The Clot to Kill Jesus


In what is likely the ultimate “Cold Case File,” a researcher in Haifa may have figured out the cause of Jesus’ death.

Professor Benjamin Brenner, a Technion Medical School and Rambam Medical Center hematology expert, said the problem was not blood loss, but a blood clot that likely traveled to Jesus’ lungs.

“That Jesus was put on the cross on Friday before noontime and died only three to six hours later leads me to believe he did not die from crucifixion and blood loss alone,” Brenner said. The blood clot, or pulmonary embolism, “would be a common result from the physical and psychological adversity Jesus underwent during his final day.”

Brenner relied on descriptions of the events of Jesus’ death from the Christian Bible as well as Jewish and Roman sources. His findings were published last week in the online edition of the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis.

Brenner believes that Jesus’ Jewish heritage may have provided additional, inherited risk factors that made him more susceptible to blood clots. Two clot-related genetic mutations, “Factor V Leiden” and “Prothrombin 20120,” are common in Israel, especially in the Galilee, the boyhood home of Jesus, according to Christian tradition.

Matters concerning Jesus’ death have been a source of interest and speculation for centuries, and modern times ushered in modern theories. In 1986, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) considered whether Jesus died of a blood clot, but concluded his death was due to blood loss. However, Brenner said that medical science’s understanding of blood clots has since advanced dramatically.

Pulmonary embolisms occur when an artery in the lung becomes blocked, typically by one or more blood clots that have traveled to the lungs from another part of the body. The clots often originate in the legs, but can also form in veins in the arms, for example, or on the right side of the heart.

Some of Jesus’ symptoms may have a familiar modern ring: dehydration, severe physical and emotional stress and prolonged immobilization. It’s what can and does occasionally happen today to unlucky passengers on long plane flights, especially in this no-frills era. Also at risk are others who remain inactive for long periods of time, like those confined to bed and people who have had surgery, a stroke or heart attack. Each year about 30,000 Americans die from pulmonary embolisms.

Brenner hopes his research will raise public awareness about this largely preventable disease. Treatments include medication to break up clots or prevent new clots from forming. On long plane flights, it also helps to move around the cabin.

Danger in Not Knowing Our Story


Claire Luce Booth, the wife of the owner of Luce Publications, reported a frank conversation with a Jewish friend. Booth said, “I must admit being positively bored by all this talk of the Holocaust and its constant repetition of Jewish suffering.” The Jewish friend replied, “I know just how you feel. I feel exactly the same way about the Crucifixion.”

Each would like to see the other's story go away. But neither will go away. Golgotha and Auschwitz, the Crucifixion and the Holocaust, remain the dybbuk of our culture. They must both be confronted and understood.

I saw Gibson's Passion movie because I had to. When in conversation with Christians or Jews, they ask me, “Did you see the movie?”, and I reply, “No,” the conversation is broken.

The conversation must not be broken. The dialogue must continue. I cannot and ought not hide my eyes from this crucial and excruciating story seen by millions throughout the world. Both terms “crucial” and “excruciating” are more than etymologically related to the Latin “crux“, “cross”, Latin for “excruciare“, “to crucify”. I saw the movie at a public screening and behind me sat a woman who sobbed and gasped throughout the movie. I understood her tears. She saw in this tortured, relentlessly violated figure on the cross a martyrdom, which in Greek means “witness” and “agape“, an altruism which is the highest form of love, to sacrifice oneself for another. The god-man on the cross died to save her soul.

She cried, and I cried. I saw, on that Roman cross, the crucifixion of my people. For two thousand years my people have been hounded by the unspeakable accusation of deicide, the murder of God. Blood libel, pogrom, inquisitions, expulsion, are bound with fearsome chains to the Passion story. On the cross, I saw 1.5 million Jewish children hanged, 90% of Eastern European Jews decimated, eight out of ten rabbis in Europe slaughtered. Who can reasonably expect that I can see this picture of priests and crowds, draped with prayer shawls, hovered over by a she-devil, without a measure of paranoia? Who can expect a traumatized people to review this film with dispassion? I remembered my zayde's fear when he crossed the street before a church, not out of disrespect, but out of fear. The Crucifixion may be a symbol of self-sacrificial love, but to a black man, a fiery cross set on his lawn by the K.K.K. is no act of compassion.

