By Daniel M. Kimmel It’s been a while since the Movie Maven did a random exploration of Jewish videos available online for free. It turns out there’s wonderful stuff out there, but unless you know where to look for it, you’re missing out. This past winter, “Great Performances” on PBS did a marvelous show entitled “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy.” As someone points out, nearly all the great Broadway composers – with the exception of Cole Porter – were Jewish. They might have added George M. Cohan, but with a name like that, perhaps the Irish musical star should be considered part of the tribe. It’s really amazing not only to see the list of names from Irving Berlin and George Gershwin to Stephen Sondheim, but to hear them ferret out the Jewish influences in music that is considered part of the great American songbook. For example Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” opens with a clarinet solo that would be at home in a klezmer band. You can see the show at http://video.pbs.org/video/2317965318, but don’t worry if typing in URLs (the Internet
JUNE 21, 2013 THE JEWISH ADVOCATE
The Jewish community and the Web that it’s woven From musicians and comedians to the daily news, members of the tribe are is all over the Internet
Milton Berle is one of the great Jewish comedians whose work can be found at www.hulu.com. addresses) is too confusing. If you can use Google (or any other online search engine), you should be able to find it simply by looking up the name of the show. You may be aware of www.hulu.
com, which is a website supported by advertising providing countless hours of recent and classic television shows and movies. If you’ve got a hankering to see some of the great Jewish comedians of the past, so such as Jack Benny, Milton Berle, and Groucho Marx, put a name in the search engine and you’ll find everything from old episodes of “You Bet Your Life” to their guest appearances on other shows. It’s not exhaustive (Hulu does have a pay service with an even wider selection) but you may find yourself enjoying an extended stroll down memory lane. Of course, Jewish viewing on the Internet is not all about show business. To get a sense of just how many different things are available, check out the site www. chabad.org, which includes videos for children in which traditional Jewish religious values are included (through the perspective of Chabad, of course). One such
show is “Miracles: Tales of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa,” in which a puppet version of the Rabbi helps people in ancient Israel. Parents might want to check out the material to see if it fits with their own perspective, but if it’s a good fit, this is a source for “kosher” entertainment for the kids. For those seeking less traditional content, the Union for Reform Judaism has a channel of videos at – where else? – YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/urjweb. It’s geared to adults with things such as “webinars” on various subjects, but you can also check out a Kabbalat Shabbat song session from the organization’s 2011 biennial or a tutorial on how to make a round challah. Remember that Rosh Hashanah is “early” this year. Finally, if you’d like to get a nightly recap of the news from an Israeli perspective, Channel 2 in Israel offers a brief online newscast in English at http://www.je-
Movie Maven rusalemonline.com/. The website has links to past newscasts and other information, but the newscast itself runs around four minutes. It’s an opportunity get the news, as it would be seen in Israel, without having to learn Hebrew. In addition, you can have the link to each edition emailed to you, so you don’t have to remember how to get to the site. There is no charge. Next week, back to the movies. However, if you’ve been looking at your hundred channels or more on your TV and decided that nothing being offered is worth watching, your menu of choices just got a whole lot bigger. Daniel M. Kimmel lectures widely on a variety of film-related topics and can be reached at danielmkimmel@ gmail.com.
