What's Wrong with "The Passion"? It's not the Antisemitism; it's the Blood

by Mordecai Plaut

A major motion picture from Hollywood was recently released 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 at the end of February, 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. 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 Did anyone think that if Jewish journalists warned that a film would arouse antisemitism the movie would be withdrawn?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 There is little doubt that these were interesting and important discussions -- that would have better been left unpublished.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 seems clear 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 civilization's important values: that bloodshed is horrifying and inexcusable. It will make violence more familiar to many people who would otherwise not have experienced such extreme things. 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 murder bombings of noncombatant children, will certainly be a profoundly destructive force on the social fabric of Western society.

Mel Gibson's Passion should be avoided for its violence, not for any antisemitism, intended or not. It does not have to be seen to be condemned.

Related essay: Challenges of the Modern World: Life is Dear

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