Caspari Center Media Review………….April 10, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 19 articles on the subjects of missionary and anti-missionary activity, Messianic Jewish congregations, Israeli attitudes to Christianity, Christians in Israel, Christian Zionism/tourism, interfaith dialog, the Pope and the Vatican, and anti-Semitism. Out of the total:
- 3 dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
- 1 dealt with a Messianic Jewish congregation
- 2 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity
- 1 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 1 dealt with Christian Zionism/tourism
- 1 dealt with interfaith dialog
- 3 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
- 1 dealt with anti-Semitism/Israelism
- 2 were book reviews
The remaining 4 articles dealt with various matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
This week’s Review consists of a smorgasbord of different items. Various anti-missionary activities continue to be reported, together with further reactions to the burial of the non-Christian soldier in a military cemetery. Isolated articles appear on the themes of Christian Zionism/tourism, Christians in Israel, and interfaith dialog, while outside of Israel much of the focus lies on Catholic activities, including the Pope’s recent speech before the EU and his predecessor’s conduct during the Holocaust. One travel article briefly mentioned Yad HaShmonah, the messianic moshav, while two book reviews related to specifically Christian themes – Mary and sin.
Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity
Haaretz, March 23; HaModia, March 23 (x 2), 2007
With respect to the recent Haifa court ruling against the city’s conference hall’s decision not to rent their premises to “Christian” groups, Haaretz (March 23) carried a comprehensive report on the affair. Describing the details of the law against discrimination in full (the reason for the ruling against the owners) – public places are forbidden to prohibit entrance or to refuse services to anyone on the basis of race, religion, nationality, origin, gender, sexual orientation, outlook, party affiliation, personal and hereditary status –the article went on to say that “the congress center in Haifa thought erroneously that these important values were insignificant in relation to financial considerations.” The rationale behind the center’s claim lay in the fact that “it knew that connection with [this] community would lead to losses in the wake of the refusal of various other bodies in Haifa to benefit from its services.” It was precisely this reasoning which the court rejected, maintaining that it constituted discrimination. The ruling continued that, despite its claim to be a private enterprise, the center is in fact a public body, established by public funds and providing public services. The court further ruled that “the discrimination was flawed in its purpose, opposed to the principle of equality and fairness, and even violated the instructions of the law”; that public supervision over the administration of the center should be increased; and that the center must henceforth be administered not only according to financial considerations but must also integrate anti-discriminatory policies into its service of the public. The article concluded by stating that “In such a heterogeneous State as Israel, in which various different publics live side by side, there is certainly place to protect, with all possible vigilance, the dignity of man and to remove all vestiges of discrimination – even at the cost of a certain impingement on the freedom to deal with whomever a person chooses and the freedom to do what he likes with one’s property.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were again the focus of the religious papers when “by methods which will remain secret for the time being,” Yad L’Achim gained intelligence of a “closed meeting” conducted by this “well-known sect” during which “a girl of 12 ascended the platform and delightedly recounted to her operators [sic] that in the framework of her school studies she had been ‘privileged’ to be able to bring the ‘Gospel’ to the knowledge of many of the girls with whom she studied” (HaModia, March 23). In response to the information, Yad L’Achim wrote a letter to the principal, stating that “During the course of the meeting, your student by the name of … recounted how she engages in ‘missionary outreach [bisur]’ within the school walls. She added that she has two other school friends with whom she regularly studies Christianity.” In the name of the struggle against the mission, the letter appealed to the principal to provide Yad L’Achim with the names of the other students and their parents “in order for us to be able to explain to them the danger they are facing” and to forbid the student “from engaging in missionary activity.” In this instance, not being able to claim that the missionary was exploiting the needy or poor, Yad L’Achim argued that the mission’s work in “posh areas” took advantage of the “openness” of the teaching staff which allowed the “hunters of souls” to “make contacts with high school students.”
HaModia (March 23) carried an article reporting Meir Porush’s indignation over the police decision to close their file – activated by Porush’s complaint – on missionary activity amongst minors by a family in Gan Yavneh due to insufficient evidence. [Editor’s note: I do not recall this case being covered in previous Reviews.] According to the Minister of Internal Security, “Following a comprehensive police investigation, no evidential foundation was discovered for the complaint filed.” Porush responded by accusing the police of shoddy investigation procedures which, in his opinion, “will effectively enable the continuation of missionary activity in Gan Yavneh and the southern coast.” He produced a copy of a “missionary newspaper” distributed in Gan Yavneh which allegedly claimed: “It’s very moving to hear and to see so many churches [Editor’s note: filmed on a video/tape] whose services are in Russian and Hebrew. The new video/tape has been enthusiastically welcomed by all the attendants. It is designed for children and youth.” Porush was of the opinion that the police should have taken this report seriously – unless they were unaware of it or the video – as being in clear violation of the law against persuasion to convert minors.
