Caspari Center Media Review………….June 13, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 20 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, attitudes to Christianity, Christians in Israel, Christian sites, Jewish-Christian relations, Christian media, anti-Semitism, Christians and the Holocaust, and the Pope and the Vatican. Out of the total:
- 1 dealt with Messianic Judaism
- 7 dealt with anti-missionary activity
- 1 dealt with attitudes to Christianity and Jesus
- 1 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 2 dealt with Christian sites
- 1 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
- 1 dealt with Anti-Semitism
- 1 dealt with Christians and the Holocaust
- 2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
- 1 dealt with the Christian media
- 1 dealt with conversion to Judaism
- 2 were book reviews
This week’s Review contains a varied mixture of topics. Perhaps the most moving was the article concerning a church in Tubingen which is attempting to reconcile itself with its past in the present. A vehement letter was printed in the Jerusalem Post denying the existence of “Hebrew Christianity,” while anti-missionary activity noted both Meno Kalisher’s outreach and the literature of Keren Ahva Meshihit.
Jerusalem Post, June 6, 2007
The Post’s Mailbag printed a letter from an insulted American Jew who had recently visited Israel and been confronted with “Hebrew-Christians”: “Dear Editor, Having just spent two weeks in Jerusalem and Haifa on a teaching trip, I was stunned to discover that the only health-friendly smoke-free hotels in Haifa are owned and managed by anti-Semitic Messianic Christians catering to so-called ‘Messianic Jews.’ That most of the English language Israeli and Diaspora Jewish press, including your paper, accept evangelical fundamentalist Christian terminology for apostate Jews who have converted to Judaism and who actively seek to convert others, is perverse. In your May 18 cover story Metro used the anti-Semitic term “Hebrew-Christian movement.’ [The reference is apparently to David Smith’s article; see previous Reviews.] Worse, you make it sound wonderful. Telling Jewish children and youth their faith has been superseded by a “newer,’ ‘better,’ and ‘improved’ faith than that of their parents, grandparents and those who came before them is morally and ethically wrong. If you believe Jews have a right to worship as Jews, then use the terms Messianic Christian and Messianic church. There is no such thing as a Hebrew-Christian. Ask any rabbi or Jewish educator; post-proselytizing Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy will concur.”
Yom L’Yom, May 31; Zman HaDarom, June 1; BeKehila, May 31, pp. 10, 26; HaModia, May 30, 31, June 6, 2007
Under the title “Ho, Jesus,” Zman HaDarom (June 1) featured an article about the arrival of “Yeshu’s agents (ambassadors; “apostles”)” in Ashdod who are flooding the mail boxes of a section of the city with New Testaments and Shmuel Ostrovsky’s book “The Secret of Happiness.” According to the report, “The books were distributed by a movement for the dissemination of Christian literature in Israel by the name of Keren Ahva Meshichit. ‘The key to victory over evil lies in the hands of Yeshua and it is in the hands of all those who in believe in him to use this key’ it is written in the book.” The article noted “We could not obtain a response from Keren Ahva Meshichit. At the same time, Kalischer Meno, a Jewish believer active in disseminating missionary literature, said: ‘Kehilat Jerusalem did not distribute the New Testament in Ashdod or anywhere else. We distribute tracts and if people want the books, we send them to them. We know that 90% of the people who receive mail throw it into the garbage. Consequently, we only send books upon request.”
Two articles (HaModia, May 31; BeKehila, May 31, p. 26) noted that, in the wake of Yad L’Achim’s activity against Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were holding lectures open to the public explaining their faith, the police issued restraining orders against the anti-missionary organization to keep them from disturbing people attending the lectures.
A standard brief against Jevohah’s Witnesses baptizing Jews into Christianity at the height of Shabbat appeared in Yom L’Yom (May 31).
HaModia (June 6) carried a lengthy article against the mission in very general terms, repeating the standard Orthodox stance against the “hunters of souls” who wish to take innocent Jews and make them apostasize.
Two articles mentioned missionary activity abroad (BeKehila, May 31, p. 10; HaModia, May 30).
Attitudes to Christianity and Jesus
Haartez, June 1, 2007
A very brief reference to Christianity appeared in an article devoted to the Orthodox response to the Holocaust. Yehuda Bauer, one of the foremost Holocaust scholars, was recently invited to participate on a TV show but the invitation was rescinded before he could appear because of his views on the issue. “The truth is that there are no ‘Haredim’ [Ultra-Orthodox] – there are groups and individuals who fear God, and their behavior during the Holocaust and afterwards was varied. After the Holocaust, they were uncertain and are still uncertain, and Rabbi Schneerson’s opinion is one of the views. But Chabad is a great Hasidut and influence, it has a messiah who was and died and many who are expecting his resurrection, and in that respect Chabad is like a Christian movement. So it’s important to know what its leader said. ‘The King Messiah’ didn’t deny the Holocaust; he justified it.”
