Mel Gibson confirms new project on Jesus’ resurrection


Mel Gibson confirmed that he is making a movie about the resurrection of Jesus, recalling that he had the “tar kicked out of” him for his movie about the last days of the Christian messiah, “The Passion of the Christ.”

“That’s a very big subject and it needs to be looked at because we don’t want to just do a simple rendering of it,” Gibson said last weekend at SoCal Harvest, an evangelical Christian arts festival. “I mean, we can all read what happened.”

At the beginning of his interview with evangelist Greg Laurie, first reported by IndieWire, a film business news website, Gibson thanked the cheering audience for the support of evangelicals during the controversies surrounding “The Passion,” a 2004 movie critics and Jewish groups said stoked anti-Semitic themes.

“I love you folks,” said Gibson, who belongs to an ultraconservative Roman Catholic sect. “You know, about 12 years ago, when I was literally, when I made this film, I was literally getting the tar kicked out of me, and it was you people out there, evangelicals, who stood up and supported me, I thanked you at the time, but I thank you again, and that was great of you.”

Jewish groups said at the time that Gibson relied on anti-Semitic stereotypes to depict Jesus’ persecutors, including Caiaphas, the high priest. The movie nonetheless was a box office success, resonating among devout Christian audiences. As the controversy ensued, it emerged that Gibson’s sect rejected much of the Vatican II doctrine that had absolved the Jews for the death of Christ, and that his father was a Holocaust denier.

Two years later, Gibson, during an arrest for driving while intoxicated in Southern California, spewed an anti-Semitic rant against the Jewish sheriff’s deputy who arrested him. That and subsequent scandals involving his marriage and allegations of abuse toward his girlfriend tanked his career for a period, although he has scored some recent successes.

Randall Wallace, a screenwriter who has collaborated with Gibson in the past, said in June that they were working on a sequel to “Passion,” but Gibson at the time would not confirm the project.

In his SoCal Harvest interview, Gibson clarified that he did not view the project as a sequel to “The Passion.” “It’s not the ‘Passion 2,’” he said.

 

George W. Bush and Jews for Jesus


Former President George W. Bush spoke for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) this past week, and this has led to a good deal of writing on Jews for Jesus and the ex-president’s address.

Some observations:

• Like nearly every other Jew, I was saddened by the news. The MJBI is not some quiet Messianic congregation consisting of Christians and born-Jews who affirm Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and Messiah; its entire raison d’etre is to convert Jews to Christianity. Needless to say, in a free society, such as ours, one should be free to engage in proselytizing. And if President Bush had spoken before a Christian organization whose purpose was to spread belief in Jesus, no one would have said a thing. 

But the MJBI is different. First, it is devoted solely to bringing Jews to Christian faith. Second, it does so by telling Jews that they do not become Christian when they accept Christ; they stay Jewish. They simply become “fulfilled” Jews. So unlike every other case of religious conversion in the world, the Jew who converts to Christianity remains a member of the religious group he previously identified with.

To most Jews, that is intellectually dishonest. Such Jews should call themselves by the name of the faith whose religious doctrines they now embrace — Christian. Jews may be saddened when a Jew leaves Judaism, but they can respect the decision. After all, if Christians can become Jews, Jews can become Christians. What Jews cannot respect is when Jewish converts to Christianity deny they are Christians, call themselves Jews, and devote their lives to converting other Jews.

• Even many Evangelical Christians who are genuinely and selflessly devoted to fighting on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel find it difficult to understand why Jews react so negatively to Jews for Jesus. The best way I have found to explain this to them is by comparing the Jews’ attitude toward Jews for Jesus to Evangelicals’ attitude to Mormons. Evangelical Christians have no more problem with there being Mormons than they do with any other religious group; their problem is with Mormons calling themselves Christian — just as Jews have no problem with the existence of Christians, only with Jews who convert to Christianity who still call themselves Jews — and claim that the only authentic Jew is one who is a Christian. 

• Jews should not allow their opposition to Jews for Jesus to bleed over to opposition to Christian Zionists, as a writer on this subject recently irresponsibly did in the liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward. Christian Zionists have been the best friends Jews have had for most of the last two centuries. As Andrew Brown, the religion writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, wrote this week:

“Without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen — almost exactly the equivalents of George W. Bush — there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.”

Today, groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and other Evangelical pro-Israel groups are the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in the world — and they are not working to convert us. If the Evangelicals turn against Israel the way the liberal churches have, we will be in deep trouble.

