The Miserable Jews

I just watched this cool 1998 movie starring Rabbi Yosef Blau as Inspector Javert and Rabbi Marc Winiarz as Jean Valjean.

It was a thriller!

Winiarz was imprisoned at age nineteen for stealing forbidden fourteen year old loving when he was a starving yeshiva student.

After serving hard labor at a shul in Boca Raton, he escapes to Israel and constructs a new life for himself.

But wherever he goes, R. Blau is after him.

Winiarz is required to carry a yellow star, which marks him as a convict. Rejected by shul keepers, who do not want to take in a convict, Winiarz sleeps on the streets of Jerusalem. However, the benevolent Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach takes him in and gives him shelter. In the night, Winiarz steals Carlebach’s silverware and runs. He is caught, but Holy Brother Shlomo rescues him by claiming that the silver was a gift and at that point gives him two candlesticks as well. Shlomo then tells him he must become an honest man and must perform good deeds for others. As Winiarz broods over these words, he steals a young woman’s virtue and chases her father away.

Soon after he realizes his mistake, and decides to follow Shlomo’s advice. He searches the city for the girl whose virtue he stole. At the same time, his theft is reported to the rabbis, which now look for him as a repeat offender.

Six years later, Winiarz, having assumed the pseudonym of Mordecai Gafni to avoid capture, has become a wealthy un-Orthodox rabbi and is appointed mayor of his adopted home town of Bayit Chadash in Israel.

He meets the dying Sarah, who had been fired from her job as his assistant and resorted to prostitution. She has a young daughter, Cosette, who lives with a corrupt Orthodox rabbi and his selfish, cruel rebbetzin.

Sarah is dying of AIDS.

Winiarz, seeing in Sarah similarities to his former life of hardship, promises her that he will take care of Cosette, despite the imminent threat of arrest on trumped up rape charges.

Inspector Javert has already suspected the identity of Winiarz and Sarah.

He tips off his minstrel friend Gary Rosenblatt, Editor of The Jewish Week, who writes a column questioning if Gafni is trustworthy after his fooling around 25 years prior. This leads to an article in Ma’ariv and harassing blogs by Vicki Polin (played by Kathy Bates) and Luke Ford (played by Guy Pearce).

Falsely charged with rape at Bayit Chadash, Winiarz runs to a convent in Salt Lake City with Cosette.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin goes to rescue him.

Their dialogue goes like this:

Sir Telushkin: We were in the nick of time. You were in great peril.
Sir Gafni: I don’t think I was.
Sir Telushkin: Yes, you were. You were in terrible peril.
Sir Gafni: Look, let me go back in there and face the peril.
Sir Telushkin: No, it’s too perilous.
Sir Gafni: Look, it’s my duty as a knight to sample as much peril as I can.
Sir Telushkin: No, we’ve got to find the Holy Grail. Come on.
Sir Gafni: Oh, let me have just a little bit of peril?
Sir Telushkin: No. It’s unhealthy.
Sir Gafni: I bet you’re gay.
Sir Telushkin: Am not.

Gafni returns to the convent and faces his destiny at the hands of Mother Superior Dingo.

Dingo: You must spank her well, and after you are done with her, you may deal with her as you like… and then… spank me.
All: And me. And me too. And me.
Dingo: Yes. Yes, you must give us all a good spanking. 
Dingo: And after the spanking, the oral sex.
Gafni: Well, I could stay a bit longer…

Much debauchery and spiritual enlightenment ensue.

With his minstrel Gary Rosenblatt, R. Blau tracks Winiarz’s radioactive body fluids across the Utah desert.

Minstrel: [singing] Bravely bold Sir Blau rode forth from Yeshiva University. He was not afraid to die, oh brave Sir Blau. He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways, brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Blau. He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp, or to have his eyes gouged out, and his elbows broken. To have his kneecaps split, and his body burned away, and his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave Sir Blau. His head smashed in and heart cut out, and his liver removed, and his bowels unplugged, and his nostrils raped and his bottom burned off and his penis…
Sir Blau: That’s, uh, that’s enough music for now, lads… looks like there’s dirty work afoot.

Woman: Oh. How do you do?
Rabbi Blau: How do you do, good lady? I am Blau, King of the Jews. Whose castle is that?
Woman: King of the who?
Rabbi Blau: King of the Jews.
Woman: Who are the Jews?
Rabbi Blau: Well, we all are. We are all Jews. And I am your king.
Woman: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
Dennis Prager: You’re foolin’ yourself! We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working class…
Woman: Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.
Dennis Prager: Well, that’s what it’s all about! If only people would…
Rabbi Blau: Please, please, good people, I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?
Woman: No one lives there.
Rabbi Blau: Then who is your lord?
Woman: We don’t have a lord.
Dennis: I told you, we’re an anarco-sydicalist commune. We take it in turns to be a sort of executive officer for the week…
Rabbi Blau: Yes…
Dennis: …but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting…
Rabbi Blau: Yes I see…
Dennis: …by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs…
Rabbi Blau: Be quiet!
Dennis: …but by a two thirds majority in the case of…
Rabbi Blau: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
Woman: Order, eh? Who does he think he is?

Rabbi Blau: Old woman.
Dennis: Man.
Rabbi Blau: Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?
Dennis: I’m 37.
Rabbi Blau: What?
Dennis: I’m 37. I’m not old.
Rabbi Blau: Well I can’t just call you "man".
Dennis: Well you could say "Dennis".
Rabbi Blau: I didn’t know you were called Dennis.
Dennis: Well you didn’t bother to find out did you?
Rabbi Blau: I did say sorry about the "old woman", but from behind you looked…
Dennis: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior.
Rabbi Blau: Well I am king.
Dennis: Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how’d you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.
Rabbi Blau: I am your king.
Woman: Well I didn’t vote for you.
Rabbi Blau: You don’t vote for kings.
Woman: Well how’d you become king then?
[Angelic music plays… ]
Rabbi Blau: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Blau, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.
Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Dennis: Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.
Dennis: Oh but if I went ’round sayin’ I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.
Dennis: Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I’m being repressed!
Rabbi Blau: Bloody peasant!
Dennis: Oh, what a giveaway! Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about! Did you see him repressing me? You saw him, Didn’t you?

Winiarz and Cosette flee into the desert.

There’s a final showdown on a cliff in Capitol Reef National Park.

Winiarz and Blau draw their swords.

Blau: "I’m going to get you!"
Winiarz: "Why don’t you take care of your own home first?"

There’s a great thwacking about until Blau cuts Gafni’s arms off.

Rabbi Blau: Look, you stupid bastard. You’ve got no arms left.
Gafni: Yes I have.
Rabbi Blau: *Look*!
Gafni: It’s just a flesh wound.

Blau cuts Marc’s legs off.

Gafni keeps threatening him. "Right, I’ll do you for that."
Blau: "You’ll what?"
Gafni: "Come here!"
Blau: "What are you going to do? Bleed on me?"
Gafni: "I’m invincible."
Blau: "You’re a loony!"

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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