Want a quick and easy way to enliven your next dinner party ?

Simply ask in a calm, but inquisitive voice ” What makes a movie Jewish? “. Then stand back!

Over the years I have found that even the calmest of people will have an opinion on this subject which they are not at all hesitant to express. The question comes up in discussions over the selections at Jewish film festivals and is also of a more practical concern to libraries at the various North American JCC’s who have to acquire items for their video collections.

There is of course no ‘correct’ answer to this question. Taken to its logical conclusion it can rapidly devolve into the equally contentious question of what it means to be ‘Jewish’ or better yet ‘ who is a Jew ‘?

What criteria is one to use?  A movie’s director?  It’s producer or stars?  The plot or characters?  Should a film made by an Israeli producer about the recycling industry in South Korea be considered Jewish?  Similarly would a movie about the Tel Aviv construction industry made by a Polish director be considered Jewish?  By default are all Israeli movies Jewish?  Similarly are all Woody Allen movies Jewish?

The 1995 Israeli cult movie ‘ Electric Blanket ‘ could I think have been just as easily made in Vancouver.  Given such a transition what happens to its Jewishness? And would everyone agree?

Who is to decide? Could the rest of the world consider a movie to be unquestionably Jewish, while the Jewish community itself would choose to disagree?  Could such a situation border on anti-Semitism depending on the criteria used and/or the purported values ascribed to the movie?

Mathematicians amongst one’s guests will favor establishing various weighting factors and the use of quadratic equations! These should be avoided at all costs.  So too should glib expressions such as ‘ we’ve always done it this way ‘ or ‘ I can’t define it, but I’ll know one when I see it ‘.

Perhaps the very strength of the answer to the question of ‘ What makes a movie Jewish? ‘ lies in its inability to be so easily defined.