Caspari Center Media Review………….February 12, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 24 articles on the subjects of missionary and anti-missionary activity, Christian tourism, Israeli attitudes to Christianity, and the Pope and the Vatican. Out of the total:
- 13 dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
- 1 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity
- 3 dealt with Christian tourism
- 1 dealt with Christian sites
- 4 dealt with the Vatican and the Pope
The remaining 2 articles dealt with different matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
Anti-missionary activity engages much of the Israeli media’s attention in this week’s Review, partly in continuing relation to the restraining order against Yehuda Deri, partly with respect to the “campaign” in Bnei Brak, and partly abroad (the former Soviet Union). Other issues cover Christian sites and tourism, the latter also being associated with the Vatican.
Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity
BeKehilah, December 28, 2006, January 4, 14; Yom L’Yom, January 4, pp. 3 (x 2), 8; HaMekoman, December 28, 2006, January 18; HaShavua beAshdod, December 1, 2006; HaZofeh, January 24; HaModia, January 26, 28; Kol HaNegev, January 19, 2007
Several of the articles received in this week’s Review are repeats of earlier stories. These include “missionary activities” in Bnei Brak and Beersheva, together with coverage of the restraining order against Yehuda Deri. In continuation of the latter incident, several papers reported that Deri met with the Chief Rabbi of Beersheva’s police force in order to encourage cooperation between the two parties on such issues as road accident prevention – and anti-missionary activity (Kol HaNegev, January 19; HaMekoman, January 18). The “missionaries” were described as “Messianic Jews, who pretend to be Orthodox [Jews]” and “endanger Judaism when apparently breaking the law against conversion, which forbids offering anything [to someone to make them change their religion].” According to Deri, while these “posers” do not give money, they do offer “benefits, such as Bible studies and trips.” As previous articles indicated, Deri’s ire has been roused precisely because of the missionaries’ Jewish identity: “If they came with a cross to their activities, fine. [But] they come with a Star of David and mitzvot [commandments] and Torah and brain washing.” The Chief Rabbi for the police suggested in response that the local religious council hire a person “to document all missionary activity, in order to try and prove that they apparently offer benefits, and only then to turn to the police.”
Two articles (HaZofeh, January 24; HaModia, January 28) came out in response to the recent incident in Beersheva which resulted in an interview with Howard Bass, the congregation’s leader. Both articles stressed the fact that Bass had acknowledged – even boasted – that he/the congregation had baptized 40 Jews since his arrival in Beersheva. According to HaZofeh, Deri responded to Bass’s interview by stating that: “If it turns out that the missionary’s words are true, we shall not rest or stop and will hold a huge demonstration of protest and crying out against conversion [apostasy] activity in the city.” HaModia indignantly reported that Bass “even pointed out the place of the crime [baptisms], without any fear of the law or police reaction. This proves that, quoting MK Meir Porush, the missionaries relate to the State of Israel now as to a ‘lawless’ state that encompasses a broad and unlimited field for their activity.” Porush continued his attack on the mission by claiming not only that “they are overflowing with financial means” but also, far more significantly, that they constitute a national as well as a religious problem, given that “it has been proved in the past that there is even a connection between several missionary bodies and groups close to terror organizations.”
In a letter to the local HaShavua beAshdod (December 12), its author related that “last Shabbat, I was exposed to the disgusting phenomenon of the sect of Yeshu’s Messianics [meshichei Yeshu]” who were distributing tracts on the beach and “persuading people to take holy books for free. In retrospect, I realized that these were part of our holy Torah and that the stall-keeper … was part of a dangerous sect whose teachings and faith are contrary to our faith and we are completely forbidden to believe these words of abomination, which can easily enter every kosher Jewish home and even influence our innocent children.”
BeKehilah carried an “advert” by Yad L’Achim on December 14 calling for an Orthodox protest against the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds for allowing its premises to be used – yet again – for the baptism of Jews to Christianity on Shabbat. According to this report, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had brought 800 people to hear their preaching, “as a direct result of which six Jews were immediately baptized to Christianity.”
Attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus
Yated Ne’eman, January 3, 2007
Although this article strictly concerned the behavior of Jews in Israel, we thought to classify it under this category for several reasons. Entitled “Salt of the earth mixed with alcohol,” its author bemoaned the fact that Jews, who traditionally have little to do with hard liquor, are increasingly coming under its influence – especially when celebrating “Christian” holidays. “One of the characteristics of the severe deterioration in values displayed by our generation is mass participation in the orgiastic events marking the new civil year. In contrast to preceding years, in which every Jew knew that the days on which the gentiles celebrated their feasts were days on which it was better for every Jew, fearful for his life and soul, to hide himself until the alcoholic vapors evaporated from the blood of the revelers. In the last number of years multitudes of Jews have reached such a low point, may God have mercy, as to participate personally in the festivals and even hold balls and banquets as awful as those of the nations. Nor are we speaking about youths on the periphery or some reckless and base gangs. Participation in these mass parties includes people from every stream and class. Even those who are considered ‘the salt of the earth’ take part in alcoholic orgies marking the beginning of the new civil year.” Here we see the typical Jewish estimation of Christian behavior combined with a description of good Jewish conduct in Christian terms! [Editor’s note: the fact that the expression – taken from the Sermon on the Mount – is given in quotation marks indicates that the author is aware that he is employing a known phrase. He does not appear to be aware, however, of its source!]
Haaretz, January 23; Yediot Ahronot, January 23; HaZofeh, January 23, 2007
Two papers (Yediot Ahronot, January 23; Haaretz, January 23) carried a report that the Minister of Tourism, Yithak Herzog, recently appealed to the Pope in an official letter asking for the pontiff’s blessing on tourism to Israel. The letter was sent “against the background of the shared program of the Ministry of Tourism and the Vatican to bring young pilgrims from across the world to Israel. Within this framework, about 2000 priestly novitiates and young pilgrims are expected to visit. Herzog expressed his purpose as Minister of Tourism as being that of “bringing hearts closer and strengthening faith on the basis of a common history.” Herzog concluded the letter with the hope that the Pope will indeed visit Israel.
According to a report in HaZofeh (January 23), “57% of tourists come to Israel for religious, historical, and cultural reasons, out of the total of which number 58% are Protestants, Catholics, and other Christians – and 25% are Jewish.” The statistics were derived from a poll conducted by the Hotel Association in Israel. Those related to Tiberias indicate that the inclusion of the Galilee is so important to Christian tourists that if security concerns prevent them from touring there, they cancel their entire trip to Israel. This is in stark contrast to Jewish tourists, for whom Galilee does not represent a significant destination.
Ma’ariv, January 11, 2007
According to a report in Ma’ariv (January 11), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is to undergo security renovations. Following a recent visit to the church by the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, in which he discovered that no emergency exit exists in the edifice, the government has approved a plan to make an opening for just such occasions. Despite the practical benefits of the plan, its implementation is anticipated to “spark an incident in the Christian world” because the work will affect “areas [of the church] belonging to the Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and Armenians, and unprecedented opposition from the whole world is apparently expected to the proposal.” The objection appears to be based on the fact that the Israeli government is willing to take unilateral action in the matter, whereas the various Christian factions feel that the decision should be left in their hands. While they all agree that an emergency exit is necessary, they concur that this represents a church matter – irrespective of whether they can come to an agreement as to where the exit should be placed, who should do the work, and who should maintain the exit if and when it is created.
The Pope and the Vatican
HaZofeh, January 18; HaModia, January 23; Haaretz, January 23, 24, 2007
A brief note in Haaretz (January 23) reported that Pope John Paul II had considered resigning in 2000 due to ill health. He had also given thought to changing the law to allow his pontifical successors to retire at age 80 rather than officiating until the day of their death.
A much longer article in the same paper on the following day related to the Vatican’s attitude towards mercy killing, recently challenged by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. The well-known, liberally-inclined Cardinal this week stated his opinion that terminally-ill patients should be allowed to refuse treatment and that doctors who assist them (passively, not actively) should be protected by law. The pronouncement was all the more challenging, coming as it did in the wake of the Vatican’s refusal of a Catholic burial to a patient who had been taken off life support by his own request.