The First Amendment denotes a separation between Church and State. However, nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is there a clause proposing separation between Church and Oscar voters, which is why Rabbi Marvin Hier is able to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
How did this Talmudist and founder of the Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, find himself voting for the year’s best films? According to the New York Times, it all started through his production company, Moriah Films, which produces documentaries on contemporary Jewish history — the first of which, “Genocide,” was narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles. As Hier recounted to writer Michael Cieply:
“On his way to the first day’s voice work with [Elizabeth] Taylor, Rabbi Hier picked up a salted beef sandwich from a deli, so he could keep kosher. ‘Rabbi, what is that delicious smell?’ he recalls Ms. Taylor asking on their way to the studio. She shared the sandwich, and his picture won an Oscar for best feature documentary in 1982.”
Since winning the award, Hier has been a member of the Academy. According to group’s spokeswoman, Teni Melidonian, he is the only Rabbi among the group’s 5,800 members (although, “the Academy does have a member with the title Reverend Mother and another with Pastor”). Despite his Talmud studies, Heir’s work at the Wisenthal Center isn’t completely cutoff from the film industry — studio execs Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ron Meyer are on the board.
So what does Hier think of this year’s crop of Best Picture nominees?
“He was particularly struck by ‘The Help,’ with its reminder that racial bias remained alive in this country, even in the wake of the Holocaust. ‘These are unbelievable contradictions,’ he said, speaking of the film’s depiction of women whose children were cared for black maids who were not allowed to use their homes’ bathrooms … Hier [also] marvels at ‘The Tree of Life.’ Since he began voting, he said, ‘I’ve never seen a movie that stops in the middle for a silent portrayal of the history of the world.’”
Hier goes on to praise “Hugo” and one of its leads, Sir Ben Kingsley (who happens to be a narrator on one of the Rabbi’s past documentaries, “It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl.”)
You can read more about Rabbi Marvin Heir over on the New York Times website. To find out if any of his favorite films of the year win, tune into the Oscars on February 26.
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