In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2009 / 10 Shevat 5769

Hollyweird's latest: ‘Ecumenical exorcisms’ and the Holocaust

By Elliot B. Gertel

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

WOW! New horror flick manages to disrespect fetuses, little children, teens and the elderly --- not to mention Judaism

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | For some odd reason, writer-director David S. Goyer set out to combine Holocaust themes with Jewish legends of the dybbuk (the disembodied spirit seeking to find a new body) and then to suggest that neither the Holocaust nor the dybbuk is a uniquely "Jewish" concern. The result is The Unborn, a discombobulated inside-out-slasher flick that unintentionally mocks all horror movies and isn't so good for Jews and Judaism, either. The film also does not seem to think much of children, teenagers, or the elderly.

College student Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman) earns some extra money babysitting, even though she still lives with Dad in the most posh of Chicago suburban homes. A rap in the eye by a rambunctious four-year-old leads to Casey's discovery that she has a Jewish maternal grandmother, Sofi (Jane Alexander) and that she had a twin brother who died in utero. She learns that her mother, who committed suicide some years before, was the child of a Holocaust survivor. This new grandmother in her life tells of Dr. Megele's vicious experiments on twins and of his obsession with finding ways to change brown eyes to (Aryan) blue eyes — despite his belief, I might add, that non-Aryans were innately inferior.

As if all these revelations were not scary and stressful enough, Casey must face the (literal) demon in her past, namely a dybbuk: an angry, disembodied spirit seeking not just any body, but Casey's, while nasty enough to take over and to mangle any other body in the process.

Grandma Sofi reluctantly relates to terrorized Casey that in Auschwitz, Sofi's twin brother died from the vicious "medical experiments" and then came to life again when a dybbuk inhabited his body. Sofi had no choice but to kill her brother again, and, ever since, the dybbuk that inhabited him (not the brother, we gather) has tried to be reborn, especially, we assume, in the body of a surviving female twin, like the one that killed the dybbuk.

Aside from exploiting Holocaust narratives and branding Grandma Sofi a murderer of murdered Jews — in this case, her own brother, the film descends to other lows, like rendering fetuses and little children symbols of evil, gratuitously putting old people and children in dangerous situations and poses, just for shock effect, and showing utter disrespect for the teenagers who flock to this movie. Aside from making Casey's boyfriend and best friend utterly clueless, Goyer assumes that high school and college students actually believe that home movies made in twenty-something Casey's childhood would be on black-and-white reel-to-reel film. He also never quite explains why the dybbuk would want Casey or wait until she moves beyond adolescence.

Goyer is obsessed with mirrors, perhaps because he knows that they are traditionally covered at the Jewish mourner's home during shiva, the week of mourning. He cites some superstitions about mirrors but never quite explains why Sofi tells Casey to destroy all the mirrors in her home. We hear something about mirrors being "doorways to the other world," and wonder what is wrong with that, unless Jews believe that all their dead are angry and vindictive. Indeed, that belief is peddled in this film.

Speaking about Jews, we are presented by this film a bona fide synagogue and rabbi. Casey's grandmother tells her to visit a certain rabbi because, in her mind, he has an aptitude for exorcism. Yet Rabbi Joseph Sandek (Gary Oldman) does not seem to know that much about exorcism. (Is the name "Sandek" some kind of reference to the honor at a circumcision of holding the newborn baby?) One wonders how Sofi met him and would want to recommend him to do what turns out to be a botched, or at least bloody, exorcism. In entering the temple, Casey notes that the rabbi is mainly into self-help twelve-step sessions. It is Sofi, by the way, and not the rabbi, who recommends an old mirror-savvy Kabbalistic tome for Casey's perusal. She steals it from a library and brings it to the rabbi, who promises to translate the book in short order, probably in between the group therapy sessions he leads. Casey never shows any interest in her (new found?) Judaism except to rid herself of the dybbuk, and she is very particular that she wants a Jewish, not Christian, exorcism, until the rabbi explains that an "ecumenical" exorcism will work best.

While theft does not bother the filmmaker (can't rare books be photographed in the library?), he piously makes sure to insert feminist motifs (Sofi's "hand of Miriam" amulet, held like a rosary) and to represent African Americans. Among the latter are Casey's best friend, Romy ( Meagan Good), who is helpful neither to Casey nor to herself, and an Episcopal priest/ basketball coach (Idris Elba) whom Rabbi Sadek invites to do some readings at the exorcism, and who becomes violent and angry and a few other stereotypes when the dybbuk enters into him.

I was dismayed that an historic Reform congregation lent its magnificent sanctuary and attractive rabbi's study, social hall and courtyard/lobby to this film. In one scene the rabbi enters the sanctuary to find that the dybbuk has ripped apart Torah scrolls, though we are assured by a disclaimer in the film credits that "no actual Torah scrolls were destroyed or damaged in the making of this motion picture" (but someone acted out a hostility described by Freud to the old moral teachings and laws). Congregations need to consider very carefully the scripts of films with "religious" themes before allowing their buildings to become identified with certain productions, no matter how financially enticing Hollywood may make the deal.

Indeed, The Unborn is not kind to Judaism. The rabbi suggests that the Jewish exorcism ritual has validity only because Sofi and her deceased daughter believed that "these words" were the "best shot" to drive the dybbuk out. In other words, Judaism has no intrinsic truths of its own; it is valuable only to the extent that Jews believe in the efficacy of its words. Exorcism has "elements common to virtually all religions." The dybbuk "thing" "predates religion. It probably predates mankind."

So Jewish tradition, particularly the Kabbalistic tradition, has no distinctive perspective on demons? The writer credits the Nazis with being more adept at spiritual matters than Jews. After all, the "horrible experiments" were able to "blur the lines between science and the occult."

Moviegoers should avoid this mess and get hold of the 1935 Yiddish film, The Dybbuk, which was restored by Brandeis University and has subtitles.

The Dybbuk makes the point that in Jewish folklore, a spirit can only possess those who have committed some moral outrage — such as breaking a sacred vow — and who have not repented of that sin.

Actually, the film has no moral. Unlike the old Jewish dybbuk tales, it does not operate in a moral universe. It proffers a "steal this book" approach to sacred Jewish texts. It suggests that one should use one's friends and family as human shields. It revives an old trend in certain "Holocaust-themed" films and TV episodes that depicts survivors as deranged monsters. An authentic Jewish dybbuk would certainly not punish a young martyr. The dybbuk legends are also most affirming of life. They would not buy into the suggestion at the end of this picture of an evil seed. (Is there a subtle nod to abortion there, adding the not-yet-born to all the other age groups violated here?) Also, spirits were subject to Divine power and regulation, and the demonic was thwarted and the Divine bolstered by observing a mitzvah, any mitzvah, commandment or holy deed. These are basic Kabbalistic teachings and perspectives.

For the best of motives, to remember the Holocaust and to introduce a new generation to Jewish folklore, and to do so with an "ecumenical" spirit, David S. Goyer has reinvented or, better, entered into the superficial zone of New Age teachings that insist that spiritual and demonic traditions transcend mere "religion" and herald a supra-spiritual realm. The problem is that that supra-spiritual realm, once affirmed, is supposed to bring healing and peace. Mr. Goyer has obviously left this for the sequel.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment by clicking here.

Contributing writer Elliot B. Gertel, JWR's resident media maven, is a Conservative rabbi based in Chicago. His latest book is "Over the Top Judaism: Precedents and Trends in the Depiction of Jewish Beliefs and Observances in Film and Television". (Click HERE to purchase.) .