Interfaith panel takes on religious reactions to ‘The Passion’

Amy Hamblin

Amid the controversy generated by the film “The Passion of the Christ,” a four-student panel representing both Christian and Jewish perspectives fielded questions about the film Tuesday evening.

About 60 people gathered in Norris University Center and listened to the panelists voice their collective disappointment at the excessive violence in the movie. Panelists were divided over the anti-Semitic charges surrounding the film, released last week. Some have claimed the film, with its graphic depiction of Jesus’ last 12 hours, unfairly blames all Jewish people for brutally crucifying Jesus.

Calling it an “orgy of violence” and “extremely disturbing,” panelist and second-year chemistry graduate student Aaron Miller said the film missed the uplifting message usually extracted from Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“It didn’t enhance my faith,” said Miller, who was raised Christian. “It just left me emotionally distraught.”

“It didn’t do as much for me as I hoped it would,” said Dianna English, an Education senior and panelist, who says she flinches at violence at football games. “The emphasis was so much on the violence, not (Jesus’) humanity as a man.”

As a Quaker, English said she is naturally opposed to violent behavior, so she thought the savagery in the movie was gratuitous.

English said Christians must work against the anti-Semitism she believes to be rooted in the Scriptures and the Christian tradition. Movies such as “Passion” hinder the progress of Christian-Jewish relations, English added.

Leah Shalev, a panelist representing the Jewish perspective, said her biggest complaint against the movie was its one-dimensional portrayals of groups. She said no Jews dithered on the decision to crucify Jesus in the film. The only compassionate characters were Jesus’ followers and the Roman leaders, she said.

“I don’t think anything was done by accident,” the Weinberg senior said. “I think everything was planned and measured.”

As a result, she said, she is concerned that already anti-Semitic people might be incited to act on those beliefs.

Chris Paolelli, who said he is a “practicing Catholic,” said he didn’t see the movie as blatantly anti-Semitic but now understands the concerns raised by the Jewish community.

“Having put a face on those who fear anti-Semitism from this movie, I’ll be forced to see this movie from a Jewish perspective,” the Weinberg sophomore said.

He said he intends to see the film a second time and will re-examine it with a greater awareness of the issues regarding the portrayal of Jews.

“The main goal of this is to get people talking in a public way,” Paolelli said, “and to allow a lot of people who aren’t ordinarily exposed to hear those views expressed and to understand them.”

Debbie Rosmarin, an Education senior, said religious tolerance stems from interfaith discussions such as this one that broaden people’s views.

“There is no ultimate truth,” Rosmarin said. “Everyone is brought up differently. It’s interesting to hear what many different people have to say about (‘The Passion’).”