Caspari Center Media Review………….October 30, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the subjects of Israeli attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity, Christians in Israel, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Christian tourism, the Pope and the Vatican, and interfaith dialog. Of these:
3 dealt with attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity
2 dealt with anti-missionary activities
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
5 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian tourism
3 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with interfaith dialog
This week’s Review contains a mixed bag of subjects, reflecting various attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity.
Attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity
Jerusalem Post, October 23; Globes, October 18; Yediot Ahronot, October 21, 2007
Responding to remarks made by Ann Coulter on her television broadcast that Christianity is “completed Judaism,” Shmuley Boteach contributed an article for the Jerusalem Post (October 23) under the title “Jesus was Jewish.” His primary point – if not always well supported comprehensively illustrated – was that the Gospels indisputably demonstrate that “Jesus derived all his principal teachings from Judaism. His aphorisms are restatements of earlier biblical verses and his allegories are mostly teachings of the rabbis that are found in the Talmud.” Boteach adduced examples from the Sermon on the Mount as based on Psalms 24 and 37, Jer 29:13 and Lam 3:30 (Mt. 5:8, 6:33, 7:7 and 5:39 respectively). Jesus’ Golden Rule is a repetition of Hillel’s dictum, itself a reformulation of Lev. 19:19, while Jesus’ words on loving our enemies is a restatement of Ex. 23:4-5. Regarding the parables, he argued: “Christians often associate parables exclusively with Jesus and believe that he invented a new method of teaching. But anyone familiar with the Talmud will recognize Jesus’ parables as the common form of rabbinic expression in the Second Temple period. Jesus was a trained rabbi who thought like a rabbi, taught like a rabbi, and spoke like a rabbi.” How unfortunate, after all this, to see Boteach falling into the familiar anti-Pauline trap: “…Christian dismissals of Judaism virtually guarantee that the Christian community will never have a deep understanding of Jesus. Paul, of course, portrayed Jesus as a religious reformer whose mission it was to abrogate Judaism and begin a new faith. But the gospels themselves rebut this conclusion.”
A letter printed in Yediot Ahronot (October 21) came from a reader upset over the fact that one of the highlights of the recent international song festival in Tel Aviv was the holding of Kabbalat Shabbat (the traditional Friday evening meal welcoming the sabbath) at Emmanuel church in Yafo. “Nothing should prevent poets who want to meet in a church on Sunday or in a mosque on Friday – but why should Kabbalat Shabbat be held in a church? According to the same logic you could perform a mass in a synagogue or a mosque.”
This year’s Sukkot parade appears to have been unusual in that, in addition to the banners traditionally carried by the Christian marchers, the latter added large wooden crosses. The Jerusalem Post carried a photo of these being forcibly removed from their holders by security personnel – a picture to which Yoav Karni responded in full force in Globes (October 18). Noting that it was the Jerusalem Post edition came out during the Sukkot holiday, Karni warned of the negative reactions such a picture would engender amongst Christian supporters of Israel: “Thousands of Christian lovers of Zion came up to Jerusalem to deluge her with love. The Sukkot parade was attended also by Christians who consider Jerusalem and Sukkot to be theirs. They waved a cross, or crosses. Security personnel in blue jackets jumped them and pulled the crosses out of their hands. By force. The crosses were beyond the law in streets or Jerusalem. Jerusalem can tolerate, just, the nudity of homosexual men. But she can’t tolerate such a theological challenge as this. How can we thus say that we accept people of all faiths? Where then is our respect for Christians who have come to love us? In this city, a city of Taliban ghettos, the cross is not allowed, except in the ghetto to which it is assigned.”
Karni also responded to Ann Coulter’s remarks. Acknowledging that she represents a “caricature,” which is characterized by generalizations and exaggerations, he went on to argue: “The scandalous view which she expressed in effect constitutes the very essence of Christian theology. Christians believe in the God of Israel, Christians believe in the sanctity of the Bible (and for anyone who hasn’t noticed by any chance, the Hebrew Bible has been translated today into two hundred languages not thanks to the Chief Rabbinate but to generations of Christian missionaries). Christians also believe that the God of Israel has determined on another round of [the giving of the Torah on] Mount Sinai, and chose for this purpose the hill of Golgotha. We don’t have to agree with them – but there’s also no need to be upset by them. We can argue with the logic of their theology, even though I consider this a waste of time. [But] there’s no need to uproot crosses or to shout ‘anti-Semitism.’ And it’s better to remember that Jerusalem is sacred to all the religions.”
