New York, NY, May 11, 2010 … The Oberammergau Passion Play, the world's oldest and most famous, "continues to transmit hostile stereotypes of Jews and Judaism," according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) experts who attended a preview of the six-hour production in Oberammergau, Germany on May 8.
Despite improvements, the 2010 production portrays Jews as bloodthirsty, vengeful, greedy, and as the prime movers of the Crucifixion.
The town of Oberammergau has produced the passion play every ten years since 1634. The town's 41st staging is scheduled to premiere on May 15 and run through October.
The new production was previewed by Rabbi Eric Greenberg, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs and Amy-Jill Levine, ADL Special Consultant and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee.
"There have been welcome changes that emphasize that Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples were practicing Jews within a vibrant Jewish context under cruel Roman occupation," said Professor Levine. "Sadly, the play continues to depict damaging stereotypes of Judaism and presents Jewish leadership as deceitful, legalistic, vindictive and xenophobic."
Rabbi Greenberg added, "Most disturbing is the portrayal of the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas as a lying, manipulative, mean-spirited politician and his father-in law, the former High Priest Annas, as an equally vindictive character. They are supported by equally malicious extra-biblical priestly figures."
Since the early 1980s, ADL has sought to convince the Oberammergau authorities to bring about specific changes to the script and presentation of Jewish characters. The League has never requested any changes to the text of the New Testament itself, which is a sacred one, but to avoid any presentation that might project anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism.
Several improvements were instituted for the 2010 production. This version recognizes the context of the oppressive Roman presence in Jerusalem; provides a more historically accurate picture of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate as a cruel ruler who is self-interested and dismissive of his Jewish subjects; and recasts the role of Judas Iscariot as a more complex and sympathetic character.
Included is a dramatic new scene where Jesus lifts a Torah Scroll in front of the Jerusalem Temple; Jesus and his followers then recite in Hebrew the major Jewish prayer known as "Sh'ma Yisroel" – "Hear O Israel, the Lord is God the Lord is One."