‘Body and Soul – The State of the Jewish Nation’ by Director Gloria Greenfield; A Film Essay

A pagan came to Rabbi Hillel saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.”

Once again the Speaker’s Action Group under the direction of Shirley Anne Haber, Executive Director, Miles Smit and a network of dedicated volunteers and co-sponsors (such as B’nai Brith) has brought us a remarkable documentary film, Body and Soul, by Gloria Greenfield. Shown at a cinema in North York, Toronto, on November 12, tickets sold out days in advance and the theater was packed.

Greenfield was on hand to take questions from the audience, which were varied and thoughtful. A reception for the audience was held after the film. There was much enthusiastic discussion and DVD copies of the film sold like hotcakes. I went home that same evening and spent many hours late into the night, thinking about the film, what it showed and what it means to me. Here are my thoughts.

It is now commonly understood that we are living in an “ahistorical period.” This does not mean that history has stopped. It means that among a growing number of college educated North Americans, it is no longer expected that an educated person must have a grasp of world history, or Western history, or American history, or the history of the ancient world, which produced that blueprint for American independence and democracy, the Old Testament. This phenomenon has been well documented and can be explored through the many publications of the Boston based National Association of Scholars (NAS).

And so people now get their history from Hollywood films, TV, magazines, newspapers and the blogosphere, from John Stewart or the Colbert Report. They become filled with pseudo history, as landfills are filled with garbage. This has allowed a disciplined and dedicated coalition of Cultural Marxists and radical Islamicists to take advantage of America’s newly minted historical amnesia. Their self-declared enemy is the Jewish people and, any supporter of the State of Israel.

Instead of empirical history based on primary sources and archaeology, these self congratulatory, self anointed, revolutionary elites now provide the masses with a new narrative, one that denies that there is an organic relationship between the Bible and English speaking democracies. At the same time, this new narrative also denies that the Jewish people have any legitimate historical, cultural, religious or political connection to the land of Israel. On the one hand the goal of this new narrative is designed to, in the eyes of the average American, destroy the legitimacy of the modern State of Israel and on the other hand, to create an invented history for an invented people, the Arabs of the Land of Israel and what is now called Jordan (Mandated Eastern Palestine).

One American Jewish filmmaker who has woken up to this problem is Bostonian, Gloria Greenfield. Recognizing that a new generation of North Americans under thirty have been relentlessly indoctrinated with this new anti-Israel historical narrative, she has put together a documentary that demonstrates the continuous Jewish tie to the land of Israel for the last three thousand years.

Greenfield has told the almost entire story of the people of Israel through filmed interviews with a collection of world experts. Each one of them has published acclaimed books and articles on all and every issue that touches upon the unbroken relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

It is a tough job, and she was given just over an hour to do it. This essay is a summary outline of what she presents, with some of my own thoughts and reactions. It is not a film review where I tell you what I like or do not like. This short review essay (short in the 1960s, pre Twitter era, definition) is no substitute for the fine visuals and roster of experts that are featured in her film.

But, if it can motivate any of its readers to see the film, or even better, get their college uneducated children to see it, then I have done my duty. If then having seen the film, they start reading works by Victor Davis Hanson, Ruth Wisse, Yoram Hazony, Jonathan Sarna, Shmuel Trigano or any of the many other experts and scholars that are featured in the film, I will take all my friends out for dinner to a very expensive restaurant.

In the Beginning

The first part of the film is called “In the Beginning.” Greenfield seamlessly assembles some of the best experts on the history and archaeology of the Jewish people from the time of Abraham to the last Jewish revolt under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, to tell this rich and complex first chapter of the story.

In this episode, the eloquent (and somewhat hip) former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sachs, points out that the two key events of early Jewish history were Abraham’s journey from Ur to the land of Israel, a personal journey born out of a relationship with the one and only God and, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, a collective journey from slavery to freedom and which I would add, Jews commemorate every year during the holiday of Passover. He is followed by scholars of history and archaeology, such as Professors Robert Wistrich, Aren Maeir and Israel Finkelstein.

For me, the three key highlights of this section are the external evidence that connects the Jewish people to the land of Israel during the Iron age, the confirmation of the location of the ancient Jewish Temple of Jerusalem under today’s Temple Mount and, the Roman origins of the word “Palestine” that they coined to humiliate their defeated Judean rebels.

One of the most telling pieces of external, “extra Biblical” evidence that the children of Israel were the dominant and ruling people of the land in ancient times are various Assyrian texts that talk about Israel and its kings as worthy opponents in war and conquest. In particular, the 9th century inscriptions from the time of the Assyrian King Shalmeneser III are highlighted.

Then, it is pointed out that all across the land of Israel and among its Canaanite neighbours, altars to the Gods were always established in the highest point in the city. The Temple of Solomon, the temple rebuilt after the return from the Babylonian exile and Herod’s temple, can all be shown to be at the highest point of Jerusalem confirming the location of the Jewish temple on the Temple Mount.

The film shows us a remarkable Herodian construction that has been recently excavated from underneath today’s Temple Mount, and which has survived intact from the time it was buried by the invading Romans, when their soldiers torched the last standing Temple. It is an uncanny sight and certainly worth visiting. During the time of Jesus, from these gates, one entered the actual Temple. By that time, the thriving Jewish diaspora also looked towards the Temple as its spiritual centre and people made regular, often annual pilgrimages to this national religious shrine, from as far away as North Africa and Mesopotamia.

At the beginning of the second century AD, the Jewish people of the Land of Israel revolted against their Roman oppressors for the second time, and were brutally defeated by the forces under the Roman Emperor Hadrian. As a confirmed pagan, he built a pagan temple on the ruined Temple Mount and declared that conquered Judea should now be called Palestine, in memory of the ancient Iron age enemies of the Jews, the Philistines.

This word then later entered Christian theology and modern politics as a form of subtle s