Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Jonah and the Whale

posted by Nell Minow

On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews study the story of Jonah and the Whale. The Jewish educational and outreach group AISH says

In a certain sense it is very much the story of Yom Kippur’s essence — return to God. It teaches us about our voyage and ourselves.

Literary critic Judith Shulevitz has a nice essay about the importance of this story for adults during the Days of Awe.

You can almost see God’s thought-process here: If Jonah can bring such will and determination and even a certain nobility of spirit to ignoring me, how much more valuable will he be once I turn him to my ways? The further Jonah runs, the more he convinces God that he’s worth chasing after. And that’s what I think the satire is meant to get across in the Book of Jonah: We can go to any lengths, make ourselves ridiculous as possible, in your efforts to escape God, but the very intensity and absurdity and even the painfulness of our flight shows God how much potential passion we have lacked inside us, to say nothing of how much we must actually want and need him. And seeing that, God may laugh at us a little, but he will not abandon us.

Certainly one element in telling this story each year is that it puts some of the day’s meaning in terms children can understand.

The beautiful Rabbit Ears version of the story, narrated by Jason Robards, is only available on VHS, but I hope someday the entire series will be released on DVD. The Veggie Tales version has the company’s trademark silly charm.



  • jestrfyl

    I had one teacher suggest that Jonah’s story was a little comedy relief in an otherwise heavy length of story. I sort of agree.
    But there is a part of Jonah’s story with which I am sort of struggling. We focus on his sojourn in the whale – amusing. But why was he there to begin with. It was because he did not do as God “asked” and go to Ninevah (modern day Mosul in Iraq – an opponent of Israel even then) and preach about God’s presence and hope for the people there. Eventually Jonah was spit up, slopped the goo off his robe, and finally did as he was “asked”. And he succeeded and the people of Ninevah reeived him graciously and gladly.
    I am pondering how to deal with the “Marriage” Amendment (nothing equal about it) that our state voters have to decide in a few weeks. It seems like my Ninevah, and the belly of a whale seems inviting now. I am serving a fairly conservative congregation and I do not think they will be likely to receive any sermonic thoughts I have about voting no on this ammendment. But I wonder, is my fear of this topic similar to Jonah’s fear about the folks in Ninevah? Am I making more of what they will think than is appropriate or accurate? Though it is off the lectionary cycle, Jonah’s story may be the starting point for dealing with this, including my own confession about my unease and concern for them – and myself.
    So as funny and fun as Jonah’s story is, it has relevance still. By the way, I just found my audio version ofthe Rabbit Ears Bible stories – those things are all awesome. The music alone is classic!! I have used them with adults as well as kids, and they have always been well received.

  • Nell Minow

    I’m delighted that you share my my affection for those Rabbit Ears classics. They were truly treasures. I have never been especially fond of the Noah story but I liked Judith Shulevitz’s point about Noah’s willingness to sacrifice himself. And I like the way you use it as a template for raising questions about the messages we are called on to deliver.

  • LTC Edward B St. Clair

    There’s at least one point that I think is missed here.
    That is Jonah’s anger at God because he didn’t destroy Nineveh.
    In fact, the haftorah tells us that Jonah went to a spot where he could watch Nineveh to witness it’s destruction. The story implies that Jonah becomes angry when nothing happens. Then, Jonah is admonished by God because he is grieving the destruction of the gourd that God provided for one day’s shade and apparently isn’t concerned about the wellbeing of the citizens of Nineveh.
    This concept applies very well today. Look at all the strife and hunger in the world today. Collectively, we the citizens of all the countries in the world, don’t care or give a damn about those more unfortunate than us.
    Well, that’s my $0.02 worth. I am not a rabbi, just a congregent who has read “the Jonah” to our congregation for the past 20 years!
    Ed

  • LTC Edward B St. Clair

    Hmm! I wonder when PETA is going to realize that they have a case against God for abusing the poor whale who was forced to swallow Jonah!
    Ed

  • http://www.rabbitearsblog.webs.com Rabbit Ears Blog

    Hey! I strongly agree with your comment about the Rabbit Ears bible stories. They are a treat to listen to. I also wanted to invite you to become a member of my new Rabbit Ears website where you can talk about your favorite Rabbit Ears stories with other members and even contribute your own fan art about your favorite Rabbit Ears videos. To register, simply go to the register link on the right side of the page. This website is located at:

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