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Jewish movies to understand Jewish People

Updated on October 1, 2016


Religious Perspectives

Movies with religious tones

Ushpizin -The name means "Guests" it refers to the guests that come and visit during this Jewish festival. This movie is one of my favorites. It is about a Rabbi that is studying to obtain more knowledge in a Yeshiva (Jewish Religious School). He survives off of grants from the Jewish community. The time was right after the Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement) but before Sukkot. The man and his wife are in a horrible situation financial and cannot afford to pay the rent. The only food they have is some cabbage in the fridge. They have no money for the Holiday of Sukkot, where they are required to dwell for eight days in a Sukkah (Hut). Both the Rabbi and his wife pray very hard and they are given a gift of money, and a sukkah, and some guests that are not very hospitable from the past of the Rabbi before he became a Baal Teshuvah (Repentant One).This is a true movie about faith. Set in the Breslover sect of Orthodox Judaism in Jerusalem. The movie is in Hebrew with subtitles.

The Quarrel – This movie is about two men that are reunited around ten years after World War II. One man lost his faith during the trails and troubles of World War II and the concentration camp and the other man grew greatly in his faith. At one point before the War they had a dream to open up a Rabbinical Yeshiva (Rabbinical University), however during this movie they are just trying to reconcile the differences that they had from before the War. This movie is mostly a philosophical movie as many themes of faith are explored as the two walk the streets in Montréal, Canada.

Yentl – In the 18th Century, the ability to go to a Rabbinical Yeshiva was limited to a man. This is the story about a woman that was raised by a father that had no daughters and desired to teach the Scripture to anyone. Upon the death of her father, Yentl is afraid that the books that she studied would be taken from her. So she cuts her hair, takes the name of her deceased brother and enrolls in a Rabbinical Yeshiva where she falls in love with another student. She breaks many religious laws in her pursuit of religious knowledge.

Fiddler on the Roof – This is probably one of the best know Jewish stories. It is about a milkman, his wife and their five daughters. Each of the three older daughters meets a man and desires to marry but each one progressively breaks with tradition and gives their father Tevye problems since he is a very simple religious man wrapped up into his tradition. During the course of the movie it shows the unjust treatment of the Russian to the Jews in the 19th Century. Excellent movie, however it is long. If one can see this as a live performance it is truly a wonderful experience in the culture of religious Judaism.

The Chosen - This movie is set at the end of World War II in New York City. There are two Jewish boys that despite their cultural and religious heritage they find that the observance of their faith is quite different from each other. One comes from a more Reform or Conservative setting, it is not really defined well in the movie, and the other is a son of a very strict Rabbi from a very strict Orthodox community. Both worlds are Jewish but completely different from each other. This story is about their friendship and how the boy from the non-Orthodox grows in his understanding of the Jewish religion and makes a decision to become a Rabbi, and how the son of the Rabbi does not desire to follow in the footsteps of his father and take the rabbinical dynasty of his father, and instead study Psychology. The setting itself will teach the view differences in Jewish culture and give them a glimpse into different perspectives of Jewish religion and how that effects their politics.

The Chosen

Religious Jewish Movies

The Sword of Gideon

Historical Perspectives

Movies with Historical Perspectives

The Sword of Gideon - In 1972, a group of terrorists known as Black September breaks into the Olympic village and brutally massacre 11 Israel athletes. The response from the Prime Minister Golda Meir was to establish a special team of Mossad agents to address the terror threats of the time, specifically those responsible for this Massacre. To lead them was a military tank commander. This is an excellent movie but since it follows in the genre of Spy movies it tends to be long at time. In my perspective this tends to be a truest story of what happened, although no one can be sure exactly about the details since everything wrapped up in secrecy.

Munich is basically a remake of the Sword of Gideon It takes it name from the city in which the Munich massacre at the Olympics takes place. However, I would advise anyone to watch the Sword of Gideon first. This version has better camera work and special effects, but it also shows a lot more sexual nudity that is uncalled for. The strength of this movie is that it tries to paint both sides of the story where the Sword of Gideon is strictly from the Israeli perspective.

Schindler’s Lists - This is indeed one of the sadist movies of all time. It shows the inhumane treatment of the Nazi's against the Jews. The strongest viewers might find themselves in tears at the scenes of this movie. It is the story not of Jews per say but of a Nazi war profiteer and womanizer. Mr. Schindler ignored what was happening to the Jewish people, until one day while he was with a women riding horse he saw a little girl in a red dress. This is the only color in the movie, in order to draw the attention to the viewer that this was the moment he changed his perspective. He then took an extremely gifted accountant that was in the Ghetto and they made it their business to help and protect as many Jews and they could from this inhumane treatment by bringing them to work at his factories. Mr. Schindler eventually was caught and tried as a war criminal. However, the Jewish people stood up to defend him, and he holds a special place in Jewish History as a man that not being Jewish gave everything to save the Jews. His tomb is still visited today by descendents of the Jews he was able to rescue during the Nazi persecution of World War II. Warning this movie is a long move close to 4 hours and has intense imagery of suffering and pain. It is a history that no one wants to know but that everyone should know so that nothing like this could every happen again. I encourage everyone to watch it.

