Monday, August 24, 2009

Jewish Thoughts on Revenge

You may or may not want to see the movie "Inglourious Basterds" - I am personally not a fan of Quentin Tarantino's work, as I find the extreme violence is not to my personal taste - but I think we can not ignore the conversation that the film has motivated. You may be interested in reading the following article in the Wall Street Journal about reaction to Tarantino's newly released film.

First of all, the story told in this film is not history. That much is acknowledged by the creators and producers and emphasized in every story and review I have read.

Second: it is - as are all Tarantino's movies - filled with as much gratuitous violence as it is possible to include in a movie.

Third: when shown in preview to a group at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City it was greeted with vastly different reactions from the audience - some cheered, some walked out.

Your high school students may very well have seen this film before school begins for the year - it opened BIG its first weekend. If you choose to ignore it you will miss an opportunity to use it as a trigger to discuss some important Jewish values:
  • What does Jewish wisdom say about revenge?
  • What does Jewish wisdom say about guilt? about forgiveness? about compassion? about contrition? about reward and punishment?
Big Ideas:
  • There is evil in the world.
  • People are responsible for evil they do.
  • Judaism has some clear guidelines governing reward and punishment.
  • Judaism includes the concept of teshuvah - translated either as repentence or returning.
  • Elul is traditionally a time of the year when Jews work at teshuvah

Essential Questions:
  • What is the Jewish understanding of teshuvah?
  • Is there a Jewish response to evil?
  • What are some Jewish ideas on reward and punishment?
  • What does Judaism say about taking revenge?

Some Resources for finding the answers to the essential questions:
  • Your students will see how Jewish thinking is and is not supported by popular culture.
  • Students will be able to support their opinion, with reference to sources, that teshuvah is or is not possible for those who perpetrated the Shoah
  • Elul will become a time during which students will purposefully work at teshuvah in their own lives
  • Students will begin to use "Jewish language" in describing the world around them.

Further Thoughts:
Your students will probably return to class having heard at least some minimal discussion about the release of the person who was convicted in Scotland of responsibility in the Lockerbie disaster. Why not take the opportunity to discuss this in the context of the information they have read concerning "Inglourious Basterds" about reward and punishment, compassion, revenge, etc.

If you are addressing any of these issues in your Jewish classroom, please share your thoughts with the rest of the readers by commenting on this post. We have much to learn from each other.

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