American-Israeli Counterpart of Oberammergau:
Christian Scholars Expose Rock Opera's Anti-Semitism
Rev. Malcolm Boyd's Expose of 'Superstar' Film
as a Debasing of Biblical Story . . Episcopalian
Implements Earlier Condemnation by Gerald Strober
blackness insofar as "Jesus Christ Super
star" is concerned. however, must he
Jesus' white missionary paternalism to-
ward him. Jesus, seen in relation to Judas
in this movie, is mockingly his brother's
"keeper," Jesus' followers in organized
religion have been sinful racists, while
they tried to palm off sin• as sexual. But
for "Jesus Christ Superstar" to suggest
personality characteristics in Jesus that
delineate feelings of racial superiority, by
means of symbol-cum-non-sequitur, raises
questions about the film's initial cred-
ibility. When Judas asks, in despair, "Why
was I chosen?" (for the damning act of
Jesus' betrayal), racism looms larger than
life. Racists who use biblical fundamental-
ism as their text-for-hate have traditionally
assigned God-given inferority to the black
An official Israel government statement took into account the concern that has
been expressed over the regrettable role Israelis played in producing the anti-Semitic
film "Jesus Christ Superstar." The Israeli statement rejects responsibility for the
prejudicial aspects of the rock opera by stating:
"The fact that the film was shot on location in Israel in no way constitutes any
agreement whatsoever to it on the part of the government of Israel. The creators and
producers of the film are alone and exclusively responsible for its contents."
But the statement also states that Israeli authorities sought and received assur-
ances from the producer, Norman Jewison. that the film would "contain no passages
Rev. Boyd concerned himself with the banalities of the Herod scene, its taste-
to offend the religious sensibilities of Jewish and other circles." It was further indicated
lessness, and an especial rebuke is contained in the reaction to the final scene about
that Jewison had pledged "he would not associate himself with the production of a film
which he declares:
in which there are anti-Semitic nuances."
"The ending of the film? Well. A bus prepares to drive off as the various
It is not sufficient for the Israeli authorities to feel distress and disappointment
cast members finish climbing aboard. Bravo. Inventive. Refreshing, Stop there.
that the end result of the Jewison production is a vile piece of anti-Semitism. There is
But no. We have to go on until a pumpkin-like object (the moon? the sun?) is
justified disappointment over the carelessness on the part of the Israeli actors in not
on the screen. And — you guessed it — standing in front of the object is an
having detected the distortions. There is cause for concern that responsible authorities
should not have offered advice to prevent the harm that is being done in a film rated
G which becomes a vehicle for children to hear the antiquated prejudices reiterated
Then came the ultimate danger, the evangelism, the exposing of the prejudices
to children through the G rating. Boyd wrote:
as if they were modernly reconstructed historic facts.
Evangelism! The kids receive an edu-
A Christian authority, Gerald Strober, acting on behalf of the Ameican Jewish
cation by way of movie .glamor, stars,
Committee, has already been quoted in an analysis of the harm perpetrated in the
producers, including Mr. Jewison (who--
color, music and the big screen. These
filming of the rock opera. Another Christian scholar, Malcolm Boyd, in a lengthy
motives, if not the results of his work,
teach them more about God, Jesus, the likely beyond reproach). The problt_
review of the film "Jesus Christ Superstar," in Ideas, published in New York
as Newsday's Journal of Opinion, charged that the movie debases the biblical Christ
Holy Spirit, sin, grace, salvation — well,
must be placed at the feet of those church
name it — than all the volunteer Sunday
spokesmen who, over the years, have
Father Boyd, an Episcopal priest, critic and author, expressed his outrage in
thanked the movie producers for their
limited time, struggle for secular cred-
"contributions to the faith,"
ibility, and often drab classrooms. How-
"Jesus is portrayed in the movie as an athlete-for-Christ: blue-eyed, blond,
and "religious" pictures.
ever, the big-time glamor teaching is
Anglo-Saxon, muscular, and one can almost see him in a men's after-shave-lotion
In 1912, Jesus was portrayed in a film
show-biz entertainment. Cosmetic Chris- called "From the Manger to the Cross."
commercial made for the telly. Why, for Christ's sake, didn't they let Jesus be
tianity, in this or other forms, fails be-
a Jew in 'Jesus Christ Superstar'? After all, they took the cast to Israel to shoot
Press agents went to work on religioso
cause it lacks content and substance. And promotion. It was declared inadvisable for
the picture there. Doesn't historical location call also for historical accuracy?"
