December 31 – 2001

Caspari Center Media Review…………… December 2001, #2


In the period of time covered by this review, we received 127 articles on the subject of Messianic Jews, Christianity and the Mission. Of these:


  • 32 articles dealt with Christmas in Israel
  • 30 articles dealt with Missionary activities in the land.
  • 17 articles dealt with chairman Arafats’ visit to Bethlehem
  • 11 articles dealt with Christian land in Israel
  • 8 articles dealt with matters concerning the Greek Orthodox Church
  • 5 articles dealt with Israel and the Vatican
  • 3 articles dealt with book and Television reviews


The remaining 21 articles were single articles dealing with matters of Jewish or Christian interest on their own merit.


Yad Le’Achim opposes Missionaries in Haifa (23/11/01, Yediot Haifa)

The Ultra Orthodox group Yad Le’Achim is claiming that missionaries working in Haifa are using a new method of outreach. They claim that the material consists of scientific and academic articles concerning the issue of the afterlife and the state of clinical death. The articles then refer to Jesus, stating that the only way to gain life after death is through Him. According to Yad LeAchim activist Moti Yanklevich, the material is handed out in order to seduce innocent children into changing their religion.


Missionary activity in Youth Hostel (20/12/2001, Hamodia)

Yad Le’Achim is opposing missionary activity in Tel Aviv. They state that in a youth hostel on Bnei Dan Street, Yaakov Damkani heads a wide spread Mission including much activity like baptisms involving young children.


The chairman of the organization, Dov Lipshitz, then turned to the Ministry of Education who in turn forwarded the claims to the care of the central agency of youth hostels in Israel. The agency strongly denied all of the alleged claims and Yad LeAchim is now looking at the possibility of filing a legal suit against the missionaries.


Missionary activity in hospitals (28/12/2001, Hamodia, 28/12/2001, Hatzofe)

In these two religious daily papers, the Messianic community in the country is now being accused of “reaching a new level of baseness.” The accusations, mostly by Yad Le’Achim, state that the missionaries have begun to reach out to the victims of terrorist attacks, as well as their families, either through the mail or directly visiting them at the hospital. They further accuse the missionaries of attempting to threaten the suffering victims, in letters sent to them, by saying that if they do not consent; “they will be at risk of dying as well.”



Law Committee dumps missionary bill (27/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 30/12/2001, Hatzofe, 27/12/2001, Ha’Aretz, 28/12/2001, Hamodia, 28/12/2001, Yated Ne’eman)

The Law Committee decided, by a majority of 7-5, against supporting the bill in the Parliament. The new bill would barr missionary activity through mail, fax and e-mail. The bill was sponsored by MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ). The reasons for rejecting it were that it would make Israel look strange in the eyes of the world, and it also contradicts all international agreements Israel has signed.


The Church in Holon is to be evacuated (13/12/2001, Hamodia)

The ongoing fight between Yad Le’Achim and the Messianic believers in Holon has come to a sad end. After much harassment from Yad Le’Achim, including a large rally organized by the group outside the Church on Sokolov Street last month, and a law suit against the Committee of City Planning of the Municipality of Holon, the landowner was forced to evacuate the missionaries from the property.


“Brother Daniel-the Last Jew” (31/12/2001, Globus)

This article is a review of a documentary film shown on the Israeli second channel. The story of Brother Daniel, Oswald Rufeisen, tells the story of a young Jew in the face of the Second World War. Rufeisen escaped from his parents’ house together with his younger brother Arieh and they made their way to the city of Meer where they claimed to be born of a German father and a Polish Christian mother. There to his horror he was taken to work for the S.S as a translator where he learned of his superior’s plan to destroy the Ghetto. He contacted the Jewish underground and helped them steal weapons from the Germans and plan the escape of 300 Jews from the Ghetto. He then admitted his deeds and was arrested and sentenced to death. He managed to escape and found refuge in a nearby convent, where he first encountered and then converted to Christianity.


Ten years after the war ended, Brother Daniel came to Israel to serve the Church at the convent of Stella Maris in Haifa. Despite his Christian faith, Brother Daniel still saw himself as a Jew, and therefore requested to be legally recognized as such. His request was denied and he continued to plead to the Supreme Court. The Court then denied his plea in a majority decision of four against one.


The article strikes on a subtle comparison between the policy of today’s rabbinical institution and that of the Nazis at the time, stating that their method of separation between the Jews and non-Jews, such as tracing the ancestral line back several generations, has similarities.


Christ Church opens archeological exhibition (21/12/2001, In Jerusalem)

The latest attraction in Jerusalem is the new heritage center opened at the Jaffa Gate— Christ Church. It is of great historical value and according to Baruch Shmulewitz, who brought a large tour group to the site; it is “an outstanding and amazing exhibition” and “a very important part of the story of Jerusalem.”


When Bank Leumi decided to vacate their Jaffa Gate branch two years ago, the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church (ITAC, also known as CMJ) took the premises with a view to establish the heritage center. Their success is an amazing accomplishment, and according to Israeli Prize winner historical-geographer professor Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, the center is now home to a wealth of information on 19th century Palestine. Ben-Arieh, also the author of the two volume book “Jerusalem in the 19th Century”, believes that the Protestant community had a lasting affect on the development of the city, and that the exhibition and the buildings are of great interest to all 19th century Jerusalem historians.


The center, named Beit Nicolayson, after Reverend John Nicolayson, the first Protestant to reside in Jerusalem and the builder of Christ Church, stands over an exciting archeological project consisting of a possible Second Temple Mikveh and a subterranean tunnel under the Christ Church compound, rediscovered by the engineer Arieh Klein, possibly leading to the Temple Mount.


The new center highlights 19th century Protestant activity in Israel and in the words of Kelvin Crombie “is all about God’s forgiveness and grace.” Crombie, author of two books, gained a reputation for being a keen historian, most notably with the historical research institute, Yad Ben-Zvi, has, together with his ITAC fellows impressively managed to preserve a large number of models, most of which are without duplicates.


At the opening of the site, the resident vicar belonging to ITAC, Reverent Neil Cohen welcomed about 150 academics, pastors, tour guides and volunteers. Guest speakers at the opening were: Israeli archeologist Shimon Gibson, leading historian, Haim Goren, and engineer Arieh Klein.


Debate between Knesset members over Law of Return (14/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post)

A debate over the Law of Return was initiated in the Knesset by National Union Member of Knesset (MK) Zvi Hendel, chairman of the Committee on immigration and absorption, himself a Romanian immigrant from the 1950s. Hendel believes that the issue has finally reached a point where action must be taken. He states that the issue is no longer one of the future but rather a present problem, whose results can now be examined. Deputy Infrastructure Minister Naomi Blumenthal (Likud), Hendels’ predecessor as committee chairman, says that when the law was established, no one foresaw the time when non-Jews would want to come to Israel, but recently, it has developed into an attractive country in comparison to other poverty stricken countries.


According to Bar Ilan political science professor Eliezer Don-Yehiya, the law, established in 1950 has been under constant debate from the very beginning since it left the definition of who is a Jew to the Interior Ministry. Don-Yehiya also adds that the debate is also about the nature of the Jewish state and given to divisions on this topic, any standard that has been set will be problematic. The law was amended in 1952, as not to apply to Jews who converted to other religions and was upheld despite the challenge of Oswald Rufeisen, known as “Brother Daniel”.


The last change came in 1970 and defined clearer guidelines, stating that anyone who is the child or grandchild of a Jew can immigrate, together with their immediate families. According to MK Victor Brailovsky these guidelines carry an emotional appeal seeing as how they were intended to be the antithesis of the Nazi Nuremberg laws, “the same people who could be killed by Hitler should have the right to immigrate to Israel” says Brailovsky.


The emotional weight that the subject carries can clearly be seen by the stance of Deputy Minister of absorption Yuli Edelstein who served a three year prison term in the Soviet Union for daring to dream of Zion. Edelstein has held the law as a sacred lifeline for those in need, but even he now acknowledges that the number of non-Jewish immigrants has become “absurd” and that steps must be taken in order to address the situation.


Figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics show that only 49 percent of new immigrants in 2000 registered as Jews with the Interior Ministry compared with 96 percent in 1990. The Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) goes as far as to warn that the Jews are in danger of becoming a minority in their own country as a direct result of a law that is supposed to ensure their continuity.


But the emotional side of the debate is not the only thing pending on the subject, partisan politics are also to be taken into account as another Shas MK, Yitzhak Gagula points out. He states that if the Minister of Interior pressing for the change was not Shas but rather, say, Meretz the range of agreement might be wider.


Nearly everyone agrees that the key to the question is what Israel will look like in the future, as states Shas MK Amnon Cohen. Cohen is worried about further weakening the Jewish nature of the state. Herut MK Michael Kleiner, who formerly chaired the committee of immigration agrees. He says that he then feared the exact situation which now exists.


But to counter these statements, there are people who hold other opinions, like Russian immigrant MK Roman Bronfman (Democratic Choice) who notes the potential impact any change in the law might have. He raises the subject of U.S. Jews, estimating that only 2.8 million of them are really Jewish according to Orthodox religious law, another three million define themselves as Jews, and there is a potential group of another four million Jews with only one Jewish grandparent. He warns against loosing the two later groups if the law is changed.


He is seconded on this by Jewish agency chairman Sallai Meridor who warns that changing the law will contribute to distancing Jews in the U.S and elsewhere. “We are not on the edge of a disaster, we are on the edge of a miracle,” Meridor says. He also adds that instead of making it harder for new immigrants, we should concentrate on helping them integrate and strengthen their desire to connect with their Jewish roots and heritage. In this we can ensure the Jewish nature of the state rather than weaken it.


