NEW YORK (Oct. 10)
Leaders of five major Orthodox organizations, who said that they viewed segments of the nine-part TV series “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, ” have issued a joint statement expressing dismay. At the same time, Reform and Conservative leaders have expressed general approval.
The series, written and narrated by former Israel Foreign Minister Abba Eban, is being telecast on the Public Broadcasting Service’s more than 270 TV stations throughout the U.S. The first part of the series was telecast October 1.
The five Orthodox agencies which issued the joint statement are Agudath Israel of America, National Council of Young Israel, Rabbinical Council of America, Religious Zionists of America, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Statements of support — with some reservations — of the first parts of the series were made to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform), and Rabbi Alexander Shapiro, president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America (Conservative).
Efforts by the JTA to elicit a response from WNET, the PBS station in the New York area and the producer and distributor of the series, were met consistently with the response that the station had not received the statement by the Orthodox agencies.
CITE AN ‘INTOLERABLE OFFENSE’
Their statement said the series committed an “intolerable offense against authentic Jewish belief” and called on viewers to be on the alert to “a fundamental error in orientation” in the focus of the presentation.
“The portrayal in the film of our sacred Torah as a man-authored work incorporating myth and legend, of our faith as a slowly-evolving invention and of Godgiven halacha as a changeable system of law, constitutes a stab at the very heart of Judaism, ” the joint statement asserted, which “meshes opinion with fact in a way that can confuse even the knowledgeable viewer.” It warned that “the uninformed and untutored public will be tragically misled.”
“A presentation of Judaism deriving from a secular, historical, cultural and humanistic viewpoint, no matter how laudatory, misses the entire focus and axis of Jewish history,” the statement added. The Orthodox agencies criticized those responsible for the series for “enlisting the counsel of only that segment of Jews whose philosophies undermine the foundations of Judaism.”
REACTIONS BY REFORM, CONSERVATIVE LEADERS
Schindler said he had “absolutely no quarrel with the contents of the program, so far. Its conception of history conforms to Reform Judaism fully, even as it conforms to the approach of Jewish scholarship.”
He added that he had found “the first two segments,” shown October I and October 2, “which I saw, visually disappointing and Abba Eban’s narration could be stronger from a dramatic point of view. His tones are not sufficiently varied in volume and pitch and tends to lull the viewer, but in terms of its conception, all I can say is ‘bravo.’ There is no doubt that this will be a helpful instrument for Jewish education.”
Shapiro said that the Conservative movement, reacting to the series, “is affirming about the contribution that can be made by scientific understanding of the historical development of religion, that is, we are affirming the contributions made by Biblical archeologists and Biblical historians.”
But, Shapiro added: “I want to express my regret at the insensitivity in the program to the feelings of traditionalist Jews, who affirm a different system of values. From our standpoint, one must seek for a model that both investigates the past of the Jewish people within the background of its own times but at the same time seeking for the uniqueness of the Jewish people in its march through history.”