Mel Gibson redux

Six months ago, it seemed that you could not open a newspaper or magazine or turn on a television without hearing mentioned the impending release of Mel Gibson's controversial film, The Passion of the Christ. Now, with the release of the film on DVD, we can expect another publicity campaign — and, undoubtedly, a resurgence of the public discussion that accompanied its initial release.

Whatever its strengths or weaknesses, The Passion got people talking. In recent memory there has not been a movie that stimulated more honest public dialogue about the deepest religious beliefs of Christians and Jews and the history of anti—Semitism in the Christian church.

Yes, this dialogue was uncomfortable and even painful. But it was fruitful in many respects. It pushed many Jews out of their 'comfort zone' and forced them to really learn something about the basic tenets of Christianity. In doing so, they found out that the historically noxious deicide charge against the Jewish people is given little, if any, credence by the majority of Christians today, and is in fact viewed as an error in Christian history and theology.

Christians, on the other hand, were compelled to confront the church's record of anti—Semitism and mistreatment of the Jewish people. Before The Passion, how many Christians knew that passion plays enacted during the Christian Holy Week in medieval days were often catalysts for pogroms? Or that Adolf Hitler himself praised these very passion plays as representative of 'the menace of Jewry?'

While I still have many reservations about this film, the silver lining is that it raised the historical consciousness of the average Christian and Jew. Moreover, despite dire predictions, no connection has been demonstrated between The Passion and the recent rise of anti—Semitic incidents. To blame this movie for the surge in anti—Jewish sentiment is to ignore the fact that such feelings had been on the rise long before the film's release and most definitely are related to the Palestinian—Israeli conflict and the worldwide surge in militant Islamism. The world's oldest and most enduring prejudice, it seems, did not need this movie to thrive.

As Jews around the world welcome a New Year by reflecting honestly on their relationships with God and with their fellow man, perhaps it is fitting to give Mel Gibson a very qualified thank you — if not for The Passion itself, then for opening a long—overdue public dialogue between Christians and Jews. Given the disturbing rise in anti—Semitic incidents in the past year — the burning of a Jewish children's school in Montreal, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in France, vicious anti—Israel incitement masquerading as 'art' in Australia and Sweden and many others — it is incumbent upon us to keep actively fighting any and every anti—Semitic incident we encounter. As people of faith, it is imperative that we continue what this movie compelled us to begin.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

Six months ago, it seemed that you could not open a newspaper or magazine or turn on a television without hearing mentioned the impending release of Mel Gibson's controversial film, The Passion of the Christ. Now, with the release of the film on DVD, we can expect another publicity campaign — and, undoubtedly, a resurgence of the public discussion that accompanied its initial release.

Whatever its strengths or weaknesses, The Passion got people talking. In recent memory there has not been a movie that stimulated more honest public dialogue about the deepest religious beliefs of Christians and Jews and the history of anti—Semitism in the Christian church.

Yes, this dialogue was uncomfortable and even painful. But it was fruitful in many respects. It pushed many Jews out of their 'comfort zone' and forced them to really learn something about the basic tenets of Christianity. In doing so, they found out that the historically noxious deicide charge against the Jewish people is given little, if any, credence by the majority of Christians today, and is in fact viewed as an error in Christian history and theology.

Christians, on the other hand, were compelled to confront the church's record of anti—Semitism and mistreatment of the Jewish people. Before The Passion, how many Christians knew that passion plays enacted during the Christian Holy Week in medieval days were often catalysts for pogroms? Or that Adolf Hitler himself praised these very passion plays as representative of 'the menace of Jewry?'

While I still have many reservations about this film, the silver lining is that it raised the historical consciousness of the average Christian and Jew. Moreover, despite dire predictions, no connection has been demonstrated between The Passion and the recent rise of anti—Semitic incidents. To blame this movie for the surge in anti—Jewish sentiment is to ignore the fact that such feelings had been on the rise long before the film's release and most definitely are related to the Palestinian—Israeli conflict and the worldwide surge in militant Islamism. The world's oldest and most enduring prejudice, it seems, did not need this movie to thrive.

As Jews around the world welcome a New Year by reflecting honestly on their relationships with God and with their fellow man, perhaps it is fitting to give Mel Gibson a very qualified thank you — if not for The Passion itself, then for opening a long—overdue public dialogue between Christians and Jews. Given the disturbing rise in anti—Semitic incidents in the past year — the burning of a Jewish children's school in Montreal, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in France, vicious anti—Israel incitement masquerading as 'art' in Australia and Sweden and many others — it is incumbent upon us to keep actively fighting any and every anti—Semitic incident we encounter. As people of faith, it is imperative that we continue what this movie compelled us to begin.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews