When Cleopatra appeared as a real ‘Jewish’ Queen

After Israeli actress Gal Gadot announced recently that she would play the legendary Egyptian queen Cleopatra in a major film, opposition started on social media. One tweet even claimed that Gadot was “stealing” the role from Arab actresses.

Other people pointed out that Cleopatra was not a Arab — she was descended from a Greek Macedonian father, and an ethnic unknown mother. Cleopatra was born in Egypt in 69 BCE and ruled the Nile kingdom when it was a client state of Rome.

This is not the first time in recent memory when casting a Jewish movie star to play Cleopatra has caused controversy.

The most famous Cleopatra film was released in 1963 and starred Elizabeth Taylor. The film was hugely successful.

Taylor had converted to Judaism a few years earlier, before her marriage to singer Eddie Fisher, and had become outspokenly supportive of Israel. At the time, Egypt saw Israel as its enemy and banned any kind of relations with Jews and Israelis.

So when the film first came out, Egypt banned the film.

Already in 1959, Taylor had made her Zionist support public in a big way, buying $100,000 of Israel bonds at a fundraiser dinner in Los Angeles with her new husband Eddie Fisher (who only bought $10,000 himself).

She had already finished her conversion with a big ceremony at Hollywood’s Temple Israel (where I was Bar Mitzvah and Confirmed) and had spoken to the press about her love of Judaism.

She was not converting for her husband, she made clear — she claimed she had admired Judaism “for a long time.”

“Cleopatra” was released in 1963, and won four Academy Awards in 1964. Egyptian officials enjoyed the film so much that they removed Taylor from the travel blacklist. As the news media reported: “The officials decided the film was good publicity for Egypt which is mentioned 122 times in the movie.”

Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, claims that the souls of most converts to Judaism are the reincarnated souls of Jews in previous generations that were cut off from the Jewish people.

Through conversion to Judaism they are coming home. Sometimes these souls are descendants of Jews who were part of whole communities that were cut off, like the Marranos. Other times they are descendants of individual Jews who married out and did not raise their children as faithful Jews.

Several years ago, a Korean American woman, Angela Buchdahl was named Senior Rabbi of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue in a unanimous vote by the synagogue’s Board of Trustees. She is the first Asian-American senior rabbi of one of the North America’s largest (2400 families) Reform synagogues.

Born in South Korea in 1972 to an American Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist Mother, Rabbi Buchdahl exemplifies the new, ethnically diverse face of the worldwide Jewish community, which now includes between 300-500,000 non-Jews who have become Jewish; formally by conversion or informally by acculturation into the Jewish people and its culture.

If the children of converts to Judaism are added in: the number of Jews with recent non-Jewish ancestors is one to two million, out of only fourteen million Jews world wide.

Chinese American Reform Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin says: “I’m a Jewish mother, and so was my mother,” noting that her mother converted before marriage, and she and her sister grew up in San Francisco’s Reform Congregation Shearith Israel.

A large percentage of these ‘new Jews’, even those from Asia and Africa, are descendants of a previous Jewish ancestor who was cut off from the Jewish people by converting or marrying out of the Jewish community..

Sometimes those who are returning only learn about their Jewish ancestor after they become Jewish.

The souls of Jews whose children have been cut off from the Jewish people, either through assimilation, persecution or conversion to another religion, will reincarnate as one of their own ‘no longer Jewish’ descendants.

These souls, two to seven generations later, will seek to return to the Jewish people. A majority of people who end up converting (or reverting) to Judaism and the Jewish people have Jewish souls from one of their own ancestors.

Other people who become Jewish do not know of a specific Jew who was an ancestor; but do come from a population that contains many descendants of past Jewish communities.

Millions of Spanish and Portuguese speakers are descendants of Jews who were forcibly baptized during the 15th century. In 1391 there were anti-Jewish riots in several Spanish cities. Thousands of Jews were forcibly baptized over the next few decades.

The Catholic Church viewed these baptisms as valid; because the Spanish Jews had freely chosen baptism over death, unlike the Jews of France and Germany during the first and second crusades, who chose to kill themselves rather than be baptized.

Over the next three generations there were additional riots that led to more forcible baptisms.

Of course, Jews forced to be Christians didn’t stop believing in Judaism, but they had to practice Judaism and teach their children in secret.

The Church knew this, but they thought that all the children and grandchildren of the Marranos (as the secret Jews were called) would be indoctrinated in the true faith and become believers.

This did not happen. In 1480 the Inquisition began holding trials in Spain. Over the next two centuries thousands would be tried/tortured, and imprisoned or executed. In 1492 all unbaptized Jews in Spain were exiled.

Over 100,000 Jews left Spain, most of them going to Portugal. In 1497, they were expelled from Portugal, but first all their children were forcibly baptized, so parents who didn’t want to lose their children had to freely choose baptism.

In later decades many of these secret Jews and their children came to the new world seeking freedom; so the Inquisition was established in Lima in 1570 and in Mexico City in 1571.

Secret Jews fled to all parts of central and south America to escape. (see: A History of the Marranos by Cecil Roth) . Many descendants of these people have Jewish souls and are now returning to the Jewish people. How would someone know if he or she could be one of them?

Signs of a Jewish soul.

1- You like to ask questions? But when you asked them as a child, you were told faith is a gift from God and you shouldn’t question it. This never satisfied you, although others didn’t seem to have a problem with this view.

2- The trinity never made any sense to you even as a young child. You prayed to God the father more easily than Jesus the son of God, even though you were told to pray to Jesus. You couldn’t believe that people who didn’t believe in Jesus couldn’t go to Heaven.

3- You found you related well to Jewish people you met at work or at school even though they were culturally different from your own family.

4- When you first learned about the Holocaust you reacted more emotionally than did other members of your own family.

5- When you start to learn about Judaism the ideas and values seemed reasonable, the traditions and heritage are attractive, and you feel more at home in Judaism than you ever felt in your birth family’s religion.

More information about reincarnation and becoming Jewish can be found in “God, Sex and Kabbalah” by Rabbi Allen S. Maller or at Rabbi Maller’s web site: rabbimaller.com ‘Judaism is for Non-Jews.’ and in Rabbi Maller’s recent book “Which Religion Is Right For You? A 21st Century Kuzari”.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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