We both cried, she because she saw in the Crucifixion the saving of her soul, and I because I saw in it the cremation of millions of innocent lives. In the movie, I was not troubled by the discrepancy between the New Testament and Gibson's version, nor the logic which condemns Judas for doing that which he was fated to do by the design of the Father who willingly sacrificed His son to wipe out the sins of mankind. Faith is not logic. Against all arguments, the Church father Tertullian declared, “Credo quia absurdam est” — “I believe because it is absurd.” Beyond logic or the intentional or unintentional anti-Semitism of the movie, I became troubled by something else. That became clearer to me on one particular occasion, when seated at a dinner alongside an intelligent Jewish man, who initiated a conversation about the movie he had just seen. The intensity of his discomfort and nervousness was evident. He touched my hand and asked me with earnestness, “Rabbi, how do we answer it? Did the Jews kill their god? Why do we Jews reject Jesus? Why did we not appreciate his suffering?” The depth of his questioning revealed that something more than anti-Semitism was at stake. His question recalled my earlier years in the rabbinate when parents would come to ask me, “What do I say to my child who wants to know 'Why can't we have a Christmas tree?'” It soon became evident to me that the parents were not concerned about the tree, but with the root of the question. Not, “Why can't we have a Christmas tree?” but, “Why can't we be Christians?” In other conversations about the movie with some Jews, I heard similar undertones of doubt and came to realize that Jewish ignorance is lethal, that it eats away at our morale and our self-understanding. It made me more aware of how dangerous the lack of philosophic and theological grasp of our tradition is.

We have to understand their sacred story but assuredly, we must understand our own sacred story. Every religion has its root story which expresses the purpose and meaning of life — who we are, what we hope our children will become, how we regard those who may not accept our story. Every religion has its own unique story. Mine is not superior to yours, nor yours to mine. Without understanding what Judaism affirms, we are left only with what others consider our rejection. Out of ignorance of our own story, we tend to see ourselves through the eyes of those who view us as apostates.

My friend echoes their question, whether or why we killed the son of God. I don't understand the question. The question derives from their story, their premises and presuppositions. What does it mean to torture and murder God? In my story, the question makes no sense. In my story, God is not a person, not incarnate, not made of flesh and blood. In my story, God is not visible, not mortal, not victim, not capable of being killed. God is not a sacrifice. In my story, we bring sacrifices in the name of God, but God is not our sacrificial lamb. Abraham's sacrificial ram is not Isaac, the son of Abraham, nor the son of God. In our story, when Abraham believes that God would have him sacrifice his son Isaac, the angel of God in the Bible contravenes: “Do not raise your hand against this child or do anything to him.”

The accusation “Why did Jews kill God?” begs the question. It makes sense only if you accept the theological premises and presuppositions of another story. I feel trapped, much in the same way that the defendant is tricked by the lawyer's question “And when did you stop beating your wife?” It wrongly assumes that which is to be proven. In my story God is not to be made into any image: “You shall not make me into any image or any likeness that is in the heavens above or in the earth beneath.” We sing it in our liturgy: “God is not a body, nor the semblance of a body.”

We must respect the uniqueness of each other's story, but we cannot impose our story upon the other. Am I to respond to your question “Why did you reject Jesus as the son of God?” with “Why did you reject the tradition of Moses? Why did you reject the mother faith?”

If you understand the affirmation of our faith, you will understand that the rejection does not single out Jesus for rejection. In our story, no one, neither Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob nor Moses nor David is accepted as divine, perfect or infallible. There is no rejection of any priest or prophet, only an affirmation expressed in the book of Ecclesiastes: “There is no person who has walked the face of the earth and has done good and who has not sinned.” In our story, no one who walks the face of the earth is divine. In our story, the struggle is against apotheosis, making of anyone a god. No priest, patriarch, rabbi is worshipped. We have no saints; we have no beatification or canonization of any patriarch, priest or prophet. In our story, we do not even know where Moses was buried lest his burial place become a shrine. In our Passover story, the name of Moses is not to be found in the Haggadah, lest we deify a human being. This is our affirmation, not our rejection. Our affirmation of the One-ness of God is prior to the claim of the Trinity of God.

