Caspari Center Media Review………….November 27, 2006
During the week covered by this review, we received 31 articles on the subjects of the missionary and anti-missionary activity, the Pope and the Vatican, Jewish-Christian relations, Christian sites, and the Christian media. Out of the total:
- 6 dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
- 8 dealt with the Vatican and the Pope
- 3 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations (including a book review)
- 2 dealt with Christian sites
- 1 dealt with the Christian media
- 2 dealt with homosexuality
- 1 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 1 dealt with Christian tourism
- 1 dealt with anti-Semitism
The remaining 6 articles dealt with matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
While the Pope and the Vatican are back in the news – in relation alike to AIDS, Christian relations, the Pope’s scheduled visit to Turkey, and Christian sites in Israel – missionary activity has returned to the limelight in the Israel press this week. Homosexuality is raised from a Jewish perspective in the light of Christian influence as well, with Jewish-Christian relations also figuring largely in other contexts.
Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity
Mishpaha, November 16; HaModia, November 22; Yated Ne’eman, November 22; Yom L’Yom, November 16; Kol HaIr – Bnei Brak, November 15, 2006
The plans of one of the local Messianic congregations – Roeh Israel – to expand their building close to the center of town, which have long been in the making and have not been kept secret, came to the attention of the Orthodox press this week. A report in Mishpaha (November 16) records the events from an Orthodox perspective: “At this time, the church of Messianic believers in That Man [Jesus] are seeking a permit for their activities from the municipality. The church, located on the corner of Narkis and Ussishkin Streets in Rechavia, and close by the [religious] neighborhood of Sha’arei Hesed, conducts prayer [meetings] on Shabbat which resemble a regular synagogue service. Its adherents are cloaked with prayer shawls [talitot] and yarmulkes – a fact which is misleading. People think that they are attending a Jewish synagogue. It should be noted that the place has a sukka at the Feast of Tabernacles [Sukkot], like every ordinary Jewish institution. All of this scheme is executed, as we have said, without the church having permission to operate as a religious establishment, since it is situated in a building zoned for private residential use. The church is also seeking to receive a building permit for a significant expansion of its premises, including the addition of a shop to the shops which it already rents [out] in order to fund its activities. The residents of the neighborhood are apprehensive lest the church and its future plans will now receive approval from the municipality and hope that the matter will be taken care of in the proper fashion and won’t hurt the character of the neighborhood.”
(Editors Note: Significantly, the “religious” facts reported are accurate, in contrast to the “legal” ones which are not. Roeh Israel’s services are indeed modeled on the synagogue service – and the congregation does erect a sukka each year. However, the parent organization of the congregation (Netivyah) already owns the shops underneath the building – whose income (from a fixed, low rent) does not fund the congregation’s activities. Since the organization has owned the building, in which the congregation meets (paying rent), for twenty years, it is hard to imagine how the character of the neighborhood will now be adversely affected. The municipality has long recognized the right of the building to be used as a synagogue and is in the process of issuing a permit for expansion of the premises.)
“Lev L’Achim” – a similar organization to Yad L’Achim – is fighting a complaint filed in the Supreme Court by the Messianic owner of a coffee shop and bakery – “Pnina Pie” – in Gan Yavneh against the Ashdod rabbinate who revoked her kashrut license due to her Messianic beliefs. According to Yated Ne’eman and HaModia (November 22), citing an interview given to the Messianic journal “Kivun,” the owner “converted” over six years ago and immediately transformed the bakery into “a missionary center” dedicated to “preaching conversion.” When this activity become known to Lev L’Achim, she transferred the shop to her husband’s name in the hope of regaining her license and moved her missionary activity to nearby Ashdod, opening two similar shops with the same name as previously. The funds for the new venture came partly from the Nehemiah Trust, a “financial fund which supports missionaries in helping to build businesses.” With the presentation of the file to the Supreme Court, Lev L’Achim urged the residents of Ashdod to engage in prayer for the cessation of the “dangerous missionary activity” in the city.
