Friday, February 27, 2004

Another excellent, and subtle, review of "The Passion" -- The Worship of Blood by Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic.

He says:
In its representation of its Jewish characters, The Passion of the Christ is without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie, and anybody who says otherwise knows nothing, or chooses to know nothing, about the visual history of anti-Semitism, in art and in film. What is so shocking about Gibson's Jews is how unreconstructed they are in their stereotypical appearances and actions. These are not merely anti-Semitic images; these are classically anti-Semitic images. In this regard, Gibson is most certainly a traditionalist. is plain that the controversy about its inclusion of Matthew 27:25, the infamous cry of the Jews that "his blood be on us and our children," the imprecation that served through the centuries as the warrant for the Christian assault on the Jews, was a fake, a cynical game. When Jewish groups objected to this passage in the script, Gibson expediently deleted the English translation of it. I say expediently, because decency would have prevented him from including it, from shooting it, at all. But he may as well have kept it in, because it is entirely of a piece with the Jews whom he has invented. The figure of Caiaphas, played with disgusting relish by an actor named Mattia Sbragia, is straight out of Oberammergau. Like his fellow priests, he has a graying rabbinical beard and speaks with a gravelly sneer and moves cunningly beneath a tallit-like shawl streaked with threads the color of money. He is gold and cold. All he does is demand an execution. He and his sinister colleagues manipulate the ethically delicate Pilate into acquiescing to the crucifixion. (You would think that Rome was a colony of Judea.) Meanwhile the Jewish mob is regularly braying for blood. It is the Romans who torture Jesus, but it is the Jews who conspire to make them do so. The Romans are brutish, but the Jews are evil.

....his portrayal of the Jews is based on nothing more than his own imagination of what they looked like and sounded like. And Gibson's imagination has offered no resistance to the iconographical inheritance of Western anti-Semitism. Again, these things are not passively received. They are willingly accepted. Gibson created this movie; it was not revealed to him. Like his picture of Jesus, his picture of the Jews is the consequence of certain religious and cinematic decisions for which he must be held accountable. He has chosen to give millions of people the impression that Jews are culpable for the death of Jesus. In making this choice, which defies not only the scruples of scholars but also the teaching of the Catholic Church, Gibson has provided a fine illustration of the cafeteria Catholicism of the right.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

An amazing review of "The Passion" by Andrew Sullivan. Here's what he has to say about the film's portrayal of Jews --
PILATE, THE SAINT: Is it anti-Semitic? The question has to be placed in the context of the Gospels and it is hard to reproduce the story without risking such inferences. But in my view, Gibson goes much further than what might be forgivable. The first scene in which Caiphas appears has him relaying to Judas how much money he has agreed to hand over in return for Jesus. The Jew - fussing over money again! There are a few actors in those scenes who look like classic hook-nosed Jews of Nazi imagery, hissing and plotting and fulminating against the Christ. For good measure, Gibson has the Jewish priestly elite beat Jesus up as well, before they hand him over to the Romans; and he has Jesus telling Pilate that he is not responsible - the Jewish elite is. Pilate and his wife are portrayed as saints forced by politics and the Jewish elders to kill a man they know is innocent. Again, this reflects part of the Gospels, but Gibson goes further. He presents Pilate's wife as actually finding Mary, providing towels to wipe up Jesus' blood, arguing for Jesus' release. Yes, the Roman torturers are obviously evil; yes, a few Jews dissent; and, of course, all the disciples are Jewish. I wouldn't say that this movie is motivated by anti-Semitism. It's motivated by psychotic sadism. But Gibson does nothing to mitigate the dangerous anti-Semitic elements of the story and goes some way toward exaggerating and highlighting them. To my mind, that is categorically unforgivable. Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, this movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics as well as Jews who are determined to confront that legacy. In that sense alone, it is a deeply immoral work of art.

Emphasis mine. The last two days have really been a blow -- first the President's decision to place himself firmly on the side of bigots by supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and now Mel Gibson's "Passion."

