January 17 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….January 17, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 23 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, Israeli attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity, Christians in Israel, and the Pope and the Vatican. Out of the total:

  • 3 dealt with anti-missionary activity
  • 2 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity
  • 3 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 10 dealt with the Vatican and the Pope
  • 2 dealt with Christianity
  • 1 dealt with sects
  • 1 was a theatre review
  • 1 was a book review


This week’s Review largely relates to world reactions to Saddam Hussein’s execution, including that of the Vatican. The latter was also heavily represented in articles reporting on the Warsaw bishop who has recently admitted to being a communist spy. While the vestiges of Christmas in Israel were also in evidence, this year contrasted strongly with others in the almost complete lack of coverage of New Year celebrations, traditionally a bone in the throat of the Orthodox community. Anti-missionary activity also came to the fore again.


Anti-missionary Activity

HaModia, January 5; Kol HaNegev, January 5, 2007

Two articles dealing with anti-missionary activity appeared in HaModia on the same day. While one referred to missionary work in the former Soviet Union, the other reported on a “new trend” of telephone calls to Orthodox families in Israel. Identified by Yad L’Achim as deriving from a source in Tel Aviv, the callers invited their respondents to participate in “fascinating Bible studies” while also offering them “free books.” The article cited Yad L’Achim’s advice, at some length, giving a good look into the organization’s rationale and conceptual world. “Even if people don’t respond positively to their [the missionaries’] perverse suggestions, it’s sufficient if they are dragged into an argument with them. From the missionaries’ perspective this is already a victory, since their rich experience has taught them that if they can engage in an argument with a Jew they have already gained the advantage, even if the person on the other end of the line is a godfearer and complete [in his Jewishness]. Because generally, those engaged in dispute are not proficient in theological topics and the missionaries, who have smooth tongues, they can easily confuse the hearers with a wealth of references and citations which roll off their tongues … This is what constitutes the grave danger. We appeal to everyone who receives such a phone call. Even if you identify the caller as a violator of the covenant [a missionary] and you really want to reprove and to taunt him with harsh words – please have mercy on your souls and don’t speak with them… End the conversation as soon as you can and report it as promptly as possible to Yad L’Achim.”

The article added that one of the ways in which Yad L’Achim is seeking to counter the missionary threat is through publication of the story of an Orthodox Jew who fell into the missionaries’ clutches two years ago as a result of entering into an argument with them. “With the person’s cooperation and walking on tiptoes, it was decided on a protracted cooling off period during which the Jew removed himself from the study sessions. In parallel, following the strengthening he had received, and with God’s wonderful help, the person returned to the bosom of his people and to his community, not only with regard to his outward appearance [the way he dressed] but even in his consciousness and awareness – as though he’d been born again.” [Editor’s note: While Yad L’Achim is well aware of “Christian” terminology, this last phrase probably signifies “as if the past had been totally erased.” This is the meaning that it usually holds in Orthodox circles –who have adopted it, not from evangelical usage, but from Talmudic sources.]

Kol HaNegev – the local paper in which events in Beersheva are covered – carried a lengthy article on the “missionary work” in the city which is generating a “Holy War” (January 5) The report follows the court’s revocation of the restraining order against Yehuda Deri (see last week’s Review). In an attempt at even-handedness, it represented the arguments of both the local congregation (“Yeshua’s Inheritance”) and the Orthodox community. Much of the discussion concerned baptism, the issue which Deri claimed sparked the disturbances nine years ago and the number of instances (identified as forty) in which Howard Bass, the congregation’s pastor participated. While the Orthodox identified the mission (indiscriminately together with the Anthroposophical sect) as “the most serious danger to Jews, even greater than Hamas,” Bass emphasized throughout the article that the congregation is living and acting according to the rules of a democratic State and “operating only through means of persuasion, not by coercion … we do everything in love, not by compulsion.”

Several signs indicate that the article’s author did not fully understand what he heard: “The final stage in the process [of conversion], which is done in the framework of ‘Nahalat Yehoshua’ and continues for a long period, is the act of baptism. … A person is baptized in the pool, and (by that act) in effect receives upon himself the faith which the members of “Nahalat Yehoshua” congregation disseminate.” [Editor’s note: Yehoshua may in some contexts be the full pronunciation of “Yeshua,” although in most cases it is used in Jewish circles as a means of not using Yeshua’s real name.]