We are asked why we do not accept a savior to save our souls from the burning coals of hell and perdition. Here again the question is loaded: The question makes sense from the point of view of their story that is based upon the belief that every human embryo is stigmatized by an original sin, not a consequences of free choices, but, like DNA, an involuntary sin inherited from conception. In that story, sin is supernatural and therefore cannot be overcome, erased or expiated by human deeds or human efforts. In that story, vicarious atonement, the death of God's son, can wipe out my sins. But that never was our story. In our story, no sin is original, no sin is supernatural. My sins are not inherited, they are chosen by me and I am responsible to expiate for my transgressions. There is something I can do to apologize, forgive and repair for the hurt.

In my story, neither God, nor priest nor rabbi can stand in my place. In my story, there is no vicarious atonement, no surrogate for my doing teshuvah. If I sin, it is I who must pay, I who must appease. No one else, neither father, nor mother, nor saint can suffer for the hurt I have inflicted on others. It is I who must bind the wounds, set aright the broken bones. In our story, no one can fast for us, no one can pray for us, no one can beg forgiveness for us.

When you speak of saving our souls from hell and perdition, you impose another story upon ours. In our story, hell is not “down there.” Hell is not an eternal torture for people who don't believe in our story. In our story, hell is here on earth — starvation is hell, slavery is hell, genocide is hell, terror is hell, prejudice is hell, hatred is hell. In our story, in the Talmud, in the name of Rabbi Jacob it is taught that “One hour of repentance and the practice of good deeds are better than the entire world to come.”

You cannot read your story into mine and then question my fidelity. Out of your story comes the belief that souls must be saved, that “extra ecclesia nulla salus“, “outside of the Church nobody is saved.” That story is not ours. In our story, no one who does well, no one who lives a good and decent life, is excluded from the world to come. In our story, the sages declare: “I call as witnesses heaven and earth that be it an Israelite or Gentile, a man or a woman, only according to the deed does the Holy Spirit rest upon him.” In your story, souls are saved. In our story lives not souls, are to be saved.

It is true that we own different stories, but it is equally true that those stories can change, and that stories have changed. It is a desecration of the nobility and power of the Church's moral capacity to change, as it is a blasphemy to Islam or Judaism when the wisdom and compassion to change is denied. Experience, history, compassion and moral sensibility correct our stories and add to them new wisdom and new love. What concerns serious critics about the movie is it's assault upon the post-Vatican II Church which has proven to be sensitive to the misuse of the Christian story.

Something revolutionary occurred forty years ago when the Second Vatican Council opened its doors to 2,540 bishops gathered in Saint Peter's Basilica. One of the most unforgettable figures in contemporary history, Pope John XXIII, introduced two concepts that revolutionized religious thinking in the twentieth century and into our century. One concept, “aggiornamento”, called for the “updating of the tradition;” and the other, a French term, “ressourcement“, urged “the recovery of ancient sources,” especially the sources from Judaism, the mother tradition which nurtured and gave birth to Christianity and to Islam. After thousands of years of persecution, Inquisition, Crusades, Pope John XXIII courageously opened up the windows of the Church.

In 1960, Pope John XXIII with a notable Jewish historian, Jules Isaac, and began an intense discussion with him. Jules Isaac presented the Pope with a book entitled Contempt of the Jews, in which he appealed to the Pope to remove the anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic elements in Catholic liturgy. Pope John XXIII kept Jules Isaac in the Vatican for three days, and when they emerged from their deep conversation, Jules Isaac said to the Pope, “Can I leave with hope?” And the Pope responded, “You are entitled to more than hope.” Thus began the greatest blessing of the Church and honor to the memory of its savior.

