Keeping the Faith

The 2000 film about a rabbi and priest gets Judaism all wrong.

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The real religion advocated by this film is, I repeat, the Hollywood glorification of romantic love. As rabbi is told by priest (who comes around to the romance-religion, of course): "Do you think God is going to drop a gift like that in your lap a second time?" Voyeurism and phone sex are as effective rituals of this religion of love as are those of synagogue and church.

As I mentioned above, not even the New Age methods preached here--meditation, breathing, etc., which are depicted as worthy innova­tions, especially in the synagogue--are given reverence and homage in the film. Though we think we are being given a Deepak Chopra-type spiritual adviser in the form of a bartender, we end up with a living infomercial for interfaith marriage--a Sikh-Catholic-Muslim with Jewish in-laws!

Anne Bancroft as the rabbi's Jewish mother is trotted out solely to offer a mea culpa for all Jewish parents who ever opposed the intermarriage of their children in the name of tribal, as opposed to romantic, religion. It would seem that Love Conquers All has lived to mock both monotheism and New Age trends in the new millennium.

A New "Faith"

Even the term "faith" takes on new meanings here. It is not faithfulness, as in the Hebrew Bible, to a Covenant through loyalty to God, Torah, and the Jewish People. Nor is it the risk taken for Divine grace in the theology of Paul of Tarsus. It isn't even the faith in one's own potential of the New Agers. Rather, as Elfman's Annie puts it, the rabbi must have faith that "other people will understand."

It is a faith that other people will accept the "ethic" of indulging in selective peccancies: "Give all the people in your life credit to deal with this. It's the 21st century!" Sin now, confess later, and put your faith in the public's capacity to forgive.

So Rabbi Schram confesses on Yom Kippur eve: "I'm not sorry for loving a Gentile woman, but I'm sorry I didn't put more faith in you to let me do what I want." Of course, he gets the job as senior rabbi, and he gets the woman, and the writer even throws in the strong probability that she will convert. The film thereby purports to take up the cause of conversion, as well. Annie tells Jake: "Your faith is a huge part of what I love about you." She chides him for not being tolerant of others to whom faith comes less easily, but this is cynical because he is not cited for his faith in God but chided for his lack of faith in his public's adoration.

What could have been a nice insight into agnostics who struggle to convert to Judaism becomes, in reality, the canonization of romantic comedy to sanction and define faith, conversion, and confession. One wonders whether the New York "magasynagogue" that lent its beautiful sanctuary to the filmmaker is pleased with the message and with the use of that distinguished and historic pulpit as an arena for what has become a stock scene, first on the small screen (with David E. Kelley) and then on the big: the "punching out" of rabbis by Jews or Gentiles.

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Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel

Elliot B. Gertel is the rabbi of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Chicago and media critic for The Jewish Post and Opinion of Indianapolis.