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Jewish response to the movie

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Mel Gibson (b. 1958) is an Academy Award winning actor and director. He co-wrote, directed, co-produced, and financed the "The Passion of the Christ." The movie opened in thousands of movie theatres across North America on 2004-FEB-25 -- Ash Wednesday.

The reaction of Jews, as for Christians, secular movie reviewers and "ordinary folks" has been mixed.

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Background of Jewish concerns about the movie:

Some Jewish individuals and groups expressed concern that the movie will reinforce the concept of deicide that the Christian church had, until recent decades, attributed to the entire Jewish people. In the past, the church taught that all Jews were "Christ killers," and were equally responsible for causing Jesus' execution:

bullet Those in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' crucifixion circa 30 CE,
bullet Those throughout the rest of the world in the first century CE, and
bullet All Jews everywhere, from then until the present time.

The concept of fault imputation -- that sin can be transferred from the guilty to the innocent -- is seen in many places within Christianity. For example:

bullet Christianity has taught that all people are in need of a savior. Historically, this belief is based on the concept that Adam and Eve's transgressions in the Garden of Eden can be imputed to all humans everywhere, throughout all time since the creation of the world.
bullet The historical Christian belief in salvation is based on the concept that the sins of humans who lived years, centuries or millennia after Jesus' ministry can be transferred to Jesus.
bullet The historic Christian belief in deicide -- that all Jews are responsible for the execution of Jesus -- provided the theological underpinning for many centuries of oppression and mass murder of Jews, largely in Western Europe. It laid the foundation for the Nazi Holocaust.

Deicide remains a potent concept today, even though, by the 1960s, almost all Christian denominations abandoned the belief in collective Jewish responsibility for Jesus' death.

The ADL published some of the hateful Email messages that it had received by mid-August in 2003, which were apparently triggered by publicity surrounding The Passion movie. 1 Excerpts from a few Emails follow:

bullet "Whether you like it or not, the Jews of the time were instrumental in Jesus' death. We don't need anymore revisionist history. Didn't the Holocaust teach you anything?"
bullet "You stupid jews [sic] never read the new testament do you? … why don't you pompous jews [sic] read it for yourself."
bullet "Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob were the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus. The truth has been out for over 2,000 years."
bullet "Even the Old Testament points out that the Jews would be the killers of the Messiah. I believe Jesus referred to them as being of 'their father the devil.' Prophetic, isn't it."

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Negative Jewish response to the movie:

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL): The ADL was founded in 1913 and is the world's leading group fighting anti-semitism. 2 The ADL has openly criticized "The Passion:"

bullet Robert Jacobs, the regional director for the Pacific Northwest ADL (Anti-Defamation League). noted that the ADL and other Jewish organizations have been "accused of being alarmist" in their criticism of the movie. He indicates that they were concerned that the film "....might reverse the past 40 years of increasing interfaith dialogue or result in misunderstandings that could harm Jews both here in the United States and overseas." After viewing the movie, he said that he: "...saw two hours of nearly unrelenting violence and torture, horror and viciousness such as I have never seen. Two hours of hell, portrayed in the film as instigated, demanded, insisted upon by Jews. The film does not only show a few Jewish leaders calling for Jesus' torture. The film portrays nearly all Jews -- Jews in the Temple, Jews in the streets, Jews in the courtyards, Jews on bridges over Jesus' path -- as stoning, condemning, screaming and beating on Jesus....Nearly every Gibson-created scene portrays the High Priests and the Jews of Jerusalem as horribly vicious, brutal and inhuman." 3
bullet In their web site's "FAQ" section on the movie, the ADL notes that they received an early draft of the script. An ADL representative viewed a rough cut of the movie in Houston during 2003-AUG. They were refused permission to a showing on 2004-JAN, but gained access anyway. They express a number of concerns:
bullet They observed that all of the versions of the film maintain an "...unambiguous portrayal of Jews as being responsible for the death of Jesus...At every single opportunity, Mr. Gibson's film reinforces the notion that the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are the ones ultimately responsible for the crucifixion."
bullet Much of the film is based on extra-biblical sources. However, many viewers will assume that "everything they see on the film derives directly from the New Testament."
bullet Those who harbor anti-Jewish feelings may well use the film to "fan the flames of hatred." This may be particularly prevalent in Europe, South America and the Middle East.
bullet "The core issues are whether the movie inaccurately and unjustly portrays Jews as evil, responsible for the crucifixion, and whether such a depiction will re-stimulate old anti-Semitic stereotypes and hatred. The division is between those who want to prevent possible anti-Semitism and prejudice from occurring and those who seem callous to the dangers that the movie may cause." 4
bullet After viewing the final version of the movie, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, and Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL Advisor on Interfaith Affairs, issued a statement which said, in part:

"The final version of Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' now in theaters repeats all of the stereotypes and images surrounding the death of Jesus that have generated anti-Semitism for 2,000 years. We had hoped that Mel Gibson would hear our concerns and make changes; sadly, the epiphany did not happen. Instead of listening to our concerns about the history of the charge of deicide being used to foment anti-Semitism through the centuries, Mr. Gibson attacked his critics and refused to listen to the concerns of Christians and Jews." 5

bullet Rabbi Eugene Korn viewed an early version of the film in Houston during 2003-AUG. He said that the film showed the first century Jewish leaders and mob as "forcing the decision to torture and execute Jesus; of weaving a narrative that oversimplifies history; and of committing numerous factual and historical errors, including relying on the visionary writings of a 17th century anti-Semitic nun." 6