There was a point last year when I actually contemplated voting for Bush for re-election, when I felt that the war in Iraq and the struggle against Islamic terrorism were the most important issues facing this country, and it seemed to me that people on the left and the majority of centrist-liberals viewed the threat of terrorism merely as a law enforcement problem. . . but now I feel completely betrayed by the President. He is not taking our economic problems seriously -- he acts like the over 2 million jobs that have been lost over the last few years are just going to magically return this year in order to re-elect him. It's clear that this administration did very little realistic planning about what to do in Afghanistan and Iraq after invasion. And the administration has refused to deal with David Kay's very courageous statements about the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kay was willing to admit in public to the press and to congressional committees that he was mistaken -- why can't our President and Vice-President act with equal honesty?

And now the President seems to have decided that the way to re-election is to trample on the rights of gay people, to codify into law that gay people should be second-class citizens. It's scary. When was the last time a serious presidential candidate or incumbent president ran on a platform of open bigotry? Strom Thurmond?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

This interesting article by Amira Hass asks What scared those who sent the bomber? -- who bombed bus #14 in Jerusalem earlier this week.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

This Haaretz article, Wednesday, the Jews go on trial again, details why I've decided to organize a discussion at my college about Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ." While it seems that he has taken out the most inflammatory line (from Matthew: "Then answered all the people, and said, 'His blood be on us, and on our children'"), it seems like the film still places the major blame upon Jews for the death of Jesus (and not the Romans, the ruling colonial authority who had the power of life and death). The film came up in my Judaism class today -- a student asked a question about it, and instead of talking about the meaning of the Sh'ma, which was scheduled for today, we spent 40 minutes talking about the movie, the events leading up to Jesus' death, and the roots of anti-semitism. I was pleased to notice that my Christian students were shocked at the idea that Christians would call Jews "Christkillers" and blame them for the death of Jesus. It seemed apparent from the movie that many students would be seeing the movie, so I think it's important to sponsor an academic discussion of it in addition to all the newspaper articles, television spots, and popular discussion that's going on.

I received a very sad e-mail today from Yedidyah, the synagogue I belonged to in Jerusalem:

Women and mothers, come together to grieve and to cry out in silence during all of the nights of the shiva of the victims of the recent pigua [terrorist attack] - until (and including) Thursday night. We will meet at the site of the pigua, opposite the Liberty Bell Park gas station, at 22:00.

Monday, February 23, 2004

A curious detail in today's New York Times article about this morning's suicide bombing in Jerusalem -- the article stated that the bombing occurred at Liberty Bell Park, close to the intersection of Bethlehem Road and a street named Valley of the Ghosts. This street is usually called by its Hebrew name in English news reports -- Emek Refaim -- but it does literally refer to ghosts. When I lived on Emek Refaim in the late 1980s my friends and I used to joke around about the name.

The street names in Jerusalem generally have some historical significance -- they name famous figures of the Jewish past, events, "friends of the Jews" like Masaryk or Emile Zola, learned rabbis, biblical figures, and wars. On my last visit to Israel I was staying on Ha-Portzim St. -- "those who break through." This was the name of one of the military units that fought in the 1948 war in Jerusalem. A nearby street was named Kovshei Katamon -- "the conquerors of Katamon." Pre-1948 the Katamon neighborhood was Arab, and the Israeli forces fought fiercely to take the area from them. Then there's Kaf-Tet be-November -- "29th of November" St., referring to the date in 1947 when the U.N. voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Another suicide bombing this morning during the rush hour in Jerusalem -- Palestinian Suicide Bomber Kills 7 Others on Jerusalem Bus. The attack occurred at the Liberty Bell Park, just north of the German Colony.

In this New York Daily News article, Furor just before Gibson's 'The Passion' opens, Hutton Gibson, Mel's father, rants about how the evil the Jews are: "Is the Jew still actively anti-Christian? He is, for by being a Jew, he is anti-everyone else."

