December 15, 2005
Jewish Jury Still Out on Christian ‘Narnia’
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• Narnia is a magical kingdom created by the Divine King Aslan, but currently in a state of perpetual winter due to a curse of the evil White Witch. The four children (two "Sons of Adam," two "Daughters of Eve") stumble in via the enchanted, eponymous wardrobe, and become the disciples of Aslan. The child Edmund betrays his siblings and Aslan, Judas-style, to aid the White Witch, and is saved when Aslan allows himself to be sacrificed, not unlike Jesus.\n
• Aslan is resurrected, and the White Witch is vanquished. The four children are crowned kings and queens of Narnia. Peter -- not a coincidental choice of name -- becomes High King.
You figure it out.
But the Christian allegory doesn't worry Rabbi Harry Manhoff. Christianity has never been something that scared him, and he isn't about to start now. He read the books to his children, who are now grown. If he still had young kids going to see the film, he'd rather they didn't know about its Christian underpinnings.
He related an anecdote from when "Fiddler on the Roof" went on the road to Japan. Following the show, audience members approached the cast and said, "We don't understand why you'd put on this play anywhere else in the world. It's such a Japanese story."
The moral of that story, according to Manhoff, the spiritual leader of San Leandro's Conservative Congregation, Beth Sholom, and the holder of a Ph.D in Christian studies, "is, people take away from a movie whatever they bring to a movie. I don't think Jewish kids who go to this movie will be converted to Christianity just because a character dies and those who trust him go to a better place."
Besides, he said, Jewish moviegoers of an earlier generation watched overtly Christian films such as "Ben-Hur" or "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and didn't beat a path to the nearest baptismal pool. Why should today's filmgoers be any different?
"Could [this film] be used for a darker, sectarian purpose? Probably anything can," said the Rev. Charles Gibbs, director of San Francisco's United Religions Initiative, an interfaith institute. "But at this point I am not concerned this movie will have a detrimental impact on interfaith work or lead to a backlash against any particular groups."
And the Christian target marketing? Gibbs just sees that as a proven way to get people into theaters.
And Dardik isn't the only one to have read "Lion" in day school. At the Pressman Academy in Los Angeles, fourth-graders are hearing the book as a read-aloud. School principal Andrew Polsky sees this as a proactive move.
"It's current and it happens to be quality literature. I knew many kids would see it, and it's good to get exposed to literature before seeing a movie," he said. "Movies sometimes color the vision and imagination of kids for reading a great novel," he said.
And the Christian allegories? Polsky isn't worried about that: "You have to remember, at this time of year Christian stuff is prevalent everywhere. We can't shelter our kids from it. And in fourth grade, these kids are 9 years old. They understand things on a very simplistic level. Maybe in 10th or 12th grade they can understand allegories, but not at 9 years old."
Dardik, incidentally, will probably wait to rent the film before allowing his children to watch it. And, even then, "my son is 5, so he'd probably be scared by it."
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