Movies and Midrash

Popular Film and Jewish Religious Conversation

By Wendy I. Zierler
Foreword by Eugene B. Borowitz

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Film Studies, Religion, Theology, Jewish Religious Studies
Paperback : 9781438466149, 328 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438466156, 328 pages, September 2017

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Rabbi Eugene B. Borowitz

1. The Truman Show: Truth

2. Magnolia: Confession and Redemption

3. The Descendants: Birthright: Consent versus Descent

4. On Memento: Remaking Memory from the Outside In

5. Crimes, Misdemeanors, and Sin

6. Forrest Gump: Cleverness and Simplicity

7. The King’s Speech: Speaking God’s Word

8. Stranger than Fiction: God as Author

9. A Serious Man: Parables of Jewishness

10. Exam: Tests, Trials, and Attachments

11. The Hunger Games: In God’s Image

Conclusion Moonrise Kingdom: And the Youth Shall See Visions

Appendix I On the Design of “Reel Theology,” from e-mail archives
Appendix II More Movies and Midrash: Additional Film Resources


Brings popular cinema and Jewish religious texts into a meaningful dialogue.


Finalist for the 2017 National Jewish Book Award in Modern Jewish Thought and Experience presented by the Jewish Book Council

Movies and Midrash uses cinema as a springboard to discuss central Jewish texts and matters of belief. A number of books have drawn on films to explicate Christian theology and belief, but Wendy I. Zierler is the first to do so from a Jewish perspective, exploring what Jewish tradition, text, and theology have to say about the lessons and themes arising from influential and compelling films. The book uses the method of "inverted midrash": while classical rabbinical midrash begins with exegesis of a verse and then introduces a mashal (parable) as a means of further explication, Zierler turns that process around, beginning with the culturally familiar cinematic parable and then analyzing related Jewish texts. Each chapter connects a secular film to a different central theme in classical Jewish sources or modern Jewish thought. Films covered include The Truman Show (truth), Memento (memory), Crimes and Misdemeanors (sin), Magnolia (confession and redemption), The Descendants (birthright), Forrest Gump (cleverness and simplicity), and The Hunger Games (creation of humanity in God's image), among others.

Wendy I. Zierler is Sigmund Falk Professor of Modern Jewish Literature and Feminist Studies at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and the author of And Rachel Stole the Idols: The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Women's Writing.


"…Wendy I. Zierler makes a very welcome and important contribution to the field of film and theology by adding a Jewish voice to a (so far) mostly Christian conversation. " — Journal for Religion, Film and Media

"The book is highly recommended for libraries that have large movie collections or that sponsor movie series, as it will give viewers insight into watching popular and/or current cinema with an eye for Jewish themes. " — AJL Reviews

"…Zierler writes winningly and convincingly—and very, very smartly—about her films and about Jewish text and scriptures … There is significant strength in this work and it is a very worthwhile and serious review of Jewish doctrinal and spiritual thinking. But there is also still much here for colleagues teaching on religion and film (and a welcome, serious Jewish augment to those who are writing/thinking/teaching more generally about spirituality in/and modern American secular culture). " — Reading Religion

"This is a groundbreaking work of originality, insight, and high quality. It will be of great importance not only for Jewish readers but also for non-Jewish readers who long for a non-Christian perspective on popular film. I loved this book!" — Eric Michael Mazur, editor, Encyclopedia of Religion and Film