June 27 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….June 27, 2007


During the week covered by this Review, we received 21 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, missionary and anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, Christian tourism, and Christian Zionism. Out of the total:


  • 3 dealt with Messianic Judaism
  • 2 dealt with anti-missionary activity
  • 3 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 1 dealt with Christian tourism
  • 1 dealt with Christian Zionism
  • 1 dealt with archaeology
  • 3 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
  • 3 were book reviews


The remaining 4 articles dealt with various matters of Jewish and Christian interest.


This week’s Review demonstrates the increasing awareness of and interest in Messianic Jews and Judaism in Israeli society. Following last week’s Haifa article concerning Shmuel Awaida and Beit Eliahu, the local Jerusalem paper Kol HaZman this week devoted a lengthy article to Messianic Jews in the country, particularly in Jerusalem. This was supplemented by the to-be-expected responses to Kati’s film, expressed in three letters published in the regional paper HaTzvi. Several articles dealt with Christians in Israel, two in relation to the death of a prominent Benedictine, a former Hebrew University philosophy professor, and one in relation to the increasing number of Sudanese refugees arriving in the country.


Messianic Judaism

HaZvi, June 14; Ma’ariv, June 20; Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2007

Reflecting the increasing familiarity of many Israelis with the phenomenon of Messianic Judaism, Kol HaZman’s Asher Kesher “set out to mosey through Messianic congregations, visited the schools and churches, investigated the process of conversion [hamarat ha-emuna], followed the intense struggles with ‘Yad L’Achim,’ and discovered that Messianic Jews [ma’aminim] are right-wingers who give financial assistance to the residents of the settlements. All of them, by the way, are registered as Jews” (June 14). Despite the promise this heading holds out, the article fails, to a certain degree, to measure up to expectations. Kesher does indeed visit several congregations in Jerusalem, many of which use the Baptist Church as their place of worship –Even Israel (Russian), El Ro’i (Hebrew/Ofer), and Yad HaShmona. People in general are very reluctant to talk to Kesher; most will give their first name but not their surname, claiming bad experience with the press. Ofer aked for anonymity for the sake of his son who is presently serving in the army. According to Ofer’s understanding his son’s military career might be threatened if it was discovered that he had connections with Messianic Jews. The overall tone of the article is one of suspicion. The people interviewed – a good example is Rachel, from the Messianic school, “whose fear is so great that two days after the interview with me in her office, with great reservation, she rang to inform me that if I told anyone what she had said I and Kol HaZman would run the risk of being sued.” Kesher understands the apprehensions displayed. A large part of the article is devoted to the activities of Yad L’Achim. Under a subheading entitled “Who’s to blame for the Holocaust?” he acknowledges that, having visited the website You Tube to which Polly from Arad directed him in order to look at a picture taken by Yad L’Achim of the so-called rampaging of the Messianic Jewish community, what he actually saw was “photographic proof of Yakim’s and Polly’s claims of unceasing harassment and incitement against the Messianic community in Arad. In one of the strongest clips, one of the Gur Hasidim turns to a woman in the market and claims that they, the Messianic Jews, are responsible for the murder of six million in the Holocaust.”

While Kesher describes the worship in some detail (sometimes painful to hear – such as the fact that the words of the songs written on the screen are written in badly spelled Hebrew) and asks about the observance of shabbat at Even Israel, where Galen (?) answers him that Messianic Jews hold no day sacred above another and that they sometimes celebrate the Jewish feasts with the rest of the country, “not out of duty but out of solidarity,” we learn very little else substantial about Messianic faith. When questioned directly about the way in which he became a believer, Ofer responded that after a disappointing five-month spiritual search in India, he then experienced “in a way on which I don’t wish to elaborate here, a revelation of the Messianic faith.” The clearest information on the belief of Messianic Jews comes in Kesher’s question to Galen: “I know this is a big question, but why should a person believe in Yeshua as the Messiah? ‘In the Tanakh, Isaiah 59:1-3 says that because of man’s sin God does not hear his prayers. Messianic Jews believe that through Yeshua, whom we regard as the Messiah, the sins of all those who believe in him are forgiven and God listens to our prayers. We pray in Yeshua’s name so that God will hear our prayers through him.” Also interesting is the response of Salo Kapusta from Yad HaShmonah to Kesher’s question whether “a child born to Messianic parents is also called a Messianic Jew?”: “No. A child born to Messianic parents cannot be called a Messianic Jew because it isn’t an issue of religion but of faith. So a child born to Messianic parents will only be called a Messianic Jew when he himself decides to believe in Yeshua.”

