“The Passion,” Anti-Semitism and “Timing”
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan 
 
Mel Gibson’s recently released film entitled “The Passion” has elicited disturbing views ever since its initial showings to private audiences several months ago.  While garnering rave reviews from some Christian public and some members of both Protestant and Catholic clergy, it has concerned and upset the vast majority of Jews who have seen the picture or who have learned of its content from the media. 
 
At the core of the firestorm is the understandable fear of a renewal of base, blatant anti-Semitism that is already raising its ugly head in Europe. Will this factually inaccurate film mark the beginning of a reversal of Vatican II and the re-acceptance of the nefarious, age-old accusation of Deicide, a defamatory charge has directly, as well as indirectly, brought untold anguish, bloodshed and suffering upon the Jewish people for nearly two millennia, culminating within the last 60 years in the Nazi-led Holocaust of European Jewry.
 
With anti-semitism currently reaching levels that haven’t been seen since the 1930’s, the timing of this release has come at a dangerous time. This gut wrenching, emotionally charged and highly evocative graphic illustration of “Deicide and the Jews” may very possibly serve to inflame the anti-Israel rhetoric which has now infused latent anti-semitism, giving it renewed vigor and boding ill not only for the Jews but also for much of humanity.
 
The question now on the minds of so many is how to react, how to create an effective counterbalance? Numerous voices within the Jewish community have suggested a spectrum of activities including the development of a high-impact cinematic response and/or programs for educating the masses concerning the technical contradictions within the four gospels.  Still others maintain that our wisest response would be none at all, that the less attention we give to the matter, the less damaging it will prove to be.
 
Although I make no claim to being a spiritually enlightened visionary or modern day seer, I was taught by my sainted mentor, The Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory, that the answers and solutions to modern day conundrums can always be found by carefully examining the biblically-documented response to similar situations by those who were prophetically charged and divinely inspired. 
 
While contemplating possible responses to this deeply troubling situation, it dawned on me that the dubious timing of this release itself might actually provide us with a clue to the possible answer. The Gibson clan and their supporters are unaware that the film has made its official debut on public screens across North America in the Jewish month of Adar. Ever since the days of Purim 2,357 years ago, Adar has traditionally been considered a time of extreme mazal (good fortune) for Am Yisrael and more specifically, the most propitious time for success in dealing with our mortal enemies. That’s right! Ever since Haman selected the month of Adar (through a lottery system known as the “Pur” – the origin of the name Purim) for his carefully planned genocidal attack on ancient Jewry, this month has been referred to as “HaChodesh asher ne’hepach la’hem” or “the month in which the enemies of our people had their diabolical intentions and designs backfire, leading to their own destruction.” 
 
What must follow now, however, is an awareness that the miracles and divine salvation of yesteryear did not happen by themselves. Our Sages teach us that due to the inspired leadership of Mordechai HaTzaddik (the great Torah leader of the day), the Jewish people responded to the impending doom, not by trying to ingratiate themselves and currying favour with their enemies and the general populace, but rather by reaffirming their faith and strengthening their relationship with G‑d.
 
The Midrash teaches that for the better part of a year, the Jewish communities throughout the  ancient Persian Empire experienced an incredible “awakening and return” to the traditions and teachings of Moses and Sinai. They rededicated themselves to the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot concurrent with a visible expression of Jewish pride. Moreover, biblical scholars suggest that it was because of the dedicated devotion they exhibited at that time of threat and fear that the “Children of Israel” became known as Yehudim, i.e. Jews.  It began with Mordechai, a Benjamite, whose example earned him the title Yehudi, literally “from the tribe of Judah” and by definition one who acknowledges the supremacy of G‑d.
 
By now, a clear lesson should begin to emerge.  No response on our part brings to mind the famous “ostrich syndrome” which denies reality and has historically led to a negative outcome.  However, ingratiating ourselves before those who despise us will also not “save the day”.  We have not, nor will we succeed by trying to improve our image on their terms.  
Gibson’s “Passion” must be met head on and countered with a “Passion” of our own.  A newfound passion and a quest for knowledge of Torah and an awareness of what it truly means to be a Jew is essential for our survival.  We must affirm that we are indeed a people that acknowledge G‑d’s supremacy!  Those who have already developed a passion for Torah Judaism must now demonstrate a passion for reaching out and inspiring a “return and renewal” among all of our brethren, regardless of their present level of observance or affiliation.
 
Let us respond to any insidious attack of a modern day Haman with the same unified conviction and devotion we displayed in days of old.  Surely, by remembering and being guided by the Torah lessons of history, we will once again experience “miracles and redemption, G‑d’s mighty deeds and saving acts, in these days at this time”.
 
Rabbi Kaplan is the spiritual leader of Chabad @ Flamingo in Thornhill, and the Rabbi of its Family Shul. He also serves as a Chaplain with the York Regional Police, with the added distinction of currently being the only Jewish Police Chaplain in Canada.