I love the movies, and I believe they are a great way to explore Jewish experiences, issues, and values. I’ve set up this blog as a resource for Introduction to the Jewish Experience, a class at Lehrhaus Judaica in Berkeley, CA, but I hope that it will also be useful to other teachers and learners. My entries are not reviews, but rather a rabbinic commentary on the Jewish “text” that the film represents.
How did I choose the films in this list? I started with the definition Kathryn Bernheimer gave in her book, The 50 Greatest Jewish Movies: A Critic’s Ranking of the Very Best: “a film that examines an aspect of the Jewish experience and features at least one clearly defined Jewish central character.” Since then, I’ve broadened my definition a bit to include films that have had an impact on perceptions about Jews or Judaism in the wider culture. Inclusion does not necessarily mean that I recommend a film; in fact, some films have been included precisely because they are popular but misleading. A few of them are bad films, or have destructive messages: I think it’s important to talk about them, too.
I am gradually getting around to watching all the films on the list. I don’t write the commentary on the basis of my memory of a film; I watch it and then write. That’s why some films are listed but not yet commented upon. In a few cases I have linked films to the article The Top 10 Interfaith Films by the film reviewer and critic Michael Fox. I do not necessarily agree with him on every detail, but his account of those films will give you some Jewish thinking on those films.
Some films I would like to include, but haven’t, because they are too difficult to obtain on Region 1 DVD. Everything listed here is available either for purchase online or on loan from Blockbuster or Netflix. If you know of a film that I should include but haven’t, perhaps because it has only recently become available, please let me know by leaving a comment.
I have already learned about films I should include from people who took the time to leave comments on the blog. If there is something I haven’t included, or something about which you disagree, I hope that you will join the conversation!
— Rabbi Adar