With Tropical Storm Danny (of all the names!) rolling in this evening, Rabbi Dan has posted some of his thoughts - from tonight's canceled service on the High Line - for discussion in your cozy, dry apartment this Shabbat evening:
In his article this week at the Huffington Post, Rabbi Irwin Kula talks about Quentin Tarantino's new film. He writes:
We now have a new genre of Holocaust films, a fun, action-packed Jewish revenge fantasy! After nearly 600 films to date on the Holocaust, the vast majority of which focused on Nazi evil, the persecution, and suffering of Jews, the paradigm has shifted. We now have the first primary process Holocaust film. There may be six million stories in the Holocaust but Inglorious Basterds tells the one we have been afraid to tell about ourselves: the story of what we would really like to do to those Nazis.And, what we really want to do to those Nazis - "scalp Nazis, burn Nazis, torture Nazis, murder Nazis, brand Nazis like cattlemen brand cows" - is portrayed in quintessential Tarantino fashion.
This past week, I've been amazed by the response to the movie by some of my friends and colleagues. Like Rabbi Kula, they found themselves really (really!) enjoying the movie...
Rabbi Kula writes:
... if I'm really honest, this Jew felt twinges of excitement, thrills, chills he's never felt before seeing violence. I don't even go to action films, yet alone violent movies, as they've always turned my stomach. But this one turned me on (though when I awoke the morning after, I had this strange sense of embarrassment over having gotten so into it). Unfortunately, I really enjoyed it!As interesting as it has been to watch these Rabbis get into this movie, it has been equally fascinating to see them all apologizing - or, at least, feeling remorseful - for the extent to which they did enjoy it. On Facebook, one Rabbi wrote - "feels very strange about liking Inglorious Basterds so much."
It is this push/pull - the desire to live out violent fantasies against the Nazis and yet retain our moral high ground - that is expressed in this week's Torah portion - Ki Teitze.
The final words of the Parsha refer to Israel's archenemy Amalek (those evil doers who attacked the Israelites from behind on their journey and historically has served as a representative of Jewish people's worst enemies).
We are told - "Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt.... Therefore, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
This line, admittedly, causes some confusion. It has for me. How are we to both remember Amalek and, at the same time, utterly blot out his memory?
Ritually, this paradox is best expressed on Purim during the reading of Megillat Esther. In that story, the villain Haman - another Amalek stand-in - sought to wipe out the Jewish people. When reading the Megillah, we do so with groggers or noise-makers (on full blast) to drown out the name of Haman when chanted.
For me, this has always been the best expression of blotting out and remembering; we remember to chant each year and we come prepared with our ammunition (of sorts...) And, in doing so, we connect viscerally - through sound and violent action (have you seen some of those groggers?) - to blotting out Haman's name with a sound not dissimilar to a Tommy Gun.
Which brings me back to Tarantino's film and the strong response that it has been receiving from us Rabbi types. Perhaps the idea of killing and scalping Nazis on screen is a reflection of our desire to both blot out and never forget?
Theologian Neil Gillman writes that we can "do both if we recall that Amalek is a symbol of our inherent lack of faith in God."
How often do we - as Jewish leaders - fall silent in a discussion about God when someone mentions the Holocaust? It is as if we are cut off at the legs or rendered mute in our attempt to point towards God or divinity in this world. No response, no explanation could ever suffice.
But, yet we want to keep telling the story of God, of Torah, of a powerful force beyond ourselves. And so we blot out the name of Haman, in order to make sure that we can continue to read the Megillah.
However unseemly it might seem, scalping has always played a role in remembering.