Caspari Center Media Review………….April 18, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 35 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, sects, Israeli attitudes to Christianity, Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, Christian Zionism, and art. Out of the total:
- 7 dealt with anti-missionary activity
- 10 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 1 dealt with Israeli attitudes to Christianity
- 8 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
- 1 dealt with sects
- 1 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 2 dealt with art
- 1 was a book review
The remaining 4 articles dealt with matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
The most prominent features of this week’s Review – which covered the Easter period – were the Easter celebrations in Israel and continued coverage of the events in Arad. The Pope and Christianity also figured largely, not only because of the Pope’s Easter speech but also in relation to his new book and his predecessor’s path to beatitude.
HaModia, April 2; Mishpaha, March 8; BeKehila, March 8, 15; Iton BeMakom, March 23; Yom L’Yom, March 8, 15, 2007
Three of the religious papers (Yom L’Yom, BeKehila, and Mishpaha) carried the same story, broken last week, of a missionary’s alleged assault on Arad’s Chief Rabbi and Eddie Beckford’s arrest for ostensibly attacking a group of Yad L’Achim activists. The report opened with a note of the “new low” to which the level of missionary activity had reached – indicating that (if it were indeed true), this constitutes the first time violence has been used.
HaModia (April 2) reported on a wave of missionary activity “flooding” the country prior to Passover. According to the article, flyers were distributed Haifa, Holon, Ramat Gan, and Netanya inviting the population to “public Seders” [the celebration on the first night of Passover]. These events were scheduled to include “songs, readings from the Haggada and Scripture, and a meal – kosher for Passover of course!” The most favored missionary instrument was also inserted: “Free entry – no fee.” The report further noted that the activity represented an expression of the “incomprehensible facility with which the missionaries allow themselves to do anything which comes to mind – including the sprinkling of sand on the way to accomplishing their abominable goal of converting Jews.” [Editor’s comment: the reference in this last comment is very unclear.] The article concluded with a report of the “self-whipping and bitter frustration” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at a recent conference when faced with Yad L’Achim’s successes against them.
In the light of such perceived increase in missionary activity – and especially in the wake of the legal support it recently received in the Haifa district court – Yad L’Achim activists have stepped up their effort to introduce a law banning all missionary activity. According to a report in BeKehila (March 15), a letter was sent to all the Orthodox members of Knesset urging them to take “all the parliamentary steps in their power to bring the Knesset to pass an anti-missionary law that would put a stop to all missionary activity whatsoever.” The anti-missionary goal appears to be to make any preaching illegal: “A Jew cannot persuade a non-Jew to join himself to the Jewish people, and vastly different, no non-Jew can take any action or persuasion whatsoever towards conversion.” Shas has joined this campaign, proposing a bill that would impose a year’s imprisonment on anyone engaging in such missionary activity.
Two further reports relate to missionary activity amongst the Ethiopian community. BeKehila (March 8) stated that the Ethiopian spiritual leaders recently communicated their anger to the government over its policy of bringing falshmura to Israel. Having undergone the conversion process demanded by the Israeli Rabbinate in order to prove their Jewishness, these people then directly proceed to engage in Christian missionary activity. The leaders further accused the Rabbinate of implicitly encouraging missionary activity: “Although we find it difficult to adopt an attitude of defiance to the Rabbinate, it is easy for us to agree on the way forward: Because the Chief Rabbinate has refused to acknowledge our standing as spiritual leaders in Israel, the mission is working to eliminate the Ethiopian Jewish community precisely here in our holy land. The mission has established churches in Jerusalem, Rehovot, and Jaffa for Ethiopian Jews who have converted to Christianity under the pressure of financial temptations.” According to Iton BeMakom (March 23), Rehovot’s Ethiopian spiritual leader, Yitzhak Zagai, also complained this week about the infiltration of missionary activity into the formal and informal educational system – although nowhere in the article was the form this is allegedly taking specified. Zagai wrote a letter to the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee asking that the subject be placed on its agenda.
