The Prince of Egypt: An Orthodox Look at Hollywood’s Latest Version Of the Exodus Narrative

  • by: Yossi Ziffer
  • Submitted on March 11, 2011

Acknowledgements

Introduction
I. Is this Movie Important to Orthodox Jews?
II. The Title
III. Why Free the Jews?
IV. Moshe’s Family
V. Moshe
VI. The Power of Song
VII. Conclusions

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my appreciation to Dati for affording me the opportunity to participate in this unique project. I also owe deep gratitude to many individuals who offered valuable and constructive advice after reading various drafts of this piece.

My thanks to Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein, and Rabbi Hillel Novetsky.

I also thank my parents Larry and Flo Ziffer, Esti Mandelbaum, Josh Joseph, Asher Altschul, Shelly Stohl, and Earl Lefkowitz.

Introduction

There is nothing new about the depiction of Biblical stories and Biblical characters in theater, film and opera. Cecil B. De Mille’s Ten Commandments and Camille Saint-Saens’ Samson and Delila immediately come to mind as successful examples. While productions of this kind serve the desirable purpose of popularizing the Biblical stories, they raise serious concerns, particularly for religious Jews who are committed to a traditional understanding of the Biblical text. These concerns have recently been focused on the release of The Prince of Egypt, an animated version of the Exodus story which has been widely publicized and will likely be seen by hundreds of thousands of children throughout the world. The image of Moses that children will see in the film is likely to shape their understanding of the character, and the entire Exodus story, for a long time. The question we must ask is: Are we satisfied with the film’s presentation of the most important individual in the history of the Jewish people? Whatever our answer to this question, the solution does not lie in avoiding the movie. That would not be possible in this day and age, and besides, as Orthodox Jews we should not be afraid to expose ourselves to the modern world. Rather, we must view this film not as a threat but as an opportunity to translate children’s natural interest in the film into a fuller understanding of the Exodus story in light of rabbinic interpretation.

It is towards this goal that Yossi Ziffer, an outstanding young scholar and author and member of the Lincoln Square Synagogue Kollel, has written a study guide to be used in Jewish schools in conjunction with the film. It is our hope that this study guide will allow students to use their heightened interest in the story created by the film to explore and understand the traditional view of the Exodus story. In our willingness to confront the issues that are raised by the film we hope that we will further an appreciation and understanding of the most important story in Jewish history.

Rabbi Adam Mintz Lincoln Square Synagogue, New York City.

The Prince of Egypt: An Orthodox Look at Hollywood’s Latest Version of the Exodus Narrative

I. Is This Movie Important to Orthodox Jews?

Movies capture our imagination, briefly transporting us into a world other than our own. They intrigue us with their visual representation of the extraordinary, evoking strong emotional responses and experiences. The best movies, combining the drama of theater, the prose of fiction, and the wonders of cutting edge technology, qualify as unique artistic contributions to our culture. If so, it would seem logical to take our most treasured stories, episodes and events from our religious and spiritual fabric – whether historical or mythical – and preserve them in the enduring form of movies. What better treatment could we find for those fundamental histories and legends? Indeed, movies that depict already-familiar plots still appeal to audiences across the world, because they renew and invigorate the known with color and action. However, when we approach the Yetziat Mitzrayim narrative, we must consider a wider range of factors. Our priorities must extend beyond dramatic and artistic innovation.

Yetziat Mitzrayim comprises a central chapter in our development as an Am Segulah, a special nation unto G-d. Further, our source of information for Yetziat Mitzrayim is not a storybook or tradition of mere legend. The Torah serves as our most direct link to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and as such we must treat the Torah with the reverence and love reserved for it and it alone. The Torah provides us with our national identity, and we should look to it for guidance and inspiration. Yes, we should constantly examine the Torah and find new and creative ways to make it applicable to our lives in our contemporary culture. In fact, we can even construct our own “modern Midrashim,” finding inspiration through innovative approaches to the Torah’s text. However, when we do so, we must approach the Torah as Ovdei Hashem, servants of G-d, and rather than apply unbounded or unstructured creativity to the Torah, we must always view it from within a framework of mitzvot and Torah values.

How, then, should we utilize The Prince of Egypt? We should recognize it for what it is – a movie that bases itself on an important story in our history. Indeed, the movie begins with a statement that the story it depicts functions as a “cornerstone of faith.” However, the movie does not attempt to portray the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim from the vantage point that we cherish. It does not claim to present the Orthodox perspective, nor does it target Orthodox Jews, or even Jews in general, as its exclusive audience.

