Jewish leader says film tags Jews as ‘bad guys’
Intended or not, a Christian filmmaker again has gone too far in portraying Jesus' crucifixion as a black mark on the Jewish faith, a local religious leader says.
The story of Jesus' final days, as portrayed in "The Passion of the Christ," is the latest in a line of movies which tag Jews as "the bad guys," says Jerry Feldman, congregational leader of the Adat Yeshua Messianic Congregation in Overland Park.
Feldman, who previewed the movie Sunday, stopped short of calling the movie anti-Semitic but said the movie doesn't take any precautions toward protecting Jews from a new round of hostility, which he said is fueled by a movie that lacks appropriate context.
"We have two dynamics here. One is you've got the historical story as a historical story," Feldman said, "but then you have the story as a twist of faith."
The difference, Feldman contends, is in interpretation. The historical story of Christ's crucifixion is separate from the theological notion that man's sins put Christ on the cross and that he died for all of mankind, Feldman said.
"That's another religion's view of the story," Feldman said. "Jews want people to walk away understanding what usually doesn't happen -- that the real bad guys in the story are the Romans. To one degree or another, the Romans come over looking bad, but the question is 'Why are the Jews the bad guys?'"
Feldman points to Christianity to answer the question. The Christian interpretation of Jesus' transition from Jew to spiritual leader of Christianity, Feldman said, pits two denominations against each other as long as Jews are perceived to bear the heaviest burden for Jesus' death.
"Christ now becomes the Christian figure, not the Jewish figure anymore, because you can't have the Jews as the adversary and also the Jews as the good guys," Feldman said. "Unconsciously, Christianity weaves its own identity into the story."
While he doesn't see "The Passion of the Christ" in itself as being anti-Semitic, Feldman said the movie could escalate anti-Jewish sentiment around the world, particularly overseas in already tense religious environments like Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
"The problem is that it could become an agency or a springboard for anti-Semitism in those areas if once again the perception is 'the Jews killed our Lord,'" Feldman said.
Instead of debating the movie's historical merits or who is to blame for Jesus' death, Feldman said discussion should focus on mending differences between Christians and Jews.
"What Jews would like to see coming out of this movie is for Christians to no longer keep talking about how they aren't anti-Semitic and that the gospel isn't anti-Semitic and that they don't blame the Jews for killing Christ, but come out of the movie recognizing how it could be perceived that way and become positive agents toward rectifying that perception in the history of the Christian church," he said.
From a Christian perspective, however, Clear Creek Baptist Church Pastor Danny Crawford said he doesn't expect an increase in anti-Semitic activity at all.
The debate concerning anti-Semitism may be bound to issues of and movies about the Christian faith, Crawford says, but Christianity doesn't encourage acts of violence or hatred toward Jews, he said.
"We don't see any anti-Semitic message coming out of it," Crawford said. "When 'Schindler's List' came out, we didn't go hunt Germans down. If we're true Christians, we don't do those things. That's not our message."
Instead, Crawford said, the movie should be interpreted as a portrayal of Jesus' crucifixion and a glimpse at his life as told by historical accounts.
"There's always going to be controversy in any type of situation like this with religion," Crawford said, "but I really think it testifies to the fact of what Jesus came to do. I think this movie does the best job that I've ever heard of or seen at telling that story."