I've been reading a lot about the Gibson's "Passion" (there's even a special section in this week's Forward about it), and I will be curious to see the film myself -- whether the problematic lines from Matthew have been retained (in which the Jewish crowd says "His blood be on us and our children"), and how the Jews are characterized. It's not a cinematic experience I'm exactly looking forward to, since I don't enjoy gory movies and I prefer to enjoy movies rather than watch them with a close eye for anti-semitism.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Some fun news from Israel -- Snow falls in Jerusalem. Good pictures also at the Jerusalem Post. I have been in Israel many times in January and have never yet enjoyed a good snowfall there.... On the other hand, since I live in Ithaca, NY, I'm certainly not deprived of snow (especially this year).

Sunday, February 01, 2004

In my search for Talmudic references to the tumtum (an intersexed person), I came across a web site, "Come and See," that published significant parts of the Soncino Press's English translation of the Talmud. When I first found it I was grateful to be able to get fairly complete quotations (rather than the brief mentions from the other articles on the web--see previous entry). Then I delved a bit deeper to find out whether the Soncino Press had given permission to put their translation on line. I discovered through reading the page on copyright issues that Come and Hear had taken the Talmudic texts from a book called The Plot Against Christianity by Elizabeth Dilling, which apparently had published hundreds of pages from the Soncino Press edition. The Plot Against Christianity appears to be an anti-semitic screed containing many classic anti-Jewish tropes.

Elizabeth Dilling's book was published by Noontide Books, which has published David Duke's autobiography, My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding. David Duke is a former Ku Klux Klan leader who has attempted to make white supremacy and anti-semitism respectable.

The Come and Hear web site, aside from its on-line Talmudic publication, has many essays written by the web site owner, Carol A. Valentine, and others, under the heading of America under the Talmud. From the examination of one essay, Holy Atrocities and Judaism, it appears that the author examines the Talmud and other Jewish writings through a hostile, anti-semitic lens designed to see the worst in anything Jewish. Her primary worry seems to be that the United States is quickly becoming a nation governed by Talmudic law.

The author, Carol A. Valentine, owns another web site called Public Action, Inc.. One of the key topics on the web site is Waco and the Branch Davidians, an issue that galvanized the extreme right in this country in the 1990s. There are also articles by her and others that claim that the September 11 attacks were carried by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command), remotely controlling the planes. The site also contains a listing of Holocaust Revisionist web sites.

When I started my research on the Come and Hear site, I thought I had found something very useful -- a web site that offered search capabilities for a significant part of the English translation of the Babylonian Talmud. Upon discovering, however, that the web publication of the Soncino Talmud translation was certainly not authorized by the Soncino Press, and in addition that the web master who put up this site uses it to attack Jews and Judaism, this web publication seems to me to be very much like the free or for-sale term paper sites -- it purports to present legitimately publicly available information in an easy-to-access form, but actually perpetrates a malicious fraud.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Internet to see if I could find talmudic references to the tumtum and the androgynos (people with indeterminate sexual organs and hermaphrodites). When I put "Talmud" and "tumtum" into Google I came up with a number of web sites. Some of these web sites provide a cautionary tale for anyone using the web for research.

A very interesting and learned essay by Rabbi Alfred Cohen of Congregation Ohaiv Yisrael of Monsey, NY, was published in the Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society 38 (Fall 1999).

An interesting site called "Born Eunuchs" has an extensive list of sources on eunuchs, including a selection from BT Yebamoth ch. 8 that mentions the tumtum. The translation is taken from the Soncino English translation of the Talmud.

Another site mentioned the tumtum as part of an extensive discussion of circumcision on

There was also a brief discussion of the talmudic passages on the tumtum on a site for transgender people of different religions, Forge Forward.

Another was an essay on intersexuality written by a Sally Gross on a site called Free Essays. The intent of this site seems to be to provide resources for students who wish to plagiarize papers or to buy term papers from them. Interestingly enough, this same essay is present on another free term paper site, Hot Papers.

And in turn, this essay seems to have formed part of a longer essay written by Sally Gross, with the same title, on another web site. This web site is called Blackfriars Publications, which calls itself the "House Imprint of the English Dominicans." My guess is that Sally Gross has no idea that part of her essay appears on the term papers sites.