January 24 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….January 24, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 16 articles on the subjects of Israeli attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus, Christians in Israel, Christian Zionism, Christianity, and anti-Semitism. Out of the total:

  • 4 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity/Jesus
  • 1 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 1 dealt with Early Christianity
  • 2 dealt with Christian Zionism
  • 2 dealt with anti-Semitism
  • 1 dealt with Christian tourism
  • 1 dealt with anti-missionary activity (in Germany)
  • 3 dealt with Christianity
  • 1 was a book review


As in the week preceding and including Christmas, the period around the New Year also brought a spurt of articles relating to Sylvester, which we have cited as representative of Israeli attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus. Two articles (one a book review) highlighted Christian Zionism, complemented by another article relating to Christian tourism from Korea. This week’s Review also focuses on several aspects of anti-Semitism.


Attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus

Zman HaSharon, December 12; HaIr Eilat, December 28; L’Isha, December 25, 2006; HaZofeh, January 10, 2007

In a letter to HaZofeh (January 10) entitled “Christmas in Petah-Tikva,” Edvah Naveh – whose views on the festival we have already encountered in previous Reviews – indignantly noted that the visitor to the city during Hanukka “would have had the impression that Christmas and Sylvester have become the central holidays in Petah-Tikva and that Hanukka has been pushed aside.” Not only was she upset, again, by Santa Clauses, this time in the shop windows of the main street in town, but even more so by their presence next to “toy pigs.” She also pointed out that while the city’s municipality has long objected to the opening of cinemas on Fridays “it has completely ignored the infiltration of Christian symbols.”

Also in light of the Christmas festivities, Alit Karp contributed an article to the popular women’s magazine L’Isha (December 25) entitled “Yeshu Superstar,” in which she endeavored to link Jesus and Friday the thirteenth. While billions of Christians consider Jesus “the messiah who came and will come again,” the “truth is that the Christian messiah was apparently born to an unknown father.” Despite this opener, Karp then gives the New Testament account of Jesus’ birth and goes on to say: “Yeshu was and remains, so it seems, the most important Jew in the world: he kept the commandments, preached a modest way of life, spoke Hebrew and perhaps Aramaic, helped the sick and unfortunate, walked on the water, turned water into wine, fed 4,000 people with seven pieces of bread and a few fish, and succeeded in drawing, after the story of his life and most centrally the story of his death by crucifixion at the age of about 30, about a billion followers across the world.” His death – by the Romans at the encouragement of the Sanhedrin – came as a result of suspicion that he was disloyal to the Romans, and he was handed over by Judas Iscariot after the last supper, “that is, the Passover Seder night.” And the connection with Friday 13? “The superstition that Friday 13 is an evil day derives from the fact that Yeshu was crucified on a Friday (called ‘the long Friday’ or ‘Good Friday’) and thirteen people sat around the last supper table: Yeshu and his twelve disciples.”

Karp continued with other “facts” concerning Jesus – here unfortunately less accurate in content: “Yeshu didn’t write his Gospel [sic; she appears to think that there is only one]. It was written about 60 years after his death by people who didn’t know him and their stories about his life constitute the New Testament.” Since “scholars think that Yeshu was in fact born in the spring of 4 b.c.e.” why do people celebrate Christmas on December 25? The answer again relates to pre-Christian rites connected to the winter equinox. In short, “Christmas is an other expression of Christianity’s success in assimilating local traditions and adapting new gospels.”

Again in regard to Sylvester, Zman HaSharon (December 29) carried a brief interview with Michael Hersigor, a left-wing professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. The first question the academic was asked went directly to the heart of the matter: “When, for God’s sake, was Yeshu born?” The answer: “People mistakenly think that Christians count their calendar from Yeshu’s birth, but in fact Yeshu was born on December 24 and his circumcision is what starts the year on 1 January.” In response to the question, “Is there any link between Hanukka and Christmas,” Hersigor replied strongly in the affirmative. He regarded the fact that lighting candles on the shortest day of the year (December 21) was “certainly” an “ancient Jewish and Christian tradition.” With respect to the celebration of Sylvester, Hersigor pointed to nineteenth century British royalty, in the person of Prince Albert, who was originally German. “Sylvester is called after Pope Sylvester I … actually a very insignificant pope,” because the “Catholics name every day after someone else.”

