Top Ten Movies To Inspire Torah Talk

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

Many of us on this Torah centric walk are looking for wholesome entertainment that inspires positive thoughts and inspirational dialog.  Center for Tanakh Based Studies (C4TBS) has comprised a list of 10 of these such movies.  Many of these films bring up ethical dilemmas and motivate challenging thoughts when tying them back to Torah.  As a recommendation, we think that these films could be used for small group discussions.   There is no doubt that a group facilitator could lead a lively discussion on each of them.  Nonetheless, we advise that all involve in these small groups template the Tanakh when rendering an opinion in order to get something out of the lesson.

Note: All film descriptions were taken from The Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

  1. The Chosen(1981) Trailer

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In 1944, in Brooklyn, two Jewish kids become friends. One is from a very conservative family, and the other is more liberal. The issues of importance of tradition, parental expectations and the formation of Israel cause constant friction.

Aside from giving good insight into Jewish subcultures, the film addresses Zionist and anti-Zionist concepts. The belief for or against Zionism would make a lively group discussion.  Please remember to keep it grounded in Tanakh.

Amazon $19.49

  1. The Quarrel (1991) Trailer

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Montreal 1948. On Rosh Hashanah, Chaim (a Yiddish writer) is forced to think of his religion when he’s asked to be the tenth in a minyan. As he sits in the park, he suddenly sees an old friend whom he hasn’t seen since they quarreled when they were yeshiva students together. Harsh, a rabbi, survived Auschwitz and his faith was strengthened by his ordeal, while Chaim escaped the Nazis, but had lost his faith long before. The two walk together, reminisce, and argue passionately about themselves, their actions, their lives, their religion, their old quarrel, and their friendship.

This film, with a follow on group discussion, will be shown at Sukkot 2017. 

Amazon $36.77

  1. Arranged (2007) Trailer

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It centers on the friendship between an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman who meet as first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn. Over the course of the year they learn they share much in common – not least of which is that they are both going through the process of arranged marriages.

This film takes a unique approach.  Instead of pitting religions against one another, it looks at the encroachment of the secular world on religion.  Where should the line be drawn?

Amazon $8.49

Movie Free on YouTube

  1. The Frisco Kid (1979) Trailer

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A Polish rabbi wanders through the Old West on his way to lead a synagogue in San Francisco. On the way he is nearly burnt at the stake by Indians and almost killed by outlaws.

This film asks the question “How far are you willing to go for Torah?” and “Should physical religion overshadow humanity?”.

Amazon $9.79

  1. Ushpizin (2004)  Trailer

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An Orthodox Jewish couple’s faith is tested after praying to the Lord for a child on the Sukkot holiday.

This film is a must during Sukkot.

Amazon $54.95

Movie Free on YouTube

  1. The Pianist (2002) Trailer

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A Polish Jewish musician struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II.

This movie begs the question “Should we resist civil law when it violates Torah and, if so, where is the line?”. One should consult Exodus 1:15-21 about the Hebrew midwives when rendering an answer on this topic.

Amazon $9.32

  1. Above and Beyond (2014)  Trailer

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In 1948, a group of World War II pilots volunteered to fight for Israel in the War of Independence. As members of ‘Machal’ — volunteers from abroad — this ragtag band of brothers not only turned the tide of the war, preventing the possible annihilation of Israel at the very moment of its birth; they also laid the groundwork for the Israeli Air Force. ABOVE AND BEYOND is their story. The first major feature-length documentary about the foreign airmen in the War of Independence, ABOVE AND BEYOND brings together new interviews with pilots from the ’48 War, as well as leading scholars and statesmen, including Shimon Peres, to present an extraordinary, little-known tale with reverberations up to the present day.

This is an example of supporting Israel and the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant; Genesis 12:1-3 …I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.”, also Isaiah 62:1, 6-7, Psalm 122.

10 Times That God Has Hit America With A Major Disaster After The U.S. Attempted To Divide The Land Of Israel

Amazon $11:50

  1. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)  Trailer

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In pre revolutionary Russia, a Jewish peasant contends with marrying off three of his daughters while growing anti-Semitic sentiment threatens his village.

“Tradition!” Tevye musically exclaims to us in the movie’s beginning.  Yet, aside from its great music and humor this movie has a lot to say about tradition.  Thus a good question would be, “why is tradition important, and can it ever get in the way of Torah (Amos 5:21, Isaiah 1:11-16, Proverbs 15:8)?”

