Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Refusing to Join the Exodus- Why parents and schools should stay away

There are, according to the gemara, certain mistakes that are so serious, that one who makes them, can be fired without warning. One of those on the list is a teacher of Torah, who teaches something incorrectly. In explaining the rationale, Rashi says that once a mistake enters the students mind, it can not be removed. I would like to apply this idea to movies which purport to tell over biblical stories, such as Exodus: Gods and Kings, which recently started showing in theaters.

Exodus tells the story of the Jews slavery in, and subsequent exodus from Egypt. Although it is loosely based on the biblical text, many liberties are taken in order to turn it into a box-office success. While the lack of authenticity in telling over the story is problematic, I would suggest that even a movie where the director would attempt to follow the text is problematic.

I remember when the animated movie The Prince of Egypt was released in theaters. There was a good deal of excitement in the Jewish community as the movie had been made in consultation with rabbis. There was even a haggadah that was to be made connected to the film, in conjunction with a major orthodox Jewish organization. The principal of the elementary school where I was teaching at the time took the entire school to see the movie. While there were certain parts of the movie that were thought provoking, I was troubled by the lack of accuracy. In particular, I remember how Aharon was portrayed as a goofy and immature big brother. That was far from the only problem I had with the film.

When we study Torah with children, we are sharing ideas which will stay with them forever. One of the great things about studying from a text is that we allow the student to conceptualize things in their minds. In this particular case, a picture is not worth a thousand words. Even if we make clear to young viewers that there are differences between the text and the movie, the images that they see and the ideas that they hear are not forgotten. While it is reasonable to teach children that biblical personalities were human, and thus, imperfect, allowing them to view a Hollywood rendition of Torah stories, can lead to children seeing these righteous individuals as petty, cruel and backwards.

I have no doubt that Exodus will be a box-office hit. A lot of money has been put into it, and the controversy it has generated will not hurt and might just help. I would humbly suggest that we stay away. There are some mistakes which can not be corrected.

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