“This is the End” and Judaism

June 27, 2013 at 6:39 am, by

When I went to see “This is the End” last weekend, I expected another typical, racy Judd Apatow movie filled with the same lewd jokes and raunchy humor as all the others. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, as well as the star-studded cast. This movie mainly focuses on the friendship of Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, who’ve grown apart since their teen years in Canada. When the pair head to a party at James Franco’s house, a series of freak incidents ravages L.A. and welcomes the Apocalypse. The events of the movie seem to follow the signs written in the Christian Bible. This is an interesting twist, since most of the cast is Jewish.

I was surprised at first, because the trailer seemed to hint at an Alien invasion or a “2012”-esque end of days. The use of elements from Christianity is understandable since America is a mainly Christian country, but there is an essential difference in how the movie portrays salvation that resonates with me as a Jew.

Obviously, the main difference between Judaism and Christianity is the question of the Messianic Era. The Tanakh portrays the coming of the Messiah far differently than the New Testament narrative. The Christian Bible outlines the end of days as a great battle between God and the Devil that destroys the material world. According to Christianity, at this time the believers in Jesus believed to be lifted into heaven as written in Thessalonians 4:17, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This exact event is the beginning of the movie’s Apocalypse. The cast then fights to survive the chaotic aftermath, vying against Demons, hordes of cannibals lead by Danny McBride, and even Satan himself.

Judaism’s view on Messianism is quite removed from this. The Jewish tradition posits that after a great period of war, a new leader will unify the Jewish people. This leader, descended from Kings David and Solomon, will restore Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Israel.. (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:5, 8, 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will then rebuild the Temple and reassemble the Sanhedrin (Jeremiah 33:15, 18). During this time, the non-Jewish nations will accept Biblical monotheism (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9); and the Jewish diaspora will end. Funny enough, World War Z fits Jewish messianism better because of the Zombies and the focus on Jerusalem.

For a movie chock full of Jews, Judd Apatow made this Apocalypse pretty much as non-Jewish as possible, but there was an unorthodox element in the plot. The Christian requirement of salvation is accepting Jesus, “And those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). This doctrine is completely at odds with how Rogen and friends escape their demise. The cast is gradually accepted into heaven as they do good deeds, instead of accepting new beliefs. This sounds like the objective of Judaism, as summarized by Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn it.” (Talmud Bablí, Shabbat 31A). The Rabbis themselves realized that all the rituals and trappings of Judaism mean nothing if they can’t at the most basic level make us more empathetic and caring about others. This part of the story was most likely not intended to be a Jewish influence on this movie, but its similarity to Rabbinic morality serves to show that we as Jews can take a positive message from the most unlikely places.

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