Lest we allow the movie to eclipse the moral heroism of the Church, let us recall the changes within the Church. Only yesterday, at the turn of our century, Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, called upon Pope Pious X to support the cause of Zionism and the return of the homeless people to Zion, Pope Pious X responded with a classic position from the old Church theology: “We are unfavorable to the movement. We cannot prevent Jews from going to Jerusalem, but we can never sanction it. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people. Should the Jews manage to set foot on the once promised old-new land, the missionaries of the Church stand prepared to baptize them.” This was the stigma of Cain, placed upon the wandering Jew, who would have no rest until the second coming of Christ.

But this present pope, John Paul II, on December 30th, 1993, and against the internal opposition from right-wing Catholics and Arab states, and even over the objection of his Secretary of State, established full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, exchanged ambassadors and put an end to the Church's condemnation of the Jewish people as the eternally uprooted, wandering Jew. That event was celebrated here at Valley Beth Shalom at a Service on a Friday night in the presence of Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles and bishops and priests and nuns from the Catholic community.

It is important that men and women of good will, from churches and synagogues, not allow high jacking of Vatican II post-Holocaust Church. Mel Gibson does not hide his opposition to the Pope, nor to the papacy, since John XXIII.

Jews and Catholics alike honor this pope, under whose auspices a “Mea Culpa“, a plea for repentance, was proclaimed. This pope, in our time, urged the Church to remember in the words of the Pontifical Commission wrote: “The Second Millennium draws to a close. It is imperative that the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recording all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his counsel.” This Pope, in our time, called on the sons and daughters of the Church “to purify their hearts in repentance of past errors and infidelities so as to help cure the wounds of past injustice.” In this synagogue, at Valley Beth Shalom, in the presence of the Cardinal and Catholic theologians, we discussed with amity and love the need for repentance, the acknowledgment of responsibility of the Church and the importance of excising from Catholic liturgy, Catholic prayer, those sections that were plainly anti- Jewish and anti-Judaic.

We must not allow this retrograde movie to dismiss the remarkable progress of the Church when Father John Pawlokowski, among others, searched through the Catholic textbooks taught in parochial schools to eliminate those passages inimical to Jewish life and to Jewish thought. The prayer on Good Friday that condemned “Jewish perfidy”, the alleged betrayal and treason of Jews, was excised. In January 1965, the prayer written by Pope John XXIII to be read in all Catholic churches, was printed in Commentary Magazine. It must be read over and over again: “We are conscious today that many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer see the beauty of Thy chosen people. We realize that the Mark of Cain stands on our forehead across the centuries that our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew. And we shed tears that we caused, forgetting Thy love. Forgive us for crucifying a second time in their flesh, for we knew not what we did.” It would be a betrayal of hope and of goodness to let a hate-filled film become the definitive statement of Christianity. It would be a blasphemy to raise Gibson's perverted notion of the New Testament based upon the writings of two Medieval, anti-Semitic nuns as the Catholic position.

What are we to do? We must recognize the struggle, after 2,000 years of anti-Judaic venom, to detoxify the poisons of contempt. We must engage our Christian brothers in a continual dialogue to educate, to understand the sanctity of our respective stories.

But first, Jews must understand their own story, their own theology — what it is that we believe, and why it is that we believe, else they will be confused and defensive.

We must take advantage of the new interest in religion, amongst Christians and Jews and unbelievers, and turn the sorry state of events into the great opportunity to penetrate darkness with light, sickness with health and contempt with compassion.

May not be reproduced (except for personal use) or published without written permission of the author. For permission, contact Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis at Valley Beth Shalom, 818-530-4007 or lcowley@vbs.org

Gibson Film Stirs Up Variety of Reactions


Rabbi Eli Spitz

This masterfully crafted film deals with a troubling event and could lead to trouble. The film fails to portray a larger context for Jesus and the Jews.

As recorded in the New Testament, Jesus lived as a faithful Jew and had Jewish crowds who loved him. The film focuses on only the last hours of his life, where the Jewish mob calls for his blood.

As a people, we have reason to feel nervous about the label “Christ-killers.” The film could lead to anti-Semitism, both in America and abroad.

Eli Spitz is senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin.

Rabbi David Wolpe

I believe that the intent of this movie is not to stir up hatred against the Jewish people. But will it give aid and comfort to anti-Semites? Will it be something that those who hate the Jewish people can show their children with an easy conscience? I’m afraid so. And we do not live in an age when hatred should be given nourishment.

