Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Crazed Over Cartoons

When you blog, one topic leads to another. My last couple of posts mentioned my interest in Marvel comics, and this got me thinking about two unsettling stories, both related to cartoons.

The first happened in a local yeshiva day school. The class had just finished learning the torah portion of Miketz, which covers part of the story of Joseph and his brothers. One of the girls innocently mentioned that she had watched an animated movie of the story at home; presumably this one.

To put it mildly, the morah threw a fit. She yelled that a movie like that was ossur [forbidden] and that none of the girls should dare watch such a terrible show. Movies like that one, according to her, totally distorted the Torah and were literally dangerous to see.

In the teacher's defense, I will say that I understand the point she was trying to make. It is certainly true that cartoons like the one in question, or the similar, more well-known "The Prince of Egypt", are not flawlessly accurate renditions of the traditional Jewish interpretations of the chumash. However, I feel the teacher's emotional overreaction was counter-productive. All she probably did was pique the girls' interest in a movie that they would have found dull until she made it sound so daring and risqué.

I remember a similar pedagogical hyperbole from my Yeshiva HS days. One year around Passover/Easter time, two movies were on TV the same night (remember those primitive times when we only had six channels and everybody had to watch what was on???); the famous DeMille epic The Ten Commandments, and the TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. Our rebbe told us that it was better for us to watch the latter than the former! In response to our incredulous stares, he continued that the latter movie "only" promoted another religion, while the former distorted our own. Again, we understood the underlying point but the rhetoric was rather extreme.

A more reasoned response in either case would have been to point out that the movie in question was obviously a dramatization and should not be assumed to be exactly correct, but could be enjoyed as an exciting story based on our Torah. For the girls' class, it might even have been beneficial for them the watch the movie together in school, and have the teacher point out the specific instances where the cartoon version took poetic license with the events*. This approach would likely have even helped the girls understand the real Torah story better.

Though again I feel the teacher went too far here, it is certainly a far cry from this reaction to another religious cartoon! The vile and brutish response here speaks for itself.

* Supplement: In fact, this is exactly what the kids and I did when we watched The Prince of Egypt. In particular, I pointed out that the angry, jealous character of Aharon in the movie does not match what even the simple Torah narrative (let alone midrashim) tells us about him. OTOH the movie's core innovation, that idea that Moshe had a positive childhood relationship with the prince who would later be his antagonist as Pharoah of the exodus, is intriguing. I don't know of any statements of chazal that support this, but do any contradict it?


At 12/16/05, 12:15 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Isn't the standard understanding that the Pharoh who would later be his antagonist was his father (or grandfather) figure?
I was less bothered by the inaccuracies of Prince of Egypt, than I was about the message. Though God is not absent from the movie, the movie is about some sort of universal freedom not the freedom of a nation to be God's chosen people. So the ending was rather empty.

At 12/16/05, 12:28 PM, Blogger Elie said...

I thought the Pharoah who originally enslaved the Jews is the one who adopted (or whose daughter adopted) Moshe. The Pharoah of the exodus was a different one - since the earlier one dies while Moshe was in Midian - and could well have been Moshe's contemporary.

I agree with you that the movie was too bland and homogenized in places. One good example is when the Jews were singing "Az Yashir" during the march; they only sang the PC, liberal-friendly lines. None of the lines about God's wrath, the Egyptians' death, etc. were included!

At 12/19/05, 10:17 AM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

It depends on how you intrepret that Pharoh died. Did he die or did he contract leprosy? Of course he may have contracted leprosy and later died though the Midrashim (I don't think) explicitly say that.

At 12/21/05, 11:08 PM, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

You remind me of my own day school days - and the many teachers who unfortunately turned more people off than on in the name of moral righteouness...


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