Christians in Israel
Ma’ariv, June 6, 2007
The Church of the Twelve Apostles on the Sea of Galilee, considered to be “one of the most sacred sites to Christianity,” according to this report in Ma’ariv (June 6), was recently broken into for the second time in half a year and precious items, including crucifixes, signet rings, jewelry, holy objects, and a lot of silver stolen. “In order to understand the gravity of the act we must note that we are speaking about one of the most important and sacred churches to Christianity.” Other churches in Capernaum and Mt. Tabor have also been broken into. The police suspect that the culprits are a gang of thieves working in the area. According to the report, “In the wake of the wave of break-ins, the church has decided not to rely only God’s mercy but also to install security cameras which, to the monks’ dismay [over the robbery], documented the most recent break-in … The Tiberias police note that all the church premises, the many visitors, and the church itself have turned the place into an attractive target for burglars.”
Ma’ariv, June 6; Haaretz, June 1, 2007
Under the title “Capernaum: The central place of Yeshu’s activity,” Ma’ariv (June 6) gave some of the background to the site. Noting its popularity with Christian pilgrims, the article reported that Hasmonean coins found in the city indicate that it was founded in the second century b.c.e. “In the period of the Roman occupation, Capernaum served as a tax post; in the crusader period in the eleventh century, the village was deserted and as is known was not rebuilt during that period due to Christianity’s dominance. Franciscan archaeological excavations revealed a church from the fifth century which is known in Christian tradition as the house of Peter, Yeshu’s faithful disciple … Capernaum served a central place in Yeshu’s life to the extent that it is sometimes called ‘Yeshu’s town.’ When Yeshu left Nazareth, he came to Capernaum and according to [Christian] faith performed many of his miracles there.”
Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2007
The prolific Jewish author and researcher Jacob Neusner’s latest book A Rabbi Talks with Jesus is designed, according to Neusner, as a “contemporary exercise of disputation” – an “art” known from the Middle Ages, when its conclusion was predetermined in favor of the Christian side, but which has more recently fallen into disrepute in the climate of pluralism. Neusner is seeking to revive it in the interests of truth and mutual respect for differences – something which, he claims, tends to get lost in an era of relativism and dialogue when similarities and tolerance are all the rage. “In A Rabbi Talks with Jesus I undertook to take seriously the claims of Jesus to fulfill the Torah and weigh that claim in the balance against the teaching of other Rabbis – a colloquium of sages of the Torah. I explain in a very straightforward and unapologetic way why, if I had been in the Land of Israel in the first century and present at the Sermon on the Mount, I would not have joined the circle of Jesus’s disciples. I would have dissented, I hope courteously, I am sure with solid reason and argument and fact.” Although Neusner fails to explain in the article itself why he would refuse to accept Jesus’ teachings, he does indicate that he “wrote the book to shed some light on why, while Christians believe in Jesus Christ and the good news of his rule in the kingdom of Heaven, Jews believe in the Torah of Moses and form on earth and in their own flesh God’s kingdom of priests and holy people … Where Jesus diverges from the revelation by God to Moses at Mount Sinai that is the Torah, he is wrong, and Moses is right. In setting forth the grounds to this unapologetic dissent, I mean to foster religious dialogue among believers, Christian and Jewish alike … We have avoided meeting head-on the points of substantial difference between us, not only in response to the person and claims of Jesus, but especially, in addressing his teachings. He claimed to reform and to improve, ‘You have heard it said … but I say …’ We maintain, and I have argued in my book, that the Torah was and is perfect and beyond improvement, and the Judaism built upon the Torah and the prophets and writings, the originally-oral parts of the Torah written down in the Mishna, Talmud, and Midrash – that Judaism was and remains God’s will for humanity. By that criterion I propose to set forth a Jewish dissent from some important teachings of Jesus. It is a gesture of respect for Christians and honor for their faith. For we can argue only if we take one another seriously. But we can enter into dialogue only if we honor both ourselves and the other.
In my imaginary disputation I treat Jesus with respect, but I also mean to argue with him about things he says.” Neusner is, as always, confident of the results of his writing: “Both Jews and Christians should find in A Rabbi Talks with Jesus the reason to affirm, because each party will locate there the very points on which the difference between Judaism and Christianity rests. What makes me so certain of that outcome? Because I believe, when each side understands in the same way the issues that divide the two, and both with solid reason affirm their respective truths, then all may love and worship God in peace – knowing that it really is the one and the same God whom together they serve – in difference. So it is a religious book about religious difference: an argument about God.”
Jerusalem Post, May 31, 2007
A brief news item in the Jerusalem Post (May 31) noted that the ADL has come out in criticism of a “Coptic Church leader who claimed that the New Testament says that the Jews killed Christ and the Vatican was wrong to apologize for 2,000 years of church-based anti-Semitism, saying that the remarks ‘show the persistence of anti-Semitism among Arab Christian leaders.’”