The most informative part of the article in fact appears in a separate section entitled “Who is a Jew: Some [well-]known and less [well-]known facts about Messianic Jews”: “Messianic Judaism is a loosely-joined collection of religious groups who define themselves as Jewish despite the fact that they primarily contain Christian, particularly evangelical, elements –

  • The groups developed out of a stream of Christianity which was founded in 1825 in Dublin, Ireland. [Editor’s note: I cannot identify the group to which this refers. The first organized body of “Hebrew Christians” was established in London in 1860 – the “Hebrew Christian Alliance.”]
  • These groups accept the Tanakh [the “Old Testament”] and the New Testament as Scripture
  • Messianic Jews define themselves as Jews who have accepted Yeshua as the Messiah and Son of God, but are considered an inauthentic stream of Judaism by almost a complete majority of the Jewish streams
  • The Law of Return does not apply to Messianic Jews and most of the Jewish streams perceive ethnic Jews whose faith is Messianic as apostates to Christianity
  • Messianic Jews claim that a Jew who believes in Yeshua has not converted – just as the Chabadnikim have not
  • Yeshua was a Jew and from their perspective the Messiah of whom the Tanakh speaks. A Jew who believes in Yeshua is therefore actually a real Jew in God’s eyes
  • A Jew who believes in Yeshua does not become a member of another religion. He can continue to observe Jewish tradition and isn’t required to accept Christian tradition for himself
  • If a Messianic Jew’s mother is Jewish according to the Rabbinate’s requirements, under the ‘nationality’ clause is written ‘Jew,’ so that a Messianic Jew does not formally lose his Jewish identity or his place in the Jewish people when he believes in Yeshua
  • When a Jew who was not born to Messianic parents decides to become a believer as an adult, the nationality clause in his identity papers does not change.”

As the above quote indicates, some of the legal aspects Kesher deals with are also instructive. Kesher interviewed Caleb Meyers, a lawyer belonging to the community, who claimed that “Messianic Jews are related to in Israel on the same level as terrorists, tourists from the [movement] do not have their visas renewed and their [local believers’] children are not registered.” Having apparently contacted the Interior Ministry for its response to these claims, Kesher cites the reply he received: “The laws and procedures of the Interior Ministry apply to anyone in the population who turns to the Ministry, without distinction. A person who is an Israeli citizen and received that citizenship legally, even if he becomes a ‘Messianic Jew,’ will receive all the services provided by the Ministry of the Interior. We do not make any distinction between one citizen and another.” [Editor’s note: As Caleb argues, this may be the law on paper, but it is far from regularly applied in practice. It is very nice, however, to have such a statement from the Interior Ministry on record in writing.]

The last page of the article (it is not clear whether the column also belongs to Kesher’s piece) related to the “renewal of the activity of the Committee for the Prevention of the Domination of the Mission.” In a bizarre twist on the “Jewish conspiracy” theme, this committee, headed by Mina Fenton, sees Christianity as a whole as attempting to dominate the world. In Fenton’s words – in response to the question whether the ‘good deeds’ of the Messianic Jewish community could not truly be taken at face value – “Everyone who, like me, fights against the missionaries, knows their program. It’s an organized, long-term, global program that has an influence on both the public and private realms and includes penetration into tens of thousands of households in Jerusalem and the whole country. The fundamental Christian doctrine is to catch Jews. This represents a true danger. Christian businessmen openly declare that ‘we will bring Jews to faith in Yeshu through business.’ We cannot make a distinction between Christians’ religious faith and their desire to dominate the fields of culture, education, and economics. This domination is their premier goal and they are not ashamed to acknowledge it.”

A second article, in Ma’ariv (June 20) reports on some of the people hanging out at the Promenade in Jerusalem – who include “smiling Messianic Jews who know that missionaries are forbidden in Israel but that they can sell books on any subject – including, for example, how to become a Messianic Jew in several simple steps.”

The third piece (Jerusalem Post, June 20) does not strictly fall into this category, being a critical response to Isi Liebler’s previous article defending Israel’s befriending (American) evangelicals. Part of Ellen Horowitz’s grievance with this policy, however, lies in the fact that “It must be known that some of the same evangelical bodies that are praising, praying for, and generously contributing to Israel are simultaneously pumping significant funds towards maintaining and promoting the over 100 churches, institutions, ministries, congregations and seminaries that service an estimated 15,000 Hebrew Christians (‘Messianic Jews’) – many of whom have no qualms about proselytizing.”


