Caspari Center Media Review………….September 26, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 14 articles on the subjects of Hebrew Catholics, anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, the Christian media, Christian Zionism, archaeology, and film. Of these:
1 dealt with Hebrew Catholics
3 dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
2 dealt with the Christian media
3 dealt with Christianity
1 dealt with Judaism
1 dealt with archaeology
1 dealt with film
This week’s Review is a mixture of articles on various subjects, some new, some old, some serendipitous. One of the common threads which runs through it, as in Israeli society in general, is the question of “who is a Jew?”
Haaretz, September 21, 2007
Haaretz’s supplement this week included a lengthy feature on the life of Bruno Hussar, the founder of Beit Yeshiahu (Isaiah) and Neve Shalom. Hussar was one of the early Hebrew Catholics in the country and the emergence of Hebrew Catholicism in Israel has much to thank him for. Hussar was born to secular Jewish parents in Cairo and moved to France with his mother and brother following his father’s abandonment of the family. He became a Catholic – as also a Dominican – under the influence of friends and following a personal spiritual search. He survived the Holocaust in Vichy France, where, despite already having become a Dominican, he was not only aware of his Jewish identity but nurtured it. Although he came to Israel in 1953, he was refused citizenship under the Law of Return. His dream to establish a place where Jews and Christians could meet and fellowship together was fulfilled with the foundation of Beit Yeshiahu in 1958 which, although ostensibly a Dominican monastery, was open to all – in the spirit of the prophet Isaiah. Beyond this “interfaith” experience, however, Hussar also conceptualized the idea of a “Hebrew Church” and worked extensively to realize its existence. Many of his “constituents” in the initial stages were non-Jews endeavoring to atone for the Holocaust and Jews married to non-Jewish spouses who sought a solution to their religiously ambiguous situation. Together with Yochanan Elichai, a fellow Hebrew Catholic, Hussar was instrumental in translating and formulating a Hebrew text of the Catholic rites. Their attempt to receive pontifical recognition of this Hebrew-speaking community was initially rebuffed by Pius XII – until one of his cardinals persuaded him that when Christianity first spread to Europe and permission was sought to translate the prayers into the Slav languages, the current pope had resisted on the grounds that only three languages were holy to Christianity: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Hussar was also a main force in the proceedings of Vatican II, and on the basis of the part he played in formulating the Catholic Church’s renunciation of the view that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death and their suffering a sign of God’s punishment thereof, the State of Israel granted him citizenship. Hussar’s second dream was realized in 1977 with the establishment of Neve Shalom, a place of dialogue not only on a personal but also on an intellectual level. The “village” was created as a school for Jews and Arabs – and still exists today. Although he never resided there permanently, Hussar was buried at Neve Shalom on his death in 1996.
No indication is given in the article as to why it was written, or why now. It gives interesting statistics regarding the early number of Hebrew Catholics – around 2000 in the 1950’s in different groups, as well as more recent numbers. In respect to the latter, it concludes that with Bruno’s death the dream of a Hebrew Church also expired: “The concept of a ‘Hebrew Church’ did not last long after Hussar either. Elichai estimates that today no more than around 200 people in Israel hold to the idea – and a smaller number than that across the globe. Apparently, the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union, which included many non-Jews, could have resurrected the concept, just as the mass immigration from Eastern Europe when the State was established provided the primary source of the human oxygen for the project in those days. But for this not only were Christians living in Israel needed but also figures such as Hussar who would direct them beyond the combination of Christianity and Judaism. In the absence of these, the overwhelming majority of non-Jewish immigrants sought to assimilate into Jewish society, and the minority – which continued to hold fast their Christian faith – chose to do so within the ‘accepted’ Provoslav church framework and not in search after a Jewish-Christian idea. Hussar’s death thus not only brought to an end an intense and fascinating personal life but also a unique religious concept.”
Missionary and Anti-Missionary Activity
Mishpaha, September 7; Jerusalem Post, September 19; Yated Ne’eman, September, 19, 2007
Mishpaha (September 7) ran the story of the anonymous Messianic Jew who recanted and repented in a public letter (see last week’s Review).
In the run up to the annual Sukkot parade in Jerusalem, in which “thousands of predominantly evangelical Christian supporters of Israel from around the world” participate, the Chief Rabbinate’s Committee for the Prevention of the Spread of Missionary Work in Israel has issued a ruling prohibiting any Jew from taking part in the event – or in “any of the gatherings at the city’s International Convention Center” (Jerusalem Post, September 19). The committee’s decision stated “According to information we have, part of the organizations convening in the International Convention Center are active – among other things – in converting [Jewish] people away from our faith … Those who fear for their souls should distance themselves … All those who will listen to us will dwell in safety.” MK Benny Elon, head of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, responded by saying: “The prophecy of Zacharia whereby all the nations will come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Succot holiday has been undertaken with great sensitivity and honor by the Christian Embassy for years now, and is not only one of the most important tourist events of the year, but also a very deep and significant event for Christians and Jews alike … It is very severe that, without properly investigating the matter, certain rabbis have been misled, and are now causing a dangerous misunderstanding in Israel’s relations with countries around the world.”
According to the report in the religious paper Yated Ne’eman (September 19), the ruling was issued to the “general public.” While the Post claimed that “the terse ruling never refers to Christians or the Christian Embassy by name, and even starts off by welcoming non-Jewish visitors to the Holy Land,” Yated Ne’eman acknowledged that the Committee discussed “a large amount of material including information concerning a range of organizations like the International Christian Embassy which are planning to hold a large convention during Sukkot at the International Convention Center and the ‘Jerusalem March’ in the Holy City in Jerusalem … It should be noted that the protocol of the meeting of the Committee unambiguously determined that ‘the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’ constitutes an umbrella organization of several Christian bodies which in their large majority work towards converting Jews in Israel.” Not surprisingly, the source of the information was the anti-missionary organization, Lev L’Achim, a sister body to Yad L’Achim.
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, September 18, 2007
Following the recent outburst of neo-Nazi activity in Israel and the press’s coverage of the phenomenon (see last week’s Review), Ludmilla Oigenblick and Yona Triestman of the Association for the Protection of Mixed Families’ Rights wrote a piece for the Jerusalem Post entitled “The problem isn’t ‘Christianity’ – it’s disaffected youth.” They picked up on precisely the point which the papers had, if not stressed, certainly brought to people’s attention: “What most troubles us about some of the media coverage of the neo-Nazis in Petah Tivka is the description some of the outlets have used of the delinquents as ‘Christians.’ Was this the result of investigative journalism? We don’t think so. It was more likely the product of a xenophobic fear that any Russian who is not halachically Jewish must be a Christian, and any Russian Christian must be a potential Nazi!” They point out that in fact many Russian Christians know more about Judaism than their Israeli compatriots – yet no one would think of calling the latter “Christians.” Jewish “illiteracy” – such as that demonstrated by third-generation Russian immigrants – does not make Jews less “kosher” and thence more “likely to become a trouble-making neo-Nazis.”
Yediot Yerushalayim, September 12, 2007
One of the most devoted Christian Zionist supporters of Israel is the granddaughter and millionaire heiress of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst – and sister of Patty Hearst, kidnapped by terrorists in 1974. Over the years, since her first visit in 1996, Victoria Hearst has virtually adopted Ariel, pouring thousands of dollars into the town – as well as contributing a medical center to Ma’ale Ephraim and money for the purchase of army uniforms for a reserve unit and to residents of Gush Katif. One of the reasons for her support of Ariel and Gush Katif is precisely their location in the territories. “Hearst’s special relationship with the settlement of Ariel derives from two main things: her allegiance to a fundamental stream of Christianity which believes that the areas beyond the Green Line are a realization of divine prophecy, so that they must be supported as a means of encouraging the coming of the Messiah … Fundamentalist Christianity sees in Israel part of the process of the Christian redemption. Hearst’s faith is based on the theological conception that Yeshu’s return to the world will only be possible if the Jews return to Israel and exercise control over all the land, just as in the days of Yeshu.”
