Caspari Center Media Review………….June 6, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 22 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, attitudes to Christianity and Jesus, Christians in Israel, Christian Zionism, the Bible, and the Pope and the Vatican. Out of the total:
- 1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
- 3 dealt with attitudes to Christianity and Jesus
- 3 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 5 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 1 dealt with the Bible
- 2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
- 3 were book reviews
The remaining 4 articles dealt with various matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
A local Bat-Yam paper conducted a very sympathetic interview in this week’s Israeli press with a Messianic believer in Holon who has recently been threatened by anti-missionary groups. Christian Zionism in its various guises also continues to figure largely in this week’s Review, while two articles under Christians in Israel also deal with recent life-saving heart operations conducted at Haifa’s Rambam hospital on young Iraqi children. Two features reflected Israeli attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus, while at least two of the book reviews dealt directly with Christian themes.
Zman Holon Bat-Yam, May 25, 2007
Until the title – taken from a popular Israeli song – “The Messiah hasn’t come” and accompanied by a picture of a crucifix captioned “Yeshu: Annoyed the Ultra-Orthodox” – Zman Holon Bat-Yam, a regional paper from the center of the country, carried an interview with “Vera” (not her real name) who is currently the focus of anti-missionary activity. Although Vera has been resident in the city for ten years, working as a music teacher and participating in children’s performances across the country, “recently she has been made to suffer from the plots and harassment of a well-known Ultra-Orthodox group.” According to the report, Vera “belongs to a Messianic congregation – thousands of Jews throughout the country who live a [Jewish] religious lifestyle at the same time as believing both in God and in Yeshu and celebrating both Jewish and Christian holidays.” In the interview, Vera described how two months ago two men rang the intercom to her apartment and, having identified themselves as from Yad L’Achim, asked if they could talk to her about the fact that she went to a Messianic congregation. When Vera refused to open the door, claiming that she wasn’t prepared to talk about her personal life, they became verbally abusive. Although they left, they subsequently returned repeatedly, “knocking at the door, ringing the intercom, and making threats.” Vera told the interviewer: “I didn’t understand what they wanted from my life. It’s my right to believe what I want. My husband is secular and he never interferes and up until now I’ve never had a problem with the issue, until they came. Day after day they managed to talk to my husband for almost an hour. They explained to him that they’d received anonymous information that I belonged to this congregation and they wanted him to persuade me to talk to them. I refused.” When it got to the point when Vera became fed up with the harassment, she went downstairs to talk to two women who had come. While they were initially polite, asking why Vera attended the meetings, they too turned to threats when she told them it was her personal business and wasn’t prepared to talk to them about it. Following this incident, in Vera’s words, “The next day, when I left the house I was in shock. In the entrances to the buildings and stairwells of the houses all along the street posters had been hung up with my picture, address, and personal details saying, in Russian and Hebrew, that “She is a missionary music teacher, beware of her.” Again according to Vera, “It’s really shocking, it’s like persecution of the Jews in the diaspora. I came to the country as a Jew, a lover of the Land, and now I’m afraid for myself and my children. People who are capable of doing the things they’re doing to me will do the same things tomorrow to my children.” Having taken down as many of the posters as she could find, Vera filed a complaint with the police, where the officer “also told me that what they were doing to me was shocking because we live in a democratic country and everyone lives according to how he wants.” On being asked if others in the congregation were receiving similar treatment, Vera said she knew of one other person. She also said that she had stopped attending the congregation for two weeks, although she was about to try and go back. The police have opened an investigation into the case in order to try and find the perpetrators.
Attitudes to Christianity and Jesus
Yediot Ahronot, May 25; Makor Rishon, May 25; Ma’ariv, May 25, 2007
In a review of various internet broadcasting sites, Yediot Ahronot (May 25) included the “Christian site” <GodTube.com>, suggesting that while it was “one of the most successful sites on the internet,” “the funniest part is that the people who run it take themselves completely seriously.” It characterized the site as full of “thousands of embarrassing missionary video clips, including preachers who try to sell you everything from holy taps, Catholic Hip-hop cards, ‘documentary’ movies that attempt to prove that the world hasn’t existed longer than 3000 years, anti-abortion clips, and one short movie, one of the site’s most popular, that describes a boy destroying his computer after he accidentally came across a pornographic site.”
