- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Passion of the Christ.” Many American Jews are alarmed by reports of what they view as potentially anti-Semitic content in this soon-to-be-released movie about the death of Jesus. Clearly the crucifixion of Jesus is a sensitive topic, but prominent Christians who previewed it — including James Dobson and Michael Novak, who have always demonstrated acute sensitivity to Jewish concerns, see it as a religiously inspiring movie and refute charges that it is anti-Semitic.

As an Orthodox rabbi with a wary eye on Jewish history, I fear that these protests, well-intentioned though some may be, are a mistake. I believe those who publicly protest Mr. Gibson’s film lack moral legitimacy. What is more, I believe their actions are not only wrong but even recklessly ill-advised and shockingly imprudent.

For an explanation of why I believe that those Jews protesting ‘Passion’ lack moral legitimacy, we must take ourselves back in time to the fall of 1999. That was when Arnold Lehman, the Jewish director of the Brooklyn Museum, presented a show called “Sensation.” It featured, from the collection of British Jew Charles Saatchi, several works that debased Catholicism, including Chris Ofili’s dung-bedecked Madonna.

This was not the first time that Mr. Lehman offended Catholics. While he was director of the Baltimore Museum, in a display of gross insensitivity to that city’sCatholics,he screened “Hell’s Angel,” a film denouncing Mother Teresa as a religious extremist and depicting her in obscenely uncomplimentary and ghoulish terms. I am sorry to have to tell you that no Jewish organizations protested this gratuitous insult of a universally respected Catholic icon.

You may also remember Universal’s 1988 release of the Martin Scorsese film, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” a movie so slanderous that, had it been made about Moses or Martin Luther King Jr., it would have provoked howls of anger from the entire country. As it was, Christians were left to defend their faith quite alone, other than for one solitary courageous Jew, Dennis Prager.

During the 1990s, record companies run by well-known executives — including Michael Fuchs, Gerald Levin and David Geffen, produced obscene records by artists like Geto Boys and Ice-T that advocated killing policemen and raping and murdering women. In spite of congressional testimony showing that these songs really did influence teen behavior, Jewish organizations only protested Michael Jackson’s song “They Don’t Care About Us” and the rap group Public Enemy’s single”Swindler’sLust,” claiming that these songs were anti-Semitic. It is ignoble to ignore the wrongs done to others while loudly deploring those done to us.

The protests against ‘Passion’ are morally indefensible and ill-advised. Mr. Gibson is an artist and a Christian of deep faith, of which this movie is an expression. By all accounts, his motive in making this movie was not commercial. While Jews are telling Mr. Gibson that his movie contradicts historical records about who really killed Jesus, Vatican Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos had this to say: “Mr. Gibson has complemented the Gospel narrative with the insights and reflections made by saints and mystics through the centuries. Mel Gibson not only closely follows the narrative of the Gospels, giving the viewer a new appreciation for those biblical passages, but his artistic choices also make the film faithful to the meaning of the Gospels, as understood by the church.”

Do we really want to open up the Pandora’s Box of suggesting that any faith may demand the removal of material that it finds offensive from the doctrines of any other faith? Do we really want to return to those dark times when Catholic authorities attempted to strip from the Talmud those passages that they found offensive?

I think it far better that in the name of genuine Jewish-Christian friendship in America, we allow all faiths their beliefs, even if we find those beliefs troubling or at odds with our own views. This way, we can all prosper safely under the constitutional protection of the United States of America.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president ofTowardTradition and a radio talk-show host.

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