He recalled the horrors that emanated from the Oberammergau production in
what, in the end, went wrong? Goddamn
theater ushers to be garbed in ecclesias-
it, these kids never asked for a stone; they
Germany and charged anti-Semitism being revived in producing the story on celluloid
tical vestments. However, exhibitors were
asked for bread.
advised to burn incense in the theaters
This is surely not the fault of movie
"Now we come to the heart of the mystery that inexplicably shrouds this
shortly before the crowds poured through
movie. It is anti-Semitic. Oberammergau couldn't top this one. Jew-haters,
the doors to see the movie.
whether in Germany or Middle America, will rub their hands with glee and
Christians have asserted themselves: Gerald Strober and Malcolm Boyd. The
chortle loudly — maybe go out and get drunk in a combination of bewilderment
Israel government has, in a sense, apologized for a shortcoming that in great measure
and delight that somebody else, no doubt inadverently, has done their work
remains inexcusable. What about the churches—the churchmen with a responsibility
for them — when they sit down in a theater to see 'Jesus Christ Superstar.'
to their children? Will they offer a way to correct the guilt in "Jesus Christ Superstar"
Yet this film was made in Israel with government cooperation, although curiously
as it echoes the appeals to hatred in Oberammergau?
without its approval. What went wrong? Who is to blame? The problem is a
Already we are told that in Romania, where, out of Communist convictions, the
singing of religious hymns is spurned or outlawed, "superstar" gains a following
Father Boyd's article in Ideas was rightfully, warningly, titled "Jesus; Betrayed
because of it is replete with rock music. And deluded Jews come to us with a tale
Again." The Christian critic recalled the ecumenism that sought absolution for
that they see the production because they love the music! So, out of a love for a song,
collective guilt, the post-Six-Day-War reactions that brought Christians and Jews "into
a hatred is bred!
an altogether original dialog that was sometimes painful but broke ground in its
candor and creative possibilities." "Yet," he added, "Auschwitz always lurked im-
The damage has been done. How to undo it? Certainly not the way of the
mediately in the past, eerily and uneasily shadowing the present." Thereupon came
"Jews for Jesus" group who were the first to capitalize on the issue by picketing a
this condemnation, with suggested criticisms of Israel's role:
"Superstar" showing in California and thereby striving for converts to a cause that is
Now "Jesus Christ Superstar," with its
in itself insulting to Jewry. Adding insult to injury does not correct an irreligious
G rating which will draw in families and day, black is death and white is Easter
outrage. Perhaps organized Christianity will find a way to prevent the escalating
youths, equates Jewishness with villainy.
lilies of resurrection.
damage. Perhaps the only way is to scrap the "Superstar" film. But Oberammergau
Jewish priests, scowling unhealthily be-
The producer-director, Norman Jewison
wasn't scrapped: therefore, what hope is there for genuine justice in interreligious
neath their grotesque hats that resemble (who is not a Jew, despite the fact that
medieval caricatures. peer down from a many people would ironically construe
scaffold at the Middle-American Jesus from his name that he was), has stated
who strides up the road surrounded not that his casting of Judas had to do only
by sweaty disciples but — of course — with the excellence of the performer. Yet
flower children. Theirs is the kingdom; black Judas, critically standing apart from
JERUSALEM — Garden
The quarter is encircled Arad," a reference to Tel
their enemy (shades of Nixon Enemy Jesus and his followers, speaks in a con-
and landscape architect Tzvi by a road and parking lots, Aviv's famous square.
Lists!) is organized religion — and this is demnatory manner of their spending
Between the quarter and
Dekel says it is possible to and no vehicles can enter the
Judaism represented before our eyes by money for ointment when there are
quarter itself. Six hundred the main road are rows of
unsmiling, conniving, murderous, unprin- "people who are hungry, people who are
improve the quality of neigh- dwelling units are divided shrubs. The
game areas in
cipled, unloving, always Machiavellian starving"—this, in an explicit modern
borhood life by paying care- into 10 groups of houses, with the courtyard are isolated by
Jewish priests. Voila! Israeli film location. His presence un-
ful attention during planning each group havng its own concrete to close in noises.