Missionary and Anti-Missionary Activity

HaTzvi, June 14; Yediot Haifa, June 15, 2007

HaTzvi (June 14) printed four letters responding to its article “Who would have believed?” concerning the film made about the Messianic community in Arad (see last week’s Review). The first is worth quoting at length for its attitude towards Christianity and Messianic Judaism alike: “I have heard that we have a new blockbuster in town ‘Who would have believed?’ from the Messianic film makers. The name of the film is a transparent paraphrase of the opening verse of Isaiah 53. This chapter is a particular favorite of the missionaries, which they use to base the essence of their teaching which justifies, religiously and morally, the streams of Jewish blood which have been shed as a punishment for the Jews for our denial of the suffering of the Crucified One as allegedly portrayed in the chapter: Whoever does not convert to Christianity will suffer the same fate. What a pity and how sad that the high school in Arad should sponsor the disseminators of such nonsense – which even the Christian world has laid aside in disgust. What a pity and how sad – but not surprising. This is the missionaries’ method: To make cynical use of every Jewish issue by fashioning it to achieve their purpose after emptying it of its original content. This is what they do with our festivals, ceremonies, customs, and Scriptures. So why not to a whole school? Does not the innocent Jewish heart, our graciousness and lofty morality, stand at the disposal of everyone – even our enemy?”

The next two letters both express outrage at the “blurring” of the boundaries between Christianity and Judaism which they presumably see Messianic Judaism as representing. The first is from a neighbor, originally friendly to the congregation but turned into a supporter of the Orthodox protestors following the attempt by some of the congregation’s members to “influence me.” “Since then I have been encouraging the demonstrators. The missionaries’ gall exceeds all bounds, they want me as a Jew – true, not a religious Jew, but still a Jew – to become a Christian. ‘Who would believe’ that in the State of Israel there would exist such shameless coercion and blurring of Judaism and Christianity. It pains me that in the State of Israel we should have to be afraid of a small group who attempt to obscure the difference between Judaism and Christianity, and dare to call themselves Messianic Jews. They are Christians – as the Supreme Court has determined.”

The last letter has more specific complaints about the community’s lifestyle: “The question needs to be asked what are the motives of this group living in Eretz Israel? In the city of Arad? What is their goal and what do they live off? Did they come to make the desert bloom in the Land in general? And in the city of Arad in particular? This group doesn’t work – many of them aren’t Israeli citizens, and the real question is who is supporting them and what is the purpose of their being here in the Land, sometimes for months, sometimes for years?”

An article in Yediot Haifa (June 15) renewed the reports that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city were again engaging in missionary activity, culminating in the “baptism of tens of Jews to Christianity.” The piece also claimed that the sect recently failed in its attempt to purchase property in Haifa for their activities: “The owners of property in the neighborhood expressed opposition to a change in its purpose.”


Christians in Israel

Ma’ariv, June 18; Haaretz, June 18, 20, 2007

The three articles in this section this week relate to non-local Christians who yet wished to make Israel their home. The two pieces in Ma’ariv and Haaretz (June 18) related to the death of Prof. Marcel Dubois, OB. Marcel Dubois was a well-known figure in Israeli society – his contribution being noted by the bestowal of the Israel Prize and Dignitary of Jerusalem prize. Dubois was born in France in 1920, entering the Benedictine Order at eighteen. During World War II he was employed with thirteen other brothers in the French welfare office, through which he helped hide Jewish children in church establishments. In 1962 he was sent to head the Benedictine order in Jerusalem with the establishment of Beit Yeshiahu, over which he presided until his death, when he was unfortunately its only inhabitant. Over the years he became a prominent figure in Jewish-Christian dialogue, “symbolizing Jerusalem’s possibility of being not only the scene of confrontation between religions and cultures but also the scene of their meeting.” One of his many “achievements” was offering himself as a substitute for the hostages at Entebbe. Marcel Dubois was 87 when he died.

Another, more recent, form of Christian “pilgrimage” to Israel comes in the shape of the increasing number of Sudanese refugees (Haaretz, June 20). Persecuted because of their faith in their native country, many Sudanese are fleeing to Egypt, where they also feel uneasy. One such refugee felt that “the fact that he was a Christian and an African was a stumbling block” to his residence in Egypt (see previous Reviews).


Christian Tourism

Yated Ne’eman, June 18, 2007

The Ministry of Tourism has opened a new campaign to promote tourism to Israel, under the slogan “You’ll love Israel from the first peace.” Part of the target population is “Christians in whom around 2 million dollars have been invested, [a sum] that constitutes about 18% of the total budget, under the slogan: ‘Visit Israel and you’ll never be the same.’ The fear is that neither will the State of Israel be the same after such a flood of Christians and non-Jews …” [Editor’s note: The last sentiment reflects the paper’s Orthodox stand.]


Christian Zionism

Iton BeMakom, June 15, 2007

A choir from Denver, Colorado is planning to visit the country and as part of its tour will give a concert at Asaf HaRofeh Hospital. Proceeds from the concert will go to purchase medical equipment for the hospital. “The members of the choir are Protestant Christians, who believe that they must support Israel and her citizens. Above their church flies the Israeli flag and they are very active in everything concerned with support for the Holy Land.”



