Caspari Center Media Review………….July 5, 2007
During the week covered by this Review, we received 25 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, attitudes to Christianity, Christians in Israel, Christian sites, Christian Zionism, and the Pope and the Vatican. Out of the total:
- 7 dealt with anti-missionary activity
- 2 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity
- 1 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 1 dealt with Christian sites
- 1 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 5 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
- 1 was a book review
The remaining 7 articles dealt with various matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
This week’s Review reflects the other side of the coin of the focus of last week’s Review – the multifaceted face of anti-missionary activity against the Messianic Jewish community.
Missionary and Anti-Missionary Activity
HaMahaneh HaHaredi, June 21;Kol HaZman, June 22; HaMekoman, June 21; Mishpaha, June 21; BeKehila, June 21; Yom L’Yom, June 21; HaModia, June 28, 2007
Two articles (Kol HaZman, June 22; HaModia, June 28) featured the recent decision of the Jerusalem municipal Planning and Building Committee to overturn their earlier approval of Kehillat Roeh Israel’s plan to renovate and expand their premises (see the Review from the last week of November 2006). The difference in tone between the two pieces reflected the secular and religious perspectives of the respective papers. According to Kol HaZman, the reversal came in the wake of a “flood” of letters opposing the permission, in Hebrew and English, from organizations and individuals, “overflowing with biblical references.” One example: “We’re talking about a Christian Messianic missionary sect which has been operating in the neighborhood for over twenty years and making our lives miserable with its unceasing noise on shabbat and festivals.” Yet the outrage was not all on the side of the residents. Papa Allalu (Meretz), a member of the local council, “is very angry over the canceling of the permit. ‘Most of the opposition was irrelevant and spiteful. If something like this had happened in a Christian country regarding a synagogue, we’d be up in arms. The decision to recognize the opposition is a racist one.’” The Planning and Building Committee responded that the permit had originally been issued in ignorance of the fact that the premises were in a residential zone – and had no relation to the “religious reasons” raised by the neighborhood’s residents.
HaModia focused on the congregation’s so-called “missionary” activities and nature: “A plot by the Messianic missionary congregation ‘Roeh Israel’ to become the first to establish a ‘missionary synagogue’ in the heart of Jerusalem has been foiled. At the head of the congregation whose activities are run by a group of people who call themselves ‘Messianic Jews’ stands the well-known missionary Joseph Shulam, of whom the anti-missionary organization Yad L’Achim has clear evidence that he baptizes Jews to Christianity.” The report claimed that the letters opposing the premise’s change of purpose were orchestrated – or at least followed in the wake of – an “intensive campaign” by Yad L’Achim to “explain to the residents of the whole street the destructive and dubious purposes of the building following the change in purpose.” It added that the neighborhood’s inhabitants were claiming that the value of their property had significantly decreased once it had became known that missionaries were operating in it. It also cited a response by the “missionaries”: “In face of the complaints, the members of the missionary congregation attempted to argue that they do not engage in any missionary activity and that their only purpose is to establish a soup kitchen.” Yad L’Achim’s reaction was expressed by its director, who “praised the alertness of the residents of the street and neighborhood and said that ‘It has been proved that lack of opposition and action using every legitimate means at our disposal can bring results that no one can deny.’”
Under the title “Commando Deri,” a report in HaMekoman (June 21) noted that Yehuda Deri, the Chief Rabbi of Beersheva, is planning to send out six groups of pairs to “oversee” the missionary activity directed towards soldiers allegedly being undertaken at the central bus station and city center. Deri’s ire was aroused by information passed to him by local storekeepers and bus drivers to the effect that the missionaries were distributing “material with pictures of soldiers and people wearing kippot [yarmulkes], without one word about Yeshua.” The task imposed on Deri’s volunteers is to “at least explain to the public that the literature is missionary material.”
