April 25 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….April 25, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 28 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, anti-missionary activity, Israeli attitudes to Christianity, Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, and art. Out of the total:


  • 2 dealt with Messianic Jews
  • 3 dealt with anti-missionary activity
  • 3 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 3 dealt with Israeli attitudes to Christianity
  • 11 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
  • 1 dealt with the “Jesus Tomb”
  • 1 dealt with Christian sites
  • 1 dealt with art


The remaining 3 articles dealt with matters of Jewish and Christian interest.

Two articles in this week’s Review related directly to Messianic Jews in response to the events in Arad – one positive, one negative. While anti-missionary activity was relatively insignificant this week, several reports reflected Israeli attitudes to Christianity due to the Easter celebrations. Christians in Israel also formed a major focus, not only in connection with the latter but also with respect to other matters. The Pope and the Vatican figured largely in the media, primarily because of the Vatican representative’s refusal to participate in this week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies.


Messianic Jews

HaTzvi, March 8, 15, 2007

Two articles in this local Arad paper addressed the conflict between the Messianic and Orthodox communities in the city. The first (March 8), written by Moshe Regev, countered the widespread opposition to the Orthodox influx into Arad. As part of his argument, Regev related not only to the positive but also to some of the negative aspects of the phenomenon: “However, I have a very serious objection to the behavior of a handful of bored, radical Gur Hasidim who are letting out their creative outlets on a small and valuable group of Messianic Jews and Christians. I know the group personally – not missionaries nor anything of the sort! They include two paramedics who have saved many lives in Arad!!! If people behaved like this towards Jews abroad we would be outraged.”

The second piece (March 15), written by Gershon Konkol HaLevi (“an ordinary Jew”) in response to Moshe Regev, was entitled “‘Messianic Jews’ – there is no such animal!” HaLevi began by identifying some possible candidates for the title – such as Chabad, for instance, who believe that their Rabbi is the Messiah, or the “Mizrachi” movement in Israel which thinks that the establishment of the State of Israel constitutes the beginning of the Redemption (atchalta de-geula). “But Messianic Jews for real – they don’t exist.” According to HaLevi, “The first and most important Christian identificator is the belief in Yeshu as the Messiah, and ever since they first assembled around the memory of this good and tortured Jew, a handful of Jews who believed in and disseminated his so-called messiahship, he has joined the long list of ‘false messiahs’ (as they are known in Judaism) and unwillingly become the ‘Messiah’ of half the world’s inhabitants who have nothing in common with Judaism.” Like other Orthodox figures (such as Yehuda Deri; see previous Reviews), HaLevi is most upset by the “Jewish disguise” under which Messianic Jews parade, thereby posing a greater missionary danger than ever before: “The modern missionaries who have inherited the crusaders’ sword and the inquisitors’ cauldrons disguise their true identity with such false names as ‘Messianic Jews,’ ‘Jews for Jesus,’ and so forth, and thereby, by ways of pleasantness and peace, they bring adults closer to them and more particularly misled, confused, and outcast youth.”


Anti-missionary Activity

HaTzvi, March 8; Mishpaha, March 29; HaModia, April 16, 2007

The first article was a very brief note of Eddie Beckford’s banishment from Arad (HaTzvi, March 8). The second (Mishpaha, March 29) also dealt with “old news,” reporting on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conference in Tel Aviv “which became a platform for public frustration” when confronted with the knowledge that “Yad L’Achim’s members are lying in wait for us everywhere and succeeding in restraining our activity.” The third report (HaModia, April 16) noted Lev L’Achim’s tenth annual conference.


Attitudes towards Christianity

Arim, April 5; Yom L’Yom, April 12; Mishpaha, April 13, 2007

The two religious papers (Yom L’Yom and Mishpaha) carried a story related to the recent Easter celebrations which, according to the view proposed, constituted a threat of desecration of Shabbat. The articles were indignant over the fact that, in order to safeguard the security of all those participating (Christians), the Israeli police force and volunteers had been compelled to work on the Shabbat “known to Christians as a special Shabbat.” Because the Christians had “intended to go to the Old City during the afternoon, the police were deployed to keep the peace and the security of these Christian events” (Yom L’Yom, April 12). Mishpaha (April 13) similarly stated that “A procession of Christian worship on the last path of That Man, may his named be blotted out, will create a mass desecration of Shabbat by thousands of police and soldiers deployed for their security.” The same report quoted residents of the Old City’s Jewish quarter as saying: “We’re not claiming that the police shouldn’t safeguard the procession. But not in such great numbers.” The implication: Most of these policemen could be at home on Shabbat, since the procession wasn’t going into Muslim areas and therefore wasn’t expected to cause security problems. The police response, also noted, was that they didn’t require professional advice on how to safeguard the procession and were quite prepared to provide security for “processions of the various communities who have been observing their own commandments and way of life for thousands of years.”