….In recent times, however, Jews and Christians have begun speaking to each other, reaching out, seeking to understand the other…. Christianity is a great world tradition whose cradle is my faith.

The greatest sin of this movie would be if the vision of a single Hollywood star overrode, even for an instant, the efforts of so many rabbis, pastors, churchmen, ministers and countless laypeople to understand each other, embrace each other, seek each other’s heart.

I hope that a movie, which, with a spurious literalism, veils the remarkable message of love at the heart of the Christian tradition, will paradoxically enhance that love and so bring closer the time for which all pray, a time of peace.

This excerpt is from a sermon Wolpe delivered to his congregation, Sinai Temple, on Feb. 28. A complete version is at www.beliefnet.com.

Ron Austin

In all fairness, I think Gibson has attempted to depict the responsibility for [Jesus’] suffering and death as a guilt universally shared, as the Gospels, themselves, do.

The Jewish mob shouts for crucifixion, and the Roman legionnaires are monstrously cruel. Both Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate are corrupt, self-serving and lawless.

Differing interpretations of aspects of the film are inevitable, and, undoubtedly, some will find offense where others don’t. It is, nonetheless, clear that Gibson made an effort, which some may find inadequate, to avoid the scapegoating of which he’s been accused in the media.

….However painful and divisive the immediate response to the film has been, if there is reasonable goodwill, a greater understanding might yet emerge from the controversy…. In the context of our times, therefore, the repentance that “The Passion of the Christ” seeks to elicit and an understanding of the fears expressed by many in the Jewish community about the film’s possible unintended effects are, finally, not separate matters.

The sober truth that calls for repentance within Gibson’s film demands a sober response that goes far beyond our reactions as moviegoers. We must not fail to use the opportunity “The Passion of the Christ” has providentially given, whatever one thinks of the film, to proclaim our love of [Jesus], who died for us, and to demonstrate that love by cherishing and defending our neighbors.

Ron Austin is a veteran writer and producer, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a founding member of Catholics in Media. This excerpt reprinted from The Tidings.

Rabbi John Rosove

The film suffers, frankly, from Gibson’s embarrassing ignorance of 50 years of new Christian scholarship on the subject of what led to Jesus’ death. Instead, we get an immature and amateurish pre-Vatican II selectivity and interweaving of whatever Gospel texts have struck Gibson’s fancy, along with extrabiblical source materials no sober Christian scholar would deem worthy to examine….

Gibson’s denial, as well, that this film is anti-Semitic betrays his unawareness of the historical cause-and-effect interrelationship of Passion productions in Europe, with ensuing psychological and physical trauma, if not death, to countless Jews….

The disclaimer in the film that God intended Jesus to suffer and that guilt should not be laid at the door of the Jews is meaningless in light of the film, itself, and the effect that it leaves, Gibson’s public statements notwithstanding. Long after his statements are forgotten, the film will speak for itself….

John Rosove is senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Dr. Robert Wexler

So often I have read books or seen movies about Jewish suffering throughout the ages, but none of these has ever inspired me to greater devotion. On the contrary, I see these stories as direct challenges to my belief in a God of love and mercy. More often than not these books and films filled me, at least temporarily, with anger, helplessness and confusion.

Herein lays the most important difference between the Christians and any others who might see this movie. For many Catholics and Protestants, “The Passion” will probably be a moving experience and even a call to faith.

For Jews, however, it will be difficult to appreciate a level of graphic violence that seems almost gratuitous. Although we do believe that pain and affliction can, at times, be ennobling, we have never embraced the idea of vicarious atonement achieved through the suffering of another.

My concerns about anti-Semitism in the film were at least somewhat allayed. True to a literal reading of the New Testament text, “The Passion” does blame the Jews for the death of Jesus, but I am now convinced that this was not intended to be the central theme of the movie.

Those who enter the theater with anti-Jewish biases will undoubtedly find reinforcement for their hostility, but most Christians will simply be inspired by the suffering and martyrdom of the man whom they believe died for their sins.

An excerpt from a review by Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism.

