Caspari Center Media Review………….December 4, 2006
During the week covered by this review, we received 42 articles on the subjects of the Pope and the Vatican, missionary activity and Israeli attitudes towards Christianity, Christians in Israel, Christian sites, archaeology, and Jewish identity. Out of the total:
- 17 dealt with the Vatican and the Pope
- 2 dealt with missionary and Israeli attitudes towards Christianity
- 4 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 1 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 1 dealt with archaeology
- 1 dealt with Jerusalem
- 1 dealt with Early Christianity
- 1 was an autobiography
The remaining 14 articles dealt with matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
Both the Pope and the Vatican are firmly back in the news, with analysis of the Pope’s recent visit to Turkey, papal knowledge of Auschwitz, Catholic rights in Israel, and inter-Christian relations. Missionary activity and Israeli attitudes towards Christianity also figure largely in this week’s Review.
The Pope and the Vatican
Globes, November 29; Jerusalem Post, November 29, 30, December 4; Haaretz, November 29, 30, December 1 (English and Hebrew editions); HaZofeh, November 26; Ma’ariv, November 27, 29, December 1; Yediot Aharanot, November 27, 28; Yated Ne’eman, November 29; Israeli, November 27, 2006
As the above references indicate, coverage of the Pope’s “historic” visit to Turkey – his first official visit to a Muslim country – was evident across all sections of the Israeli media. With security high in the face of huge demonstrations, the Pope signified his intentions for peace by worshipping in the Blue Mosque, removing his shoes on entry, and offering a silent prayer in conclusion. Much of the analysis of the visit emphasized the Pope’s offer of “brotherhood and reconciliation” to the Turks specifically and to Muslims in general. In the words of the Jerusalem Post reporter from Ankara (November 29), “Benedict’s journey is extraordinarily sensitive, a closely watched pilgrimage full of symbolism that could offer hope of religious reconciliation, or deepen what many say is a growing divide between the Christian and Islamic worlds.”
The same paper’s reporter in Rome (December 4) entitled his article “The Pope Without His Sting,” proposing that Benedict’s “face of confrontation, and perhaps the hold on certainty, seemed to soften … In the place of tough talk, Benedict suggested ‘dialogue’ – a concept, with regard to Islam especially, that he had not seemed completely open to before.” The questions this new attitude raised are several, “starting with whether or not Benedict, the doctrinal purist, has somehow gone soft … Other commentators, with varying views of the Pope, put the question another way: can one’s idea of truth be expressed differently, especially when reality gets in the way?”
According to the same paper, the “original goal of the Pope’s trip to Turkey was to meet Bartholomew I, leader of the world’s 300 millions Orthodox Christians.” This “Christian summit” was also covered by an article in Haaretz (November 30), which asserted that Benedict “accomplished one of the most important missions he had set for himself in his visit when he met in Istanbul with the Patriarch Bartholomew I.” Bartholomew indicated his openness to dialogue by meeting the Pope at the airport and the talks between the two, following the Pope’s celebration of mass beside the house of the virgin Mary in Ephesus. These talks included “ways to overcome the rift between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches which has clouded the Christian world since 1054.” Despite this achievement, it was nevertheless the Pope’s relation to Islam that became the “focus” of the visit.
The Jewish aspect of the Vatican’s “foreign relations” was raised in the Israeli media this week with the resumption of talks over the Roman Catholic Church’s rights in Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post (November 30), the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission “has been tasked with resolving differences over the implementation of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between the Vatican and Israel,” by which the Vatican formally recognized Israel in return for Israel’s promise to recognize the Church’s legal, fiscal, and property rights in the country. Haaretz of the same date reported that while until now “Israel has resisted giving special tax exemptions to the Vatican,” the recent talks have achieved “considerable progress” in the matter, hopefully helping to consolidate the improved Israeli-Vatican relations which have developed “over the years.”
These relations might be reinforced by reports concerning Pius XII’s role during the Holocaust. “New research” into which, according to Haaretz (December 1), “bares Vatican criticism of Nazi-era Pope.” Traditional claims of papal silence have been based on the assumption that the Pope “knew of the genocide as early as the early 1940s but did not act to stop it.” With the opening of the Vatican archives (see previous Reviews), researchers such as Dina Porat from Tel Aviv University have uncovered reports which indicate that while he was Nuncio in Turkey in 1943, the future Pius XII “wrote to the Catholic president of Slovakia asking him to stop the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. He wrote at the behest of Jewish Agency delegate Haim Barlas with whom he had a close personal relationship.”
When Barlas received the “Auschwitz Protocols” in 1944 which revealed the existence of the camps he gave them to Nuncio Roncalli to read. The latter told Barlas that “he was filled with resentment towards his superiors, ‘whose power and influence are great, but who refrain from action and resourcefulness in extending concrete help.’” The article reports that while the Vatican version asserts that Pius XII received the Auschwitz Protocols only in October of 1944, Roncalli told Barlas that he would forward them “immediately.”