Messianic Jewish Congregation
Yediot Ahronot, March 26, 2007
In an article reviewing guest houses in the south of the country, the author wrote that “a great experience awaited me in the Jerusalem area: On Moshav Yahd HaShmonah live side by side Jews who believe in Yeshu and a group of Finns, founders of the moshav.”
Israeli Attitudes towards Christianity
HaDaf HaYarok, March 22; Zman HaKrayot, March 16, 2007
In continuation of the affair of the non-Jewish female soldier buried in a Jewish cemetery next to fallen Jewish soldiers, HaDaf HaYarok (March 22) carried a lengthy article on the girl’s background, clearly indicating that it did not support the parents’ complaint. Valentina Yabseinko lost her mother at an early age, moved to kibbutz Barkai at age 15, was an excellent pianist, and was killed during her army service, in which framework she was also in the process of converting to Judaism. In the words of one of her friends on the youth/conversion program: “We bring them to Israel and after they get here they become citizens and many of the boys go into combat units. Afterwards, if something happens – God forbid – some people treat them as second-class citizens. Our students reacted very badly to this case. They were all very hurt by the attitude shown towards her. The most shocking thing in their eyes was all the talk of moving the grave half a year after she had been buried.” While the kibbutz had been willing to bury her on its property, they had acceded to the wishes of her grandmother, that she be buried near Kiryat Ata.
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2007
The “Greek Orthodox Congress” recently expressed its “no-confidence” in the incumbent Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Theofilos III, by calling for his “resignation.” According to the Post (March 22), this move is “especially significant both because of competition with former patriarch Irineos, who disputes his deposition and still has Israel’s backing, and because of the Church’s extensive property holdings throughout the country.” Theofilos’ predecessor was “ousted” on charges of improper “property deals.” The situation remains complicated, Irineos refusing to “recognize his dismissal” and Theofilis still not having received Israel’s “formal backing.” “Traditionally, the Greek patriarch needs three-way approval that includes Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, which have given the nod to Theofilos.”
Kol HaNegev, March 16; The Business Post, March 23, 2007
A lengthy article in The Business Post (March 23) reviewing Bibi Netanyahu’s economic plans – proposed before a Israeli-Canadian Chamber of Commerce conference – contained Netanyahu’s reference to Israel’s religious potential: “It will be possible to exploit Israel’s religious importance to encourage evangelistic [sic] tourism – a religious stream within Christianity. According to Netanyahu, it should be possible to use the north of the country and Jerusalem, both of which hold many sacred Christian sites, to encourage the pilgrimage of millions of evangelistic tourists. According to his plan, church leaders will be given property north of the Sea of Galilee for the construction of a world center of Christian heritage where mass religious events will be held.”
According to a report in Kol HaNegev (March 16), a German pro-Israel group visited the area this week bringing a gift of 2 million shekels (around $500,000), designated for the development of a “crocus field” and park for the soldiers of Lehavim. While they were here, they planted trees in “Germany Forest” near Lehavim and unveiled plaques erected in memory of their “dear ones” killed in the First World War.
Zman Modi’in, March 23, 2007
While “International Tolerance Day” goes largely unmarked in action in Israel, this year a Reform synagogue in Modi’in invited the head of the Anglican church and the Imam of the mosque in Ramleh to preach a sermon. The two figures will address the Reform congregation on Friday evening, at the kabbalat shabbat service [introducing the Sabbath]. According to the article in Zman Modi’in (March 23), the Protestant population of Ramleh numbers around 200, the Muslim population 15,000. The Modi’in synagogue runs a large educational network designed to promote the values of Judaism, equality, and dialog. Its rabbi is the first woman to be ordained in Israel.
