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Can a Jewish person act in a TV drama about Jesus?

An Orthodox and a Reform rabbi discuss issues in contemporary Jewish life

    QUESTION:  A relative of mine had a small part in a drama produced for an evangelical Christian TV channel. Although he didn’t have to talk about Jesus, I was very upset at his participation. Should he have turned down the role?

    Rabbi Brawer:  It’s hard to answer this question without knowing anything about the particular TV drama, or the minor role your relative played in it.

    If the programme was designed for Christians, I can’t see anything halachically wrong with playing a role in its production. While trinitarian belief is problematic for Jews, according to Rabbi Menachem Me’iri (1249 -1306) and Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1530-1572) such belief is not an issue for non-Jews. Accordingly, Judaism does not frown on Christians observing their faith and practices. And while there are limits as to what a Jew may do to facilitate such practices, I do not think playing a minor role in a religious TV programme qualifies as problematic. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895 -1986) ruled that in certain circumstances, a Jewish architect may even provide his services to help build a church.

    There is an apocryphal tale told of the founder of Chasidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov, who on a dark winter’s night was travelling on a sleigh driven by a gentile. Along the way they passed a large crucifix and, on noticing the driver did not cross himself, the Ba’al Shem Tov jumped out of the sleigh. “How can I trust a Christian who doesn’t cross himself when passing a crucifix?” he later explained. 

    The tale implies the Ba’al Shem Tov was not threatened by a committed Christian practising his faith. What concerned him was that his driver appeared to be an unabashed atheist. 

    One should never violate values for the sake of 
    expediency 

    If, however, the drama programme is intended to target a wider audience, including Jews, this would be highly problematic. A Jew should play no role — primary or secondary — in helping Christians missionise among Jews
    .
    Under Pope Francis’s courageous leadership, the Vatican has been moving in a new and positive direction, asserting that Jews are capable of salvation without belief in Jesus and that therefore it neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. Sadly, there are those who do not share this enlightened view and seek to convert Jews to Christianity. A Jew should have no part in promoting such activity. 

    It may be that your relative is a struggling actor and is in no position to turn down paid work. But we all make choices in life and our choices should be governed by our values. One should never violate their values for the sake of expediency.

    Naftali Brawer is chief executive of Spiritual Capital Foundation

     

    Rabbi Romain: This touches on the wider issue  of whether there are jobs so ethically questionable  that we should not undertake them and seek also to dissuade relatives considering them.

    It might cover businesses that are legal but do not act in people’s best interests, such as high-interest loan firms and online betting companies, both of which provide a “service”, but at an unacceptably high moral cost.

    It might extend to us as customers using companies, from local stores to international brands, whose employment or procurement polices we do not wish to endorse by being part of their clientèle. 

    Such stances may help change policy if firms are concerned about their public image and you can galvanise others to join in with you; but even if not, it asserts your own moral red lines and means you are not complicit in their actions or being hypocritical by using them.

    From this perspective, is an evangelical Christian television channel so undesirable? It could be argued it helps people without faith find a faith. In a world where moral codes often seem lacking and where many individuals feel isolated without any sense of community, this is not such a bad outcome.

    Of course, targetting those already with a faith would be much more dubious, though it rarely works unless that person does not feel comfortable in it and is open to new paths. But, unless deception or coercion is involved, there can be little objection that they have found a religious home, otherwise we would never accept converts ourselves.

    We might also worry if a conversion involved separating someone from their family, although some might say the same of evangelical Jewish groups and how they can divide parents and children.

    Is an evangelical Christian television channel so
     undesirable?

    Still, this debate does not concern you but a relative and you do not suggest he had any qualms. Are you worried he may be sucked in? Or that he is helping an organisation of which you disapprove? Or that his role might embarrass you?

    You certainly have the right to express your opinion to him courteously and it might be enlightening for both of you to hear each other’s perspective. He will have the right to agree and avoid future participation, or to ignore your views completely.

    Out of interest, how open are you to hearing about other people disapproving of your actions?

    Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue

    If you have a problem to put to our rabbis, please ring 020 7415 1676 or email editorial@thejc.com with details

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