So, listen, we get it: The whole greatest-Jewish-movies thing is overdone. We know that Fiddler on the Roof is Jewish. Yentl? Yep, lots of tzitzit and shtenders in that one, too. Sure, even Clueless has Cher Horowitz, a none-too-subtle jab at allegedly entitled Jewish girls across the land. No one needs to remind us that Exodus was about Jews, or Schindler’s List, or The Jazz Singer.
The online Jewish magazine Tablet has spent the past five days counting down their 100 greatest Jewish movies. And the thing is–we’re not convinced. We get it. Really, we do! These movies aren’t just about people whose last names end in -berg and -stein; they’re about Jewish themes, about the big ideas: memory, exile, anxiety, cleaving together and apart, gallows humor.
But: Ghostbusters? The logic (that, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, when asked to pick a form for the evil god to assume on Earth, three of the four Ghostbusters adhere to the Jewish prohibition against physical representations of God) is flimsy, to say the least, and, recognizing its own tenuousness, resorts to the lowest common denominator of “it must be Jewish”: written by a Jew.
And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? We love that movie as much as everyone else, but Jewish it’s not. The central tenets of the film–the simultaneous terror and tenderness of memory, the singular hold it has on us, that we both yearn for and recoil from it–aren’t uniquely Jewish concepts; they’re human ones. Which is perhaps more to the point: claiming some ideas as inherently Jewish ones is, in a sense, absurd. We’re not the only ones who feel the tug of memory, or have experienced the loneliness of otherness, or find solace in the familiarity of community. That Jews hold dear certain values doesn’t entitle us to them anywhere and everywhere they turn up. It only entitles us to our place within the expanse of humanity.
We’ll give you The Big Lebowski, though. Not rolling on Shabbos is certainly Jewish enough.