Institutions across the country closing (14/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 16/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post)

Due to the current situation in the land, a number of institutions in Jerusalem which teach Christians about Judaism are closing. A few months ago the Vatican-affiliated Ratisbone Institute announced it was suspending its program. Jerusalem University College (JUC) has also announced that it will not have a spring semester this year. And now also, the Swedish Theologian Institute is to end its activities on January 1st.


Local Christian population growing despite the situation (31/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 31/12/2001, Ha’aretz English edition, 31/12/2001, Ma’ariv, 25/12/2001, Ha’aretz)

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics report the Christian population in the country is increasing steadily although slowly. There are 137,000 Christians compared to 120,000 in 1995. Even with this information, it is also clear that many Arab Christians are fleeing the country due to the implications of the situation in the country on the educational and health system. Financial hardships are also a contributing factor in the exodus of the Arab population.


The Body and the Blood (28/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post)

This article reviews a new book by Charles M. Sennott “The Body and the Blood-The Holy Land’s Christians at the Turn of a New Millennium: A Reporters Journey”. The book is said to be a very good account of the dilemmas and difficulties of being an Arab Christian in the Holy Land in the 21st century. The author is fair and balanced and the book is highly informative, both intelligent and instructive.


Sennott explores the relations between Arab Christians and Muslims in the land as well as foreign Christian relation with Jews and Arabs in the Land. He also touches on the close relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Christian Arabs but points out also that the PLO at times exploits the Arab Christians for public relations.


Common Prayers (21/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post)

Another new book reviewed this month is Harvey Cox’s “Common Prayers-Faith, Family, and a Christian Journey Through the Jewish New Year.” Cox, an esteemed Christian theologian at Harvard University, is married to a Jew and raising his teen-aged son in the Jewish faith.


His book gives a rich and rewarding account of the major Jewish holidays, uniquely giving their interpretations both from a Jewish and Christian view. He also addresses theological and historical issues involving both faiths including the Messiah, the meaning of the Holocaust, the place of violence in all major faiths, conceptions of God, and various interpretations of sin, heaven and hell.


Cox mixes personal experience with probing discussion. He says he wrote the book in order to give Christians a better understanding of Judaism.


Christians helping Jewish immigration (14/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post)

In this two page spread in the major English paper, there is a detailed account of the activities of several evangelical Christian groups facilitating Jewish immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union. The groups mentioned in the article are: the International Christian Embassy, Bridges of Peace, Exobus- a project of a British based company Good News Travels, the Swedish Word of Life Church, the American Ezra International and many other small groups.


These groups help Russian immigrants in different areas. Funding, for example is a large problem for these people. The Christian support groups help fund the long journeys and at times will go as far as to pay for the immigrants’ tickets to Israel. Another area where their support can be seen is that of the paperwork. Many of the potential immigrants do not know what they will need in order to prove their Jewish roots, and the different groups help them by letting them know, as well as searching together with them for documents that might help them.

The different groups work in cooperation with the Jewish Agency in the FSU, and according to Micha Speigel, an agency emissary in Khabarosk, “if it weren’t for these groups many people would never be able to get to Israel.” Of course not everyone is of such opinion in regards to these groups; Yad Le’Achim is worried that they are trying to convert the immigrating Jews, even though the groups have all agreed not to engage in missionary activity.


Christians unite to oppose mosque (20\12/2001, Ha’Aretz, English and Hebrew editions, 21/12/2001 Ha’aretz, 23/12/2001, Ha’aretz, 25/12/2001, Ha’Aretz, English and Hebrew editions, 21/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 21/12/2001, Hatzofe, 7/12/2001, Yated Ne’eman)

This large dispute between Muslims and Christians in Nazareth has received a lot of exposure in Israeli papers. Perhaps this is due to the involvement of Christians around the world headed by the Vatican.


The decision to build the new mosque was made during Barak’s administration headed by the former minister of public security Shlomo Ben Ami. Since then it has been the cause of a bitter dispute amongst the Arabs. Finally, the Interior Ministry issued a temporary order to stop work on the foundations. But the order was disregarded and construction continued anyway. The Church is attempting to pressure not only the Israeli government, but also Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat and the American government.


Book burning in Beit Shemesh (25/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 26/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 26/12/2001, Yediot Acharonot, 26/12/2001, Ha’Aretz, 27/12/2001, Hatzofe, 27/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 28/12/2001, The Jerusalem Post, 30/12/2001, Ha’Aretz)

This event, took place in an elementary religious school in Beit Shemesh and has sent waves of anger though the entire country including the Knesset. The sixth grade teacher Ronen Tzarum, together with the school’s principal Rabbi Yair Bachar, are to be suspended by the Education Ministry for burning a copy of the New Testament found in the possession of one of the school’s students. After the event, the principal publicly apologized saying that he knows what he did was wrong.


Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior called the act a desecration of God’s name, the text was in Hebrew. Education Minister Limor Livnat said she viewed the incident with “great severity.”