One of the most important ethical “manuals” in Judaism is the mishnaic tractate “Avot,” also known as the “Sayings of the Fathers” (mid – C3 c.e.). Rabbi Baruch Yashar has written an unusual commentary to this work in which he claims that the tractate contains polemics against Christianity. He suggests that one of the sayings, which speaks of “three things which keep a man from the power of sin” – “know whence you have come, and whither you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an account and reckoning” – was intended to refute “Christians and the men of the Trinity [shilush]” and therefore chose three things which “contained a contradiction to the believers in the Trinity.” “Man must be created from a putrid drop and not from the Holy Spirit, and must descend to the grave and not fly heavenwards, and must give an account before the King of Kings and not sit at His right hand.” (The call-out quote from this passage, apparently erroneously, introduces the passage with the remark: “Rabbi Yashar on Yeshu.”) Another saying which, according to Yashar, contains a “hidden confrontation with Christianity” speaks of the person who “profanes the holy, despises the festivals, humiliates his fellow in public, nullifies the covenant of our Father Abraham, peace be upon him, and he who exhibits impudence towards the Torah, even though he has to his credit [knowledge of the] Torah and good deeds, he has not a share in the life of the world to come.” According to Yashar, the historical background to this saying, transmitted in the name of Rabbi Eleazar HaModa’i, lies in the Bar Kokhba revolt (135 c.e.), when “Rabbi Eleazar saw before his eyes the followers of the Man from Nazareth betraying their people by refusing to participate in their fate [i.e., they refused to participate in the Revolt led by someone who in their eyes was a false messiah] and heard their preachers arrogantly claiming to give, as it were, ‘the world to come’ [eternal life] to their followers.” Against this background, Yashar “sees the mishna as Rabbi Eleazar’s ‘bitter heartfelt’ cry. The profanation of the holy, according to this interpretation, doesn’t refer to the holy things of the altar … but to the profanation of shabbat as described in the Christian writings, in the Book of Matthew (12:1): ‘At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grain fields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.’” The “despising of the festivals” is a reference to Yeshu’s thought about the Pesach sacrifice [Passover] in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (5:7: ‘Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For the Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed’). “Humiliating one’s fellow” in public alludes to the “insulting designations Yeshu gave to the Pharisees (such as ‘You serpents, you brood of vipers’ [Mt. 23:33]). The “nullification of Abraham’s covenant [circumcision] relates to “Paul’s words in Romans (2:25-29, 4:9-12) regarding the annulment of circumcision. And “he who exhibits impudence towards the Torah …” “does not need any special interpretation, since it is well known to everyone how this relates to Yeshu and his disciples. Each one of these deficiencies leads to the fact that whoever possesses one of them, “even though he has to his credit [knowledge of the] Torah and good deeds, he has not a share in the life of the world to come.”
Shalom Rosenberg entitled his commentary on this week’s Torah portion (Naso) “Narcissus and Evil.” In analyzing the story of Narcissus falling in love with his own echo, Rosenberg suggests that “The faithful, admiring, blind students who accompany great men are likely to cause them to lose their way. This is what happened, in my opinion, to two of the most important figures in Jewish history: Yeshu and Shabbtai Zvi [a false messiah in the seventeenth century]. They lacked what my psychologist wife characterizes as a true partner: ‘A person who gains a “help”; the person who gains more – also a “help-meet.”’” [In Hebrew, the term “helpmeet” is composed of the two words “help” and “against him” or “opposite him.” This can be understood in psychological terms as someone whose character is opposite to one’s own.]
Christians in Israel
Zman Haifa, May 25; Arei HaMifratz, May 25; Jerusalem Post, May 24, 2007
The on-going saga of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch continues, with the World Council of Churches calling on Jordan this week to reconsider its recent decision not to recognize Theophilos III, whom it had initially acknowledged (Jerusalem Post, May 24) (see previous Reviews).
