Natalie Portman and the Holocaust
Lyons, France — This past Friday, my family and I traveled to the small French town of Izieu. Here, on April 6, 1944, the Gestapo — under the command of Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon — raided an orphanage where 44 Jewish children had found refuge. The terrified children were deported to Auschwitz, where they were gassed immediately upon arrival. The place is sacred to our family as two of the children, Paula and Marcel Mermelstein, aged 10 and 7, were the children of my wife’s great uncle Max.
The horror of being at the site of such a brutal mass murder shook us to our core.
Enter Natalie Portman, who last week was back in Jewish headlines. She made a video for PETA in which she compared the human slaughter of animals to the Nazi annihilation of human beings. To be fair to Portman, she was quoting Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Laureate, who once wrote, “We do to God’s creatures what the Nazis did to us.” Singer escaped the Holocaust, which in some circles gives credence to his statements. Still, Portman’s presumption that she, who unlike Singer never faced Hitler’s henchmen, could make such a comparison is disgusting and shocking.
By now, I have to ask, “What is Natalie Portman really up to?” Her attacks on Israel are bad enough. But Portman’s trivialization of the Holocaust is an entirely new phase in her increasingly bizarre career.
To be sure, she has every right to be a vegan or vegetarian. Indeed, in the Torah, God did not originally allow Adam and Eve to consume animal flesh or take animal life. It was a concession given to Noah and his descendants.
Some commentaries say that because Noah saved the lives of animals, he was therefore allowed to take the lives of those same animals. Moreover, with the decimation of all vegetation after the flood, there was nothing left to eat. So Noah’s family had no choice but to eat animal flesh, and God’s concession has remained in force, albeit with strong laws that govern which animals we are allowed to eat and in what way. But these Biblical commentaries maintain that vegetarianism and veganism is a holier way to live than being an omnivore, and that when the Messiah comes, we will all return to a vegetable diet.
But what does any of this have to do with the Holocaust? Why is Portman making the argument that gassing 1.5 million Jewish children is the same as slaughtering chickens?
And hiding behind Isaac Bashevis Singer won’t cut it. There is a certain latitude granted to those who suffered through and survived the Holocaust that the rest of us do not possess. Singer lost two brothers during the war. He was angry at God for the terrible suffering that his family endured. We do not know if he ever forgave God.
Portman knows that what she’s doing is provocative. She also likely knows that her comparison to the Holocaust will completely overshadow any message about animal rights, thereby sabotaging her stated purpose. This brings us back to my question — what does Natalie Portman want?
Natalie Portman is now assuming a level of entitlement as a Jewish celebrity that is undermining Jewish interests. Because she was born in Israel, she feels that she has the right to dismiss a prominent Jewish prize that she was awarded and to attack Israeli policies, as well as Israeli soldiers. Now, because she is Jewish, Portman feels that she can compare the eating of animals to the incineration of Jewish bodies at Treblinka.
It is time for the Jewish community to make it clear to Portman that while we are proud of her achievements and love her acting, her Jewishness is not carte blanche for her to blur moral lines that would be closed off to those outside the faith.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” is the international best-selling author of 32 books, including Lust for Love, co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.