The Simon Wiesenthal Center:  During 2003-SEP, five months before the movies release, Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier said that his organization has already received considerable hate mail from people who have seen or heard about the movie, and are accusing the Jews of deicide. Rabbi Hier told Reuters: “Are there any manifestations of hate so far? The answer is an unequivocal yes. We have had hate mail in the past. But never in spurts like this." 7

Inter-faith panel: A panel of three Jewish and six Catholic scholars reviewed a draft script. They concluded that the movie is anti-semitic and inaccurate. It shows "The Jews" as bloodthirsty and vengeful. Sister Mary C. Boys, a professor at Union Theological Seminary, commented: "All the way through, the Jews are portrayed as bloodthirsty." She noted that she had personally received "...vicious letters filled with personal attacks and anti-Semitic drivel.6

British lawmaker: Gerald Kaufman, a member of Britain's governing Labour Party and chair of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee said: "What you are in for is sadism, gratuitous violence, ugliness, wallowing in blood and, it has to be said, crude anti-Semitism. That is what this movie is about...I am not accusing him (Gibson) of being a deliberate and overt anti-Semite but there is no doubt that the message of the film is seriously, damagingly anti-Semitic....If this is the film that Mel Gibson has always wanted to make, then so much the worse for Mel Gibson." 11

This essay continues below.

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Positive Jewish response to the movie:

Gene Veith of the fundamentalist Christian group, Focus on the Family, wrote:

"The loudest objections to The Passion of the Christ have come from Jewish activists, like Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who claim that compassion for the suffering of Jesus will translate into anger against the people who called for His death, resulting in a new wave of anti-Semitism. It seems odd that, at a time when Jews are hated and killed by Islamic rebels, Jewish activists would pick this fight. It’s especially odd because a number of other Jews who’ve seen the film, such as film critic Michael Medved and online journalist Matt Drudge, have defended it." 8

Of these two media personalities:

bullet Film critic Michael Medved wrote: "All the debate about allegedly anti-Semitic overtones misses the point: The organized Jewish community and its allies in interfaith dialogue may not welcome 'Passion,' but overreaction will provoke far more anti-Semitism than the movie itself....The possibility of anti-Jewish violence in response to the film has been irresponsibly emphasized and has become, self-fulfilling prophecy. In parts of Europe and the Islamic world, anti-Semitic vandalism and violence occur daily, and hardly need a film by a Hollywood superstar to encourage them. In this context, Jewish denunciations of the movie only increase the likelihood that those who hate us will seize on the movie as an excuse for more of hatred....Rather than wasting energy and good will to discredit an artful and ambitious film, we would do more for the cause of Judaism to emphasize the positive and productive aspects of our own sacred tradition." 9
bullet Online journalist, Matt Drudge said, in an interview on MSNBC: "This may be the last movie Mel Gibson makes. This is the ultimate film. It's magical. Best picture I have seen in quite some time, and even people like Jack Valenti were in the audience in tears at this screening. There was about 30 of us. It depicts a clash between Jesus and those who crucified him, and speaking as a Jew, I thought it was a magical film that showed the perils of life on earth... They haven't seen the darn film and those of us, every single person in there, and I'm not talking about tears, I'm talking total tears. It is something Mel Gibson stood back at the end and took questions for about an hour, and he is -- he told me he's tired of Hollywood. That this is it. He's going to do it. He's going to do it his way, and this film, I tell you, is magic. It's a miracle. It's a miracle." 10

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  1. "ADL Criticism of Mel Gibson's 'The Passion' Elicits Anti-Semitic Responses," ADL, 2003-AUG-13, at:
  2. The ADL's home page is at
  3. Robert Jacobs, " 'Passion' could stall interfaith dialogue," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2004-FEB-27, at:
  4. "ADL and Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ:' Frequently Asked Questions," Anti-Defamation League,® at:
  5. "Gibson's 'Passion of Christ' A Potential Setback for Christian-Jewish Relations," ADL, at:
  6. Christopher Orlet, "Mel Gibson vs. 'The Jews',", 2003-AUG-14, at:
  7. Eric J. Greenberg, "Jews Horrified By Gibson’s Jesus Film: First mainstream group to see movie says it could foment anti-Semitism," The Jewish Week, 2003-AUG-15, at:
  8. Gene Edward Veith, "Passion Play: How did a realistic movie about the death of Jesus get to be so controversial?," Citizen Magazine, 2004-JAN. Online at Focus on the Family's web site at:
  9. Michael Medved, "Gibson's right to his 'Passion.' Overreaction will cause more anti-Semitism than movie itself," The Christian Science Monitor, 2004-FEB-2, at:
  10. "What others are saying,", at:
  11. " 'Passion' anti-Semitic, British lawmaker says," News-Leader, 2004-MAR-16, at:

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 Home > World religions > Judaism > "The Passion" > here

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Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-FEB-28
Latest update: 2004-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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