According to an article in Mishpaha (June 21), a Chinese missionary group by the name of Falon-Gong (?) or Falon-Dafa (?) put up a stand at a community center in Jerusalem on the occasion of a end-of-semester (religious) school party. No real indication was given of the sect’s nature, apart from a quote from one of the teachers, who stated: “In front of me were thrust the words ‘love,’ ‘compassion,’ meditation illustrations and strange terms.” Yad L’Achim claimed that the group “invite the public to join in meditation exercises and thereby pull people in to study the sect’s teachings.”
Yad L’Achim’s efforts to “save souls” were rewarded in Netanya recently, when they were able to convince a new immigrant from the former Soviet Union not to be baptized to Christianity at the hands of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (BeKehila, June 21). A further soul was saved from the same group working in Ashkelon and masquerading there in the form of an alternative medicine center, according to the report in Yom L’Yom (June 21).
The proposed bill to stop all missionary activity in Israel initiated by Ya’akov Margee was recently dismissed by the Knesset Ministerial Constitution Committee (HaMahane HaHaredi, June 21). An appeal has already been presented to the Committee against the decision.
Israeli Attitudes towards Christianity
HaModia, June 26; Makor Rishon, June 25, 2007
An article in HaModia (June 26) expressed its indignation at the fact that the Tali school system in Israel (which incorporates religion into its curriculum) has introduced a new program whose “declared purpose is ‘to strengthen Jewish identity within the student population.’” While this would not be a matter of outrage, it appears that the program has “Jewish and Christian students studying texts from the Tanakh [“Old Testament”] together, visiting synagogues and churches, and meet together in a variety of activities.” It would appear that the Christian students come from local Arab schools.
In an interview with Yechiam Fadan, the latter, an Israeli editor and translator, expressed his views on the state of cultural knowledge among Israeli students. Asked “What importance is there to studying mythologies at school, and what is your opinion regarding the claim that students should first study the Jewish heritage?” Fadan replied that every mythology has a grain of truth. In expanding on that sentiment, he related to Christianity: “Our world of images is built upon cultural creations and their origins. And because the books in the New Testament were inspired by the Tanakh, cultured people should be familiar with their narrative parts – just as it’s possible to study Roman mythology, which is a blind copy of Greek mythology.”
Christians in Israel
Yediot Ahronot, June 25, 2007
A lengthy article appeared in Yediot Ahronot (June 25) under the title “The Order will stand at ease: Franciscans, Benedictines, Salesians, and Messianics – the main thing is to live quietly.” The piece was a review of the numerous monasteries in the area of Latrun, just outside Jerusalem. The reference to “Messianics” in the title was rather incongruous, since none of the monasteries are in any way formally connected to the Messianic movement in Israel.
Haaretz, June 22, 2007
Another review of “tourist sites,” this time in the Golan, included the now non-existent village of Kursi. The name has preserved a distortion of the name “Gargasa” – the Greek form of “Gargashi” – “which, according to Christian tradition was the place in which Yeshua performed the well-known ‘miracle of the swine’ and there are the remains of an early church here.”
Ma’ariv, June 15, 2007
The residents of Gush Katif who were evacuated two years ago have still not found new homes or jobs. Christian Zionists have stepped into the gap left by the government’s failure to fulfil its promises, but their support has raised a controversy in the community and even led to threats by the Rabbi. Eventually, the evacuees returned the money to the donors – “not because the settlers did not wish to be pitied, but perhaps because the time has come for full assistance from those who truly need to help.”
HaZofeh, June 22, 2007
Yossi Klein Halevi’s new book “deals with the experiences of the special journey of a religious Israeli into the closed worlds of Islam and Christianity in little Israel and the territories. He spends whole days in churches, monasteries, mosques, and houses of prayer. He befriends monks and spends his time in the company of religious Christians and Muslims during their festivals. Yossi Klein Halevi frequently finds himself in situations and circumstances such as: prayer in a mosque in Ramallah, meditation in a subterranean church excavated by an ascetic monk from the Galilee [Bargil Pixner], grieving over the Armenian genocide with Armenian monks in Jerusalem, and a final dance with a Muslim sheikh in a refugee camp in Gaza. And his conclusion? Religious-spiritual reconciliation is the way to settle the political conflict. Not necessarily original, controversial, but wonderfully written.”