The Via Dolorosa also figured in Arim, a regional paper for the middle of the country. In a column entitled “Five Trivialities” it featured “marches.” The first listed was the Gay Pride March, the second the annual “March of the Living” at Auschwitz. The third was the “death marches” conducted by the Nazis towards the end of the war, followed by the fourth – the Via Dolorosa – “the name for the path of sufferings which Yeshu walked on his way to the cross. According to Christian tradition, Yeshu was accompanied by Roman soldiers on this difficult and humiliating path, from the area around the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City Muslim quarter up to the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian quarter.” (The fifth march was the recent one of hundred of Britons, bound together by iron chains, marking the 200-year anniversary of the abolishment of the slave trade.)


Christians in Israel

BeMachane, March 30; Haaretz, April 12, pp. 2, 3, 2007

The Easter celebrations were not confined to Jerusalem. According to a report in BeMachane (March 30), “thousands of pilgrims [are expected] to arrive over Easter at the Israeli baptismal site on the River Jordan.” Jericho was singled out especially, where water and bathroom facilities were prepared in advance and the civil guard on duty were given special instructions “so as not to lead to an international incident.” Although any Palestinian Christian who wished was permitted to attend the ceremonies in Jericho, most of the visitors were foreign pilgrims. The authorities were expecting attendance from five Christian communities, including the Greek Orthodox and Copts, the latter “known for their colorful ceremonies”; part of the police duties were to make sure that each community arrived a different time. While half a million people a year on average visit the baptismal site, “the Christians living in the land are accustomed to celebrating Easter by baptism in the waters of the Jordan.”

In an interview with Bob Novak in Haaretz (April 12, p. 3), commenting on his infrequent visits to Israel, Novak noted that his first visit, last year, had been at the initiative of Dr. Deal Hudson, director of the Washington-based Morley Institute for Christian Culture and the Catholic magazine “Crisis Magazine,” who had invited Novak “to check the situation of our Christian brothers in the Holy Land.” Back with the same people now, Novak stated: “I came last year in order to examine the fate of the Christian population in the territories, which is suffering from the fence and limitation of movement … I saw the wall around Jerusalem, which causes so much suffering to the Catholics and the Palestinians in general, and I thought it right to follow up on their situation.”

In a column by Shahar Ilan, the opening comment included the statement that “Perhaps unwittingly, a clause in the coalition’s agreement with Shas has led to a 21 million shekel budget for mosques and churches.” Under a subtitle “One child difference,” statistics were also provided regarding the Christian fertility rate in Israel. According to the report, the fertility rate for “Arab-Israeli women (including Muslims, Christians, and Druse) is lower than the Muslim rate alone, and stands at 3.6 children per woman.” These statistics are interpreted to indicate that “the gap between Jewish and Arab fertility rates already stands at one child. The reason for the low Arab fertility rate in relation to the Muslim rate lies in the fact that the Arab-Christian rate is especially low (2.1 children per woman in 2006) and is approaching the European Christian birth rate. A fertility rate of 2.1 children is exactly the rate necessary to safeguard the permanent size of the population.”


The Pope and the Vatican

Haaretz, April 13, 15 (pp. 11, 12), 16; Jerusalem Post, April 13, 15, 16; Ma’ariv, April 13, 16; HaZofeh, April 16; Yediot Ahronot, April 13, 2007

Tensions ran high this week following the Vatican ambassador to Israel’s refusal to participate in this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day events. The ambassador objected to Yad Vashem’s inclusion of a picture of Pope Pius XII with the caption, “Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican, the pope did not protest, refusing to sign a 1942 Allied condemnation of the massacre of Jews.” This would have marked the “first case in which a foreign emissary deliberately skipped the ceremony” (Haaretz, April 13). Jewish reaction was vehement. According to the Jerusalem Post (April 15), Abe Foxman, ADL national director, and himself a survivor, stated: “While we understand Monsignor Franco’s displeasure about the photo caption, his decision to boycott the entire Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies is unnecessarily insulting and unbecoming … The photo caption may be inappropriate and too judgmental, but it does not justify the Vatican’s refusal to participate in Israel’s national observation of Holocaust Day. Without the public release and analysis of the Vatican’s wartime archives, the questions about Pope Pius XII will remain unresolved.” Franco eventually attended the ceremony (Haaretz, April 16).