HaModia, October 25; Kol HaZman, October 19, 2007
According to a report in HaModia (October 25), Yad L’Achim are objecting to plans to establish an “evangelistic [evangelical] village” on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The organization suspects that the proposed project which, on their claim, includes around 500 apartments for Christian tourists and eventually a mall, is in fact going to serve as a “missionary center whose results will bring disaster.” Yad L’Achim clearly stated its view of evangelicals: “We have long-term experience with the evangelicals and they aren’t known to us as people who are capable of folding in such a quick manner. Over the years they have garnered a lot of experience and expertise in putting on a disguise. They may look like good and peace-seeking people, but in actuality they continue to advance their dark purpose.” The organization’s director is consequently demanding that the evangelicals sign a legal document, signed in the presence of lawyers and Yad L’Achim, asserting that they will “conduct no missionary activity of whatever kind either on the site itself or by the evangelicals who visit it.” To add force to the demand, he is requesting that the agreement be “anchored in a governmental decision” and that the evangelicals only be leased the use of the property by the State rather than owning it, so that any violation of the agreement will constitute a contravention of the lease and the site will be returned to the State. The article stated that this policy was in fact accepted by the then Minister of Tourism, Avraham Hirschson, when he initially met with Yad L’Achim members two years ago when the project was first mooted.
Relating to Doron Sheffer’s recent statement that two of the most important Jewish influences on his life have been Moses and Yeshu, Shimon Asaf wrote to Kol HaZman (October 19) saying that, “In light of the plague of missionaries which has spread through the country in which all sorts of Messianic Jews are endeavoring to erase Judaism and to preach to us to believe in Yeshu, I want to warn everyone who goes to listen to Sheffer, including the Chabadnikim (who already have a Messiah), and eagerly swallow everything he sells them just because he’s a celebrity. [Editor’s note: Sheffer is a well-known basketball player who recently became an observant Jew.]
Jerusalem Post, October 23; Ma’ariv, October 25, 2007
The Jerusalem Post (October 23) ran an article on American evangelicals’ efforts to rescue the remnant of the Iranian Jewish community and bring them to Israel. “The project is another example of the alliance between the Jewish state and American evangelical Christians, many of whom see the existence of Israel and the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a realization of biblical prophesy [sic] that will culminate with Christ’s second coming.” This is the initiative of Eckstein’s International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and the Rabbi claims that “his group has helped bring 82 Jews to Israel from Iran since the project began this year, and hopes to bring 60 more by year’s end.” Concerns over the Iranian Jewish community’s survival are fuelled by Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel’s destruction, together with a growing intensity in attacks on Israel by the Iranian press.
Although not strictly related to Christian Zionism, a report in Ma’ariv (October 25) noted that the Israeli consulate was recently approached with a request for the words of a well-known Hebrew lullaby – on behalf of the Dutch royal family. The recently-born princess Ariana is going to be baptized to the tune of “Naomi, Naomi” – sung by a celebrated opera singer.
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, October 25; Makor Rishon, October 23; Haaretz, October 23; Yediot Ahronot, October 22, 2007
A report in the Jerusalem Post (October 25) noted that the Baptist Church in Jerusalem, burnt to the ground by arsonists twenty-five years ago, was the object of a similar attack this Tuesday. According to a police spokesman, the church was “moderately damaged” by the fire, Joseph Broom, “the church’s business services manager,” stating that “about 30-40 chairs were burned, but no prayer books were destroyed in the blaze.” The floor was severely charred and windows broken, but more serious damage was averted by the prompt action of neighbors, who called the firefighting force. The article also stated that some of the members of the Russian-speaking Messianic congregation which meets in the church “had been previously threatened, church officials said. Messianic Jews consider themselves Jewish but believe in Jesus.” The ADL strongly condemned the attack, and the pastor linked it with the date of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination: “‘Every society has its fanatics and there is no lack of fanatics here in the Middle East,’ he said, adding that he was not surprised by the attack. ‘We’ve been needing a face-lift anyway,’ he concluded.”