Amazon $9.98

  1. The Riddle of the Exodus (2005) Trailer

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Originally released in 2005, this is a re-edited and updated version of the documentary that offers vivid, visual evidence from ancient Jewish and Egyptian sources that support the Biblical account of 10 Plagues and the release of the Children of Israel from harsh bondage.

A must for Passover.

Amazon $15.00                                                                1.

  1. Schindler’s List (1993)  Trailer

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In German-occupied Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazi Germans.

Oskar Schindler is an excellent example of a “Righteous Ger”.  Many of these heroic gentiles surfaced during World War II, at the risk of their own lives, to save the Jews.  Corrie ten Boom also serves as another excellent example.

Yet, there were many Righteous Gers that existed outside of the World War II era. Some actually can be found in the Tanakh. Please read the articles below, they will help to fuel a discussion on this topic.

Top Ten Gers that Helped the Jews in the Tanakh

Top Ten Gers that Helped the Jews in the Tanakh: Part 2

Secondly, although many individuals took it on there own to save Jewish people, should this have been a national issue?  Some might say this is why we fought World War II, but it wasn’t.  World War II was about defeating Germany because of their conquests not because of their lack of morality (see the MS Saint Louis incident).  If countries should have stopped Germany because genocide was wrong, how should it affect our current day attitude towards Darfur and ISIS.

Amazon $9.99

 

Have Things Really Changed Since I Left Christianity?

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

It is not unusual that many of us that studied ourselves out of Christianity, and entered into a Torah centric life, have the same road map.  For example, when I traveled deeper on my Christian path, I became more dependent on “The Word” as opposed to sermons and teachings.  The pat answer to give someone when they asked what Christian writer I follow wasn’t Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Joyce Meyers…., it was to say “I just followed the bible”.  My response was usually meet with an eye roll followed with a “Me too but…”.  I even noticed when I got into a theological disagreement people really didn’t want to open the bible and talk it through, they were more apt to say “Well my Pastor says…” or even the “I will talk to my Pastor and see what he says about this”.  Yet, worse than conceding to an absent Pastor as “tie breaker” was being sent a lengthy article or YouTube video that galvanized their theological point.  “Really!”, we can’t just work this out between me, you and God’s Word? It is no wonder I studied myself out of that camp.  After passing through the anxiety of leaving the cross, I felt the breath of fresh air that can only be found when pursuing truth.  I finally found “peps” I could study and have fellowship with.

At last, I was finally home.  Yet, was I?  What was disheartening was that in many cases “My Pastor says…” was now replaced by “Rabbi so-and-so says…”, additionally top Christian theologians were replaced by Rashi (Shlomo Yitzchaki), Rambam (Maimonides), or whatever Sage people relinquished to.  Yes, there are great things said by great men that should be shared but they should never eclipse the Word of God. Point and fact: Rashi and Rambam didn’t always agree. They, in truth, presented two unique points of views that holistically give us a different perspective of the Torah. But; either are not declared as a sole source to interpret Torah.  To forgo our willingness to process Torah on our own is to surrender our opinion to another authority.  How can we justly minimize Christians for clouding up God’s Holy Word with the New Testament when we are electively to willing do that with our own external sources.

In some ways things have not changed since Mount Sinai.  God wanted a personal relationship with His people (Exodus 6:7, 19:5-6,  Leviticus 26:12). Yet, the Israelites insisted that Moses be their mediator (Exodus 20:15-16, Deuteronomy 18:16).  Although God did recognize Moses as a conduit, He still held individuals responsible (Exodus 32:30-33). Additional, God did warn against false prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15-22).  In Deuteronomy 18 He establishes His Word as the plum line.  This begs the question, if we don’t plainly understand His unfiltered Word how can we have the objectivity to discern a false prophet?  We need to immerse ourselves in the Word, processing it, before we seek other perspectives.

To borrow a quote from Moshe Ben-Chaim

“The Torah was purposefully written in a cryptic style so as to engage the mind in this most prized activity of analysis, induction, deduction and thought”

We have the opportunity to study at the feet of the Master, why would we want to give that away?

Did God Need A House?