Defiance - This a a movie with Daniel Craig where he plays one of three brothers that defy the Nazi's and ends up leading a group of people in the forest as they hide from their Nazi persecutors. One brother joins the fight with the Russians against the Nazi's and questions what is the difference between the Nazi's and the Communists when both treat the Jews so horribly. This is a combat movie and has intense images of combat. Base on a true story it is indeed a story of struggle and triumph. No more words need to be said, it just needs to be watched.


Schindler's List

Jacob the Liar

Regular Movies

Jacob the Liar - This movie is set in the Ghetto of Nazi World War II. For into the war, the Jews of the Ghetto were confined to the walls and barbed wire. There was no way to make a living. The people worked as slave labor to the Nazi's to barely get a potato, or piece of bread. The Jews are guarded and a curfew is placed on them. By dumb luck a man Jacob got sent to the German authority over the Ghetto where he overhead a radio transmission about how far the Russians are from the Ghetto and the possible liberation of the Ghetto. He then stops a friend from hanging himself by telling him the hope that Jacob had heard. The rumors spread and one thing leads to the other. Although, this movie deals with a sad situation of a story, the friendship and love amongst the people of the Ghetto in a horrible time of their lives, leads to some funny situations. This movie is very sad but funny at the same time. It is a remake of an older German black and white film with the same name.

The Frisco Kid - Is one of the funnier comedies that one can watch. It is about a Rabbi played by Gene Wilder and his journey from Eastern Europe to San Francisco, Ca. The bulk of the movie is his journey from Philadelphia to San Francisco. The rabbi is the bottom of his class and lacks a lot of the knowledge that a Rabbi should possess but his spirit and intention to his faith is absolutely admirable. He has a series of events that for the most part would make a journey absolutely horrible, however along his way; he meets some of the great people of the wonderful land of the United States. Along the way he meets up with a cowboy played by Harrison Ford. Unknown to the Rabbi, the Cowboy turns out to be a train robber. It is truly a funny movie, but pay attention because it hits on the struggles that Jews experience because of their faith.

The Jazz Singer - This is a movie about a man that is raised in an Orthodox Jewish community. He comes from a long line of Cantors (A Singer that leads religious services). His desire is to sing but not in the synagogue but as a professional singer. The moment that he gets an opportunity he leaves the Jewish world he knows to come to Hollywood and sing. In the process he and his wife separate, and he has a falling out with his father. The movie has great music since the cantor is played by Neil Diamond. It seems like a movie about leaving ones faith but in the end it truly is a movie about redemption from ones mistakes. This movie is actually a remake of an old black and white movie.

The Jazz Singer

The Frisco Kid


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    • RabbiDanyiel profile image

      RabbiDanyiel 4 years ago

      I basically used the criteria that expressed aspects of Jewish life based on things that are strong cultural identifiers. I am sure that there are several others out there that are just as valid or good.

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      rabbidanyiel 5 years ago

      Here I just selected a few movies that was very strong with jewish culture, or jewish theological ideas, or issues that jewish people have dealt with to try to get a larger perspective of jews. There are so many different approaches to take. The purpose was to help give people that are not jewish insight to jews, but in a fun many through movies.

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      Misanka 5 years ago

      I must apologize you for my bad English but I want to aks you, Rabbi, what do you think, how must be movie shooted, or which aspects has a film about it we can say: yes, it is "jewish movie". Is there another perspectives than religious, historical or regular? Yes, it must be about jews, but how really: positive, negative, connections with another ethnics, or that "jewishness" is in secondary level in movie and still is jewish etc. I´m interested in a category "jewish movie" - is it a peculiar concept or sentimental notion.

    • RabbiDanyiel profile image

      RabbiDanyiel 7 years ago

      Several of the above movies are not easy to find, so it would be a good idea to order them through Amazon while they are available. It took me a long time to find movies like the Chosen and Yentl since they were taken off the market for awhile. Then movies like Ushpizin are hard to find because they are in foriegn languages and foriegn language movies do not stay on the market for long.

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      Jewish Music 7 years ago

      I loved Jacob the liar. Great film.

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      Lilia I.Portilla 7 years ago

      Very good insight. I agree with your comments and I love all the movies you mentioned. good job Rabbi. Lilia