The film's dialog introduces Jewish mistakably suggests a Third World identi-
and construction to all the garden and play area. Public The flooring is of local Arad
references that cannot be found in the fication. Symbolism in juxtaposition wf•h
details that determine the and educational institutions stone, and all this will be
Bible. Why were they glued onto the the film's script speaks for itself.
character of a neighborhood are in the center, and op- topped •off by a public foun-
script? Pilate addresses the crowd, "Look
This racial mark takes on bizarre con-
— and afterward by making posite the school is a park tain, under construction.
at me — am I a Jew?" He says: "You notations when Judas says to the Jewish
At Arad, a health resort
possible the care and main- of about one acre, with game
Jews produce messiahs by the sackful."
priests, "I don't need your blood money,"
tenance by the local council. areas. The main passage be- for asthma sufferers, a
The movie tells the Passion story against an exacerbating line in an era of strained
It also is necessary to edu- tween the two rows of special committee of doctors
a backdrop of modern Israel. So the Jewish-black relations in the schools and
Temple scene shows machine guns for changing neighborhoods of modern Ameri-
cate the public in main- houses, cast in different and botanists met to deter-
sale — this, a long giraffe's leap from can urban life. Black Judas reaches out
tenance of cleanliness and colors of granolite, services mine which plants are suit-
the houses and the public able for asthma patients.
the money-changers' tables in the Temple. for the bag of death money. A Jewish
care of plants.
institutions. There are raised Consideration in the choice
When this is combined with the film's priest drops it on the ground. Black Judas
Dekel found all these con- flower beds, trees, benches of plants also had to be given
imagery of Judas running from military kneels down to pick up the Jewish money,
ditions in a ministry of and lighting which turn the to the fact that the area
tanks driven over the desert, as war- a scowl on his face. Uh-uh. If this was
housing project in the Avi- walkway into what the resi- lacks abundant water
planes streak through the sky overhead, done without any awareness of present
shur quarter of Arad. The dents call the "Dizengoff of sources.
one has another unmistakable, violent, racial tension amid urban stress, it re-
area was built up in 1965 on
clear image: Israel as militaristic, a war- fleets an incredible human insensitivity.
an area of 100 dunams (25
like nation possessing invincible power. Black Judas emerges as a white-liberal
acres) and includes 600
This lends nothing to the telling of the stereotype of a black man. He and three
dwellings, public and educa-
Christ story. Indeed, it provides the most black female dancers (spin-offs from the
tional institutions, a club and
jarring of distractions. Supremes) turn an the rhythm in a movie-
shops. Dekel points to the
When the Broadway version of "Jesus fantasy way that makes more and more
understanding and the desire
Christ Superstar" presented a black Judas, black men and women quite legitimately
to help shown 'by the minis-
I simply accepted this as a producer's cringe and say that they are frankly sick
try of housing in the par-
decision. However, Black Judas is back and tired of the stereotypes in which they
again in the movie, and this time I find find themselves contained. A white-liberal
ticular problems which
that I have serious questions, about the view of black — as hip, groovy stud — is
cropped up in this quarter.
casting, primarily because of the film's ultimately claustrophobic and dehuman-
Dekel won a landscaping
potential impact on a worldwide audience. izing. Judas, if he were to be black in this
prize for his residential area
There is a scene, for example, when film, could have been a quiet, low-key,
garden which serves all the
Judas angrily stalks away from Jesus. thoughtful sort of guy — like so many
inhabitants of a neighbor-
Dozens of white hands are raised in a black men are. Indeed, black caricature
hood — the childen as a
praise - and - clapping s e q u e n c e; super- is carried so far in the movie that, when
place to play, the adults as
imposed over these is the departing and Judas commits suicide by hanging him-
a place to meet and relax.
alienated black figure. This scene will be self from a tree limb, the scene calls to
Dekel took the climate into
instantly understood in South Africa or one's mind a southern lynching tableau.
consideration, and game
anywhere else—alas, locations are legion One cannot help but mentally superimpose
areas were sheltered and re-
—where Manichaeanism still lurks in on the screen the words "Strange Fruit."
moved from the housing
human minds, black is night and white is The most significant aspect of Judas'
areas were sheltered and re-
2—Friday, August 3, 1973
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
turbance to residents.
VIEW OF NEW AVISHUR NEIGHBORHOOD IN ARAD
Israeli Landscaper Cited for Designs