Mad Mel and the Talmud

Mad Mel and the Talmud August 9, 2006

Police-beat reporters — even in Hollywood — rarely get to quote the Babylonian Talmud.

However, there is a passage in this Jewish text that is relevant right now. The crucial Hebrew words are in tractate Eruvin, page 65b, and they are “be’kiso, be’koso, u’ve’kaso.” This rabbinical text says a person’s true essence is found in “his cup,” “his pocket” and “his anger.”

Witness the rich and powerful Mel Gibson and his roadside rant about the “blanking” Jews who are “responsible for all the wars in the world.” His cup was too full and his anger spilled over.

“Ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that one way we can know what a person is really like is by how he behaves when he is drunk. From this we can safely assume that Mel Gibson doesn’t think much of Jews,” noted Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Toward Tradition, which has received some financial support from Gibson.

“However there is another nugget of ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizing that we owe atonement for that which lies in our hearts only to God. … We humans are morally obliged to make good to other people only for those things we do.”

But what should Gibson do now?

After the superstar’s hellish meltdown, many of his critics — Jewish and otherwise — called for him to be excommunicated from Hollywood.

Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham H. Foxman slammed his early apology and wrote online: “We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite.” Superstar agent Ari Emanuel of the Endeavor Agency went even further, stating that Jews and gentiles alike must “demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him.”

Is repentance irrelevant? In his second apology, Gibson tried to discuss his failure in religious terms. The Catholic traditionalist also opened a door to meeting with conservative Jews who have talked with him in the past.

“The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life,” he said. “Every human being is God’s child, and if I wish to honor my God I have to honor his children. … I’m not just asking for forgiveness. I would like to take it one step further and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.”

If Gibson desires more than what Christians call “cheap grace,” he needs more than a few holy day media events, according to Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. In Judaism, repentance is “a play in four acts” and the first is verbal confession. This must be followed by “complete cessation of the offending behavior” and sincere regret.

The tough fourth act, he said, requires long-range planning and an “acceptance of a way to change that is real, not self-delusional.” In a way, fighting anti-Semitism will be similar to fighting the bottle.

“You can’t deal with an alcohol problem through a photo-op with the head of the local detox program,” said Adlerstein, writing for Jewish World Review. Recovery programs that work, demand “growing self-awareness and lots of time. Not coincidentally, they require the privacy of secure surroundings, far from public scrutiny.

“We will help you understand your personal demons, but only away from the cameras and the mikes. Redemption will come through the small, still voice of conscience, not at a press conference.”

This will be hard, in the hot Hollywood spotlight.

Reporters cannot follow Gibson into the confession booth or interview his priest afterwards. But they can ask questions about his work and his recovery.

While filming “The Passion of the Christ,” Gibson told the Eternal Word Television Network that he asked priests to hear daily confessions, including his own, and to celebrate daily Mass. It would be interesting to ask if he seeks similar spiritual disciplines in the future.

Still, Gibson has said that he “disgraced myself and my family.” That’s a realistic place to start, said film critic Michael Medved, an Orthodox Jew.

“When a long-married, 50-year-old father of seven gets arrested for drunk driving at nearly twice the speed limit at 2:30 in the morning,” noted Medved, “it’s safe to assume that he faces even more serious problems than exposing his anti-Semitic attitudes.”

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