The article continued with a description of the congregation in Ashdod, led by Oleg Chazin, including its food and clothing distribution ministry, which is partially funded by the “MJMI” (“Messianic Alliance of America”). “To the shame of our hearts, members of the social welfare department in Ashdod are also referring needy people to this distribution ministry.” Two other congregations exist in the city – one run by the “apostate [Israel] Pochtar” and the second connected to the “missionary Davidov” associated with a Baptist church in West Virginia.
(Editors Note: Here, too, as in previous media cases we have encountered, Yated Ne’eman’s reporting is not entirely faithful. The article it cites from Kivun was indeed printed, in volume 31, Oct./Dec. 2002. However, while Yated Ne’eman claims that in it Pnina “tells about her work in the mission,” the article is solely devoted to her baking skills. Although it is obvious that Pnina belongs to the local Messianic congregation, there is no mention of “preaching” or any other “missionary activity” connected to the bakery – or to anywhere else.)
Under the headline “Shameful profanation of Shabbat accompanied by missionary preaching expected to take place in the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds,” HaModia (November 22) reported on the third such scheduled event by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel (see previous Reviews).
In a play on words which also works in English, Kol HaIr – Bnei Brak (November 15) ran an article reporting on the fact that religious students in a high school in Migdal near the Sea of Galilee came home with “shining coins on which was written ‘Yeshu the Messiah.’” The settlement is composed of a mere 200 families, its only excitement in the last few years has been a massive increase in newly-observant members. While this has not worried the local Rabbi, the coins – marked also with a cross and the inscription “You have found the Messiah” – are the first evidence he has gathered of missionary activity linked to Beit Bracha, a hostel established in the settlement three years ago. “They accommodate gentiles who visit the Land and right from the beginning we understood that they believed in That Man and we had the feeling that they were engaged in some activity.” Despite the help of Yad L’Achim, no grounds were found for appealing against the center, since “everyone has the right to purchase property in Israel.”
While the article itself gives no grounds for associating the coins with Beit Bracha – apparently an assumption made by the residents – the local Rabbi is much more moderate in his response than others: “Of course I would prefer that they leave, but what have I gained? We can’t force them to leave the Land, they want to be here, they’ll only move to Jerusalem or Tiberias. We must be practical. We also don’t want to act violently in order not to get ourselves in trouble with the law. It’s not our job to change their views. That will only happen with the coming of the Messiah – ‘On that day the name of the Lord will be One.’ We only ask that they don’t influence our good Jews.” [Editors Note: Beit Bracha (House of Blessing) belongs to and is run by ITAC- the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church- as a “prayer/retreat center.” As the article points out, the missionary law does relate to minors, so giving coins to children might be illegal.]
The Pope and the Vatican
Globes, November 21; Jerusalem Post, November 23; Haaretz, November 24, 26, pp. 2, 6; HaZofeh, November 26; Ma’ariv, November 26; Yated Ne’eman, November 27, 2006
Several papers remark on the danger to which the Pope is being exposed in his scheduled visit to Turkey. While he has also urged the Lebanese not to be “overwhelmed by hatred, but to strengthen national unity, justice and reconciliation” in the wake of Gemayel’s assassination (Jerusalem Post, November 23), a letter written to HaZofeh (November 26) called the Pope to account for failing to protest the murder of the leader of the Christian Lebanese community or defending the latter’s rights in the face of Muslim aggression.
An article was devoted to the world premiere of a film in the Vatican (Haaretz, November 26, pp. 2, 6). “The Nativity Story” was shown to an audience of 7000 invited guests, including the Pope, the producer, actors, and distributors. The film, which will also be screened in Israel, “tells [the story of] the journey of Miriam, Yeshu’s mother, and her husband Joseph to Bethlehem, of Miriam’s mysterious pregnancy and of Yeshu’s birth. Proceeds from the showing are to go towards the construction of a school in Mughar, a mixed Jewish-Christian-Muslim town near Nazareth.
Jerusalem Post, November 24, pp. 21, 38; Ma’ariv, November 24; Makor Rishon, November 17, 2006
Two reports of Jewish-Christian relations appeared in the media during the week covered by this Review. The first, which appeared in the Jerusalem Post (November 24), was a review of a book about Emma Lazarus and her poetry. Focusing on the poetess’ “precarious social position,” the authors note that Lazarus “was at once part of the genteel society around her and also – due to her ethnic origin – somewhat apart. While Americans of the time were entranced by the ancient Hebrews – the race from which Jesus emerged – they were far less attracted to the working-class European Jews who were beginning to stream to New York.”
