Seeing the sounds
Seeing the sounds

Recently a powerfully uplifting movie of the Six Day War was released. The movie dramatically portrays the prophetic words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt”l weeks before the war broke out, the threats of Arab leaders to massacre the Israeli people, the terrible fear in Israel prior to the war, the great sacrifice of the paratroopers on Ammunition Hill, and the unexpected liberation of Jerusalem’s Old City from Arab occupation.

Incredibly, this very Israeli movie was not produced by Israelis, who in fifty years have not managed to produce a single movie dramatizing the Six Day War.

With left-leaning Jews busy producing hundreds of movies demonizing the “occupation” and Torah observance, it seems there is no time to produce a movie about the modern history of Israel. Who then produced this incredibly uplifting movie which powerfully shows Hashem’s miracles in the modern age? Christians. The first and only dramatic movie about the Six Day war was produced by CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network.

While secular Jews dominate Hollywood and the local Israeli film industry – the number of Torah observant Jews producing proudly Jewish movies is practically nil and the result is strongly felt. It says a lot that the most famous Jewish film of all time, The Ten Commandments, was produced by Cecille B. Demille, a gentile!

Hear O Israel

The almost complete absence of any proudly Jewish films is more than just a cultural quirk. Its cause touches upon the very essence of what it means to be Jewish…The audio has always been strongly linked to the spiritual world – while the visual is linked to the material world. The Jewish G-d, being infinite, cannot be seen and it is forbidden to depict Him in anyway.  Meanwhile the non-Jews of Abraham's time could not fathom a non-corporeal G-d and hence needed to create for themselves idols, which could be seen and touched.

This preference for words over pictures can be seen in the central credo of Judaism which is expressed with hearing not seeing.  "Hear Oh Israel, the Lord Your G-d, the Lord Is One'. When it wants to make a point the Babylonian Talmud urges us “Ta Shma – Come and Hear”.

Do Not Go Astray After Your Eyes

In contrast – the visual is often depicted negatively in Judaism…

Do not make any sculpture or picture of anything within the heavens above or in the water under the earth.

Meanwhile, iniquity is explicitly connected to seeing …

The Torah commands us, “Do not go astray after your hearts and your eyes.” Rashi on this verse comments, “The eyes see and the heart wants.”

Come and See

Yet if we go deeper, we see that Judaism does have a positive view of the visual, if it is used in the service of the spiritual. The highest level the Jewish people experienced was at Mount Sinai. There the words spoken by Hashem were so powerful that the Jewish people “saw the sounds…” Instead of using the Babylonian Talmud’s “Ta Shma – Come and Hear”, the Jerusalem Talmud and the Zohar use the term "Ta Chezy – Come and See”.

In the daily shmonah estreh prayers we say three times a day, we ask – “Our eyes should see Your return to Zion in mercy”. And perhaps most telling of all – prophecy, which is the highest level a Jew can reach, is given over in pictures not in words.

Speaking the Language of the World

How powerful are videos? Facebook reports 8 billion videos views daily (!) and CEO Mark Zuckerberg expects Facebook to become all video in the near future. The average Israeli spends four hours a day watching videos! The average American spends five and half hours a day!

We can continue to ignore this medium and think that one day the world will abandon pictures – but why fool ourselves?

There are those would say that movies are a waste of time at best and ido woship at worst. But I believe this fear of the secular world is really just a lack of faith disguised as piety.

The Torah itself teaches us: If they say there is wisdom amongst the nations believe it, but if they say there is Torah among the nations don’t believe it. The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands the hands of Esau. It’s time to use the hands of Esau to promote the words of Jacob.

We can keep talking to ourselves in our own language or begin to learn the language of the world and start talking and influencing others.
How much longer will we leave the most powerful culture shaping tool in the hands of those who hate Israel and Judaism? How long will it take before we learn to use this influential tool for the Jewish people instead of against them?

All the above is not to deny the discrimination by the movie funds against national religious films something talented former Hollywood screenwriter and baal teshuva Tzvi Fishman can attest to.. But the problem is two-fold – not only does the secular elite deny funding to the religious, the religious themselves are largely unaware of the importance of the visual medium.   

The choice is ours.

We can keep talking to ourselves in our own language or begin to learn the language of the world and start talking and influencing others.

15 years ago there wasn’t a Jewish music industry. Today not only do the religious artists make beautiful music full of faith, but even many of the secular artists have joined the trend. But while music has the power to sway the heart it doesn’t have the power to sway the body – this only pictures can do. The same revolution can be achieved in the world of television and movies.

To this end I hereby announce the formation of the Jewish Film Fund with an initial sum of $10,000. The goal of the fund is to help produce Jewish content movies and will allow Jews who love the Torah and the Land of Israel to express themselves fully without feeling the need to censor themselves or hide their feelings. I call upon all those who care about the future of the Jewish people to join me in this holy endeavor.

The author is the creator of the Hill 769 television series. He can be contacted at [email protected]