Rabbi cautions about 'subtleties of possible anti-Semitism'

February 22, 2004|HERB BROCK

LEXINGTON - The alphabet soup of commonly known movie ratings include G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17. But Rabbi Marc Kline of Temple Adath Israel offers another: U - for ugly.

Kline used the "U-word" to describe the way he reacted several months ago when he read portions of the first version of the script for "The Passion of the Christ," a controversial movie produced by Mel Gibson that opens to the general public on Wednesday, including at Danville Cinemas 4.

Ugly applies to lines in the movie that appeared to Kline to lay the blame for Christ's Crucifixion on the Jews and on other "problems," including deviations from the "true" story of the crucifixion and a reliance on violence to tell the story.

"When I read the pieces of the original script my first thought was, 'This is ugly,' " said Kline, whose Lexington synagogue is attended by a few Danville-area residents.


And, according to the rabbi, it was "ugly" on various levels and for various reasons. "Mel has told various interviewers and groups that he has been true to the four Gospels," said Kline. "What it truly is, is the Gospel according to Mel."

Gibson is a "brilliant actor, artist and cinematographer" and those attributes are as evident in "The Passion of the Christ" as they have been in his blockbuster films, including "Braveheart" and the "Road Warrior" and "Lethal Weapon" series, said Kline.

"What you have in Mel's movies are gratuitous violence and an artistic license in developing scripts and in sticking to historical facts," he said. "A professor (at a Lexington seminary) summed up his evaluation of 'The Passion' by saying you have the expectation of seeing a lot of action and violence in a Mel Gibson movie and you won't be disappointed after seeing his latest film.

"What you will see, the professor said, is violence just with a different hero, setting and story line. He said what you will see is 'Lethal Weapon V' but with more primitive weapons."

Kline said there are several inaccuracies in the movie, including priests who speak Latin when they actually spoke Greek, and the positioning of the cross on which Christ was crucified.

The main problem with the film deals with the role that Jews played

But the main problem with the film, at least in the parts of the first version of the script that the rabbi saw and according to evaluations by movie critics and other writers that he has read, deals with the role that Jews played in The Crucifixion and questions about how much they pushed for Christ to be punished.

Kline said he is concerned that the film might revive or reinforce ancient Christian doctrine claiming Jews caused the death of Christ and thus rekindle anti-Semitism among modern Christians.

Kline said Gibson handles the issue of Jewish culpability for Christ's death "in subtle ways." While he is concerned about how Jews will react to the references to that culpability, Kline is more worried about how Christians will respond.

"While there are things about the alleged Jewish role in Christ's death in the movie that may make Jews squirm in their seats, these things may be too subtle for some Christians to see or, for those who do see them, to fully understand," he said.

"Those (Christians) who see the subtleties but do not understand them may accept them as the truth, and they are not."

Kline thus cautions Christians to avoid viewing all the movie's references to Jews and their relationship with Christ as factual. He also encourages Christians, Jews and people of other faiths to "stop pointing fingers."

"The Catholic Church's inquisitions in the Middle Ages, which targeted so-called heretics, including Jews, occurred more than 600 years ago, and the descendants of those persecuted and killed in those horrible events long ago stopped holding the subsequent leaders and members of the Catholic Church accountable," the rabbi said. "The Crucifixion occurred more than 2,000 years ago but some Christians still point fingers at Jews.

"We need to judge each other by who we are, not by who our ancestors were."

Kline said there is a certain irony in the way the movie has been embraced by some evangelical Christian leaders.

"Some of these folks do not accept Catholics as Christians, but they are the very same people who are so totally supportive of the movie, its conservative Catholic producer (Gibson) and its Catholic star (the actor who plays Christ) and say the movie is 100 percent faithful to the gospels."

Meanwhile, Kline said that, despite his reservations about the movie, he plans to see it Wednesday. He said he understands that Gibson has made some cuts and changes in the parts of the original script that the rabbi saw and in the movie that was originally shown, and that at least some of the revisions deal with the Jews' alleged role in the crucifixion.

"I will be very interested to see what changes he's made, especially in the parts of the movie that deal with Jews," said Kline. "But I know one thing for sure - and I hope it's something everyone of every faith, or no faith for that matter, will know - and that's that the movie will not be Christ preaching to us but Mel preaching to us about his view of Christ and His Crucifixion."

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