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Asking the Clergy: What is your favorite movie with a religious theme?

Rabbi Shmuel Lieberman of Chabad Jewish Student Center

Rabbi Shmuel Lieberman of Chabad Jewish Student Center in Hempstead, the Rev. Dr. Henrietta Scott Fullard of Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches, Anu Jain of Jain Center of America. Credit: Chavie Lieberman; African Methodist Episcopal Church; Aishwarya Jain

Religion has inspired filmmakers since the dawn of moviemaking in the United States, producing such screen classics as “The Ten Commandments” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” which continue to enchant home viewers. This week’s clergy discuss the films they believe contain powerful spiritual messages.

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard
Presiding elder (retired), Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

My choice would be “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965), a classic that tells the story of Jesus’ life from his birth in Bethlehem through his ministry, death and resurrection. This movie helps us to continue the life ministry of Jesus and helps us to apply it to today’s living.

In our lives we may spend a long time trying to overcome problems and circumstances and find that we cannot do so. But when we give it over to the Lord through our prayer, fasting and faith, he will help us. When we go into prayer and fasting about our conditions, we still have the same power that can be released upon us as it was in Jesus’ time.

His life and ministry will always be the focus of Christianity because they have the power to make the impossible possible, to transcend all wrongs, and to give us the faith to trust in Jesus as we continue life’s journey. This movie reminds us that even today, the story is still great.

Anu Jain of Jericho
Executive board member, Jain Center of America in Elmhurst, Queens

My favorite religious movie is “Bhagwan Mahavir,” based on the life of Lord Mahavira, who revived Jainism. This animated film gives viewers a message of nonviolence, forgiveness, tolerance and strong willpower.

In addition to encouraging good emotions, it has the ability to burn away negative emotions. As a faith-based movie, it strives to be inspirational while remaining grounded in Jain values. The storytelling proceeds from a foundation of unwavering religious conviction and delivers a comforting message to viewers.

You can only read a book alone. But watching this movie with others is a different, amazing experience. Sometimes religious teachings bore children, and they can lose their interest in spirituality. But this movie is engaging for people of all ages while teaching the best values of Jainism.

Rabbi Shmuel Lieberman
Director of Chabad Jewish Student Center, in Hempstead, serving Hofstra University and Nassau Community College

“The Truman Show” (1998) wasn’t intended as a religious film, but its message of free choice and self-determination is something that religions, and in particular Judaism, grapple with all the time.

In the film, unknown to the title character, his every move is captured on hidden cameras and broadcast globally, 24/7. Eventually, he struggles with finding his purpose after learning the truth of his situation.

“The Mishnah,” which was written in 300 BCE, says that you should be aware that there is an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and whatever you do is written down. There’s a master of this universe who always knows what’s going on. I think the filmmakers are trying to get us to think how much a product we are of someone else’s vision, and to bring out our own self-determination. Therein lies the connection with the Jewish theme — that there’s a God that watches what we do, so that there are punishments and rewards that go along with the ability to make choices of our own.

Truman’s goal is to achieve self-independence, which is really what humans are expected to do, to make their own good choices notwithstanding God's omnipresence.

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