The Prince of Egypt comes out of Hollywood, and its goals derive from that origin, not from a specific religious affiliation. Thus, although we should not feel offended by the narrative license taken by the movie, we also must recognize the cause for many of the changes inserted into its story line. As we examine some of the major variations between the Torah and The Prince of Egypt, we will see that many of the movie’s divergences from the original story stem from a consistent agenda to present a more balanced and even-handed version of the entire story. We will find this attempted neutralization manifest itself in many ways, including the depiction of Moshe himself, the characterization of Ramses (Paroh), and some of the roles assigned to other figures in the story. Thus, the best use of The Prince of Egypt is to seize it as an inspiration to return to the text of the Torah, perhaps with a now-heightened awareness of the richness and depth contained within the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim.

Our creativity and curiosity should sink their roots into the vast libraries of Torah and Torah-scholarship.

This guide will focus a critical eye on The Prince of Egypt toward the end of clarifying how our tradition approaches the Yetziat Mitzrayim narrative.

  • In what ways do you think that the movie can enhance an Orthodox Jew’s understanding of Yetziat Mitzrayim?
  • Are there other episodes of Tanach that might invite similar treatment in the form of a movie? What elements make you think so?
  • A movie has visual and aural tools to accomplish its goals. How does the Torah, either independently or coupled with Midrash, effectively communicate its messages?
  • In what ways does our study of Torah appreciate the drama and excitement of its stories, and how do we utilize those stories to teach important lessons?

II. The Title

Whether a work is written, painted, or sung, its title presumably reflects some central aspect of the creative piece that it accompanies. The choice of The Prince of Egypt as the title for a movie focusing on Moshe Rabbeinu necessarily reflects the orientation taken by the producers. While “Prince of Egypt” accurately represents the Moshe portrayed in the movie, it does not correspond to the essence of our tradition’s perception of the man who led us out of slavery. In fact, the very relationship between Moshe and Ramses, the central conflict and dilemma of the movie, does not receive any attention in traditional Jewish sources.

What consequences emerge from naming the movie The Prince of Egypt? In one respect, the title bridges the gap between the two nations in the movie. Moshe emerges as the savior of the Jews, but he does so with the well-established reputation as a member of the Egyptian royalty. This creates irony, for the Jews find deliverance from within the ranks of their oppressors. Conversely, the Egyptians lose their slaves, and ultimately their own members, through the actions of one of their heroes. While all of these elements are true according to the Torah’s version of the story too, the Torah does not emphasize them as key points of importance. In the Torah, we have only two references to Moshe’s identity as a member of the Egyptians. When Bat Paroh finds Moshe in the basket, Miriam offers to find a woman to nurse the baby. Bat Paroh accepts the offer, and Miriam immediately notifies Moshe’s mother. We then read in Shemot 2:10 that “The child grew up, and she brought him to Bat Paroh, and he was a son to her (i.e. Bat Paroh), and she called him Moshe….” Thus, the movie’s entire development of Moshe as the young Egyptian prince finds no corresponding coverage in the Torah outside of the words “and he was a son to her.” Moshe appears in the Torah within his role as the greatest prophet and leader ever known to the Jewish people. Thus, his experiences while growing up in the Egyptian palace apparently are not central to the image of Moshe that the Torah aims to present. Thus, the text almost entirely disregards his role as “Prince of Egypt.” The fact that the Torah adopts this approach does not conflict with the fact that Moshe did indeed grow up in the Egyptian palace. In fact, in Shemot 2:19, when Yitro asks his daughters how they managed to return home so promptly, they refer to the assistance that they received from an Ish Mitzri, an Egyptian man. This description indicates that Moshe’s outer appearance reflected his Egyptian upbringing, even to the point where a group of Midyanite women were able to identify his nationality by sight. However, the Torah does not record this incident to further develop Moshe as an Egyptian fugitive. Rather, it illustrates his natural compassion, sense of duty, and leadership, for these traits fundamentally create the Torah-oriented view of Moshe. Thus, what emerges from this analysis is an approach to our history and to our Torah. Although unlikely, it is technically possible that as a young man, Moshe recklessly raced his chariot through the streets of Cairo, displayed a slightly mischievous side to his personality, and enjoyed the closest of brotherly bonds with Ramses, just as we see in The Prince of Egypt. The movie illustrates these incidents because its agenda aims to project a Moshe that is universal and attractive, independent of the viewer’s specific religious commitment or affiliation. Thus, the Moshe in The Prince of Egypt is meant to appeal to us as a person. However, based on the fact that none of the previously mentioned experiences receive any coverage in the Torah, we realize that, as Orthodox Jews, our knowledge and perception of Moshe is intended to focus on different episodes of his upbringing, those chapters that play an important role in his development as the greatest leader and prophet ever known to the Jewish people.