Christians and the Holocaust
Jerusalem Post, May 31, 2007
This very moving piece documented the establishment of an evangelical church in the small university town of Tubingen in Baden-Wurttenberg, Germany, which first “expelled all its Jewish residents in 1477. Since then it has historically also been the origin of various church doctrines directed against the Jews.” In contrast to its history – and in a direct attempt to redress its wrongs – the Tubingen Offensive Stadtmissions church (TOS) has “grown over the past twenty years to some 250 members who all have a special love for Israel and the Jewish people.” In a climate in which the State Church does not encourage a pro-Israel stance, “for an independent Israel-loving church to survive and flourish is indeed something special. The TOS is a large tent built on top of railroad tracks that once deported Jews from the town to camps throughout Germany and Poland, but the spirit of the church is founded on acknowledgment and repentance for the sins of their forefathers.”
Among the activities the church has organized in this respect was a March of Life around Holocaust Remembrance Day this year. “The march by these German Christians was aimed at healing the wounds of the past in order to build relationships that will last into the future. The route followed that of a death march that took place in early 1945 just months before the end of World War II and covered some 350 kilometers from Bisingen to Dachau.” Not only did a group of more than fifty American Christians join the more than 3000 Germans on the march but “also on the march was a man from Syria, who dared not give his name or hometown for fear of being killed upon returning home. He said that as a Christian from Syria he struggles with managing what he was taught about hating Israel and the Jews versus what Jesus taught about loving even your enemies. He felt that if Germans and Jews could be reconciled, the same model could also be applied between Arabs and Jews.” Also participating were Jewish guests, some of whom had lost relatives in the Holocaust.
At a special meeting on the eve of the march, several of the German Christians confronted the past personally by acknowledging the part played by their parents – and demonstrated their intent toward reconciliation by “following the example of Jesus and humbly washed the feet” of several of the Jewish guests – who returned the gesture, “signaling their forgiveness.” The church’s children also participated in the march, one of its organizers, in charge of TOS’s children’s ministry, saying: “‘It’s very important to teach them what happened here in our land, and what we can do for reconciliation.’ He also said that they begin talking with the children at a young age about the Holocaust, but spare them some of the more gruesome details until they are older.” The success of the march was summarized by one TOS leader, Stephan Ahrens from Hamburg, who said that it had achieved its goal “to confront the memories of the past and talk about them, breaking the veil of silence.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, June 4; Yated Ne’eman, June 4, 2007
The new biography of Pius XII (see previous Review) quotes an excerpt from a speech given by the then Vatican ambassador indirectly encouraging the Catholic Church to resist Hitler: “‘The press is going so far as to deny the persecutions in Germany, which are accompanied by plots and lies. Be careful, priests, there are informers among you’ – this passage from a speech in which Pope Pius XI [sic] was supposed to denounce the Nazis in hints and to call the church to oppose them on 11 February, 1939 in the presence of the Italian dictator, Mussolini, is raising a fresh controversy concerning the Vatican’s policy towards the Nazi regime.” The excerpt was reportedly discovered by the author in Pius XI’s [sic] archives.
Haaretz, May 31; HaZofeh, May 31, 2007
The first review, by Miriam Feinbush Vamosh in Haaretz (May 31), reviewed Annabel Jane Wharton’s book Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks (University of Chicago Press, 2006). The book takes at its subject the “passion to possess the sacred, and the way it has changed over the centuries in response to economic and social transformations.” During the Byzantine period, Jerusalem could be “acquired” by a relic – “a material remnant of the city, especially the cross, with its connection both to the divine and to Jerusalem. [Vamosh] describes the cross of Jesus as ‘an intensely material sign entangled in a spiritual significance.” Processes in the Middle Ages then ‘set the groundwork for early 20th-century perceptions, when Jerusalem had become … ‘the most extensive sacred park in the world.’ Also from that time come efforts to possess Jerusalem in the form of replicas built abroad. Most recently, the author goes on to introduce a gargantuan Holy Land theme park, very much at home in Florida, and a certain recent blockbuster about the crucifixion, both of proportions suiting our need for the ‘awesome’ with none of the messy reality of Jerusalem. Both also bear specific messages about the past and the future, and bring to new heights the profit-motive that is descried as the medium for such spectacles.”
Jerusalem as a “commodity to be circulated through relics” is treated in a chapter that establishes “the link between sacred relics and economics” and replicas of Jerusalem are described at the sacri monti of Vivaldo and Varallo and Varese, Italy. “These medieval theme parks represented the Holy City with a regularity that avoided the messy incoherence of the real thing. Pilgrimages to these local ‘jerusalems’ also avoided the dangers of the journey to the real place.” Vamosh also includes some more unusual nineteenth-century pilgrim accounts/novel, some of which “reveal the need of Protestants at the time not only to erase from their version of the Holy City both Christian and Islamic monuments, the better to find ‘the pure’ biblical landscape, but also to erase the Jewish faith.” A chapter entitled “Spectacularized Jerusalem” explains “globalization has produced a new, theatrical, clean perception of Jerusalem from afar.” The reviewer, Miriam Feinbush Vamosh, is the author of Daily Life at the Time of Jesus (Palphot, 2001), Food in the Bible: From Adam’s Apple to the Last Supper (Palphot, 2004), and Women at the Time of the Bible (forthcoming).
The second review (HaZofeh, May 31) was of a science fiction book, part of whose plot was to demonstrate the obsolete nature of Christianity in the future.