Jerusalem Post, September 19; Teva HaDavarim, September 1, 2007
In the on-going saga of HOT’s decision to remove the Christian broadcasting channel Daystar from its cable package (see previous Reviews), the station has now petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice against what it calls “‘a severe violation’ of freedom of expression and freedom of Religion” (Jerusalem Post, September 19). According to the report, “The Council for Cable TV and Satelite [sic] Broadcasting, which was due to authorize the move to cancel the station, met but failed to make a decision on the issue, thus making the council the primary litigant in the suit, Daystar’s Israel attorney, Amir Vitkon, said yesterday.” The initial hearing of the case is due to take place on October 31.
The case was also “reviewed” by Udi Ran in Teva HaDavarim (September 1), on a personal note. Ran encountered the President of Daystar at a social event and following a conversation about “this and that” discovered that he and his wife were Christian Zionists. Not adverse to exploiting an advantageous situation, Ran asked for a donation and was given, on the spot, a check in dollars. In the wake of that chance meeting, Ran investigated the channel and realized that it was a golden opportunity for balancing the media coverage of Israel against the picture portrayed by CNN, the BBC, and so forth. According to him, “Over the course of the past year alone, the station has hosted around 50 Israeli representatives, including Bibi [Netanyahu], Peres, MK Benny Elon, and the Israeli ambassador to the US.” The channel then asked permission to broadcast directly from Israel, a request which led to an in-depth examination of its contents by the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting. This resulted in a decision that the station met the required criteria and the subsequent granting of a broadcasting license. Then came the complaints leading to HOT’s decision not to renew the contract – despite the fact, as Ran points out – that “most of the channels in the world are Christian and that in Israel Christian stations such as MTV and Star World are allowed to broadcast, not to mention the Muslim channels which preach Israel’s destruction.” Institutions such Asaf HaRofeh Hospital and the Netanyah Academic College and other bodies who have benefited largely from Christian Zionist contributions, have rallied to the support of Daystar on the grounds that “whoever doesn’t watch the programs – doesn’t have to.” “Christian residents of Israel who consider that they are also entitled to equal civil rights are also up in arms – but apparently minorities in Israel don’t possess any significance.”
Nekuda, September 1; LeIsha, September 17; Haaretz, September 19, 2007
Following news of the US Presbyterian Church’s decision to divest from Israel comes a similar intention to revise its policy on the part of the Dutch church. According to a report in Haaretz (September 19), “After 37 years of boasting of ‘inalienable solidarity’ with the people of Israel, the Netherlands’ second largest church plans to reexamine its stance this fall. A group of notables from the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PCN) warned last week that the organization, which has over two million members, is in danger of being ‘highjacked’ by pro-Palestinian activists.” The grounds of reversal were indicated in an interview conducted by Haaretz with Henri Veldhuis, a member of the General Synod: “‘It is important to preserve the lessons of the Holocaust and never forget the Jewish roots of [the] church and bible and to fight anti-Semitism, but we have to take a more realistic position on the Jewish people as an ethnic group and on the State of Israel. The PCN’s theology is now idealizing both.’” At a speech recently delivered to Friends of Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian organization, Veldhuis declared that that “the church should commit to a bond with Israel ‘as people of the Torah’ instead of the ‘Jewish people as an ethnic group’” and complained that “‘the church has a stronger bond with a non-believing Alaskan Jewish person than a Palestinian Christian.’” Critics of the move, expressed in an open letter, “accused Veldhuis of a slanted and hypocritical approach. ‘We were astonished by your address before a Palestinian liberation organization that pretends to be promoting reconciliation,’ it read. ‘You accused Israel but ignored Hamas’s Jew-hating ideology. You overlooked the alarming anti-Semitic upsurge in Arab countries.’”
A lengthy feature in Nekuda (September 1) reviewed an article written by Ross Douthat in the Atlantic comparing America and Europe, in which he claimed that the primary distinction between the two “continents” lies in religion: 90% of Americans declare a belief in God to only 60% of Europeans, and American politics are split along religious lines, something which would never happen in Europe. Using the example of Venus and Mars (presumably a reference to the books of that name identifying the differences between men and women), Douthat argued that the division and dissension which opened up between the US and Europe following 9/11 reflected par excellence the divergence in nature of the two blocks. At the same time, however, he claimed that this split is slowly but surely reversing itself: America is becoming much more secular, while Europe is becoming far more religious. Whereas the American turn is due in part to a reaction to right-wing conservatism, the European movement derives from the large influx of fundamentalist Muslim immigrants, together with a resurgence of Christianity as promoted by the pope. Douthat’s conclusion was that the two continents are therefore gradually coming closer to one another: “We shouldn’t exaggerate this trend, Douthat warns. America is still a religious nation in the deepest sense and her secularists are a minority prepared for a fight, while Europe continues to invest its efforts into preventing the penetration of religion into the political realm. But it may be that the two continents are now being pulled into an arena in which religion and faith will become permanent factors of tension and will no longer be considered as something neutral or strange.”