Two articles from regional papers in Haifa (Zman Haifa, May 25; Arei HaMifratz, May 25) reported the news of Iraqi children being brought to the city’s Rambam hospital for life-saving heart surgeries. The initiative was made by an “American Christian organization established in 1994 for the purpose of promoting peace in the Middle East through Israel’s advanced medical technology to the parents of children with medical problems in Arab countries by bringing them for treatment in Israel.” The organization was in fact founded in Israel and, originally known as “Light to the Nations,” now goes by the name “Shevet Achim” – from the last words of the verse “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell in unity” (Ps. 133:1). The Iraqi children are given medical exams in Iraq, travel to Jordan, and from there cross into Israel. The cooperation with Rambam hospital in Haifa is a new enterprise and represents an extension of the work. According to the reports, the mother of this child – as of many others – had to overcome a large amount of apprehension in order to arrive in Israel: “‘At first I was afraid to come to Israel,’ said Shilaat, mother of the infant [Sam], who left a three-year-old behind her in Iraq. ‘But I was more worried about the life of my child, and that’s was really motivated me finally to come. I’ve been received very warmly here and I’m happy about Sam’s recovery.’” The article in Zman Haifa concludes with the wish: “And it’s impossible without some politics: Without doubt, the operation that was conducted on this Iraqi infant’s heart constitutes a wonderful example of the will in the hearts of strangers, from a hostile nation, to bridge the gaps and to create life together.” Or, in Arei HaMifratz’s heading: “Perhaps peace will come on the operating table.”
Jerusalem Post, May 27; Makor Rishon, May 29; Haaretz, May 24, 25; Zman Hadera, May 25; Hed HaKrayot, May 18, 2007
This week, Christian Zionist activities were again fairly broadly based. Four articles dealt with Christian Zionist funds for (re)building bombs shelters in the North and in Sederot (Makor Rishon, May 29; Haaretz, May 24, 25). The fifth (Jerusalem Post, May 27) was another tribute to Jerry Falwell, while the sixth reported on renewed attempts to drill for oil in Menashe, “according to biblical verses” (Zman Hadera, May 25). “We chose the place on the basis of surveys done by the State. A company drilled to thousand meters on behalf of the State but found nothing and decided to stop drilling. The directors of the company [“Zion Oil and Gas”] claim that the Bible says that there must be oil in the region of Menashe. On this basis, they say that there must be oil here. We have therefore decided to drill deeper and have got down to 5000 meters.”
Makor Rishon, May 28, 2007
A new project has been initiated to “bring the masses of mankind to write the Bible by hand, each person writing one verse.” Entitled “The people of the world writing the Bible,” the project is sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and was opened recently at the International Book Fair in Warsaw with the writing of the first verses by dignitaries. Thousands of Poles, “Jews and Christians alike,” are expected to write verses, each in their own handwriting and in the language of their choice. At the end of the project, the pages will be joined together and bound into a book. The Israeli government is hoping that for the State’s 60th anniversary celebrations next year, “such Bibles will come from about 50 nations around the world (without the ‘New Testament,’ of course).”
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, May 29; Yediot Ahronot, May 28, 2007
A new biography of Pius XII has been published which “rejects [the] anti-Semitism charge” (Haaretz, May 29). Its author, Andrea Tornielli, claims, “This is a black legend that refuses to die. Pius XII has become a lightning rod for all the presumed responsibilities of the Catholic Church in that period [the Holocaust].” The book apparently “also includes excerpts from letters the future pope wrote to his family in the early 1930s when he was Vatican ambassador in Germany, expressing concern over the rise of Hitler.” Jewish concerns have still not been pacified, however, and the report notes that the ADL has “asked Pope Benedict to suspend the sainthood process until the Vatican declassifies its Second World War archives.”
Haaretz, May 22, pp. 1, 2; Magazine Steimatzky, May 1, 2007
An excerpt from the second chapter of Marcel Schwob’s book The Children’s Crusade appeared in Haaretz (May 22).
Two letters in Haaretz (May 22) respond to Magen Broshi’s review of Yehoshua Efron’s book on the beginnings of Christianity (see previous Review). Both coming out in Efron’s defense, the first argues that Efron’s arguments have been articulated by many before him and he stands in a tradition which characterizes many texts that appear to have no Christian content as Christian notwithstanding – and in a scholarly tradition that sees the Dead Sea Scrolls as the product of a Christian community. The second focuses on the “known” unreliability of dating methods.
Magazine Steimatzky reviews Aviad Kleinberg’s book The Seven Sins – which we covered in a previous Review.