The Italian comedian Roberto Benigni had a roaring success with his two-part performance of the Ten Commandments which was broadcast live on the most popular Italian TV channel, Rai 1, last week.
In 1999 Benigni won an Oscar for directing the Shoah movie, “Life Is Beautiful”.
His performance aroused interest among Italian Jewry and particularly among Italian Jewish leaders and rabbis, who noticed how deeply Jewish culture and perspective influenced the way Benigni interpreted the Ten Commandments, as he himself stressed during the program, which was seen by over ten million people.
“Nowadays serious matters are dealt with only by comedians,” tweeted Rome Chief Rabbi rav Riccardo Di Segni, commenting on Benigni’s performance.
“I was deeply impressed by the number of Midrashich references included in the show as well as by the way Benigni presented the Talmud,” rav Di Segni told Pagine Ebraiche. “It’s obvious that he prepared it carefully, studying Jewish books and texts deeply.”
Among the topics dealt with by the comedian were the meaning of Shabbat, the story of the Exodus, and also the Commandments devoted to human relations.
Other Italian rabbis praised Benigni’s work as well.
“He proved to have fully understood the true spirit of Shabbat,” said rav Roberto Della Rocca, Director of the Education Department at the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI).
“Even if the Commandments were presented according to the Christian order, and not the Jewish one, it is undeniable that they were introduced with a Jewish outlook,” added rav Elia Richetti, president emeritus of the Italian Rabbinical Council.
A critique towards Benigni’s performance was expressed by rav Adolfo Locci, Padua Chief Rabbi and a member of the UCEI council.
“In my opinion, the Jewish sources should have been explicitly mentioned. Moreover, surfing on the social network, I read many comments among Italian Jews expressing unexpected amazement and pride. Do we really need a TV show to be proud of our tradition and teachings?” asked rav Locci.
After the first show, the Pope called Benigni to congratulate him as well.
In the past, the comedian offered similar shows reading the Italian literary masterpiece “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri, the Italian Constitution, and the Italian national anthem.