BBC Nativity says 'no room at shul'

A leading rabbi has protested to the BBC that a scene in its dramatisation of The Nativity this week was an anti-Jewish libel.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, a member of a panel that advises the BBC on religion, took issue with the third of the four-part series which was due to have been broadcast on BBC1 on Wednesday night. It was written by EastEnders scriptwriter Tony Jordan.

The scene depicts a pregnant Mary, mother of Jesus, trying to escape a Bethlehem crowd which accuses her of adultery. She is refused haven in a synagogue by a tallit-wearing rabbi, although he allows her to flee by a back door.

Rabbi Romain had not seen the episode, but had been alerted to its contents by two people who had attended preview screenings.

Many Jews, he said, would be "aghast that amid a story central to the beliefs of millions of Christians, an anti-Judaic aspect has been twisted into the narrative. The Gospels tell us there was no room at the inn, not that a rabbi kicked Mary out of a synagogue".

He added: "It would be tragic if a 30-minute television programme undoes 30 years of inter-faith dialogue."

But a BBC spokesman rejected the accusation: "There is absolutely no truth to claims the rabbi is depicted in a negative way," she said.

"Throughout the first episodes of The Nativity, the rabbi is seen as an integral part of Mary and Joseph's life and the man who performs their betrothal ceremony. When Mary returns from her cousin Elizabeth's, unmarried and pregnant, there is a universally hostile reaction from villagers, including, Joseph and Mary's parents. The rabbi is the only person who shows Mary compassion allowing her to avoid the angry villagers by offering her a route to safety."

But Rabbi Romain - who was surprised that the religious advisory panel had not been consulted - said that "it was not the details but the overall effect", that mattered.

"From now on, popular memory will hold that Mary was turned away by the synagogue authorities… which is both untrue to the Gospel story and a major libel that may stick for a long time to come."

    Last updated: 1:44pm, December 22 2010