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Center for Tanakh Based  Studies

By: William J Jackson

In Exodus 25 God commands Israel to build Him a tent so that He can live amongst them.  “Really!”, the God of the universe, who some might even argue is the universe, needs a group of wayward Israelites to build him a shelter so He can commune with them?  This command appears to be a bit puzzling, especially for God who can do anything (Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:17, 27, Job 42:2).  Yet, for some reason, the Almighty beseeches this rambling tribe to build Him a shelter.   Here, we will explore Exodus 25:8, and dig out the true meaning.

To help answer the question, let’s go forward in time.  About the 9th century BCE, over 500 years after the Tabernacle was established.  Here the Tabernacle was transitioned into a Temple 1.  As we know, King Solomon would have it built for God.  Yet, even in King Solomon’s dedication ceremony he admits God cannot be contained in a house:

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this temple that I have erected…”  1 Kings 8:27

Later on, the prophet Jeremiah concedes to this as he expresses on God’s behalf “…Do I not fill the heavens and the earth? says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:24. This is further amplified by Isaiah, in the end of his book “…So says the Lord, “The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool; which is the house that you will build for Me, and which is the place of My rest? – Isaiah 66:1. Yet, when we research the Tabernacle, there are more verses dedicated to constructing it, then anything else in the Tanakh (Old Testament).  What gives?

The issue is actually quite complexe. As we know, God is beyond our physical realm, whereas we are restricted to the material.  Our rationalizing is greatly hindered because we usually understand things in non spiritual or worldly sense. So, when God influences us, He uses the physical as a conduit.  This is done specifically for our comprehension.  For example, when God wanted Israel’s obedience in the desert, He influenced them through physical means.  This is why He had poisonous snakes bite the disobedient as a means of getting their attention.  God had this followed up with Moses putting a metal snake on a pole as a focal point for the victims to look upon.  This served as an icon of faith resulting in curing the sufferers and consequently inspired the obedience God required (Numbers 21:5-9).  Yes, it would be easier for God to “will” our compliance but with us possessing “free will” He has to influence us through tangible means.

Iraq 2003

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As a Soldier, my team and I went into villages in Iraq to revitalize them.  Many Iraqis saw us as a big checkbook and demanded our assistance.  In many cases, we were actually causing more problems than good.  One day, after a village insisted we repair their police station, we hit our breaking point.  We told them we would do nothing until they cleaned the site, making it ready for our inspection.  Granted, it was a delay tactic, we didn’t think they would do it.  The next week we came back.  The bricks were neatly stacked and the area was immaculate. There attitude was also different, they were amicable and humble.  Happy with this renewed relationship, we made this our “flagship” village.  Basically we focused our resources on it as a reward for their compliance.  This bond would be maintained as long as our relationship remained respectful and productive.  We called this technique “sweat equity”.  The idea is that we would not give something for nothing.  Giving something for nothing causes two “encies”: complacency and dependency.  This approach was pivotal, and all the other villages capitulated.

Returning back to Exodus 25:8, we need to look and see what God is really saying here “…they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”.  He isn’t saying “make Me a sanctuary so I can live in it”.  God didn’t need a domicile from Israel, He wanted their earnestness in establishing a relationship with Him.  As God stated earlier “…if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth” – Exodus 19:5.  Here He is saying the same thing, just in a different way.

Reference:

Jackson, William, J.  The Tabernacle becoming a Temple, Center for Tanakh Based Studies, March 1, 2015, Web, extracted March 12, 2017.     

Fear God?

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

The phrase “fearing the Lord” hits a sour note with a lot of people.  Simply said, many folks are turned off by a God that they must fear. Speaking to that, many biblical translators, theologians and religious leaders have also slanted this phrase to create a more approachable Creator.  Yet, if we earnestly explore the text, we need to ask ourselves “what does it truly mean to fear God and what is the benefit to this relationship?”  We will go to the source to answer these questions, the Tanakh.

Many bible interpretations, in their attempt to do PR for God, have substituted the word “fear” for ones that are more pleasing such as “awe” or “reverence”.  Yes, having awe towards God or reverence towards the Lord has a nice ring to it, but let’s study the language. The Hebrew word used for fear in these verses is “yare’ ” (יָרֵא) which can mean fearing, reverent or afraid.  We need to remember that “yare’ “ was the emotion felt by Jacob before meeting Esau (Gen 32:12).  Although Jacob could have been in awe of his brother or might have had reverence towards him, I think it was fear of suffering the consequences for what he had done, that motivated Jacob.