Q: What title would you assign a movie portraying the Orthodox view of Yetziat Mitzrayim?

III. Why Free the Jews?

Obviously, the central plot of The Prince of Egypt revolves around the Jews’ release from slavery. This event, more than any other, is commemorated throughout our tradition, in references in prayer, ritual, and holidays. Without the events of the Exodus from Egypt, our national identity would appear radically different. Perhaps specifically because Yetziat Mitzrayim serves as a focal point in our national history and heritage, we should stop to ask a simple yet crucial question – why did G-d free the Jews? The movie presents a rationale for the Jews’ march to freedom, but an analysis of the Torah yields a fundamentally different answer.

The movie’s opening scene graphically depicts the hardships and tortures of the Jews’ slave-existence in Egypt. Backbreaking work, relentless taskmasters, and superhuman assignments combine to create a life of misery for the Jews. Aware of their plight, the Jews find strength from within by dreaming of, and yearning for, the day when they will live as free men. Thus, the refrain in the opening song prays, “Deliver us to the Promised Land.” This cry to G-d unites the Jews in their aspirations and national goal. By mentioning a “Promised Land,” the song intimates knowledge of a promise, a pledge to the Jews. To what promise does the song refer? The Torah tells us that the Jews did not enter slavery by happenstance. Rather, their servitude comprised one component of the growth process that forged a large family into a nation. In Bereishit 15:13, within the context of the Brit Bein HaBetarim, G-d forewarns Avram: “[13] And He said to Avram, ‘Know that your children will be strangers in a land not their own, and they will be enslaved and tortured for four hundred years. [14] And also the nation that they serve I will judge, and afterwards they will leave in great prosperity.” Thus, G-d has already predicted that the Jews will serve another nation, only to then break free from bondage in great splendor. However, our original question still remains. What is the purpose of their freedom? Further, regarding G-d’s promise to the Jews, does it extend beyond granting them freedom from slavery? G-d reveals some of his plan to Moshe when He appears to him at the burning bush. As part of the message that G-d instructs Moshe to bring to the Jews, we read in Shemot 3:8: “[8] And I will descend to save them from the hand of Egypt and to bring them up from this land, to a good and expansive land, to a land flowing of milk and honey….”

Not only do the Jews merit freedom from slavery, but G-d also promises them a homeland of their own. This commitment is portrayed in the movie as well, also at the scene of the burning bush. In light of the previously mentioned opening song, it seems that the Jews retained a hope and dream that one day they would live as their own masters, tilling the soil and cultivating the land of a country they could call their own. The salvation for which they pine comes through Moshe, G-d’s emissary who will lead them to freedom. The Prince of Egypt leaves this matter as we have just described. However, we should still wonder, what has compelled G-d to make this promise to the Jews? Is their freedom an inalienable right, a value in itself? Further, for what reason do they merit a homeland? Is it nothing more than a prerequisite for nationhood? The movie presents an approach along these lines. At one point, Moshe tries to convince Ramses that “no kingdom should be made on the backs of slaves.” The tone of this statement suggests that from a human rights perspective, it is objectionable that the Jews be enslaved. Indeed, this is true. However, is the sole reason for freeing the Jews the fact that they deserve a life of dignity? The Torah adds more. In Shemot 6:7, G-d imparts to Moshe that the Exodus from Egypt does not end the story. Rather, it begins a new chapter. [7] And I will take you unto Me as a nation, and I will be to you a G-d, and you will know that I am the L-rd your G-d that brought you out from the suffering of Egypt.”

As a result of Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Jews will now be “G-d’s people,” a status that ostensibly carries duty and responsibility. In fact, in His original instructions, G-d commands Moshe to tell Paroh to set the Jews free “in order that they can serve G-d in the wilderness.” This idea of serving G-d is central to our understanding of Yetziat Mitzrayim. Without that component, the story becomes an episode of history. With that aspect, it assumes its true colors as a crucial point in the Jews’ religious development.