Michael Tolkin

The only reasonable response left to Jews now that the film is out is to find a Righteous Gentile and see if he’s got any room left in his root cellar, or if you’re lucky, his wine cellar. Any religion that uses this much blood as an affirmation of faith is scary, while any religion that uses “Fiddler on the Roof” as an affirmation of faith is probably not up to the task of fighting what’s scary.

After “The Prince of Egypt” came out, DreamWorks licensed a seder plate. With this film, Mel Gibson licensed a necklace made of crucifixion nails.

You can’t make up absurdity fast enough to compete with reality anymore. I guess in some mixed marriages this year, both the seder plate and the torture jewelry will be at the same table. I want pictures.

Michael Tolkin is the author of several works including “Under Radar” (Grove Press, 2003).

Amanda Susskind

We have never called Mel Gibson or the movie anti-Semitic. We have never sought to boycott the movie or to censor it. Although speaking out is not all we do, it is, after all, a pivotal part of our mission “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all….”

The day after the movie opened, the notorious neo-Nazi group known as National Alliance started distributing recruitment fliers at theaters showing the movie. The fliers, which quote Gibson and denounce the ADL, openly recruit fledgling white supremacists.

As an organization devoted to eradicating bigotry of all kinds, the ADL stands together with people of all faiths to denounce victimization and stereotypes…. This is a time for Christians and Jews to reaffirm our work together and to empathize with each other’s perspective.

Amanda Susskind is the Pacific Southwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, www.adl.org.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz

The film is pure propaganda seeking to convert nonbelievers. This is a concern for a Jewish community already confronted by an avalanche of proselytizing campaigns.

Its theme, “the suffering of Jesus Christ for the sins of mankind” is based on the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, which is so central to the movie that Gibson begins by projecting it on the screen.

Isaiah 53 is one of the most distorted texts, read out of context and replete with mistranslations. Evangelicals use it as a proof of the suffering of the Messiah.

Isaiah 53 is not speaking about vicarious atonement. This is an important point, since, despite Christian misinterpretations, the Torah teaches that each individual is able to repent directly to God without an intermediary and without the Jewish Temple or sacrifices.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the West Coast director of Jews for Judaism.

Michael Berenbaum

It was worse than I imagined, perhaps even worse than I could have imagined.

….Will this increase anti-Semitism? ….One can hardly leave this film more sympathetic to Jews, but one can well imagine that there will not be a linkage in many minds in the United States — though not elsewhere — between those Jews of the first century and you and me today in the 21st.

For Gibson, “The Passion” is the story of [Jesus]…. I remain far more interested in the teachings of Jesus and their relationship to the Jewish community in which he was raised, educated and in which he died.

In short, this is Hollywood at its most compromised. A man of considerable talent and significant means brings his own uninformed and personalistic vision to the giant screen, claiming all along that his own idiosyncratic reading is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at University of Judaism.

Gibson Film Is a Frontal Assault on Jews


Mel Gibson’s film is nothing less then a frontal assault and a collective indictment of the entire Jewish community during the time of Jesus.

For two hours during "The Passion of the Christ," not a single Jew opposed to Jesus utters an intelligent sentence. Gibson’s Jews are unkempt, pushy, greedy, looking at us through sinister eyes, many with Rasputin-like features.

Not once is a rabbi or a high priest allowed even a theological explanation like, "We are monotheists and can’t accept a G-d of the flesh." One hears only the mantras of the Jews crying out "crucify him, punish him."

Contrast this with his sympathetic portrayal of the Roman authorities from Pontius Pilate to his officers. Pilate is presented as timid, fearful of bucking the demands of the high priest, as if the high priest, and by extension the Jews, controlled the Romans, rather then vice versa.

"Why are we doing this? Hasn’t this man suffered enough," argues Pilate and his generals and captains. Only the four Roman soldiers who whip Jesus come off as cruel and sadistic.

Then there is the nearly one hour of inhuman torture inflicted on Jesus, first with whips and then with iron bars wrapped with barbed wire, because Gibson believes that every lash is essential to the understanding of the Passion.