Similar questions were raised in HaIr Eilat (December 28), in an article that began with the statement: “We haven’t yet finished counting the calories we’ve accumulated from Hanukka and we’re already preparing for the next feast – Sylvester! Who was Sylvester, how is he connected to us [Jews], and how and why do we celebrate the feast?” Here, we learn – due to the writers’ “kindness” – that Pope Sylvester died on December 31, “so in effect the Christians called that night Sylvester.” “And what’s the story with this pope anyway?! It goes like this: the legend relates that Sylvester used to torture and kill Jews, but this is the place to shatter this myth. There’s no proof whatsoever that Sylvester acted this way towards the Jews and it seems that these are just rumors – and in any case we don’t celebrate Sylvester at all. A new year begins and there are good parties, we go out, have a good time, have fun. And those who want to be shocked, let them stay at home. May you have a good civil New Year.”


Christians in Israel

Shishi b’Ir – Lod, November 24, 2006

While Christmas (and the New Year) feature as the most prominent Christian holidays in Israel, a brief note in the local monthly Shishi b’Ir – Lod (November 24) remarked on another, less well-known festival associated with the city of Lod. According to Orthodox tradition, the festivities connected to St. George, the community’s patron saint, “later gained the title ‘the Lod festival,’ celebrated in the church of St. George located in the Shalom Park in Lod, a site on which are concentrated places holy to the three religions – the Jewish synagogue ‘The Gates of Heaven,’ the Muslim mosque ‘Al Omari,’ and, as we have said, the church of St. George, a Greek Orthodox church that was erected in 1870.” The celebrations appear to have consisted of a procession through the town, a formal welcome of the Greek Patriarch and his entourage, and a festive meal in the “Orthodox club” in Lod attended by the Mayor, members of the city’s Rotary Club, and the heads of the Lod Orthodox community.


Early Christianity

Haaretz, December 22, 2006, Ma’ariv, January 12

“At the lowest place on earth,” Arel Segal conducted “a rapid journey through the perplexities of the third Jewish sovereignty” (Ma’ariv, January 12). Arriving at Qumran, where he read Josephus’ account of the Essenes, the Dead Sea community reminded him of Christianity: “There is apparently no doubt – and certainly none after research into the Dead Sea Scrolls – that parts of the sect’s perspective penetrated early Christianity. An echo of the thought of the Qumran sect is clearly found in the evangelistic [sic; a common Israeli mistake for “evangelical”] stream of Christianity at the center of whose faith lays the book ‘The Apocalypse of John.’ This is the last book in the New Testament, which is sometimes called the ‘Book of Revelation.’ It describes, according to their belief, the events of the last days prior to Yeshu’s return on the Day of Judgment. The Greek name of the book is ‘Apocalypse,’ whence comes the term ‘apocalypse’ which marks the end of the world. George Bush, the present President of the United States, belongs to this stream [of Christianity].”


Christian Zionism

Jerusalem Post, January 1, 12, 2007

On the third anniversary of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus, the Jerusalem Post (January 9) reviewed the organization’s history and accomplishments. “Established in January 2004 amid an unprecedented wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, the parliamentary lobby immediately took off, as pro-Israel Christian pilgrims, particularly Evangelicals, stood out in the then-empty streets of Jerusalem, their moral support conspicuous among the city’s hard-hit residents at a time when even many American Jews didn’t come to Israel.” According to the report, the lobby “is involved in programs to increase Christian tourism to Israel, strengthen Israel’s dialogue with the African American community and improve the status of women globally on the basis of Judeo-Christian values, events that aim to broaden its ties with Christians of all denominations, beyond its natural alliance with the supportive Evangelical world.” While the Caucus has garnered substantial support in Israel, it has been largely “cold-shouldered” by American Jewish organizations. In light of its, albeit short, history, its current president, Josh Reinstein, stated: “The Caucus has toiled to accomplish a great deal in the last three years, but the best is to come.”

