Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Adar 5764 - March 11, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
When to Keep Silent

Often people come to us and urge us to write about one subject or another.

The subject is an important one. The facts are accessible, verifiable, and perhaps not so well known.

The subject may also be interesting. In fact it may be fascinating and really draw reader interest. It may be something that people really want to read about, for one reason or another -- though it is not necessarily the case that all of them are good reasons.

Yet we may nonetheless turn down many offers to write about such a subject, because despite all these important qualities, we will only include the story if we can determine that writing about it will actually be useful, that it will have some to'eles.

Sometimes writing about neglected subjects can have great benefits. Sometimes it can do great harm. Sometimes it can have no practical effect whatsoever.

A case in point -- which may be easy to understand because it is about a Jewish issue but not an issue that is internal to the chareidi community -- is the recent release of a major motion picture from Hollywood, so to speak, that is about the last day in the life of the founder of Christianity as reported in the Christian books, known as The Passion of C.

Although the production was just released to the general public about two weeks ago, it had been shown in private screenings for about a year. It is purported to be historically accurate, to the extent that all characters speak only in Aramaic, the language that was spoken at the time. Translation is given only in subtitles printed at the bottom of the screen. According to all the reports, it shows extremely brutal treatment of the founder of Christianity, and the Jews are presented as very unsympathetic and very unsavory characters who are clearly responsible for the brutality.

There is no doubt that such a film, made by a professional, master manipulator of people's feelings, will cause antisemitism -- and perhaps worse, Rachmono litzlan. If not in America then in Europe where passion plays have a destructive tradition of hundreds of years -- or in the Middle East where large numbers of Moslems have already embraced classical Christian antisemitic motifs and are a ready audience for such material. If not this year then next year, or the year after that, five, ten, fifty years down the line.

As soon as the first reports came out, Jewish pundits began writing about the film and the way it would arouse antisemitism. The producer denied that it was antisemitic in intent since, according to him, it just conveys what the Christian books contain. We cannot reproduce the full debate, and there is no need to.

This whole topic is certainly something that is important and interesting to all Jews. (Nonetheless, it goes without saying that Yated would not take part in the basic debate about such matters.) Yet the question is what was the point of spending six to eight months discussing the antisemitism of the film? Did anyone think that if Jewish journalists warned that a film would arouse antisemitism the movie would be withdrawn?

In fact, the tons of newsprint expended on the topic had virtually no effect in any way that was intended or hoped for by those who wrote about the antisemitism problems. If it had any effect at all, it was to raise the general interest in the film, and to entice Jews to see it who might have otherwise not have done so. There is little doubt that these were interesting and important discussions -- that would have better been left unpublished.

It is all the more evident because the most problematic aspect of the film was virtually ignored. It can be argued that the most damaging aspect of the show is its detailed depiction of brutal, bloody torture, without regard to the Christian context. The film is not an assault on Jews, but on one of our important values: that shefichas domim is inexcusable. Exposing millions to such a gripping experience of horrible violence, in a world in which mercy killing is already legal in "civilized" places and much of the world is not repulsed by suicide bombings of noncombatant children, will certainly be a profoundly destructive force on the social fabric of Western society.

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