other forces against which we have precious few allies. Prominent among our allies are seriously religious, and for the most part, conservative Christians.
When will more Jewish leaders learn who their friends really are? When will they learn that those who incessantly bludgeon their friends eventually won't have any friends left?
It would be foolish not to realize that most decent Americans are bothered far more by the trashing of American culture today than they are by our possible complicity in the killing of Christ two thousand years ago. Because so many of the most prominent trashers possess Jewish names and proudly proclaim their Jewish ethnicity, it becomes a Jewish responsibility to condemn the vulgarity by means of which they defame Judaism.
We can't stop the Woody Allens and Howard Sterns, and in a nation that enshrined free speech, maybe we ought not to try. However we could redeem ourselves by protesting them instead of dissipating valuable energies and priceless goodwill by endlessly protesting The Passion.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, is president of
Toward Tradition: The American Alliance of Jews
and Christians, a bridge-building organization providing a voice for all Americans who
defend the Judeo-Christian values vital for our nation’s survival. Article reprinted by permission.