I am fully aware of the centrality of the crucifixion to Christian theology and that Gibson, in his interview with Diane Sawyer on "Primetime," has said that his film is about Jesus dying for the sins of mankind. Regrettably, however, this is not a dominant theme in his film and would hardly, if at all, be noticed by the millions who view it.

What they will see, however, clearly in Gibson’s film is that it was the Jews, all the Jews, except the disciples of Jesus, who were responsible for his death. That is in direct opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church since Vatican II and the position of the Protestant Church over the last 30 years.

As the Most Rev. Stefan Sarowka, the metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States, who watched the film with Gibson, said, "If you want to see over two hours of cruelty, intense torture and lots of blood, you might want to sacrifice your time and money to see this film. The shallow presentation of the high priest and his role, as well as the close association of evil journey with him, will give viewers an inaccurate portrayal of Jews and Judaism and may contribute to fuel the ugly passion of anti-Semitism."

Our issue is not with the church or the New Testament. They did not produce this film. This is Gibson’s film, and he has crossed the line by presenting a film that condemns all the Jews.

In Hollywood, many less controversial films with outstanding directors reached out to consult with interfaith groups for their perspective. Gibson rejected that approach and did it his way. That is his right.

But it is not his right to expect silence from those whose ancestors he has denigrated. He is not entitled to a free pass because he is a Hollywood star.

To remain silent at a time like this would be like turning the other cheek and thanking Gibson for the disrespect he has shown to the Jewish people. Yes, it is possible that the controversy is helping him with the ticket sales.

But there are always risks when one takes a stand. When we criticize the European community for doing nothing about anti-Semitism, we run the risk that they will be even less friendly to Israel. When we criticize suicide bombings and give the perpetrators more publicity, we make it easier for them to attract more recruits. But we do it nonetheless, because history has taught us that when confronting tyranny, there is no greater sin than the sin of silence.

Some of Gibson’s spokesmen keep reminding us that the story of Jesus at the time of the Passion is about the Pharisees, as if that lessens the pain. But the Pharisees happen to be our ancestors.

All Jews, whether Einstein, Herzl, Buber, Wiesel, Heschel or Soloveitchik, are all descendants of the Pharisees. It was their concepts of righteousness, charity, communal responsibility that guaranteed our survival as a people. When you say Pharisees, you mean us, the Jews.

One final thought: Gibson’s film is a reality and millions of people will see it. Now we need our friends and leaders of the Christian community to do their part in reminding their parishioners about the false charge of deicide and vehemently speaking out against anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Passover vs. Easter


If you want proof that the communion wafer is just a matzo knockoff, or if you wonder where eggs really belong (seder plate? White House lawn? Omelette?), check out “The Jews vs. Christians” on April 3 at bang. Improv Studio on Fairfax Avenue.

Twenty-four Jewish and Christian members of bang., considered “an alternative to the alternative” on the local improv scene, will put up their comedy dukes erev Easter in the heart of Jewish Los Angeles at bang.’s storefront theater up the block from Canter’s.

With guest stars from Chicago’s famed Second City, they’ll improvise 25-minute sets on what really happened during the Exodus and the Crucifixion, maybe even invent a musical, “Pesach!” the Jewish answer to “Godspell.”

“The Jews vs. Christians,” the brainchild of bang. conservatory alumnus Ben Simonetti, is an improvisational Holy War that began last December when performers debated the merits of latkes vs. sugarplums. One religious group will be declared victorious at the end of next week’s Passover-Easter show — at least until the next grudge match at Christmas-Chanukah.

bang., deemed Los Angeles’ best comedy bargain by Buzz Weekly, was co-founded in 1995 by Aliza and Peter Murrieta, who met at Second City and have battled the December dilemma in their real-life mixed marriage.

She’s Jewish; he’s a Mexican-American lapsed Catholic. And, yes, they’ll be playing on opposite teams in “The Jews vs. Christians.”

The show is subversive, Aliza says. “It sounds like it’s based in conflict, but the truth is, we’re all working together to create something fun.”

“The Jews vs. Christians” plays on Saturday, April 3, at 8 p.m. At bang., 457 N. Fairfax Ave. Tickets are $6, and reservations are strongly advised: (323) 653-6886.