Shishi Be-Golan, June 15, 2007

This year’s archaeological season has opened with excavations at Bethesda (Beit Tzeida). “The site at Bethesda belongs to the period beginning from the tenth century b.c.e. and it was abandoned in the fourth century c.e. The impressive gate which was uncovered at Bethesda belongs to the Iron Age – the tenth-eighth centuries b.c.e. Bethesda was the birthplace of three of the most important apostles of the Christian church, Yeshu visited it frequently and performed miracles there, according to accepted Christian tradition.” The archaeologists hope to open the site this year to visitors.


The Pope and the Vatican

Haaretz, June 17, 19; Jerusalem Post, June 18, 2007

On a recent visit to Assisi, Benedict XVI spoke of the fighting in the Middle East, considering it his duty “to launch from here a pressing and heartfelt appeal that all the armed conflicts that bloody the earth may cease … Our thoughts go in a special way to the Holy Land, beloved of St. Francis [of Assisi], to Iraq, to Lebanon, to the entire Middle East” (Jerusalem Post, June 18). On the occasion of the Cypriot Greek Orthodox Church leader’s visit to Rome, he and the Pope “pledged yesterday to work for peace in the Middle East, saying they feared a widening crisis with ‘disastrous consequences’” (Haaretz, June 17).

The Vatican’s plans for the beatification of Pius XII have again gone into high gear this week (Haaretz, June 19). Both supporters and objectors to the move are flooding the Vatican with evidence for their position. While conservative elements are trusting that Benedict XVI’s own conservative stance will aid their effort, the Jewish community is hoping that his German origin will make him sensitive to the Holocaust and therefore cautious not to offend Jewish sensibilities. “Because the discussion will revolve to a large degree around Pius’ attitude towards the Holocaust, Jews have the right, and perhaps even the duty, to voice their opinion, especially against the background of the part the Catholic Church played in persecuting Jews over the centuries.” The article reviewed the respective attitudes, pointing out that Jews as well as Catholics can be found among Pius’ defenders. It concluded by indicating, once again, that the process of Pius’ beatification depends to a large degree on the contents of the Vatican archives. “It’s dubious whether it will be at all possible to reach a decision in this matter while the Vatican continues to refuse access to all the documents in the Vatican archives from the period of the war. The fate of these archives in the near future will apparently constitute a marker of the way in which Benedict XVI will move in his office – and not only on the subject of the Jews and Pius XII .”


Book Reviews

Zman HaNegev, June 15; Yated Ne’eman, June 18; Haaretz, June 15, 2007

The question of anti-Semitism arises not merely in relation to Pius XII but also with regard to Italian attitudes in general. New research recently published, “proves [that] Fascist Italy was anti-Semitic” (Yated Ne’eman, June 18). According to this report, the new book, Italy and Persecution of the Jews, published in Paris, “is based on authentic sources and documents and proves that anti-Semitism was not forced on the Italian government by the Nazis and popular pressure, as has been claimed. Mussolini’s regime itself initiated the prohibition against Jews serving in certain professions and their denunciation in the press. According to the researcher, Mary Ann Bonci, “Mussolini strove to influence public opinion to justify Fascism following the end of the Spanish War through anti-Semitic incitement and efforts to remove Jewish liberties. The Vatican and the King kept silent in the face of the government initiative.”

Hadar Moritz reviewed the Hebrew translation of Jose Saramago’s book The Gospel According to Jesus [Yeshu] in Zman HaNegev (June 15). “Our story is thus about no one other than Yeshu who, like every good Jew, was born in the sin his father committed in order to save his son, who without doubt unwillingly became the number one missionary in the world. The guilt of his father’s original sin is passed to his son, who does everything he can to atone for it. Yeshu sets out on a journey of atonement, on which you, the readers, will join him. There you will find a tour guide, a shepherd with original thoughts who shakes the foundations of the youthful Yeshu’s world. In the end, it turns out that this shepherd is a famous figure with slightly negative connotations, whose identity you will find out by yourselves. Moreover, the sensitive youth finds himself in the arms of the most famous prostitute in the annals of history, Mary Magdalene, who becomes his companion throughout his brief life. Likewise, you will encounter depressed fishermen whom Yeshu amazes with his divine powers. At the end you will be witnesses to a divine plot … yes, yes, God and Satan concoct a plot in which Yeshu is compelled to be the lead player. That’s it – now all you have to do is arrange your holiday and to remember that whatever happens – Yeshu was born and died a Jew, and that fact no one can ever take away from us.”

Haaretz (June 150 continues with excerpts from Marcel Schwob’s book on the Children’s Crusade.