Missionary Activity and Israeli Attitudes to Christianity
Yom L’Yom, November 23; Iton Yerushalayim, November 24, 2006
Under its regular column, “A Story for the Sabbath Table,” the religious paper Yom L’Yom (November 23) recounted the tale of a daughter of an Egyptian Jewish family who became a Christian. The story is evidently a “cautionary tale,” and is interesting both for that reason and for its details. Sarah, whose mother regularly took her to work with her at a missionary school where the latter taught English, was exposed to the “unstinted efforts” of the staff to “pull her towards them with smooth talk and temptations in order to drag her in the direction of their religion and faith.” Sarah succumbed to this influence and eventually became a “Christian woman to all intents and purposes, from customs to clothing and prayers and faith in their god, may G-d have mercy.” Having married an English soldier and moved to Britain, Sarah gave birth to two girls, telling neither of them of their Jewish identity. The younger, Sista, growing up as a Christian, had no interest in Judaism – and was even put off by a visit to the synagogue on Yom Kippur – until she met some “missionaries” to the Jews from Oslo at an international conference in Nottingham who “wore beards and dressed as Orthodox Jews.” These missionaries “were accustomed to integrate into Jewish communities and work inside them.” They distributed “tracts” at the conference which they presented as a source of information about Judaism. On reading one about Shabbat, Sarah was attracted to the ideas. She received more material from the publisher, a Rabbi in the city, who wrote to her both that he appreciated her interest and that he “was aware that the step she had made was dangerous for her, but that it only proved to him how much she really wanted to know and study the truth.” The day before meeting with him, she also met with the “chief priest” [of the church she attended] – who similarly admonished her that she was “playing with fire. You’ve been warned!” Today, Tova (neé Sarah) and her husband Rav Hananiah and their children “are living in the holy city of Sfat … Tova realized her words and indeed went to the place where she belonged; she returned to her Jewish roots.”
An Orthodox organization named “Hatzala Israel” [“Israel Rescue”] recently participated in a fundraising event attended by several of the best-known Christian preachers in the States, including John Hagee (Iton Yerushalayim, November 24). A similar fundraising evening was broadcast on Christian television, known for its missionary preaching, which asked for contributions to Hatzala. In addition, some of its members were invited to speak at the “Bible Church” in Arkansas, together with representatives from Magen David Adom [the Israeli Red Cross]. All this took place against the background of a protest by the organization’s President against Christian contributions to “Zaka,” one of the most important – and tragic – organizations in Israel devoted to collecting the remains of people killed in terror attacks and other accidents in order to make sure that the bodies are buried with no parts missing.
Orthodox representatives also visited the organization to complain that Jewish law forbids visits to churches (see previous Reviews). [As the Jewish saying goes, “Moses is Moses; business [money] is business” – signifying in this context, where you can gain from the Christians do so; where you can’t, stay away from them.]
Under the title “Higher Providence,” an article in Kol HaIr (December 1) addressed some of the issues involved in Jewish parenting – including belief in God. “How does one explain his identity to a child? What is a Jew? Israeli? Human being?” The question was complicated for this particular family by a trip taken to visit friends in the North. On the way, they “went into one of the beautiful churches in the area. Oi! What do you know? Another entire religion, which also has its believers, in things completely different than ours, with symbols and heroes completely different to those about which we were taught in school in Tel Aviv. The crucified one who looked around from every place greatly impressed my two children, and when they asked who it was and what happened to him I rolled my eyes and employed a cheap diversionary tactic to the tune of ‘Look – a bird!’ I couldn’t bring myself to get into such intricacies.”
Christians in Israel
Ma’ariv, November 27, December 1, 4, 2006
In an article reviewing charges of “racism” against Ruth Gavizon, one of Israel’s leading jurists, the status of Christians was raised in relation to a group of “20 intellectuals, 12 Jews and 8 Arabs” who attempted to formulate an agreement between Jews and Arabs in Israel. The agreement wasn’t formulated: The Arabs in the group demanded, more or less, Jewish forfeiture of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State” (December 1). Gavizon’s assertion was that “cultural – not ethnic – differences feed inequality” in Israel. The example she gave was that “Christians within the Arab sector suffer much less, if at all, from inequality. The difference isn’t ethnic but cultural.” In explaining Gavizon’s position, the author of the article asserted that while racism and discrimination do exist, “those who refuse to understand that inequality does not only derive from those two phenomena do not understand anything. The Christians in Israel enjoy equality. Muslims who give up part of their eastern cultural elements enjoy equality. Maybe not complete equality, but much more equality. Whoever wants to relate to members of other groups as equals must rid himself of the poison of patronization and superiority and learn the truth: there are some cultures which possess elements that obstruct progress. There are some cultures which contain the fetters of oppression.”
