Between 'Passion' and Purim

Brad Hirschfield explains what the Megilla & the Gospels have in common--and what Jews and Christians need to learn from both.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is Vice President of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and a frequent commentator on Judaism and spirituality. He spoke with Beliefnet after watching "The Passion of the Christ."

You had strong feelings about the movie before it was released. Have your views changed since actually seeing the movie?

I was both more moved than I thought I would be and more disturbed than I hoped to be.



What disturbed you?

The movie is a story that is told beautifully, but it's told with a lot of anger, with a very clear sense that if the viewer does not believe what the storyteller is telling them, they are cursed. In the movie, when you have two people crucified next to Jesus, one recognizes his divinity, and the other one begins to laugh. The first one is told he'll sit with Jesus in Paradise and the second one has his eyes pecked out. That transcends Jews and Christians; that, to me, says that people who feel, think and practice differently than you do are cursed and damned.

You thought anger in the movie was directed more at non-believers rather than at Jews?

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Yes. The Romans are portrayed much more horrifically than the Jews in this film. But the truth is, there haven't been so many Romans murdered in the name of Jesus over the years, so Italians are not quite so nervous. That's what Gibson has to be accountable for.

In what parts of the movie does it seem like he is not acting responsibly?

It comes out in a few places. The obvious one that people have remarked about is that in the courtyard when the Jews scream out quoting Matthew, "His blood be upon us and upon our children," Gibson has them shout it, but doesn't translate it. If you're going to say it, then say it straight and translate it. And if you're not going to translate it, maybe it shouldn't be said at all.

The place where that's even more pronounced is when they are arresting Jesus and bringing him to the temple, the Jewish guards scream at him in Aramaic, "Jew Bastard." So many people have been hurt over time as they listen to people scream at them, "Jew Bastard." Why put that in? How does that honor the story of the death of the Christ? In the end that has to be the question. It's not about which is historically accurate. The question has to be as you tell a particular religious story, who is being helped? Who is being hurt? And am I balancing those things appropriately?

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