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The Play Goes On, with a Deletion

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A Haifa theater has agreed to a personal request by President Chaim Herzog to delete a line offensive to religious sensibilities from a play about the 17th century false messiah Shabtai Zvi, if the playwright, Martin Sherman is amenable. Sherman is presently in London.

The line has a disillusioned follower of Shabtai Zvi curse God. But another line, in which a character denies the existence of God, will remain despite fierce protests from religious quarters.

The play, “Messiah”, opened to poor reviews of its artistic merits and was about to close when a bomb threat by Orthodox religious zealots revived public interest in the production. The Haifa municipality which owns the theater rejected Orthodox demands to force the management to withdraw the play. Aguda Israel members of the Knesset Finance Committee attempted to hold up funds for Haifa until the municipality complied.

As a result, religious censorship and religious coercion became the issue rather than the offending lines. The theater management plans to take the production on tour of Israel to demonstrate that it will not bow to religious or political pressure.

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