Book drops a dime on the ‘Secret Roots’ of Christianity Author David Wray decodes religion’s complicated history by using the symbols on ancient coins By Len Abram Special to The Advocate Objects speak to those who understand their language. Ancient rubble, shards, statues, vases, coins, friezes, even graffiti can give glimpses into the past, how lives were lived and views held. David Wray, a numismatist and historian, has used ancient coins to glimpse into the world of the ancients, to understand their beliefs, and specifically how Christianity, with more than a billion followers around the world today, reached its position of dominance from an offshoot of Judaism, a cult. In “The Secret Roots of Christianity: Decoding Religious History with Symbols on Ancient Coins,” Wray contends that traditional studies of Christianity neglect to mention its pagan roots: a Western structural root derived from Mediterranean Greek culture; an Eastern spiritual root from Anatolia and Persia; and a third root, the Jewish literary one, which overshadowed the borrowings of symbols and themes from the Greeks, Anatolians and Persians. The Jewish literary root is what we
now call the combined Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament, Christians replace the Jewish relationship with G-d. Through Jesus, they follow a new covenant, while the Jews still hold to their covenant at Sinai and await their Messiah. Readers can check their own coins and currency for the icons of the American republic, its extraordinary leaders or leaders in extraordinary times – Lincoln on the common penny and five-dollar bill, FDR on the dime, the noble Washington on the quarter and the dollar, the brilliant Franklin on the hundred-dollar bill. And the symbols on the coins, for example, are as old as civilization itself: the soaring, warlike eagle, once the power of Zeus, with arrows in its talons, and laurel leaves and olive branches symbolizing the hope of peace. The bundle of an axe and sticks on the reverse of the Mercury dime (produced by the U.S. Mint from 1916 to 1945) portrays an ancient “fasces,” the symbol of power over life and death that lictors, and/or constables, carried to accompany Roman consuls. (From this object, we get the word, Wray tells us,
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David Wray’s latest book focuses on ancient coins as a way to probe Christianity’s roots. “fascist.”). Above all, our American currency proclaims political unity: Out of many states came one United States, with its trust in G-d. Wray has dozens of coinage examples of the ancients, with revered religious icons and customs, mysteries that would eventually impact and alter Christianity. He describes early Christianity as close to Judaism in its customs and practices, with the exception that followers believed Jesus was the Messiah. He speculates that early Christians were among the fighters at Masada. The marked differences came well after Christ’s crucifixion, when some of Christ’s disciples encouraged Christianity to absorb Mediterranean and Eastern mysteries and thus gain converts. Through sacrifice and ritual, these cults tried to influence the physical forces that control agriculture, which feeds us to this day. The sun, the rain, the return of spring and the growing months, even the birth of children – the ancients prayed to gods whose
good will ensured sustenance and survival. Judaism’s monotheism also asked for enough rain and bountiful harvests, but invoked one G-d, affirmed in its central prayer, and not a bureaucracy of special and sometimes competing interests. Wray believes that Joshua ben Joseph (the Jesus of the New Testament) wanted to change the world for the better, but not change Judaism. Wray’s ancient coins show how popular was the worship of the sun, the Sol Invictus. Also popular was the worship of the dying and resurrecting child of the goddess Isis. Christian disciples and proselytizers used these mysteries to make Christianity seem similar to local beliefs. Moreover, they eased purity requirements regarding circumcision and food. Wray shows another influence: the supposed divinity of Roman emperors such as Augustus. Christianity, with its man who is made divine and resurrected, promising the same for its followers, became the official religion of the Roman Empire. In the end, Christianity conquered more territory than Rome ever imagined. Judaism itself had differences among its followers, which may also have contributed to the rise of Christianity. For example, the reverse side of the Samaritan coin portrays five silver shekels used in the Samaritan/Jewish pidyon haben ceremony, but the obverse portrays a three-faced deity. Samaritans and Jerusalem Jews both honored Jewish patriarchs, Wray suggests, but the coin points to a surprising variability between ancient Jewish sects: Samaritans violated the prohibition against graphic representation of G-d, representing their deity as having three aspects, just as modern Christians do. In the century of Christ’s birth and death, the Romans defeated and dispersed the Jews. Christ’s crucifixion was one of hundreds,
even thousands, to punish the Jews for their audacity in opposing Roman rule and the worship of Roman gods. Jewish rebellions broke out like fires, sometimes threatening and sometimes merely annoying, and the Romans were hard pressed to put them out. Its legions, which could salt the fields of Carthage to assure that state would not threaten them again, killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, enslaved thousands, and dispersed the rest. Defeated, Judaism could have been superseded, but Wray notes that the centuries following the Common Era were the Talmudic period, when the laws of the Torah were defined in a detail that made the study an adjective of close reasoning. At the same time, Christianity began its rough climb to prominence, and in a few hundred years, moved from state persecution to state adoption. Visitors today to the Roman Forum can still see the Arch of Titus, celebrating Titus’ victory in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The famous tableau of spoils shows the large golden menorah and the sacred table for loaves of Sabbath bread from the conquered Temple, along with other plunder from the Jewish War. The Senate of Rome raised Titus’ status to divine, reminding us that when Rome adopted Christianity under Constantine, the culture was ready to accept divinity in a man. The Jews, of course, waited – and still wait – for the Messiah. Now, however, many of their descendants live in the homeland once ruled by Rome and from which they were purged. A few years ago, on the Arch of Titus, someone climbed up to write in chalk “Am Yisroel Chai” (“the nation of Israel lives”). Len Abram is a writer. He lives in Belmont.