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, April 2, 8, 10; Ma’ariv, April 5; Haaretz, April 2, 5 (English and Hebrew editions); Iton Yerushalayim, March 30; Kol Bo, March 30, 2007
Most of the coverage of the Easter celebrations centered on the fact that this year the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant calendars all coincided, leading to large numbers of pilgrims. The celebrations were not tempered, as they have been in previous years, by the security situation. They were only partially marred by in-fighting over the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Theofilos III being permitted to conduct the Easter Eve ceremonies at the Holy Sepulcher – particularly that of the “Holy Fire” – despite his not having received official approval (Jerusalem Post, April 2; Ma’ariv, April 5). His rival Irineos was also featured in the press in an article reporting his recent case against the Greek Orthodox Church’s lawyers whom, he claims, have continued to represent the Church without its approval. Irineos himself is under attack for illegal property deals (Iton Yerushalayim, March 30).
A more unusual aspect of Easter was addressed in an article by the Duchess of Hamilton in the Jerusalem Post (April 8), who looked at the connection of the festival with flowers. “Christians visit the Holy Land in search of the spiritual, so having an abundance of fresh flowers and gardens in keeping with the time of Jesus would help visitors recapture the feeling of early Christianity … Little is said about the flora that surrounded Jesus during his earthly life. This lack of focus is unexpected as the outdoors was essential to early Christianity. Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in the open, especially the events during Lent … Just as the religious character of the exterior areas around churches is often overlooked, it is now the same with the actual species of flowers. If local plants such as tulips, wild majoram, sage-leafed rockrose, African rue, hyacinth, common narcissus, sea squill, blue lupin, sea daffodil, Cyclamen perssicum and Anemone coronaria, were grown in the grounds of Holy Places and church gardens in Israel, it would add a sense of continuity with the past, give an extra dimension for tourists and, more importantly, help the environment.” The latter element relates to the fact that the “artificial” flowers now produced for the market enhance beauty at the expense of nature, being more aesthetically pleasing but less fertile.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Yediot Ahronot, April 2, 2007
Aharon Megged had an amusing – yet serious – piece in Yediot Ahronot (April 2) depicting a recent family Passover experience in Spain. Vacationing in the region, the family belatedly realized that it was Seder night. Descending to the hotel’s dining room, they eventually conveyed to the manager that they were endeavoring to celebrate the festival – as Megged notes, in the Spain where the conversos had been forced to observe the feast clandestinely, they were celebrating it in a foreign land in remembrance of Zion! During the meal – in which they improvised matza with crackers brought with them for the journey, a poached egg for the boiled egg, a chicken leg for the “zroa,” mustard for the “bitter herbs,” and chocolate mousse as the charoset – they were approached by four nuns, “two in black, two in white.” Asking what the family was celebrating, they exclaimed “Jerusalem, Easter” on hearing it was Passover. Megged invited them to join the festivities, “since Jesus himself celebrated Passover on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem”! The group proceeded to celebrate an “ecumenical Seder,” with Megged dividing the roles of the four sons amongst them, “giving ‘the one who does not know to ask’ to the elder nun.” “After we had eaten and been filled to our satisfaction, we sang, Jews and Catholics alike, Handel’s Messiah, and together we blessed the peace we had brought between the two rival religions.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, March 29, April 5; Jerusalem Post, April 1, 2, 10; Ma’ariv, April 1, 5; Yediot Ahronot, April 4, 2007
Various reports in the Israeli media this week concerning the Pope’s recent activities included Benedict XVI’s first book published since his election – drawing attention to the West’s exploitation of the developing world (Haaretz, April 5), his Easter speech, in which he “welcome[d the] Israel-PA dialogue” (Jerusalem Post, April 10), and another speech in Rome in which he insisted that Hell (Gehennom) is more “symbolic” than a physical place – “a state of eternal separation from God.” As the article in Haaretz (March 29) indicated, the pontiff’s “direct language [is] characteristic of the pope’s conservative attitude and his worldview on the need to return to the sources of religion, which he has been advocating since entering office.”
