‘Passion’ film offers opportunity for local rabbi

Tuesday, February 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

After a night of soul-searching, Rabbi Yossi Feintuch, the only rabbi in mid-Missouri, had a change of heart and accepted an invitation to see “The Passion of the Christ.”

After originally turning down the offer last week from the Rev. John Baker of the First Baptist Church for a group from the synagogue to attend the film with a group from Baker’s church, Feintuch has reconsidered. Although he was concerned that the film would perpetuate the stereotype that the Jews killed Jesus Christ, Feintuch began to realize the possible benefits of seeing the film to help open lines of communication with the Christian community.

The Passion of the Christ,” which portrays director Mel Gibson’s vision of the death and resurrection, has been a source of controversy around the world.

The film is set to open in Columbia on Wednesday and will be playing at two theaters. Three local churches have bought out entire performances, and at least 20 churches have purchased large blocks of tickets at Hollywood Stadium 14 Theaters, 2800 Goodwin Pointe Drive, said David Lyons, vice president of advertising for Wallace Theaters, which runs the theater. It plans to offer 10 showings per day of the two-hour film.

“Advance sales are doing as well as, if not better than, the most recent ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” said Anthony Robinson, assistant manager at Forum 8, 1209 Forum Katy Parkway, which also will show the film.

Local concern

But the Jewish community in Columbia is concerned the film could be used to fuel anti-Semitic anger.

Kerry Hollander, the director of the Jewish student organization Hillel, said some Jewish students feel challenged by the Christian community. It is a lack of knowledge that has students worried and reacting defensively, Hollander said.

“Mr. Gibson’s powerful influence could have the effect of undercutting four decades of advances of Jewish-Christian relationship,” Feintuch said. “(The movie) could poison the minds of some Christians, especially children, toward Jews of today and tomorrow.”

Last week, Feintuch received an offer from Baker to attend the film. His first reaction was to respectfully decline. On Sunday afternoon, Feintuch and Baker met for a TV interview where they discussed the upcoming film. They talked about the possible good that could come from seeing the film, specifically the opportunity for increased dialogue between the two groups.

Later that evening, Feintuch met with the older religious students and others who wished to discuss the film. The response was a full house who said that if they don’t go see the movie, it will limit their ability to present their perspective in the future. After considering these ideas, Feintuch called Baker the following morning to accept his offer.

Baker believes having a Jewish response to the movie is important because Christians could learn about their own faith and gain a better understanding of the Gospel through dialogue with their Jewish counterparts.

“It promotes peace, harmony, respect and tolerance,” Baker said. “If we had more of these things in our world today in our main religions, we could have less violence and less problems.”

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