NEW YORK (Nov. 8)
Five religious figures representing four branches of the three major faiths split 3 to 2 last night on whether “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the hit “rock opera,” is anti-Semitic or encourages anti-Semitism or is actually disrespectful of the Christian savior. The five speakers debated the subject among themselves and with telephone callers for two hours last night on WMCA Radio’s “Religion on the Line” program.
Dr. Gerald S. Strober, a Presbyterian pastor and consultant to the American Jewish Committee, reiterated the charges he made in an AJCommittee study last month that “Superstar” has the “potential” to harm Judaeo-Christian ecumenism. He said the show, which is now on Broadway, was “reinforcing a historical error”–Jewish guilt for the crucifixion. It was “most disturbing,” he said, that in the show “the Jewish community is defamed.”
Dr. Strober was joined in his opinion by Rabbi A. James Rudin, assistant Interreligious Affairs director of the AJCommittee, who commented: “It seemd to me my own people were made the butt, the villain….Here we had the Jews as the heavies….I resent it very much….particularly in a production that was to be directed to young people.” The Jewish priests are depicted as “sinister, conniving, vicious, cruel” and as “gargoyles” and “screaming banshees,” Rabbi Rudin protested, while Pontius Pilate is “elegant.” The show “was done at the expense of the Jews,” he continued.
ANTI-SEMITISM TAKEN FOR GRANTED
Joining in opposition to “Superstar” was John E. Fitzgerald, the Catholic critic, who specializes in theology and the media. He said his seeing the show marked “the first time a New Yorker had been mugged inside a theater.” The production, he charged, is “completely inaccurate” historically and takes an “ambiguous position on Jesus’ divinity,” and its “anti-Semitism (is) taken for granted.”
“Superstar” was defended by Father Benjamin Horton, director of the Catholic-Negro American Mission Board, and the Rev. William Jones, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, Brooklyn. Father Horton, a Catholic, observed that “It wasn’t quite as bad as I figured it would be,” but conceded: “It could engender an anti-Christian feeling.” Dr. Jones, a Black Minister, commented that while he would not recommend “Superstar” as “a teaching tool,” nevertheless “I didn’t feel that it was particularly anti-Semitic.” He admitted later that because of the “noise quotient” he had missed most of the dialogue.