The remaining three articles dealt with the recent stormy meeting of the Knesset Internal Committee regarding Israel’s continuing failure to confirm the appointment of Theophilus to the Greek Orthodox patriarchate. Those attending the meeting expressed strong objections to the government’s conduct in the matter, asserting that it is creating “severe political damage.” A Labor member went so far as to suggest that the government’s reluctance to appoint Theophilus – apparently due to the fact that the city is occupying a large amount of real estate transferred to the State by an unwritten agreement – constitutes a criminal offence.
Ma’ariv, October 25, 2007
The Ministry of Tourism is currently planning to translate its website into several new languages in its attempt to meet its target of bringing 2.8 million tourists to the country in 2008. The number of hits the site received in September of this year alone was 200,000 – a 100% increase over the same month in the previous year. According to the report, “Most of the surfers are looking for information regarding accommodation, attractions, and special packages, as well as about Christian sites.” In addition to surfers from North America and Russia, more than 1000 are from Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Afghanistan, the latter all being Muslim countries with no official relations with Israel.
The Pope and the Vatican
Yediot Ahronot, October 22; Makor Rishon, October, 23; Jerusalem Post, October 21, 22, 2007
The Pope recently timed a one-day visit to Naples to coincide with a three-day peace conference to be attended by religious leaders of all faiths from across the globe (Jerusalem Post, October 21; see also Makor Rishon, October 23). Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger will join other figures such as Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Kabbani; and Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I. Despite the fact that “Benedict XVI has made reaching out to other faiths – particularly Muslims and Jews – a priority of his pontificate,” the pope himself will not participate in the conference. The Vatican has stated that this is not unusual – although as Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict did oppose the first such World Day of Prayer for Peace in October 1986 and refused to attend it. The theme of this year’s conference is “For a world without violence: religions and cultures in dialogue.”
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (October 22), the pope addressed the conference attendees with an appeal for peace and reconciliation among peoples: “In a world wounded by conflicts, where violence is justified in God’s name, it is important to repeat that religion can never become a vehicle of hatred. It can never be used in God’s name to justify violence. On the contrary, religions can and must offer precious resources to build a peaceful humanity, because they speak about peace in the heart of man.”
One of the participants in the meeting was Minister of the Interior, Meir Shitreet. Prior to the conference, Shitreet had an audience with the pope, who told him that he intends to visit Israel (Yediot Ahronot, October 22).
Haaretz, October 21, 2007
King Hussein of Jordan’s brother, El Hassan bin Talal, who is President of the Arab Thought Forum, contributed an opinion piece to Haaretz (October 21) which he named “Reflections on a common heritage.” Evoked by the fact that the Muslim month of Ramadan and the Jewish month of Tishre ended on the same date this year, bin Talal stated that “As Muslims, Jews and Christians, we are all bound by a common heritage of spiritual struggle under one God. The coincidence of Ramadan and Tishrei reminds us that we share similar mechanisms for spiritual renewal. Unfortunately, we all share the sin of departure from true fundamentals … The Islamic process of tawba is comparable to the Jewish tshuva, or repentance. As adherents of our respective faiths, we are obliged to engage in this process on a personal and collective level, to renew our commitment to faiths with common roots … To this end, I call on Muslims to separate the actions of the Israeli state from the demands of the Jewish faith. We must all recognize the right of a related faith as demanded by the Prophet and his early followers. We must remember those many centuries of coexistence, respect and united community-building. Similarly, many Jews must question their belief that a ‘terrorist gene’ unites the populations of Gaza and the West Bank. To accept this, they must also believe that this inbred violence affects Jews, and indeed, Christians, for we all share a common DNA of faith … As we near the end of our respective reflective months, Jews and Muslims must remember their common spiritual roots and recognize the folly of politicized faith. Neither of our communities have a monopoly on truth, but certain shared values, including the honest search for truth itself, must not be subjugated to arbitrary political whims. To lose sight of this imperative is to invite anger and hatred into human relationships. To forget our common imperative to find peace within ourselves and between our communities is to deny the very foundations of our faiths.”