Watching “Basterds” in a Roomful of Jews

Just two weeks after producer Lawrence Bender and The Jewish Journal held a screening for Jewish leadership of “Inglourious Basterds” in LA, he did the same in New York, at the Jewish Theological Seminary. A smart blog called “The Candler Blog” describes the event:

Dr. Kalmanofsky, no stranger to Judeo-Chrisitian-pop deconstruction, opened the discussion with some fascinating points about the concept of the revenge fantasy, positing that the Jewish bible, specifically the story of the exodus from Egypt, indulges the concept of violent revenge. Besides the ten plagues brought down against their aggressors, arguably deserved, the Israelites break out in song and dance after they cross the parted Sea of Reeds, which closes and drowns the entire Egyptian faction that was chasing them. This punishment goes well beyond the tit-for-tat measures of the plagues, and remorse is not really discussed until the Rabbinic era of Judaism several hundred years after the fact. In other words, while the modern Jew may be morally inquisitive and emotionally conflicted, in the bible, living out the revenge fantasy was something very real.

Rabbi Moline proffered that the Jewish people have become mired in thought for so long that the idea of physical redemption has been lost. The saying “two Jews, three opinions” comes to mind on this point. As the concept of Talmudic discourse has proliferated, especially in the wake of the Holocaust (Why did this happen to us? Is it our fault?), Jews may have lost the instinct of revenge, which Moline points out is in fact a basic human instinct. The film provides that for a generation of Jews who view the holocaust in a new light. Inglorious Basterds represents a voice for that generation.

Bender made many of the points he made at the LA screening, and I like that he added the perspective of a historical arc to Holocaust movies, ” from Schindler’s List to Life Is Beautiful to Inglourious Basterds… from drama to comedy to fantasy.”

All in all it was a fascinating evening. Kudos to JTS for putting together such a relevant program. I don’t really believe that there is all that much specifically Jewish about the film, but Rabbi Moline kept harping on the fact that the film has awoken something in the Jewish community. Not a call to arms, but a call to deconstructing the meaning of the inner vengeance of a people. Polemics have always been an important pillar of Rabbinic discourse, but visceral nature is something often pushed to the side in favor of academics. Perhaps, says the Rabbi, it is a time to finally confront that urge we have to murder Hitler, to root out our enemies. Not to indulge it, but to question it.  Hell, if one little film can bring out all that from the leaders of one of the world’s major religions, it must be doing something right.


Agreed.  The blogger’s high praise for the event, like Danielle Berrin’s take on the first event here, makes me think this provocative movie could be a roadshow attraction at Jewish communities around the world.  Syllabus?  Talking points?  “Basterds” is the most educational and thought-provoking Jewish movie since “Waltz With Bashir,” but a lot easier to watch…..

Bonus blog item:  Read Danielle Berrin’s profile of “Basterds” producer Lawrence Bender here.