The article in LeIsha (September 17) is one of the “serendipitous” articles we included this week out of a sense of wishing not to remain for too long on too a serious a note. The article is devoted to an analysis of the sin of “Sloth” – from the personal perspective of a woman writer. Alona Kimchi opened her piece with the intriguing insight that “In our days, sin is defined in Christian theology more as a failure of the full realization of one’s potential and life and less as a failure to love God.” She then went on, less weightily, to characterize laziness: “A sin of inactivity. A melancholy sin, a sin of the absence of ambition or will power. Activity is too hard, demands an effort the reason for which we find it hard to experience, even when we understand it rationally.” It is an awful sin – not so much in its content as in its form: “It is the only sin which doesn’t bring rest to the sinner – it doesn’t possess the pleasure of the lusts of the flesh, or the delight in greediness, or the sense of victory in anger, or the sense of superiority in pride. In short, it’s an awful sin – you both sin and suffer at the same time. There’s not a moment’s peace.” Yet “laziness” in the form of meditation and imagination is one of the necessities to which the writer is bound. At the same time, while laziness is encouraged in modern society – TV, internet, and computer games, etc. – it also contradicts one of the fundamental principles of modern American life at least – the need to advance and climb up the social and economic ladder.
Yediot Ahronot, September 16, 2007
A lengthy article in the national paper addressed the on-going debate concerning the “lost tribes” – specifically in regard to the question of their immigration to Israel. While many of those seeking Israeli citizenship are tribes in India, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, China, and Peru who claim to be pure Jews for long generations and not “converts,” some of the groups are composed of people who were forcibly converted – or even “Christians” who have converted to Judaism. The former include several thousand Spanish, Portuguese, and Brazilian Jews whose ancestors “chose” to become Catholics rather than risking death or expulsion; the latter are exemplified in the Sobotnikim of Russia (see previous Reviews). The current debate concerns the rights of such people to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return – that is, as legally (halakhically) recognized Jews. The article presented both sides of the argument, Natan Sharansky arguing that strict control must be exerted over the issue lest the country be flooded with relatives of one tribal figure whose whole extended family (village) would then be eligible for aliya, and Michael Freund claiming that with the decline in “traditional” aliyah, “we must being to think creatively.” The issue is, of course, of central importance to Messianic Jews wishing to make aliyah.
Shishi beGolan, September 7, 2007
One of the latest discoveries of this season’s excavations at Susita was the imprint of a Roman sandal in the cement of the city’s wall. Archeologists claim that, contrary to the common assumption, this finding indicates that construction work in such cities was undertaken not by laborers but by Roman soldiers themselves. “‘The rare sandal imprint, which was miraculously preserved, allows us to know to a high degree of certainty, who built the walls, how, and when,’ said Michael Eisenberg, of the team of researchers of the Zinman Institute at the University of Haifa.” The sandal was a nailed type known as a caliga, the “official” sandal worn by the Roman army. Another expert, Prof. Segal, was quoted as stating: “Susita’s impressive remains, its view over the Golan Heights and the Galilee, and Yeshu’s activities [in the region], all combine to make Susita one of the most attractive sites in the north of the country.”
Netto News, September 1, 2007
In a review of new films, Netto News briefly reviewed a double disk issued by Gal Disc, “Intrigue in Baba’s Court.” “The plot, without revealing its surprising end, unfolds a winding mystical scheme which pits the forces of darkness against the forces of light. Two Orthodox organizations struggle against the mission which endeavors to entice Jews to apostasize, and these organizations fight back through a sophisticated method. In the middle stands the strange ‘Baba’ who attempts with all his power to create conflict between the two organizations in order to cause their operations to collapse.”