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Oberammergau Called Capital of Religious Anti-semitism

June 5, 1980
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Oberammergau has become “the international capital” of religious anti-Semitism, an AJCommittee delegation charged here yesterday after having seen the opening performance of the 1980 Oberammergau Passion Play.

Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, the American Jewish Committee interreligious affairs director, said the Passion Play remained, after widespread protests, one of the most anti-Semitic presentations anywhere in the world. Declaring that some 2,000,000 people had been “exposed to its emotion-laden, anti-Jewish message since World War II,” Rabbi Tanenbaum said this suggested that the West German village had become “the international capital for the promulgation of some of the worst forms of demonic religious anti-Semitism in the world today.” The delegation presented its findings at a press conference of the AJCommittee’s headquarters.

He said more than 500,000 persons from all over the world are expected to see the 1980 Passion Play, which opened May 25 and will run through September. Performed every ten years, the play follows Jesus into Jerusalem, through his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.

Judith Banki, the assistant interreligious affairs director, said the Passion Play was a work of fiction, incorporating some aspects of the Gospels, ignoring others and freely inventing both scenes and characters that have no basis in the New Testament. Her booklet, “What Viewers Should Know About the Oberammergau Passion Play, 1980,” was released at the press conference.

REVISION STILL RAISES QUESTIONS

Tanenbaum stressed that the delegation had been shocked by the current production because four earlier AJCommittee missions had met with Oberammergau Mayor Ernst Zwink and with town officials who had assured the AJCommittee that they would make a “genuine effort to remove every vestige of anti-Semitism in the 1980 production.”

Robert S. Jacobs of Chicago, chairman of the interreligious affairs commission, said the text had been revised but the revised Passion Play “still raises far more questions than it answers.” He said the high priests and rabbis “wear miters topped by curved horns, recalling the medieval association with the devil as anti-Christ. Jews are depicted as children of darkness.”

Tanenbaum said that despite a number of significant changes in the Passion Play text, the 1980 production could not help to “nurture and incite hatred and contempt for Judaism and the Jewish people.” He cited as one example among the major anti-Jewish themes and images central to the play that Jews are portrayed as rejecting Jesus and the entire Jewish people are collectively responsible for his death.

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