This anti-Semitic tendency recently burst into full flame – literally/literarily – in Jerusalem. According to an article in Ma’ariv (November 24), members of the city’s local Council received a package in the mail last week containing “an ornate set of books presenting the world of the Christian faith.” Persuaded that the material was of a missionary content, Shas member Shmuel Yitzhaki “collected the books, gathered firewood and kindled a small bonfire in the middle of the municipality square, into which were thrown the abominable materials in a public ceremony.” Not all members of the Council approved of the action. A Meretz Councilman recalled the adage that where books are burnt, the burning of people will follow. The municipality’s own response was to remark that they had received no complaints about the burning, but that in light of the serious connotations of the act, a better course of action would have been to return the books to their sender.
The history of Jewish-Christian relations in the modern period is covered by a new book published by Yad Ben-Zvi in Jerusalem, entitled Cross and Star of David – The Christian World in Israel’s Foreign Policy 1848-1967, authored by Uri Bialer (Makor Rishon, November 17). Under the title “Loaded relations,” the reviewer explained that the “reasonable reader who takes a research book on such a ‘heavy’ subject is morally engaged even before opening the first page.”
Professor Bialer – who received his doctorate from the London School of Economics in 1974 and has been on the faculty at the Hebrew University since 1975 – describes how his interest in the subject was sparked by a history lesson in school in which he was asked to explain the “the Holy Trinity in Christianity” – and the reprimanding response which greeted his silence. The book itself examines the history of the Catholic attitude to the Zionist movement – which Bialer suggests is an extension of the theological position that the Jews were exiled from the Land because of their rejection of Jesus. This reasoning also lay behind the Vatican’s refusal to save Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust.
The Vatican also opposed the UN motion to create the State of Israel in 1948 – and while Jewish soldiers vandalized Christian churches during the War of Independence, Ben Gurion issued orders for such perpetrators to be shot. With the “capture” of Nazareth, he further prohibited the expulsion of its citizens, most of whom were Christians. The review goes on to state that: “The hostility which the Christian world displayed towards the State of Israel derived first of all from the latent anti-Semitism which diffused in his [Jesus’?] blood over the course of 2000 years and as a result of the War of Independence.” In addition to Catholic attitudes, Bialer also looks at the mission in Israel in depth, including real estate and church properties.
Globes, November 21; Makor Rishon, November 17, 2006
The Vatican’s relation to Nazareth remains in the news nearly 60 years after the founding of the State. In an article entitled “If we were to transfer Nazareth to Italy” (Globes, November 21), the author acknowledges that “Nazareth is apparently a sad tourist failure. The city of Yeshu, in which he lived most of his years, the city in every corner of which there are historical sites full of profound religious significance to all Christians, the city in which Christianity began, is suffering from a lack of development of its ‘natural’ resources.” As Tarak Shahada, Director of the Nazareth Association for Culture and Tourism, is quoted as saying: “Our vision is to reach a situation in which the State of Israel understands that the city possesses enormous cultural, historical, tourist, and religious potential of a scope incomparable to any where else in the world. If we were to transfer Nazareth to Italy, the Vatican would be number 2 and Nazareth number 1.”
Unfortunately, sites sacred to Christianity in Israel are not exempt from inter-Christian conflict and controversy. In another book, this time devoted to an examination of the sacred sites in Israel, lawyer Dr. Shmuel Berkovitz looks at the latter’s religious and political significance and legal status. Entitled What an Awful/awesome Place This Is, the book focuses on holiness and deals in large part with the status of the Temple Mount and its place in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It also looks at the laws regulating sacred sites in general, including the “law of preservation” which carries a 5-7 years’ jail sentence for anyone profaning the sanctity of a site or attempting to prevent another person from entering it.