• Concerning George W. Bush, it should not be difficult for Jews to object to his address to MJBI while continuing to express gratitude for his steadfast support for Israel while president of the United States. I think it is fair to say that nearly all the Jews of Israel are far more angered by President Barack Obama’s policies toward Iran than George W. Bush’s appearance at a Jews for Jesus institution. As Yossi Klein Halevi said this week (on my radio show), “a majority of Israelis today have no faith in the Obama administration’s will to stop a nuclear Iran.” Israelis did have faith in George W. Bush’s will to stop Iran. So, let’s not lose perspective because of one address to a group of Christians few people have ever heard of.

• For 40 years I have argued that Jews for Jesus pose little or no danger to Jewish survival. We Jews should be preoccupied with all the Jews for Nothing, the Jews for anti-Zionism, the Jews for radical Leftism, the Jews in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who developed the obscene vegetarian campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate” that equates the barbecuing of chickens in America with the cremating of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Our sons and daughters in college are not being alienated from Judaism, the Jewish people, and, of course, from Israel by Jews for Jesus, but by the secular left-wing professors who teach contempt for God, for religion, for Zionism and for Israel.

• The claim of Jews for Jesus that they are not Christians but Jews is false advertising, but the claim that they remain Jews is not false. Take, for example, the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. He was born a Jew, Aaron Lustiger, and converted to Catholicism. On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said: “I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”

Yet, Jews around the world came to revere Cardinal Lustiger for his unceasing efforts to rid the Catholic Church of anti-Semitism and to help Israel in the Catholic world. This Catholic, who considered himself Jewish, was a regular speaker for the World Jewish Congress and was even invited to speak at the Modern Orthodox Jewish seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

Of course, Lustiger did not devote his life, as Jews for Jesus organizations do, to converting Jews. But Jewish law regarded him as a Jew, mainstream Jews honored him, and he asked that the Kaddish be recited for him upon his death.

• The only positive Jewish response to Jews for Jesus is to figure out how to keep Jews Jewish so that they will not leave us for other secular or religious faiths. And the way to achieve that is to instill in young Jews faith in the Jewish trinity: God, Torah and Israel. Then they won’t seek any other trinity.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Messianic truth in advertising


The growth of the Jews for Jesus and messianic movements in Israel, especially during Israel’s 60th anniversary, is unprecedented and an outcome of unrestrained relationships with fundamentalist Christians.

There are more than 15,000 messianic Jews residing in Israel and more than 275,000 in the Diaspora. Jews for Jesus now has an office in Tel Aviv, with a staff of 10 that includes several Israeli-born messianic Jewish couples, and they have launched a five-year crusade to proselytize Israelis. Last month they spent over $500,000 for full-page ads in four Israeli papers and ads on buses and billboards. They have already handed out more than 75,000 missionary tracts and received contact information from 850 Israelis.

Furthermore, some Israeli politicians and prominent rabbis are associating with messianic Jews, inadvertently lending them credibility. Others rabbis were outraged about a messianic Jew in the International Bible Quiz for Jewish youth and called for a boycott. Of grave concern are the actions of messianic lawyer Calev Myers, who has been fighting in the Israeli Supreme Court for messianic rights, including initiating changes in the law of return that recently enabled a dozen messianic missionaries to become Israeli citizens.

Myers and the messianic movement are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the Israeli public. It is misleading for them to claim that the only difference between messianic Jews and other Jews is their belief that Jesus is the Messiah. This was highlighted by Myers’ recent quote in the Jerusalem Post comparing messianic Jews to messianic Chabadniks. In fact, messianic Jews intentionally avoid mentioning a fundamental difference. In addition to believing Jesus is the Messiah, they believe he is God in the flesh and part of a Trinity. All denominations of Judaism considered these beliefs to be idolatrous for Jews.

As early as 1980, Jews for Jesus founder Moshe Rosen in his book, “Sharing the New Life With a Jew,” advised messianic missionaries to avoid mentioning their belief in the deity of Jesus because it makes witnessing to Jews extremely difficult. Additionally, attempts by the messianic movement to prove their theology from biblical and rabbinic sources are based on misquotations and mistranslations.

Even before Christianity, Jews rejected these anti-Jewish nonmonotheistic beliefs. We also realize they were introduced into Christianity due to the influence of pagan cult gods like Osiris and Dionysus.

Obviously, there are other differences. Messianic Jews accept the Greek New Testament as divinely inspired scripture and they believe that all Jews who don’t believe in Jesus face eternal damnation in hell. However, historically it is their idolatrous beliefs that have ultimately placed “Jews who believe in Jesus” outside the pale of Judaism.

Christian friendship is appreciated; however, we must be cautious and call for truth in advertising by the messianic movement. We should also call on messianic Jews to reject these foreign beliefs and return to the pure monotheistic unity of God that defines our identity and personal relationship with God.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the founding director of Jews for Judaism International, which has offices in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Toronto, Jerusalem, Sydney and Johannesburg. He can be reached at RabbiKravitz@JewsForJudaism.org

A Jew, a Catholic and a film crew walk into a born-again summer camp


What are a secular Jew and a lapsed Catholic doing making a film about born-again Christians?



