NEW YORK (Sep. 5)
An American inter-religious expert has expressed “cautious optimism” over prospects that a revised version of the Passion Play will be used in Oberammergau in 1980 to replace the version hailed by Hitler for “convincingly” portraying “the menace of Jewry.”
The 1850 text lauded by Hitler was written by a local parish priest, Father Josef Daisenberger. Since World War II, it is estimated that about 1.5 million people have seen the Daisenberger version in Oberammergau, where it is presented every 10 years. Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, American Jewish Committee Inter-religious affairs director, was one of five AJCommittee officials who went to Oberammergau in April in response to an invitation from Lufthansa Airlines. The delegation members were asked to preview a five-and-a-half hour revision, a modernized version of the text written in 1750 by the Benedictine priest, Rev. Ferdinand Rosner. Tanenbaum told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Rosner revision still contained a number of problems which were discussed at a meeting after the preview.
CONFERRED WITH KEY FIGURES
The delegation members conferred at the April meeting with central personalities connected with the preparation of the 1980 Passion Play. They included the editor of the new version, Alois Fink, director of the cultural division of Bavarian Radio; Hans Schwaighofer, director of the 1980 production; Helmut Fischer, who played the role of Jesus in 1970; several Oberammergau town officials and representatives of the West German government, the Bavarian Tourist Ministry, and Lufthansa.
Tanenbaum said the discussion, which lasted more than four hours and which the Oberammergau officials called “their first serious discussion with responsible Jewish representatives,” ended with two requests by the Oberammergau officials to the AJCommittee delegation.
He said the village officials asked the delegation to prepare a line-by-line analysis of the Rosner text, “providing in writing specific recommendations for editing and emendations” which the AJCommittee officials felt were still necessary; and to be available to help the Oberammergau officials “bring about the maximum possible improvement through the removal of anti-Jewish references and negative dramatic imagery” the AJCommittee officials felt were still present in the revised text.
Tanenbaum said there is a “procedural” matter of approval by the Oberammergau town council of the new Passion Play version. He said the town council will meet in December at which time the vote will be taken.
FACTORS FOR OPTIMISTIC VIEW
Tanenbaum said he based his optimism on a number of factors, one being that the delegation members were told by a number of officials in Oberammergau, some villagers and some involved in production of the Passion Play, that the revised Rosner text would be that used in the 1980 presentation. In 1970, the anti-Semitic Daisenberger version attracted 530,000 persons from 113 countries.
He also disclosed that in mid-August, while the delegation was in Oberammergau for the preview and the discussions, a group of villagers began circulating a petition, asking retention of the Daisenberger text. He said he was informed that the protesters had collected about 800 signatures from the 4800 Oberammergau villagers but that the petition was not expected to affect the prospective town council veto for the new text.
Tanenbaum said another reason for optimism was that the preview viewed by the delegation, attended also by critics from many West German newspapers, villagers and Germans from other cities, was in fact a dress rehearsal in which many thousands of dollars had been invested, suggesting the strong possibility that the new version would be used in 1980.
He said the reaction of the large audience for the preview was “by and large” a positive one; that the reactions of the newspaper critics had been favorable; and that at the meeting which followed the preview, several villagers and other Germans welcomed the revised text as a significant improvement on the Daisenberger version.
Among positive features of the new text, Tanenbaum said, was that it does not give as much significance to the role of the Sanhedrin as did the standard earlier version, and that it opens with a group of “protective spirits” who tell the audience, “Don’t say the Jews over there are betraying their own; all of us have done the same often enough.”
NEGATIVE ELEMENTS IN NEW TEXT
On the negative side was the prospect that, despite the morality play setting, there was “a real danger” that the Sanhedrin and “the Jews” will be perceived as “instruments of Lucifer” conspiring with Satanic elements against Jesus and Christians. The revised version also contains four scenes of debate in the Sanhedrin about the “blasphemy” of Jesus which tends to underscore “a far more prominent role” of “the Jews” in contributing to the death of Jesus than in fact “exists in the Synoptic Gospels.”
The AJCommittee officials urged reconsideration of those scenes, and elimination of the “provocative chorus lines” in which several Sanhedrin scenes conclude with “all the Jews” on the stage crying out “it is decided; he must die, lest we and our reign perish.”
A third objection, the AJCommittee officials said, was that Pontius Pilate is presented “as a weakling who is manipulated by the Sanhedrin and a howling ‘Jewish mob’ to make the decision to crucify Jesus,” in total contradiction to the “historic knowledge” that Pilate was cruel and sadistic and that he alone “had the authority to decide on the crucifixion.”
Tanenbaum said the delegation agreed to the two requests but indicating awareness that there was no guarantee that the Rosner-Fink text would be used and “our recognition that even with improvements this is still a Passion Play in which Jews can never emerge ultimately untainted.” He told the JTA he had received an English translation of the revised text and was now preparing the requested line-by-line commentary. He said the commentary would be submitted to the AJCommittee for clearance and then will be forwarded to the Oberammergau officials.