Regular courts do not have the authority to rule on conflicts relating to holy places, a law dating back to the Mandate period; such authority resides with the highest officials in government. Despite this, no legal definition of a “sacred site” exists in Israeli jurisprudence, nor has it been determined who possesses the power to make such a definition. With regard to Christian holy sites, Berkovitz examines the question of the “status quo” – who has jurisdiction over what. As the reviewer noted, “Almost all of the seven places sacred to Christianity (four in Jerusalem, three in Bethlehem) is a subject of controversy between the different communities with regard to the rights over the place and the items within it. For instance, the Holy Sepulcher contains 43 lamp stands – 13 of which belong to the Greek Orthodox, 13 to the Catholics, and 4 to the Copts. A Greek Orthodox monk who dusts a lamp stand belonging to the Armenians will immediately receive severe blows.”
Yediot Aharanot, November 26, 2006
While Christian films have been much in the limelight of the Israeli media recently, this week’s press included an article on a new computer game. Entitled “The Messiah is coming,” Noam Reshef contributed a lengthy piece on the storm “Left Behind” is making in the US. Drawing a comparison between the attacks made on computer games for the violence and sex they contain to the war in Lebanon, Reshef suggested that this time “the industry suffered an attack of a different kind.” “Left Behind” is based on “the book of Revelation in the New Testament – or, more precisely, a series of successful action/sci-fi books.”
According to Reshef, although its apocalyptic nature places the game together with 30% of similar computer games on the market, it has an unusual “plot twist which takes it out of many of the macho theme competitors which surround it in the shops. When the world ends, apparently, 2 billion people disappear, who are taken straight to the bosom of God. Those who are taken are the believers and the pure. Those who are left behind – and this gives the game its name – are the wicked and faithless on the one hand and those about whose intention the good God wasn’t entirely sure.” Under the subheading “The Purpose: Conversion,” Reshef explained that “the ultimate goal of the game is to overcome the forces of evil … to enlist all the neutral residents of the city [New York] and to turn them into believers. Whoever refuses to change his faith, or joins the forces of the non-believers, is wiped out.”
Part of Reshef’s concern about “Left Behind” derives from the fact that it does not belong to the cheap and gory kind of game but is professionally produced and “mainstream.” He is obviously worried that “the purpose here is not to be a negligible amusement game or a newspaper heading but for huge sales in the game field of the giants.” Reshef’s attention was caught by the fact that the music which accompanies the game is likewise of high quality – and links make it possible to divert from the game and purchase any particular song which makes an impression.
Speaking of “Christians and songs,” Reshef noted that “in addition to the cinema, Yeshu is breaking box offices in other forms of entertainment as well. In 2005, 43 million albums of ‘spiritual music’ or Christian rock were sold in the States … In Orlando, Florida, not far from Disney World, you’ll find a Christian entertainment part, “‘The Holy Land Experience’ which presents the last walk of Yeshua.”
The article concludes with a description of the Left Behind books. Here, too, Reshef is distinctly uneasy about their scriptural content and its implications for Jews and Israel. If all those who are neutral are supposed to become believers, “What about the Jews? They repent and understand that Christianity is the true way … The series may support Israel, but from its perspective Judaism is simply a case of wrong belief.”
Haaretz, November 24; Ratzui u-Matzui, November 17, 2006
While Haaretz (November 24) carried an article headlined “Catholic Church precedent: The Pope considers allowing condoms to prevent AIDS,” Ratzui u-Matzui (November 17) featured the views of Prof. Admiel Kosman who believes that “There is another [sort of] sex.” In contrast to the majority Orthodox conviction that homosexuality is opposed to Judaism, Kosman wants to propose a halakhic (Jewish legal) solution – i.e., to draw homosexuality into the fold of Judaism. In an interview, he explained the Talmudic attitude to homosexuality as he interprets it: “The Talmud itself has no ruling on homosexuality, and it was the Rambam [Maimonides], who turned the Talmud into a fixed book of rules. He was greatly influenced by Greek Aristotelian philosophy, which included an instrumental worship of the body. Consequently, he called sex ‘this filthy sense.’ Christianity, which was disseminated by Paul, the Jew, and regards sexuality as sin, also influenced Judaism, which didn’t wish to be inferior. We have traveled a great distance from the days of the Babylonian Talmud and Judaism has become Pauline.”