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The Navi Makes a Prophecy: Judaism in Avatar

By Sergey Kadinsky

As the first month of 2010 approaches its end, the bar for epic films this year has been set high by Avatar, the outer space science fiction flick directed by James Cameron.

On the face of it, the film is a battle between heavily militarized humans and nature-worshiping natives, and a number of prominent moviegoers took this to heart.

Bolivian president Evo Morales, a Native American critical of U.S. foreign policy, praised the films resistance to capitalism and the struggle for the defense of nature. On the other hand, the notion of a white American warrior joining the opposing side has also earned Avatar comparisons to Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai.

But as an observant Jew, I kept my eyes open for even the slightest hints of my own tribes representation. And Cameron did not disappoint. For starters, the native race is the Navi (Hebrew for prophet), who have the power to communicate with their deity (sounds like Mother Earth, but its monotheistic)

The two-and-a-half hour-long flick showed protagonist Jake Sully living amongst the Navi, which ultimately resulted in him becoming a native, not only in mind, but also in spirit. Judaism treats its converts much the same, where the convert is regarded as a child of Abraham, no longer tied to the previous nationality.

As Jake slaughters a beast, he utters a prayer of thanksgiving, which is something our shohets do, and something we do after wolfing down a steak.

But the natives, with their well-designed belief system and lifestyle were no match against the flying human armada, as it bombarded their holy Tree of Voices to smithereens. This scene brings to mind the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The painful wails of the Navi could easily have been those of the Judeans, as they watched their holiest site engulfed in flames.

But like the Navi, the Jews recovered, defeating mighty empires, while shuckling back and forth in prayer. As an observant Jew, I communicate with my Creator on a daily basis, and my tribe gathers regularly to read the same laws that were read in the Holy Temple.

Taking a walk through Midtown Manhattan, I see smokers outside every doorway, using tobacco to relieve their stress, before they scurry back to their offices. I draw on my tribes bond with our Creator, and our true goals of building strong Jewish families and perfecting the world, as a bulwark against depression and stress.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous February 10, 2010, 5:14 AM

    when do u post? how early in teh morning?

  • aminspiration February 10, 2010, 5:16 AM

    how early in teh morning do u post is my question?

    • Heshy Fried February 10, 2010, 1:04 PM

      I like how New Yorkers assume everyone is in their time zone.

  • Rabbi Jason Miller February 10, 2010, 10:31 AM

    Heshy,

    There are more Jewish connections in Avatar, but there are also a lot of connections to other religions including Christianity. In fact, I read an interview with James Cameron in which he said he wanted to have many different faith traditions represented.

    I guess the scene where Jake Sully carries the dead Dr. Grace Augustine at the end of the film is supposed to be a reversal of Mary carrying Jesus. I’m sure the name “Grace” is intentional. Perhaps “Jake” is supposed to be like “Jesus” or maybe even our av Ya’akov? Since he is transformed, it could indeed be Ya’akov who (ready for this??) has to go through a wrestling match before his name is changed and he becomes the leader of the people. Jake Sully had to wrestle the toruk to be transformed and accepted by the people. He had to go to a holy place (The Tree of Voices) before being accepted. Ya’akov just renamed the place Beit El. Both Jake and Ya’akov didn’t realize the place they were in was holy until they fell asleep there.

    The “J” name could also be symbolic of other nevi’im in our Tradition, like Jeremiah, Joel, Job, etc. or kings like Josiah.

    Now, I’m no maven on the Na’vi language, but after seeing the film twice, I loved how one Na’vi became close to another Na’vi by saying “I See You” or “Oel ngati kameie”. Each time I heard this, I focused on the word ngati, which could come from the Hebrew nogeah, to touch or become attached. Think about when we use the term “nogeah badavar” (to be involved with) or n’giah (to touch someone). Hence a Na’vi who is Shomer Negiah, presumably wouldn’t be able to “See” a Na’vi of the opposite sex. Many have compared this greeting to Namaste.

    I’m not sure if the name Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) has any connection to the Hebrew word neturei, as in Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City), but she certainly saw herself as a guardian of Pandora.

    I think your comparison of the attack on the Tree of Voices to the Romans breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the ultimate destruction of the Beit Hamikdash is fair. There might be some connections as well between Pandora and Eden, with the *Tree* of Knowledge considered to be off limits and then “attacked” for gain.

    Lastly, I think there is a connection between the name of their spirit Eywa and the Tetragramaton YHVH. I know this has been brought up before. By the way, for the best understanding of Avatar’s God/spirit compared to the Kabbalistic Ein Sof, check out Jay Michaelson’s article at Huffington Post.

  • aml February 10, 2010, 10:48 AM

    This is actually quite beautiful. If it was meant to be funny, I missed it.

  • Avram February 10, 2010, 11:12 AM

    Great post.
    You should make a jewish movie review blog.

  • Rabba bar bar Chana February 10, 2010, 2:01 PM

    the bar for epic films this year has been set high by Avatar

    It was visually grandiose. But setting the bar for epic films? The story & acting were adequate to hang the admittedly magnificent visual spectacle onto, but no more than adequate.

  • Bored Jewish Guy February 10, 2010, 2:20 PM

    I thought the movie was telling up how important it is to be Shomer Negiah, you see what a strong emotional bond it made when they touched their “connection things”. Don’t take my word for it though, I was the only one in the theater that yelled “Rape” when jake was wrestling with that flying creature.

  • Firefly February 10, 2010, 3:08 PM

    “Judaism treats its converts much the same, where the convert is regarded as a child of Abraham, no longer tied to the previous nationality.”

    As the daughter of a convert, I beg to differ.

  • CA February 11, 2010, 10:37 PM

    It’s a very pretty movie that is amazing in its application of technology to create something very visually attractive and beautiful. That’s it. Everything else — the plot, the characters, the symbols — is just holding the pretty stuff together.

  • CA February 11, 2010, 10:41 PM

    If you want to use it as a moshol for a Jewish idea, it’s the idea of connecting oneself to something higher by literally plugging yourself in. Mitzva m’loshon tzavta. The mitzvos are not just a contract with Hashem or a way to make our lives better, but are channels literally connecting us (and this world) to the Eibeshter.

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