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Films Suggested by People of the Jewish Faith


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Here are responses to the following question:
What general release movie or movies (as in, something one might find in well-stocked video shop) are most representative of Reform* Judaism's thought, belief, culture and/or history?

I'm not interested in a documentary, but something that those in your religion might uniquely identify with, whether because it's set in particularly important historical period, it features a modern adherent as a character, or even a Disney animated movie that presented a particular philosophy which rings especially true for your group.

*NOTE: The denominational/branch name was customized in each query, specifying the branch of faith of the person being asked.


Respondents

Shlomo Yaffe (Chassidic)
Alan R. Rothstein (Conservative)
Nehemia Gordon (Karaite)
Jack Kligman (Orthodox)
Rabbi Michael Herzbrun (Reform)


Films

General Chassidic Conservative

Karaite Orthodox
Reform

Chassidic

From: Shlomo Yaffe
Date: 15 Mar 1999

There is nothing good out there. The closest, though way off the mark, are The Quarrel and Pi.

[2nd response:]
If you want something really way way off (almost as bad as Pi) you can try A Stranger Among Us. It has about 10% good stuff though, if you don't get muhy custard overdosed half way through. It says more about Hollywood's perception of what really "religious" people "should" be like rather that the reality of the Chassidic world (to which I firmly belong).

(If you see the film) Hint#1 - If you pull a gun on a Chassidic gem dealer the real life response would not be shocked horror and cowering fear, but some very well aimed 9mm bullets from a NY City legal carry-permitted automatic.

Hint #2 The Sabbath in the Chassidic World is not some Camp Kol-Ri-Nah Kumbaya session but something far more spiritual, internal and deeper.


Conservative Judaism

From: Alan R. Rothstein
Date: 14 Mar 1999

Prince of Egypt - a full length animated feature currently in first run by Dreamworks Studio.

It is the life story of what is possibly the most significant character of all Jewish history: the story of Moses. It was Moses to whom God entrusted the scripture which governs our every waking moment.

Karaite

From: Nehemia Gordon
Date: 16 Mar 1999

I thought about it and I came up with a movie which represents Karaite values. Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams. The main principle of Karaism is that every individual is responble to decide what is the correct thing to do based on his own interpretation of the Hebrew Bible even if this is against the way of the majority and tradition. This is also one of the central themes of Dead Poets Society, namely that each individual must choose his own path even of it is in opposition to the majority and what is accepted by society. This is said explicitly in the scene in which Robin Williams marches the students through the courtyard. After a minute they all start marching to the same beat even though no one told them to do so and he ridicules their conformity. This is also the theme behind the boy who wishes to be an actor. He chooses this path despite the will of his father because he feels it is right and he refuses to conform.

Nehemia Gordon
The Karaite Korner
Jerusalem, Israel
On the web: Karaite Korner

Orthodox Judaism

From: An Orthodox Rabbi, an orthodox synagogue in the Midwest.
Date: 15 Mar 1999

I'll let you know, I personally have stopped watching modern films because some of the content is rather harsh. I can't say that there are any movies that are truly representative of Jewish thought. When I was younger I always liked The Chosen. It is based on a book by Chaim Potok. It deals with a conservative teenager meeting a teen who is the son of a rabbi in a chassidic movement.

I have never seen it, but I am told that A Stranger Among Us is supposed to be good.

Both of those movies relate to chassidic circles. I am not chassidic. I can't realy think of any movies that acurately describes the lifestyle or philosophy of regular Orthodox Jews. I suppose that's because they aren't so different looking than other people, so they don't make up any particular interesting story lines. Movies that feature other cultures generally look for very different cultures like Amish or Chassidic to focus on.

Another thing is that many of the big names in film are theselves Jews, and not all that interested in their own culture. At least the two movies above are accurate (although I haven't seen A Stranger Among Us.)
From: Jack Kligman: Layman. Synagogue President, Member of Yeshiva Boards.
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 1999

There is, of course, no movie that I am aware of that adequately represents even a portion of "Torah True" Judaism.

However, the following will give you a taste -- or more -- of what Orthodox Judaism is all about.


For the relatively modern Israeli experience try: There are undoubtedly others. Try the Internet Movie Data Base web site for some other suggestions. In addition, many Israeli movies also depict Orthodoxy in one fashion or another.

Reform Judaism

From: Michael Herzbrun: Congregational (Reform) rabbi with a doctorate in counseling psychology; psychological counselor on a 4-year college campus.
Date: 15 Mar 1999

The closest movie that comes to mind is A Gentlemen's Agreement starring Gregory Peck. It is about a non-Jewish news reporter who takes on the identity of a Jew for a feature article he is writing. The film documents the prejudice he encounters... The battle that he faces reflects the issues that the Reform Movement identified in its attempt to assimilate into American society in the years shortly after WWII. The issues of assimilation and retention of one's identity are still important today.

Remembering that this movie was not made with the "Reform" Jewish movement in mind, it is still one that I could endorse. Other than that, I can't think of any films for the popular market that were produced specifically to reflect the modern, liberal point of view (or that were even produced for that purpose). Of course there are many films that depict the more traditional Jewish life... but that was not your question... :)

BTW, Prince of Egypt has generated considerable discussion among my rabbinic colleagues -- most of it positive. I haven't seen the film myself, but I understand that the producers took considerable care to respect everyone's religious tradition...

Dr. Michael B. Herzbrun
Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El (Reform)
herzbrun@sjfc.edu
St. John Fisher College
Rochester, NY

From: A Rabbi and Reform Judaism Educator. Senior Rabbi and spiritual leader of a temple in the Eastern United States. Host of a religious television show for a network affiliate.
Date: 16 Mar 1999

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Webpage created 24 March 1999. Last modified 2 October 2005.