The article makes it clear that the Orthodox reaction to Messianic Judaism relates precisely to the latter’s emphasis on its members’ Jewish identity. The author cites the Jewish complaint about the change in methods which has taken place in recent times: “They [the “missionaries”] distribute missionary material, all in the guise of the Tanakh [OT], all cloaked in Judaism which contains the sting, their messiah.” According to Deri, “The use they make of Jewish symbols is a new method designed to mislead. ‘Once the phenomenon was of priests coming with large crosses. With them we have no problem because you can identify them,’ he stressed. ‘If they come without a mask, you can recognize them, it’s a democracy, they can do what they like. The great danger is when they come masked, cloaked in Judaism [i.e., saying that they are Jewish and giving no outward sign of being Christians].”

As Deri’s comments in other places also indicate, Beersheva’s Chief Rabbi is committed to rooting out all missionary activity: “When I arrived here [in Beersheva] the missionary activity was simply out in the open, including the baptism of children, all being done with complete freedom. When we heard about the baptism of children nine years ago, we came, thousands of people, and prayed the morning and afternoon prayers. [Editor’s note: according to previous reports, including those by Deri himself, this is inaccurate. The demonstration took place following prayers in the synagogue in the morning.] We said, ‘There won’t be baptisms here, whatever it takes’ … To our joy and credit, the city of Beersheva is at the forefront of the fight against this phenomenon. We can say that Beersheva has forced the missionary activity underground, in other words they are no longer going around publicly.”


Attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity

Haaretz, January 4, 5, 2007

Although technically a music review – of a new disk of Handel’s “Messiah” – an article in Haaretz (January 4) also reflected Israeli attitudes towards Christianity in general. It noted that a rendition of the piece in the country in the 1960’s was violently interrupted by yeshiva students who broke into the concert hall “in order to ruin the concert.” According to the review, “while the oratorio speaks of Yeshu (without explicitly naming him) and on the redemption he brought, it is completely free of any statements which are likely to ring a dissonant note in Jewish ears. Most of the text is taken from the Tanakh [OT], and for this reason: the English librettist, Charles Jennens, wanted to ‘prove’ – as was acceptable in his day – that the Christian gospel was already found in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jennens’ purpose was therefore a religious-moral one, and in that context it is related that one of the artists whom Handel himself asked to perform at the premiere (Dublin, 1742) was a theater actress with a reputation for facetiousness. A priest who was present in the audience shouted to her – ‘Woman, for this your sins will be forgiven’ – following the aria “He was despised,” which describes as it were Yeshu’s humility (‘despised and forsaken of men’ – Isa. 53:[3]).

Under the title “A Jew at home” – which refers to the Jewish Enlightenment’s well-known dictum that a Jew must be a national citizen in his public life and Jewish only in his private domain – a second article in Haaretz (January 5) reported on the Israeli trend of “going to mass.” Still relating to Christmas, Yitzhak Leor noted, “On Christmas Eve you could see many couples – Ashkenazi Hebrew-speaking Jews – coming out from mass in the church in Yaffo [Joppa]. It’s very doubtful whether their counterparts in the West, from the perspective of education, learning, and social standing, would have gone to Christmas Eve mass. Midnight masses in western Christian churches – at least in those countries that have become very secular – are only meant for religious people, i.e., religious Christians. Other people speak of a family occasion, whose characteristics may be bourgeois, or religious from the past. We’re not speaking of a longing for the music of Bach, nor of a ‘return’ [‘conversion’] to the bosom of Yeshua son of Miriam. The fact that Israelis yearn for Christian culture, as part of the western experience, isn’t a sudden phenomenon but is slowly creeping into the [Israeli] culture in some sort of cunning trick of history.” Leor identified this “trick” not as the Jewish intellectual’s “coveting of ‘western values’ in the face of growing Muslim hatred” but as a strange form of “self-hatred” which has embedded itself in Jewish consciousness over the past 150 years. The Enlightenment was interpreted in some Jewish circles as “ a sort of colonial given.” To be a citizen (or even a person) meant taking on Christian culture and values. For a Christian, the dictum merely meant “be a Christian at home and a citizen outside.” Now here in Israel, many Jews still live with the same understanding. The underlying reason for the widespread Israeli “celebration of [Christmas] mass” stems from a self-hatred which refuses to acknowledge that Israel as a country is no different from Jews as a people. “We are speaking above all else about a great hostility towards our life here, as if the ongoing fighting, the poverty, the disintegration of the State – these are the environment to which our parents immigrated; or put better still, the result of the western attitude towards Jews in the last hundred years.”


