It is all tastefully done in black and white. The effect, enhanced by the musical score, recalls Stephen Spielberg's Schindler's List. That film, unforgettably, has a single person depicted in colour, the little girl in the red coat. Here too, Jews for Jesus offer hommage. But this time, the figure in colour is a man who has taken his place in the line. He carries a cross. There is a momentary pause as he comes up to the selection guards. Then he too goes to the left - voluntarily. 'Just another Jew.' The video ends with a quotation from Isaiah 53 and the strap line: 'That Jew Died For You'.
I watched it with a growing sense of unease. Surely no-one would use the Holocaust as an evangelistic tool? Perhaps I hadn't grasped what Jews for Jesus were trying to do. As I tweeted yesterday, I was trying to understand my bafflement, still wondering if the vociferous denunciation of it in the media was a trifle hysterical. But as I went on thinking about it, as a person of Jewish descent myself, I began to see it more clearly for what it is. Here are three points to consider.
First, it seems to me that the video tramples heavily over holy ground where we ought to take off our shoes and tremble. To many, it simply lacks sensitivity to the victims of the Holocaust. This place of awe demands a particular kind of silence. Words should only be spoken, if at all, with the utmost reverence and carefulness. To colonise and exploit the suffering of so many millions in this way is extraordinary. You are surprised to see it done at all, especially by people who claim the title 'Jew'.
Secondly, the film is theologically flawed. I don't argue with the words 'That Jew Died for You', even with their calculated offensiveness: as a Christian, the belief that (however I understand this greatest of mysteries) Jesus' death was 'for me' is basic to my faith. But the idea that the Father exacts wrath on his beloved Son is one which, if I accepted it once, I can no longer make sense of, still less subscribe to. What is more, if the doctrine requires Jesus to be 'punished', the implication is that the gas chamber where he goes with his cross is a 'punishment' on all its victims, an idea which once stated is patently offensive, for it colludes in precisely the distorted mentality of the oppressor for whom Jews are punished simply for being Jews. If the film had simply intended to show that in solidarity with the pain of humanity, Christ continues to bear the marks of crucifixion in his own body, it would have been different. But the assertion of a doctrine of atonement at the gates of Auschwitz is understandably perceived as dishonouring the memory of those who perished there. To the religious instinct, it's not the statement of a doctrinal formula but articulating questions like 'Where is God in all this?' 'How can we speak any more about God's justice and love?' that demonstrate spiritual empathy and that mature faith, like the Book of Job, stays and wrestles with.
Finally, and this isn't a point I've seen discussed, there is plenty of New Testament evidence about how the first Jewish converts shared their new-found faith in Jesus. St Paul is especially articulate. He knew how his own Jewish people had suffered a couple of centuries before in an era of fierce perscution under the Hellenising Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. During the 2nd century BCE Jewry underwent a holocaust that is vividly recorded in the books of the Maccabees and testified to in apocalyptic works like Daniel. Many Jews suffered terribly for their faithfulness to the Covenant. Yet although Paul can place Jesus in the line of Jewish martyrs or 'witnesses' who suffered for the covenant, he does not elide its meaning with suffering from a different era whose own integrity must be honoured. He does not place Jesus among the Maccabean martyrs and say 'whatever was the reason they died, that Jew died for you'. His belief in the historical as well as the theological uniqueness of Jesus' crucifixion makes him careful not to overstate the precedents. We should learn from his reticence, always the mark of a responsible theologian.
So I wish those who made this film had thought better of it. Intelligent Jewish-Christian dialogue has never been more needed than now, not least in relation to the Holocaust. I can't see that this video, however well-meant, will help foster friendship and respect among the Abrahamic faiths. Neither Jews nor Jesus have been well served.