A second article in Ma’ariv (December 4) reported on “Domus Galilaea” – a school for Catholic priests located on the tope of The Mount of Beatitudes. The school was the fulfillment of a dream dreamt by Pope Paul II in the 1980’s in which he saw “a grand structure on the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee for the training of priests, in the place where Yeshua spent much of his time and performed miracles and from which his disciples went out.” The building contains accommodation for the priests, a library, and a large conference hall on the top floor with a seating capacity of 300.
A third article in the same paper (November 27) related to the current struggle in Jerusalem between the Ethiopian Church and the city over property, which the former are seeking to turn into a pilgrim site and the latter into a national park. According to the Ethiopians, the location in Nachal Refaim has served as a baptismal site since the year 34 when the Ethiopian in Acts 8 was baptized by Philip. “This place belongs to us. We have a right to ask the authorities to erect a site for pilgrimage there,” stated Ethiopian Patriarch Paul. According the Nature Parks Authority and others, the spring “constitutes the central attraction of the proposed Park” which is designed for the use of all the citizens of the capital.
Ma’ariv, December 1, 2006
In his comments on the Torah portion of the week, Vayetzeh (Gen. 28:11-32:3), Shalom Rosenberg of the Hebrew University related to the biblical period in which “Ishmael and Esau were neighboring peoples to Israel. Later, after many generations, the Sages interpreted Ishmael as representing Islam and Esau-Edom as representing Christianity. The idea of division has now received a new meaning. These religions were born under the influence of Judaism. Like Esau, they say to Jacob (Gen. 33:12): ‘Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.’ This is an important historical phenomenon. Both Islam and Luther, and certainly the early Christians, saw themselves at the beginning as fulfilling the original Israelite vision and seeking to add Judaism to themselves. The Jews refused, and answered like Jacob: ‘Please let my lord pass on before his servant; and I will proceed at my leisure’ (Gen. 33:14).”
Jerusalem Post, December 4, 2006
As so frequently happens all across Israel, an ancient archeological site was recently discovered at Mishmar David by workers in the process of preparing for construction on the site. Situated between Latrun and Rehovot, the remains of a settlement consisting of residential buildings, villas, public buildings, an industrial zone housing agricultural installations, and streets and alleys were uncovered. According to the report, “The importance of the excavation and its contribution to the study of the past lie in the intensity of the remains [and] the size of the settlement.” The additional fact that it contained a Jewish and Christian population was confirmed by the existence of two mikvaot (ritual baths), together with “unequivocal Christian symbols … such as crosses that were revealed on clay lamps, and inscriptions in ancient Greek that mention ‘the mother of God,’ a Christian saying that was characteristic of the Byzantine period.”
Yom L’Yom, November 30, 2006
In the wake of the Gay Pride march and all the emotions it raised (see previous Reviews), several private bills have been put on the Knesset table “whose purpose is to prevent marches of abomination in the future.” The explanation provided for the bills included the following points: “Since in the ‘Basic Law – Jerusalem,’ the capital of Israel, a special place is given to the city as a city with a special status to three religions; and since in recent years a very delicate situation has been created in which a small minority is endeavoring to harm that symbolic status, of Jerusalem as a city sacred to three religions, an urgent need exists to determine in the ‘Law of Jerusalem’ that religious values common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam cannot be upset.”
Ma’ariv, November 28, 2006
As in previous years, Jerusalem has once again received a large consignment of Dutch tulips, sent by Christians in Holland. The flowers were delivered in a ceremony conducted by the head of the Pro-Israel Lobby in the European Parliament and will be planted by special needs children. They “symbolize the identification of Dutch Christians with Israel and with its capital, Jerusalem.”
Haaretz, December 1, 2006
Zvi Yanai, a noted and influential Israeli author, recently published his autobiography. He was born to a Hungarian non-Jewish father and an Austrian Jewish mother and grew up in fascist Italy as a Christian. During the war, his father offered his services to the fascist propaganda office and subsequently disappeared. His mother worked for the Wermacht and warned the local Jewish residents of impending deportations. Yanai would like to believe the latter story, but has his doubts about it. His mother died when he was only eight and he survived the war in the care of a nursemaid. Zvi discovered his Jewish identity when members of the Jewish Brigade arrived from Eretz Israel. Being Jewish for him was to be “something less, only a little higher than the gypsies whom everyone considered thieves and child kidnappers, people who weren’t concerned about their cleanliness.” At that point, Yanai was sent to a kibbutz. His Christian upbringing meant that he celebrated mass at Christmas in secret. Since he imagined himself as a Marrano (secret Jew), however, he was subsequently able to undergo circumcision and Hebraize his name, serving as a paratrooper in the army. While the subheading of the article indicates that he studied for the priesthood, the article makes no mention of this. Today, he considers himself an atheist and his commitment to Israel is based not on its Jewish, but on its democratic nature.