Christians in Israel

Haaretz, January 5 (The Marker), 8, pp. 4, 9, 2007

While two of the three articles relating to Christians in Israel dealt with the Orthodox Christmas, the third had indirect reference to the Christian community in its report on the failure of Bank Discount’s new computer system. The old system had been set up to recognize both Jewish and Christian/Muslim holidays in connection with activities occurring on non-working days in branches serving Christian communities. The Christian holidays were not fed into the new system and therefore the list of checks without any coverage deposited on December 31 was not delivered to those returning to work on 1 January – resulting in an infringement of Israeli law, which states that customers must be informed concerning bounced checks within 24 hours.


The Pope and the Vatican

HaZofeh, January 7; Yated Ne’eman, January 4; Ma’ariv, January 7, 8; Jerusalem Post, January 4, 7; Yediot Ahronot, January 8; Haaretz, January 5, 7, 8; Globes, January 8, 2007

In addition to the wide coverage of newly-appointed archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus’ admission of spying for the communist Secret Police in Poland, many of the papal references in this week’s Israeli media relate to the Vatican’s response to Saddam Hussein’s execution. Although the Catholic reaction was not isolated but came together with similar responses from various European countries, the Israeli press took particular notice of the church’s attitude. According to Yated Ne’eman (January 4), “in the [Catholic] Church Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican’s representative to the UN, claimed, without recalling the dimensions of his crime, that no right existed that would allow killing Saddam in the middle of his life. The Vatican’s representative in Baghdad appears on a list of those receiving bribes from the police. The Vatican received 5 billion dollars in a food-for-oil deal [from Iraq].”

Two articles with essentially the same contentone in Ma’ariv (January 8) and the other in the Jerusalem Post (January 4) – compared the difference between Jewish and Christian ethics in the Vatican and Israeli (Jewish) responses to Saddam’s execution. Written by the Orthodox Yonatan Rosenblum, the first was entitled “Saddam, the Pope, and Ahmadinejad” and claimed that “a distorted ethic compares Saddam’s execution to his crimes. This is the morality of the Pope, who has compassion on Saddam and sends congratulations to Ahmadinejad.”

Having referred to Shmuely Boteach’s remark (in the Post) on the “consanguinity between the Vatican’s condemnation [of Saddam’s execution] and Pope Benedict’s reception of the Iranian foreign minister, who was fresh from organizing Teheran’s conference of Holocaust deniers, and his conveyance of warm regards to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who boasts of his plans for the next Holocaust,” Rosenblum went on to remark that “Among those rushing to condemn Saddam’s execution was the Vatican, which pronounced his hanging ‘tragic.’ Few issues so distinguish the Torah viewpoint from that of many Christian groups as that of forgiveness for mass murderers.” Describing the “Torah viewpoint,” Rosenblum suggested that: “Jews too are instructed to hate the sin and not the sinner. But sometimes the two are inextricably bound, as in Saddam’s case. And often, easy forgiveness of the sinner diminishes the horror of his crimes. As Rabbi David Gottlieb of Baltimore pointed out in the wake of the Amish tragedy, even God Himself does not forgive sins committed against a fellow human being until the victim’s forgiveness has been secured. No one can confer forgiveness on behalf of the victim, and all the more so when no forgiveness was sought … What is lost in the pat equation of Saddam’s life with those of his victims is horror of evil. And that loss of horror paves the way for further evil.”

Tuvia ben Haim added his perspective to this issue in HaZofeh (January 7): “I had hoped that the Vatican would remain silent. But why should it? It’s the same Vatican which signed a concordat (mutual agreement pact) with the Hitler regime in 1933. The person who stood behind the agreement was, as we know, the cardinal and Vatican State Secretary who became Pope Pius XXII in 1939. He was an open sympathizer of that same Germany which before Pius had prevented his predecessor from protesting the violation of the agreement by the Nazis who engaged in unethical activities on the eve of the Holocaust.”