'Passion' Can Give Jews, Christians 'Same Hope'

Article excerpt


The following are excerpts from a message given by the Rabbi Jonathan Cohen at Mishkan Torah Congregation in Bowie.

So Mel Gibson's long-awaited movie has finally arrived. From a Jewish perspective, it is a very disturbing film. As Rabbi Eric Yoffe, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has pointed out, Gibson's marketing of the film has been despicable.

"The Passion of the Christ" is a movie version of a form of traditional Christian religious drama called a "passion play" (from the Latin passus est - meaning "he suffered"), which re-enacts the last hours of Jesus' life. The purpose of a passion play is to fortify and deepen Christian faith and commitment by enabling Christian believers to experience Jesus' suffering and the redemption that comes from His death and resurrection.

However, traditional passion plays did more than simply relate the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death. They would often blame the Jewish people for Jesus' death; they have a well-documented history of inflaming hatred, persecution and violence against the Jewish people.

Mel Gibson claims that he has tried to be "as truthful as possible" in relating the story of the passion. Thus, for example, the dialogue of the movie is entirely in Latin and Aramaic (with English subtitles supplied for those of us whose knowledge of dead languages leaves something to be desired). ...

Gibson's pious evocations of historicity rang more than a little hollow. How much homework has he actually done? ... Gibson's movie fails. Indeed, it does not conform with official Catholic teaching as enunciated by the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion (1988).

Given this sorry situation, how should we respond? As Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman have pointed out in a jointly authored article, the central problem about "The Passion" is that although Jews and Christians can sit in the same theater, Jews and Christians cannot see the same movie. …