In fact, the Torah’s perspective does not allow for differentiating these elements. Political/national history unfolds intertwined with religious history. For the Jews, the two are one and the same. Thus, if we view Yetziat Mitzrayim as a human rights story alone, we miss the point. The Jews were not freed simply to undo their servitude to the Egyptians. Rather, they were freed in order to enable their devotion to G-d. The Prince of Egypt does not develop this point, because its version of the story must stem from a universally acceptable value. Clearly, then, it must find a rationale for the Exodus that does not presuppose religious adherence. Therefore, it presents the Exodus as the realization of a people’s national dream, as the suppressed finally receiving the opportunity to control their own destiny. Any viewer can appreciate this theme, because every person has trials in life that challenge him or her to persevere. However, as Orthodox Jews, when we look at Yetziat Mitzrayim, we must focus on its religious significance. We should value it for the servitude that it made possible, not only for the servitude that it eliminated.

  • According to the Torah, at what points did the Jews accept the religious commitment to be G-d’s people?
  • Consider the times of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov as well as the episodes in Shemot. What are the terms of these agreements, and how do we go about fulfilling them? Further, how is Yetziat Mitzrayim viewed in light of these responsibilities?
  • Although it is not the main thrust of Yetziat Mitzrayim per se, the notion of human dignity and inalienable human rights finds a place in the Torah and Halacha. What are some of these cases? Further, if our purpose in life is to serve G-d, what is the importance of human rights?

The Talmud (Megillah 10b) recounts how as the Egyptians were drowning, the angels in heaven wanted to sing praise to G-d. However, G-d stopped them, since the Egyptians were also the work of G-d’s hand, and therefore their demise represented a bittersweet occasion. If so, how is this different than the egalitarian perspective forwarded by The Prince of Egypt?

IV. Moshe’s Family

In addition to Moshe, The Prince of Egypt devotes considerable attention to several members of Moshe’s family. How do these portrayals compare with the characters depicted by the Torah? Yocheved, Moshe’s mother, receives relatively little attention in both the Torah and the movie. However, besides her role as Moshe’s biological mother, she plays a crucial role in his early survival. She, of course, decides that she must do whatever possible to spare her son from Paroh’s edict against all newborn Jewish boys. Consequently, she hides her infant in a reed basket and sets her precious son afloat in the river, praying that G-d will deliver him to safety. The movie paints this scene expertly, focusing on the pain and complete faith that Yocheved demonstrated in this act. Watching the expression on her face as she places the basket in the water, the viewer realizes how uncertain she must have felt at that moment. This type of depiction exemplifies how a movie can, in some ways, amplify that which we read in the verses of the Torah. Without fabricating events, the movie takes an episode and brings it to life through animation and pictures.

Miriam also plays a central role in The Prince of Egypt. She confronts Moshe, challenging him against his will about his true identity. She always maintains, even when her own family doubts her, that Moshe will eventually lead the Jews to freedom. Similarly, the Midrash depicts the young Miriam as a prophetess, one who envisioned the son of Amram and Yocheved rising as G-d’s messenger to save the Jews (see, for example, Mechilta Shemot 15:20, Megillah 14a, and Sotah 12b). However, of equal importance, the Midrash never suggests that Moshe resisted the fact that he was of Jewish blood. Thus, Miriam plays greatly different roles in the movie and in the Midrash. In the Midrashic rendition of the marriage of Amram and Yocheved, Amram wished to divorce his wife simply in order to prevent the possibility of a son that would be doomed to drowning in the Nile. Young Miriam encourages her parents to remain together, for she foresaw that their son would save the Jews. Thus, Miriam helps create the situation that allows for the birth of Moshe. In contrast, in The Prince of Egypt only she displays the courage to confront the Prince of Egypt regarding his background. Thus, her role in the movie is to plant an idea in Moshe’s mind, and we as viewers see her as one who enables Moshe’s rise to stature. In other words, without Miriam and the nostalgia that she evokes by singing the tune hummed by Yocheved to baby Moshe, Moshe would not have known of his origins, and the rest of the story would not unfold.

However, Miriam’s personal independent leadership appears in both the Torah and the movie. In the Torah, after the Jews cross the Red Sea and the Egyptians drown, we read the Shirat HaYam, the song of praise that the Jews recited to G-d, recognizing His awesome strength and generosity. After the text of the main song, we read in Shemot 15:20: And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took a tambourine in her hand, and all of the women followed after her with drums and dancing.

