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The Latest “Star Wars” Movie Makes Mistakes about Religion That Should Feel Familiar to American Jews

Dec. 26 2017

The screenwriters of The Last Jedi, argues Liel Leibovitz, seem to have replaced the creed that figures in the earlier Star Wars films with a watered-down version—what Leibovitz terms “Reform Jediism.” He writes:

Who is a Jedi? The question has been answered several times in divergent ways in the different Star Wars movies. . . . This being 2017, however, the latest [installment] posits a different approach altogether: the Force, [the mystical power that, in the films’ mythology, gives Jedi warriors their abilities and wisdom], is everywhere and for everyone, no study or observance necessary. . . . The ancient, sacred Jedi texts, we are told, . . . are boring rubbish, and the ancient Jedi practices . . . are a waste of time. To be a Jedi . . . you only need to feel like a Jedi, because the old religion wasn’t about the ethics of the fathers but about tikkun olam, which everyone can achieve just by being, you know, a good person. Toss in a few bagels, and you can say that Jediism, really, isn’t a religion but a culture or something.

This bit of theological inanity also makes the movie sag. Instead of fighting [their antagonists] with skill and determination, the rebels . . . are busy bickering about the root causes of evil. Like some galactic fringe group—call them J(edi) Street, or, better yet, Jedi Voice for Peace—these would-be warriors worry that the homicidal maniacs who had just murdered everyone the Jedis love in cold blood may not be, you know, bad, but simply misunderstood or even oppressed. . . .

For [some] American Jewish audiences, then, The Last Jedi can feel almost like a documentary, a sordid story about a small community eager to trade in the old and onerous traditions for the glittery and airy creed of universalist kumbaya that, like so much sound and fury, signifies nothing. . . .

But it’s hard to blame these sunken soldiers for bungling the fight. Instead of a concrete belief, a solid faith with specific rules and concrete decrees, they cling to a feeling, sweet and fleeting, that people are good and worth saving. It’s a noble idea, but unless it is rooted in the hard earth of nation or religion, it tends to melt into air. Untutored in the old ways of the Force, the young rebels have nothing to guide them in their struggle except their passions and their pride, both of which lead to disaster.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Judaism, Arts & Culture, Film, Star Wars, Tikkun Olam

Putting Aside the Pious Lies about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Jan. 23 2018

In light of recent developments, including Mahmoud Abbas’s unusually frank speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership, Moshe Arens advocates jettisoning some frequently mouthed but clearly false assumptions about Israel’s situation, beginning with the idea that the U.S. should act as a neutral party in negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Free registration may be required.)

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror. . . .

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil, and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. . . .

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues—such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines—are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israeli military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians. . . .

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions. What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, US-Israel relations