Also, because we are mortals, we have this uncanny need to humanize everything. As an example, God is liken to a righteous Father in some passages of scripture (Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 63:16, 64:7, Malachi 2:10), probably because He offers discipline, love and sustainment like a good Father.  This, however, is a limited comparison.  For instance, let’s look at the Israelites who shuddered in fear of God at the base of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16) or even a terrified Isaiah as he took his commission from the Almighty (Isaiah 6). These people were experiencing a bit more than wonder and respect.  In truth, this fear could be a combination of comparative humility, incomprehensibility and guilt.  Although a human Father would be the closest comparison, we need to understand that he doesn’t possess all the facets of the Almighty.

So, for those that fear God, you’re in good company.  The Tanakh depicts many successful people that feared God.  For example, Father Abraham (Genesis 22:12), Joseph (Genesis 42:18), the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:17, 21) the choicest Israeli Leaders (Exodus 18:21, Nehemiah 7:2), the good Kings of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:19, 2 Samuel 23:3, 2 Chronicles 26:5) and Israel when it wasn’t sinning (Exodus 20:15,  1 Kings 8:40, 2 Chronicles 6:31).  As we know, these people did enjoy the blessings of this relationship.  Conversely, the Tanakh also sites those that did not fear the Lord; Pharaoh (Exodus 9:30), the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), the wicked (Psalm 36:2), the stubborn (Isaiah 63:17), and simpletons (Proverbs 1:29).  As we can see, the blessings for those fearing God are commensurate to the curses spilled out on those not fearing Him.

So why did they, and why do we, fear God?  The Tanakh gives at least two good reasons; first God commands it (Leviticus 19:14, 32, Deuteronomy 4:10, 6:2, 13, 24, 8:6, 10:12, 1 Samuel 12:24, 2 Chronicles 19:9, Psalm 2:11, 72:5, 96:4, Ecclesiastes 3:14, 12:13, Isaiah 8:13, Daniel 6:27) and second, it is the beginning of wisdom ( Job 28:28, Psalm 25:12, 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 2:5-6, 9:10,  15:33, Isaiah 11:2, 33:6, Micah 6:9),  But; the list doesn’t stop here, there are at least eight other benefits to fearing God:

  1. Blessings: Exodus 1:21, Deuteronomy 5:26, Psalm 31:20, 34:10, 67:8, 103:13, 111:5, 13
  2. Prosperity: Proverbs 22:4
  3. Long Life: Deuteronomy 6:2, Proverbs 10:27, 22:4, Ecclesiastes 7:17-18, 8:13
  4. Protection: Psalm 33:18, 34:8, 115:11, Proverbs 14:26, 19:23
  5. Rescue: Psalm 145:19
  6. Salvation: Psalm 85:10, 103:17, Isaiah 33:6
  7. Peace: Proverbs 1:33
  8. Afterlife Psalm 61:6, Proverbs 14:27, Malachi 3:16

As for fear, it is only an emotion.  Our true concern should be what does it look like, when we fear the Lord? Scripturally speaking, we are to…

  1. Not commit idolatry: Joshua 24:14
  2. Show charity and compassion: Leviticus 25:17, 36, 43, Deuteronomy 14:23, Nehemiah 5:15
  3. Stay away from evil: Exodus 20:17, Job 1:1, 8, 2:3, Proverbs 8:13, 16:6
  4. Be just: 2 Chronicles 19:7
  5. And most importantly, fearing God will motivate us to follow Torah; Deuteronomy 5:26, 8:6, 13:5, 31:12, 31:13, 1 Samuel 12:14, Psalm 25:14, 112:1, 119:63, 79.

Conclusion:

Simply said, when you fear something, your behavior changes.  Thus, as mentioned, fearing God inspires devotion to His laws.  Additionally, for those that fear God, we are considered His (Malachi 3:16, Psalm 25:14, 61:6, 85:10).  Whereas, by minimizing Him as a threat, we are re-engineer our relationship with the Maker turning Him into a complacent advocate.  Although this may soothe our feelings, it certainly will minimize our own desire for change. We need to remember, God is the Creator, not the created.