We see from this verse that Miriam occupies a leadership position, at least among the Jewish women. In the movie as well, she walks alongside Moshe as the Jews leave Egypt, and her strong personality portrays her as a leader for the entire nation. In addition to Miriam, another woman features prominently in The Prince of Egypt. Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, attains a status far beyond that mentioned in the Torah. In the Torah, we read of Moshe’s arrival in Midyan, the assistance he offers to the daughters of Yitro, and his eventual marriage to Tzipporah. She bears two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, and she accompanies Moshe when he returns to Egypt. In the movie, however, she functions as Moshe’s “First Lady,” joining him in his first trip back to Paroh to request the Jews’ freedom. She and Miriam appear as the national women leaders of the Jews. From the Torah and Midrashim, we simply do not see Tzipporah filling any public roles.

Why would the movie grant Tzipporah more of the public spotlight? Again, because it aims for a balanced and egalitarian presentation, the movie must assign positions of national importance to women. Thus, Tzipporah fulfills some of the functions that Aharon, Moshe’s brother, filled in the Torah. The most notable example is the one we just mentioned, accompanying Moshe to Paroh’s court. This is a necessary decision for the movie’s mission.

What, then, remains for Aharon? The Aharon in The Prince of Egypt seems contentious and combative. When Miriam initially confronts Moshe, Aharon attempts to intercede, but only in a fashion that demeans his sister. He is simply attempting to avoid trouble, and he does so by attempting to explain his sister’s persistence as lunacy. Later, when Moshe returns from Midyan, Aharon mocks his long-lost brother and even questions his integrity. Only as the Jews leave Egypt does he finally admit that he misjudged his brother’s character.

In the Torah, we read of a different reaction by Aharon. G-d tells Moshe to return to Egypt, and “Aharon your brother, the Levite…is coming to greet you and will see you and is happy in his heart” (Shemot 4:14). Aharon welcomes Moshe back with joy, not with spite and cynicism. Although the spirit of cooperation displayed by Moshe and Aharon in the Torah could have been included in the movie’s version of the story, Miriam appears that much stronger when we see her as a visionary that suffered the taunts and doubts of a cynical brother. She and Tzipporah rise in public stature, gaining visibility and responsibility, while Aharon functions as more of a foil for Moshe’s and their leadership.

V. Moshe

We have already commented on many aspects of Moshe’s character as it appears in both the Torah and The Prince of Egypt. However, some issues of divergence between the text and the movie remain, and these variations result in different perceptions of Moshe. Although man cannot pretend to comprehend G-d’s ways, we may at least examine a simple question: why did G-d choose Moshe? Although we cannot answer with certainty, we see that the Torah portrays in detail two instances from Moshe’s early adulthood. The first is Moshe’s decision to slay an Egyptian that was physically tormenting a Jew, and the second involves his experiences in Midyan, assisting Yitro’s daughters at the well and then eventually entering Yitro’s family. After these two stories, G-d appears to Moshe and imparts His instructions and mission. Do these two preparatory episodes share any common aspects? It seems that in both cases, Moshe displays an unwavering sense of justice. He perceives a situation and intuitively senses the difference between right and wrong. More importantly, he unflinchingly acts according to his values, even if such behavior compromises his own safety. In the case of the abusive Egyptian, nothing need have compelled Moshe to defend the helpless Jew. Remember that Moshe had hitherto enjoyed a life of royalty, growing up in Paroh’s palace. However, social status posed no barrier to saving an innocent soul. Indeed, grave consequences followed this choice: we read that Paroh wished to kill Moshe. Yet, Moshe flees to Midyan, and we immediately see that his willingness to defend the innocent and disadvantaged remains intact. In this situation, some might have resented fate. After all, Moshe had done what he thought was right in killing the Egyptian, but he suffered exile as a result. Nevertheless, when Moshe is again confronted with an unfair situation, he intervenes on behalf of the wrongfully deprived – in this case, Yitro’s daughters.

