Films About Jewish Life and Culture

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This collection of essays focuses on films dealing with important issues in the Jewish world. Films selected are only those who make a significant contribution to our understanding of a particular theme under discussion. The themes are: immigration, antisemitism, Israel and Zionism, life in the East-European shtetls (small villages), intermarriage and assimilation, religion, and the Holocaust. The majority of the works analyzed are American-made.

Among the findings of this study is that antisemitism has been touched upon rarely; the 1947 classic, Gentleman’s Agreement, is still the yardstick by which such works as School Ties (1992), and Quiz Show (1994) are being judged. And the truth is that, while the older classic manages to penetrate deeply into this sensitive question, the later works only skim the surface. Also, it is clear that Hollywood steered away from Israel; while in the 1960's and 1970's Israel presented the world a picture of courage and moral justice, the prolonged occupation and treatment of the Palestinians, have created controversies that film producers were averse to engage in. On the other hand, Hollywood has been rather receptive, and generally positive, in its treatment of orthodoxy and Hasidism, as evidenced in The Chosen(1982), Yentl (1983), and A Stranger Among Us (1992). One area where Hollywood has disappointed is the Holocaust. While it is true that it has produced Judgement at Nurenberg (1961), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959),and Schindler’s List, (1993), all very influential films, the rest of the field is a collection of works dealing with marginal issues, and , regretfully, in some cases, turning the subject matter into pure sensationalism.

As this study concluded, many new works dealing with the Jewish experience-antisemitism, Holocaust, and post-holocaust issues, assimilation, exile and life in Israel, were coming out. This is a clear indication that this is a subject of great interest to film makers, and it seems, to viewers all over the world.


“There are many books about Judaism and many works dealing with cinematic portrayals of Jewish life. The genius of Michael Taub’s study is the author’s insightful blending of the two. He writes as an insider, one whose language skills, knowledge of the multifaceted dimensions of Judaism, and thoughtful reflections on Judaism and cinema make this work an essential study. Taub writes with clarity and insight about various dimensions of Jewish life and culture as they are portrayed in film. His discussion ranges from anti-Semitism to the Holocaust, and from the religious life of American Jews to Hollywood’s representation of Israel. And yet the author, himself, writes that “a great film about any aspect of the Jewish experience is yet to be made.” … Integrating the insights of literary and cinematic criticism, Taub’s discussions reveal both the promise and the pitfalls inherent in Hollywood’s portrayal of Jews and Judaism. As an astute cultural critic, Michael Taub recognizes that reading is fast becoming a lost art. Large numbers of people derive their notion of reality from films. Yet men and women from the beginning of time have utilized the plastic and, subsequently, visual arts to represent their hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares. This is one reason why Taub insists on holding cinematic representation of Jewish life and culture to high standards. If cinema is the new “text” of Judaism, this book is an important contribution to the work of interpreting and understanding that text.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) Alan L. Berger, Raddock Eminent Scholar Chair of Holocaust Studies and Director of Judaic Studies, Florida Atlantic University.

Table of Contents

Preface by Dr. Alan Berger
1. “Hester Street” to “Crossing Delancy”: Greeners in Hollywood Films
2. The Longest Hatred: Hollywood Confronts Antisemitism
3. Black Hats on the Silver Screen: Religious Life in America
4. Spinoza Confronts the Rabbis: An Israeli Film and Play
5. Romance and Rambos: Hollywood and the Jewish State
6. Major Shoah Films, or When the Exception is the Rule
7. Minor Shoah Films: Fun and Games Allowed
8. Jewish Wedding Bells: Hollywood 2000 Style
Select Bibliography and Filmography
Fiction Feature Films and Some Documentaries

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