To the editor:

In his editorial, “Anti-semitism unfair label for gospel-based ‘Passion'” (10/13), Keith Urbahn argues that it is inappropriate to label Mel Gibson’s new movie “The Passion” anti-semitic. Let’s examine the facts and see if charges of anti-semitism are justified.

Urbahn writes, “Mel Gibson isn’t your typical Christian,” pointing to his affiliation with a traditionalist Catholic sect that has rejected the modern papacy and the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. What he fails to mention is that, among other reforms, the Second Vatican Council rejected the culpability of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus. It seems, then, that Mr. Gibson’s traditionalist form of Catholicism still holds Jews collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.

Urbahn states, “Gibson has sought to create interfaith dialogue about ‘The Passion’ by inviting leaders of all faiths to preview his movie.” One should, however, consider the exclusive guest list of the early screenings of “The Passion”: the staff of the Senate Republican Conference, a convention of the Legionaries of Christ (a conservative Roman Catholic order of priests), and America’s newest racist, Rush Limbaugh.

Lastly, a script leaked at start of filming has given critics of all faiths cause for serious concern. A committee of Bible scholars who read the script stated that the film was not true to Scripture or Catholic teaching and that it badly twisted Jewish leaders’ role in Jesus’ death. Sister Mary C. Boys, a professor at Union Theological Seminary and a member of the committee, noted, “All the way through [the script], the Jews are portrayed as bloodthirsty.” Another committee member said, “This was one of the worst things we had seen in describing responsibility for the death of Christ in many, many years.”

Yes, Gibson has a right to free speech. And yes, the crucifixion of Jesus would undoubtedly make for a compelling movie. However, as Urbahn points out, “Passion plays” have consistently sparked outbursts of anti-semitic violence. Furthermore, Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus has been one of the most recurrent themes in anti-semitic rhetoric for the past millennium. Urbahn hopes that viewers of “The Passion” will rise above anti-semitism, but I wouldn’t be too sure. A recent cartoon in the Italian newspaper La Stampa depicts Israeli tanks rolling over the baby Jesus’ manger. “Do you want to kill me once more?” reads the caption.

Like it or not, viewers of “The Passion” will attribute the actions of a handful of Jewish leaders in first century Jerusalem to the Jewish people as a whole. And while Gibson does have a right to celebrate his heritage and express his artistic creativity, the Jews of the 21st century have a right to be seriously concerned about a film that will undoubtedly trigger renewed anti-semitism.

Steven Starr ’05

October 14, 2003