The Prince of Egypt portrays Moshe with a similar sense of right and wrong. He moves immediately to save the victimized Jew, and he assists Yitro’s daughters at the well. Moreover, in an early scene fabricated by the movie, he allows his future wife, Tzipporah, to go free from Paroh’s palace when she is in captive. However, the completely focused sense of determination that characterizes the historical Moshe does not appear in the movie’s version. This difference manifests itself in Moshe’s attitude towards his divinely commanded mission. In truth, the Torah spends several verses recording the initial dialogue between Moshe and G-d, with Moshe resisting the mantle of leadership that G-d places upon him. However, after that first meeting concludes, we do not find Moshe experiencing the conflict of interests that plagues him in the movie. At times he questions why G-d seems to undermine His own purpose and why He has sent him (see Shemot 5:22), but never does Moshe again try to shirk the responsibility that he has accepted. In the movie, on the other hand, even as G-d’s plan unfolds and the Jews’ freedom inches closer, Moshe still feels torn between his Jewish identity and his Egyptian upbringing. As the plagues ravage Egypt, Moshe wishes out loud that someone else could have been selected to lead the Jews. This point may seem minor, for ultimately, even in the movie Moshe succeeds in leading the Jews to freedom and he establishes himself as their undisputed leader. However, even after crossing the Red Sea, he still looks back to see Ramses, his “step-brother,” and bids him farewell. In the movie, there are clearly two sides to Moshe – the Moshe of duty and the Moshe of sentiment. In the Torah, a single purpose drives Moshe, and no lingering nostalgia distracts him. He answers to the voice of G-d, and that devotion informs all of his actions.

We can explain these differences along the same lines as many of the other issues discussed above. By splitting Moshe’s personality, the Egyptians do not seem as inhuman and savage, for even their foe fondly recalls his days among them. Many movie villains are not thoroughly evil – they appear attractive and seductive, and their compelling aspects complicate our attitudes toward their characters as a whole. Thus, the battle lines between the Jews and Egyptians are blurred, for despite the slavery, the movie’s protagonist and antagonist still harbor fondness for one another. In the Torah, conversely, we have no agenda of equality, and we see the Egyptians as the Jews’ captors, and no lingering memories complicate that view.

  • The Torah clearly records instances of Moshe’s hesitation about accepting leadership. What are the factors that he identifies as the cause for his reluctance, and how are these different from those emphasized in the movie?

Rashi, on Shemot 7:19, explains that Aharon, and not Moshe, was commanded to hit the water in bringing forth the first two plagues, since the water protected Moshe when he was a baby. In essence, this is taken as an example of Hakarat HaTov, appreciating kindness. Is this the same as the fondness for Ramses that Moshe displays in The Prince of Egypt? If not, how is it different?

VI. The Power of Song

As happens with any movie, The Prince of Egypt features a soundtrack with both lyrical and instrumental music. Especially noteworthy are the opening piece, “Deliver Us,” and the victorious song as the Jews leave Egypt. Both set tones for their respective sections of the movie, and they capture the mood desired by the movie’s producers. While we aren’t told of a song that the Jews sang throughout the period of their slavery, we do have the text of the Shirat HaYam, the musical praise and thanks offered by the Jews to G-d after He led them through the Red Sea. We see that the power of song emanates from a deep and fundamental aspect of human experience. It captures our feelings, both joyous and sorrowful, and it even enables us to revisit and re-experience chapters from our past. Thus, we often set liturgy and ritual to song, for song adds flavor and color to our lives. Although the music of The Prince of Egypt is not specifically religious or traditional, it nevertheless adds that same flavor and color that we gain from song in other aspects of life.

VII. Conclusions

The Yetziat Mitzrayim story remains one of the most important chapters of our national and religious history. The drama and splendor of the story lend it to new and glamorous portrayals, such as the one found in The Prince of Egypt. We can certainly enjoy The Prince of Egypt for what it is; namely, an expertly produced animated adaptation of the Exodus narrative. However, it can never be considered an alternative or legitimate variation of the Torah’s text. It carries no more religious significance than does any other movie, nor does it claim to. Its goals were not religiously driven, and it never claimed to illustrate religious values. We, as Orthodox Jews, have no choice but to approach Yetziat Mitzrayim as a fundamentally religious event, and therefore we should not expect to find our values in The Prince of Egypt. However, if the movie kindles a spark of interest in the Exodus narrative, if it motivates students of any age to return with fresh eyes to the deep, multi-layered text of our tradition, then it will have filled an important purpose indeed.

  • What aspects of The Prince of Egypt helped you appreciate the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim?
  • Are there any parts of The Prince of Egypt that might find their origins in the Midrashic additions to the Exodus narrative?
  • What messages do you think The Prince of Egypt tried to convey? Why do you think that it included passages from the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran at the end of the credits?
  • What messages does the Torah communicate in its rendition of the entire Exodus narrative?
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