Shmuely Boteach, also in the Post (April 16), developed a similar argument: “To be sure, the facts of Pius’s moral failure to condemn the Holocaust is [sic] well established, and it is a shame that the Catholic Church is more offended by its revelation than its occurrence. Indeed, the inability of Pius XII to speak out against the destruction of European Jewry constitutes, perhaps, the greatest moral omission in the history of the world … For all his white robes, Pius’s record is a dark stain against a great church, whose leadership was an affront to a great religion. It would behoove the modern leaders of the august Catholic faith to join Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in looking at the failures of the church and its leader with honesty and humility.” Ma’ariv (April 16) added in its piece: “The key to understanding the action of Pius XII during the Holocaust lies in the Vatican’s hands. Until the Vatican orders the opening of its archives, the figure of the pope will remain that of one who kept silent.”

The Pope and the Catholic Church were also the focus of two further articles in the Israeli media. The first related to Benedict’s – again – controversial reference to Judaism, this time in one of the meditations on the Stations of the Cross. According to tradition, “the 14-station candle-lit procession, presided over by the pope, goes around the Coliseum in Rome” (Jerusalem Post, April 13). This year, at the pope’s request, a quotation from an Auschwitz diary formed part of the meditation for the third station, “newly entitled ‘Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin,’ which reenacts the turning over of Jesus to Pontius Pilate by the Jews’ ‘Council of Elders,’ as told in Luke 22 and 23.” The quote, related to the need for “A witness which must be forcefully rendered even when there is a powerful temptation to hide, to give up, to go along with the prevailing opinion,” was taken from the diary of a young woman who died at Auschwitz: “In the words of a young Jewish woman destined to die in a concentration camp, ‘Each new horror or crime, we must oppose with a new fragment of truth and goodness which we have gained in ourselves. We can suffer, but must not surrender.’” Both Christian and Jewish sources denounced the use of the quote. Tantur Ecumenical Institute’s rector in Jerusalem stated that the “use of a Jewish source in the context of the Passion was a mistake,” a view echoed by Ephraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, who declared that “while he was not familiar with the details of Catholic ritual, he was wary of any attempts to ‘Christianize the Holocaust.” David Rosen of the ADL, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the quote was not a harmful factor: “The reference that the pope makes to a positive, committed Jewish person shows that, in keeping with the sea change in Church doctrine, the Passion is not a charge of collective responsibility against the Jewish people.”

On a different note again, an article in Ma’ariv (April 13) examining the phenomenon of “Friday the thirteenth” (the day on which the paper was published), its origins were traced to King Philip of France who, on Friday 13, 1307, ordered his troops to attack all the Templar fortresses in France. “The Templars, or by their other name, ‘The Order of the Knights of Solomon’s Palace,’ were knight-monks responsible on behalf of Christendom for the defence of the crusader kingdom in Israel and the crusaders who reached Jerusalem. Philip arrested all the Templars on French land apparently because he wished to seize their property. He ordered that they confess to heresy, homosexuality, and Satan worship. According to another explanation, another person is responsible for this tradition – Judas Iscariot, Yeshu’s disciple who betrayed him, because he was the thirteenth apostle at the Last Supper. ”



Arei Modi’in, April 6, 2007

A photographic exhibition is currently being held in Tel Aviv entitled “Stories of the Bible,” showing the work of Eddie Nes. According to the review, Nes photographed a group of soldiers in 1999 “patterned after the most accessible and well-known motifs of Western iconography for a large banquet – the Last Supper.” This new series depicts “biblical heroes in the image of outcasts of Israeli society … The very description of the biblical heroes as the misfits of life is part of Christian theology which lauds poverty much more than any Jewish thought.”


“Jesus Tomb”

Jerusalem Post, April 11, 2007

In an article entitled “Scholars featured in ‘Lost Tomb of Jesus’ backtrack,” Etgar Lefkovits indicates that “Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions.” These include some of the most important witnesses for the film’s claim, notably the statistician, Andrey Feuerverger, who originally stated that the odds were 600:1 that the tomb belonged to Jesus’ family. The retractions are found in an article written by Stephen Pfann, himself interviewed on the film, and disseminated on the internet. Feuerverger’s initial assessment has now been revised in this paper to read: “A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters … concludes that the probability factor is in the order of 600 to 1 that an equally ‘surprising’ cluster of names would arise purely by chance under given assumptions. Another statement on the same Web site stating that Feuerverger had concluded that it was highly probable that the tomb, located in the southeastern neighborhood of Talpiot, was the Jesus family tomb – the central point of the film – has now been changed. It now reads: ‘It is unlikely that an equally surprising cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling.’” Pfann’s paper also asserts that Frank Cross Moore’s positive statement in the film has been revised, that the DNA analyst later stated that “the only conclusions we made were that these two sets [tested] were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing,” and that Prof. Francois Bovon, quoted in the film as identifying Mariamne with Mary Magdalene has “issued a disclaimer stating that he did not believe that ‘Mariamne’ stood for Mary of Magdala at all.”