The Pope and the Vatican
Yediot Ahronot, March 28; Ma’ariv, March 25; Haaretz, March 25, 2007
In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the European Union this week, the Pope severely criticized the Union for failing to mention God: “If on the 50th anniversary of the ‘Rome Declaration’ the member states of the Union wish to come closer to their citizens, how can they ignore such an important component of European identity as Christianity, by way of which most Europeans continue to define themselves?” (Haaretz, March 25). “It is not surprising that the Europe of today, despite presenting itself as a model of values, is questioning the existence of absolute and universal values. This is actually an unusual type of heresy, even in God’s eyes, and it is surely likely to lead Europe to cast doubt on its own existence.” Yediot Ahronot’s commentary on the Pope’s speech was more penetrating: “The pope is proving himself more and more to be one of the most interesting voices in Europe today … Two phenomena in particular drew his eye: the first, that Europe’s ancient [original] population is reducing itself voluntarily; the second, that the European elites are denying their Christian roots” (March 28). In other words, the pope’s perspective on Europe is that it is not slowing or decreasing in importance due to external factors but from an internal will – which appears to be unaware of its self-destructiveness. According to the article, “Benedict is not complaining about the Europeans’ sinfulness against their Creator. It is not the fact that they don’t go to church or baptize their children which bothers him … but the fact that in their great enthusiasm for pluralism they have forgotten their ‘essence’ – i.e., lost their identity … In the eyes of Benedict XVI, the Christian heritage is the European Union – not as a system of religious regulations but as a cultural appendage which created for itself the same European desire for freedom and unique balance between reason and emotion. The blurring of this balance in the rich dialog and clichéism of Europe today, said the pope, ‘is more heresy in itself than it is betrayal of God. It leads Europe to cast doubt on its identity’ precisely at the moment that it needs it more than ever.”
A report in Ma’ariv (March 25) notes the publication of a new book which exposes the fact that Pope Pius XII “was not only indifferent to the Holocaust and failed to save European Jewry during the Second World War, but also was prejudiced against black-skinned people.” The historian Umberto Gentiloni has published telegrams sent by the Vatican ambassador to his government which indicate that ”the Vatican requested that brown-skinned [black] soldiers not be sent to the Italian front in order that they might not come near the Holy Father’s presence in Rome.”
Haaretz, March 28; Steimatzky Magazine, March 1, 2007
The Italian author Erri De Luca’s new book In nome della madre (”In the Name of the Mother”) has recently been translated into Hebrew, and was reviewed by Ayelet Shamir in Haaretz (March 28). The book is about Mary (Miriam), giving her a voice, a body, emotions – in short, a life. In Shamir’s words: “A woman gives birth to a man, in whom millions of people will believe: Who will stand at the center of this story? Like his readers, Erri De Luca knows that the mind will instinctively go to the child, the son [Jesus]. To think of him means to think of a man born out of the joining of flesh and spirit; it means to think of involvement without contact, of a birth without sin; it means to think about isolation [separation], and simultaneously to think about sex, lots of sex, and how the hell they did it in that room, on that specific day, she and her angel? Instinctively, long before we start thinking about Miriam’s womb, our consciousness is flooded by the ancient conjunction ‘holy mother’ and raises a strong dissonance: motherhood and exaltation; deep longing for intimacy and distance. Out of this dissonance De Luca seeks to write. Carefully, hesitantly, in tender touches. He peoples the empty page in order to deliver from it the mother’s silenced voice. Now she has a voice, now she has a will, now she is aware of emotion and of the rest of the time which beats in her, now she not only has a secondary role in the conflicted plot, now she will also have a body and a name.”
Aviad Kleinberg’s new book, Seven Sins – A Partial List, reviewed in Steimatzky’s Magazine (March 1), is intended primarily for a secular Israeli audience – one unfamiliar with the concept of sin because it also has no understanding of the concept of “commandment.” The Tel Aviv University professor starts from the premise that the secular Israeli is unwilling to accept the idea of “a transcendent and judging ethical power.” The question thus arises: “Why did Kleinberg write a book for people who don’t feel that they are sinners and therefore can’t even understand what sin is?” Kleinberg’s answer is that he is not talking about the sense of guilt which comes in the wake of having done something a person feels to be wrong. He is addressing the “root of the transgression: the will not to keep the law precisely because it forbids us to do what we want. This is a book about the desire to sin.” The second chapter of the book is devoted to the differing views of sin in Judaism and Christianity: “Here an interesting picture is revealed: if for the Jew sin is a by-product of life on earth and hell [gehinnom] isn’t a barrel full of boiling excrement but a ‘laundry’ which scours [cleanses] the soul from the sins which cling to it from the lower world, in Christianity sin is the essence of human existence. Hell is the eternal punishment for those who refuse to accept for themselves the medicine which Yeshu offered.” The remainder of the book is dedicated to Kleinberg’s “personal analysis” of the “seven deadly sins” of Christianity – pride, sloth, gluttony, jealousy, anger, avarice, and lust. To these, Kleinberg adds an eighth – totally his analysis for our era – the sin of self-justification. “In his words, this sin is the sin of all those who convince themselves that they are covered in moral feathers and thus seek to separate themselves from everyone else and to reprove them for their deeds.”