The Religion News Service tells the story this week of Mel Gibson’s new film project and the criticism he’s receiving from the Jewish community. Gibson’s film will feature the life story of Judah Maccabee, called one of the greatest warriors in Jewish history and the inspiration for the celebration of Hanukkah. But despite Gibson’s past box office successes with period films such as The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart, it was an alcohol-induced rant in 2006 where Gibson supposedly said “Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world” that worries Jewish leaders. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League led a charge against Gibson with The Passion, saying Gibson has “no respect or sensitivity” for Jewish history and has no business making a film about an icon in their culture. CNN quoted Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles as saying it was “preposterous” for Gibson to make the film. “Casting him as a director or star of Judah Maccabee is like casting Bernie Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission,” Hier said.
Gibson himself explained his interest in the film to the Hollywood Reporter, saying he first read the story as a teen and sees “inherently cinematic” aspects to it. And Rabbi Irwin Kula of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York spent time with Gibson discussing the project and has decided that “Gibson has the incredible opportunity to tell the Hanukkah story to half a billion people…He wants to do this with real truthfulness to historical fact. He’s talking to Jewish academics and reading Jewish literature on this, so he’s telling it from inside the Jewish narrative.” Kula even added, “Many Jews who are criticizing him now will look at the movie and feel pride.”