The “onward” march of Christian Zionism was promoted by Calev Ben-David in his review of Zev Chafets’ recent book, A Match Made in Heaven (Jerusalem Post, January 12). Hailing the volume as a “ useful and largely correct addition to the public discussion with the Jewish community about how to relate to evangelical support of Israel,” Ben-David complemented Chafets (his “old editor at The Jerusalem Report”) on “getting the big picture right” while lightly criticizing him for missing some of “the nuances of a relationship he dubs ‘the weird and wonderful Judeo-Evangelical alliance.’” The latter appear to include “Jewish concerns over the very active missionizing by the evangelical community” – even where Chafets is aware that “Evangelical Christians do not believe they are called upon to play a role in making Armageddon come to pass. That’s God’s job.” Significantly, Ben-David pointed out that, despite having lived in the US for thirty years, Chafets’ perspective remains that of an Israeli, and in this context gives as an example Chafets’ “helpful reminder to the reader” that “The evangelical-Israel alliance is not a pact between Christian and Israeli religious nuts. It is a long-established relationship between the leaders of evangelical American Christianity and mainstream Israel. Every prime minister since Begin has relied on the support of the Christian Right … the dislike and contempt for Evangelical Christians that is so integral to American Jewish cultural and political thinking is almost wholly absent in Israel.”



Globes, January 9; Haaretz, January 10, 12; HaModia, January 10, 2007

In an interview with Prof. Dina Porat, Head of the Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University, carried by Globes (January 9), Porat indicated that while the basic elements of anti-Semitism have remained unaltered, certain emphases have changed in the wake of the second Lebanese war. These center around the issues of cruelty, Jewish analogies with the Nazis, and identification of Israelis as child-killers. Porat noted with regard to the last: “The third emphasis, which relates to [what happened at] Kfar Kana, is children. The attitude towards Jews as to killers of children has been there since the days of the blood libels and is a continuation of the killing of Yeshu.”

Although perhaps not strictly an issue of anti-Semitism, much was made in the Israeli media of the recent spate of confessions by Catholic clergy of collaboration with communist regimes in East Europe. An article in Haaretz (January 10) noted that the possibility of additional cases coming to light “threatens to damage the image of the [Catholic] Church as bearing the banner of freedom [democracy].” “Many fear that an improper treatment of the affair may cause irreparable damage to the last bastion of believers in the Catholic Church in Europe.” According to a second report in the same paper, from January 12, the identity of Catholic collaborators has been known for “decades,” but information concerning them “was kept secret out of respect for the Polish Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005 – perhaps at his request.”

The historical background to these events also covers the war period in Slovakia, praise for whose leader, Jozef Tiso (a priest by profession), has recently come from the Archbishop of Bratislava (HaModia, January 10). The Jewish community denounced the latter’s statement, reminding him that most of the country’s Jewish community was exterminated in concentration camps by the Nazis. Tiso “ruled his regime as a Hitlerian-protected state – despite appeals from the Vatican which, as it claims, also warned him that the Jews were likely to be killed but whom he refused to allow to leave.”


Book Review

Jerusalem Post, January 12, 2007

David Segal reviewed Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006). This current book was apparently inspired by the hate mail he received in response to his previous book The End of Faith. According to Segal, although “Letter drills few new theological wells, Harris is the first … to retrofit the case against ‘Old Book’ religions in readable form for the post-September 11 world, and is also among the first to indict religious liberals.” “Old Book” religions are the monotheistic, dogmatic, tyrannical outmoded traditions. But “liberals” are, in Harris’s book, just as religiously culpable: “‘I could have told you what is wrong with religious dogmatism on September 10,’ he says. ‘But after 9/11, I realized the role that religious moderation played in providing cover for fundamentalism … Without the Old and New Testaments, he states, there is no way to understand opposition to stem cell research, or the notorious laws in El Salvador that criminalize abortion, even in the event of rape. Worst, Harris says, is that because Christians and Jews cling to their ‘delusions,’ they are in no position to criticize Muslims for theirs.” In endorsing Jainism, “a religion that finds God in the unchanging traits of the human soul,” Harris demonstrates his dismissal of established religion: “Everyone who organizes his or her life around an ancient text that purports to convey the words and sentiments of God – Harris would like you to surrender your prayers, history and traditions. He recommends that you accept his solution, which is that we live in a universe without God. Deal with it.”