Holy Week this year includes the second anniversary of Pope John Paul’s death (April 2, 2005). Benedict’s predecessor has been much in the news regarding the process of his beatification which has already been set in motion. The process recently gathered momentum through release of information concerning an alleged healing miracle he performed for a French nun, curing her of the same Parkinson’s disease from which he himself suffered (Jerusalem Post, April 1, 2; Ma’ariv, April 1). A documented miracle, inexplicable on scientific grounds, is the first condition for beatification.
Two further articles dealt with Catholicism, one looking at a recent survey examining Catholic attitudes towards celibacy, the results of which indicate that 53% of the 20,000 Spanish priests questioned would prefer celibacy to be an “optional” part of their faith (Ma’ariv, April 5). The second, on a much less serious, but sugary, note, reported that “While the Catholic Church embraces statues of the crucified Yeshu, it appears that a statue of the Son of God made of chocolate is very difficult to swallow.” The statue – a life-size replica of a naked Jesus made of 90 kilograms of chocolate, which has come to be called “My sweet Lord” – was due to be exhibited in a Manhattan hotel. The event was cancelled following official and popular complaints.
Yated Ne’eman March 29, 2007
A lengthy article in Yated Ne’eman (March 29) followed the award of an honorary doctorate to a Mormon leader (see previous Reviews). While it reported the event, the body of the article was devoted to an explanation of Mormonism, including its controversial practice of baptizing people into the Mormon religion after their death and without the permission of their families (examples include Rashi and Rambam, Christopher Colombus, American Presidents, Genghis Khan, Hitler, and Stalin!). “There is no need to conduct an in-depth investigation to discover the meaning of the promises which Mormons make. But it’s clear to everyone that members of the Mormon sect are active missionaries, in effect the most active missionaries of all the Christian sects.”
Haaretz, March 30, 2007
The latest Christian Zionist endeavor came in the form of a “letter of apology to Israel” initiated by the Texas-based Covenant Alliances. “Addressed to ‘the people of Israel,’ the letter asks for forgiveness, ‘on behalf of millions of Christians who love Israel and pray for her’ for ‘crimes committed against the Jewish people throughout history in the name of ‘Christianity.’ We have sinned against God and against you.’”
Tzomet HaSharon, March 30; Haaretz, April 2, 2007
In a section entitled “The Sacred Family,” an art column devoted to the nature and role of the family in recent Israeli-exhibited art, a brief segment looked at “The Father, the Son, the Blood, and Europe” (Tzomet HaSharon, March 30). Claiming that the “universal and timeless theme of the family” has become peripheral in modern art discussions, the report argues that this development contrasts with the “prevalent tone” in the “history of Western, Greek-Christian culture, which “primarily sees in the family a place for the development of archetypal conflicts and bloodshed. Someone must be murdered – the father (Oedipus) or the son (Yeshu).”
Haaretz (April 2) carried a book review of two volumes examining the life and work of Reuven Rubin published to accompany the exhibition of his work at the Tel Aviv Museum (see Review of Nov. 27, 2006). According to one of the books, Rubin’s painting “The Temptation in the Wilderness” (1921) “is one of the only and earliest examples of a Jewish painter who dares to identify himself with the image of the Crucified One in a personal context” – an identification which also appears in other paintings. “Christian motifs continued to occupy Reuven also in his first year in Eretz Israel,” this author goes on to argue, “as well as afterwards, although only indirectly.”
Nekuda, March 1, 2007
Moti Karpel reviewed Alain Finkielkraut’s book The Future of a Negation: Reflections on the Question of Genocide (translated into Hebrew from the French; Reuven Mass) under the title “The struggle over the right of crucifixion.” As its title hints, the book deals with anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial – in its new, and far more dangerous aspect of intellectualism. Beginning with the Marxist critique, Finkielkraut, a French Jewish philosopher, moves on to identify the “second circle” – those disappointed by the revolution – followed by a third wave, denial by the “wretched”: “All those who are different, the unfortunate, the ‘others,’ the depressed, the deprived, the homosexuals, the feminists; all the activists against the exploitation of the Third World by globalization – all these rise up against the Jews who have stolen their wretchedness, the halo of the Crucified [One].”