“We were interested in exploring children and faith,” explained Rachel Grady, co-director of “Jesus Camp,” a documentary about a summer program at which evangelical children are taught to “take back America for Christ.” Grady and co-director Heidi Ewing, her partner at New York-based Loki Films, became intrigued with the subject while making their last documentary, “The Boys of Baraka,” which featured a 12-year-old boy who had already found his “calling” in preaching.



It’s Time to Return to Our Mission


 

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was the most important American religious event of the past year. For Christians, its effects were quite positive, as viewers already committed to belief in Jesus were roused to renew their faith through the heartrending story of the Crucifixion.

For America’s Jewish community, the effects of the film can also be positive, if we draw the right retrospective lessons not from the movie itself but from the controversy that still surrounds it.

This time a year ago, more than a month before its release, “The Passion” was drawing tremendous hostility from Jewish leaders. Though Anti-Defamation League (ADL) national director Abraham Foxman has denied that his group predicted pogroms, in fact, the ADL harped on supposed parallels between Gibson’s movie and medieval Passion plays. The latter led to mass violence against Jews, so the obvious implication was that the former could also.

In an article in The New Republic — Jewish-owned and edited — a Jewish professor of religious studies, Paula Fredriksen, in all earnestness stated not as speculation but as a certainty that when the film appeared in countries like Poland, Spain, France and Russia, savagery would erupt: “When violence breaks out, Mel Gibson will have a much higher authority than professors and bishops to answer to.”

Of course none of this happened — despite the fact that, thanks to the widely publicized attacks spearheaded by the ADL, many more people saw Gibson’s “Passion” than would otherwise have done so.

What was expected to bring on this tsunami of Jew-hatred, not least from the same evangelical Christians who are among the State of Israel’s most ardent supporters?

As the Christian Bible tells the story and as Gibson does, the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ time handed him over to the Romans for crucifixion. This happens to be approximately the version of history given in the Talmud and by the past millennium’s greatest Jewish sage, Maimonides. I say “approximately” because, in truth, Jewish tradition ascribes full responsibility for Jesus’ death to certain Jews of the time. If Gibson is an anti-Semite, so is Maimonides.

Apart from exonerating Gibson, the lessons to be drawn from the “Passion” imbroglio have to do with the tactics our community has come to favor in fighting supposed anti-Semitism. There is indeed anti-Semitism out there to be fought, almost exclusively in the Arab world. But sadly, our Jewish culture places tremendous emphasis on sniffing out hostility to us where it barely exists, namely among Christians, and spends a fortune doing so.

If you doubt the prestige and authority we assign to groups like the Anti-Defamation League and its West Coast equivalent, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, just ask yourself who, on moral questions, is the American Jewish voice that gets more attention, that is treated with more grave, earnest seriousness than any other?

It belongs not to a rabbi or any other spiritual exemplar but to the ADL’s Foxman.

Don’t blame him. This well-meaning man is just doing his job, which is to raise the approximately $40 million budget that Jews yearly pour into the ADL. Anti-defamation groups stay in business by motivating us to donate. That requires continually proving the urgent relevance of what they do.

There is an automatic, built-in institutional motivation to sound the alarm at the slightest hint of anti-Semitism, and to keep the alarm screaming in newspapers and TV as long and as loud as possible.

The non-Jewish media are complicit in this. But so are we. By elevating anti-Semitism over virtually any other community concern — like education or spirituality, for example — we do ourselves more harm than good.

The risk of alienating Christian allies is not the most serious issue. Religious Christians love the Jewish state for much the same reason that religious Jews do. Both see Israel as occupying a special place in God’s regard, and both see it as playing an important future role in the world’s history.

Christian affection for Israel, and for Jews, is not going to go away anytime soon.

I worry more about the function God assigned to the Jewish people 3,000 years ago at Mount Sinai. There, He called us to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), and many passages in the Hebrew prophets make clear what this should mean. We are called to function as ministers to the world, which is meant to be our congregation, teaching other peoples about God.

It is a pity that, in the eyes of our congregation, the most serious moral message we have to impart has nothing to do with the Torah or with God. It’s about a generalized paranoia, an ingrained habit of issuing mistaken alarms about phantom anti-Semitism, and then to deny we ever made a mistake.

The time has come to acknowledge our mistake, even to apologize — not to Gibson, but to God. Jews have a job in the world, which He gave us. We’re not doing it now, but if we opted to reconsider where our community spends its money, how we assign our priorities, we could get down to business.

This article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post. The author’s new book, “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History,” will be published in March.