November 26 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….November 26, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 7 articles on the subjects of the Pope and the Catholic Church, Christian tourism and sites, and Christians in Israel. Of these:


1 dealt with Christian sites

2 dealt with Christians in Israel

1 dealt with Christian tourism

3 dealt with the Pope and the Catholic Church


The number of articles in this week’s Review was very sparse, but focused on themes related to the Catholic Church – the Pope and King Abdullah, a visit of Austrian archbishops, and a lengthy article on the Holy Sepulcher.



Christian Sites

Masa Olami, November 1, 2007

An intrepid reporter from Masa Olami (“World Trip”) recently went on a “sleep over” in the Holy Sepulcher one Saturday evening. Her host was the Armenian monk in charge of the night watch in the church, Father Samuel guiding her through some of the intricacies of the building’s Christian territorial and ceremonial conflicts. The first drama occurred around the closing of the huge doors. Permission to stay in the church once it has been locked for the night must be granted prior to the event and under the aegis of one of the three communities responsible for the church – the Greek Orthodox, the Armenians, and the Catholics (Franciscans). On this occasion, however, the local police patrol mistakenly took a group of Russian monks immersed in their prayers for local Greek ones and left them to their devotions. When the latter came hurrying to leave – “apparently, they had other plans for the evening” – they found that the guard hired by the Muslim family in charge of locking the doors had already climbed up the ladder to the keyhole, locked the door from the outside, and passed the ladder back inside. It thus seemed as though the unfortunate monks were going to be locked in for the night. “The Russian monks got lucky: all those responsible were still standing on the plaza at the entrance to the church. The Greek Orthodox representative consulted with Father Samuel, who turned to the Franciscans: ‘Does anyone object to the doors being opened?’ he asked, and the three shook their heads ‘no.’ The Russian monks breathed a sigh of relief and were able to witness an ancient ceremony being observed on their behalf in the spirit of the twenty-first century. The Greek Orthodox monk pulled out his mobile phone and called the guard with the key, requesting that he return. After a few minutes, he was back, opened the wicket, the ladder was pulled out, and the doors were opened. The Russian monks hastened to exit and the locking-up ceremony was repeated for a second time that night.” The only other people able to leave the church during the night were the Greeks, who can leave the area through a passageway in the roof which leads to the Constantine Monastery, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch’s residence. Masa Olami’s reporter spent the night with Father Samuel, who never sleeps while on duty, drinking tea in the kitchen – the only disturbance coming at 22:00 when the Greeks began preparations for the Saturday night mass – the only time when the Holy Sepulcher’s doors open earlier than 4:00, the time when Father Samuel finally goes to sleep.



Christians in Israel

Kol HaIr, November 9; Yediot HaGalil, November 9, 2007 

Kol HaIr (November 9) ran the story of the indictment of two businessmen in the Greek Patriarch’s real estate fraud case, while Yediot HaGalil (November 9) reported on the court injunction against the paving of the new tunnel road from Nazareth to Nazareth Elit (see previous Review for both stories).



Christian Tourism

Ma’ariv, November 12, 2007

According to a report in Ma’ariv (November 12) – which included a photo of the pope at the Western Wall on his 2000 visit – the Ministry of Transport is anticipating that 2007 will turn out to have seen the arrival of around 10 million tourists to Israel, an all-time peak in international travel to the country. This number will exceed the number of 9.3 million tourists who visited in the year of the millennium (2000). This winter, a 10% increase in flights operated by foreign airlines to Israel and the number of seats available is also expected.




The Pope and the Catholic Church

HaZofeh, November 9; Ma’ariv, November 12; Jerusalem Post, November 14, 2007

Noting King Abdullah’s recent audience with the Pope, the Jerusalem Post (November 14) reprinted a piece from the New York Times Weekly Review – which itself quoted extensively from the BBC: “The BBC reported that the pope ‘admired the statue [depicting, in gold and silver, a palm tree and a man riding a camel] but merely touched the sword [Abdullah’s other gift]. ‘I think it is a great thing that these two men met, and that Abdullah came bearing gifts. But what would have really caught my attention – and the world’s – would have been if King Abdullah had presented the pope with something truly daring: a visa. You see, the king of Saudi Arabia, also known as the Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina, can visit the pope in the Vatican. But the pope can’t visit the king of Saudi Arabia in the Vatican of Islam – Mecca. Non-Muslims are not allowed there. Moreover, it’s illegal to build a church, a synagogue or a Hindu or Buddhist temple in Saudi Arabia, or to practice any of these religions publicly.”



A recent visit of Austrian bishops to Israel was considered to be a great success – except for a very unfortunate episode, which should truly and easily have been avoided and nearly caused a diplomatic incident (Ma’ariv, November 12). The episcopal group, under the leadership of the Cardinal of Vienna who recently pronounced that Israel belongs to the Jews, was scheduled to visit the Western Wall and meet with the Wall’s Rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz. On arriving at the security gate, accompanied by the Austrian Ambassador, and dressed, as usual, in their clerical garb, the guards requested that the bishops remove the crosses from around their necks. This they courteously declined to do. The guards were insistent and the bishops were refused entry to the plaza. When Rabinowitz was informed of the situation, he was unwilling to compromise and cancelled his meeting with the dignitaries. According to the report, “The Austrian cultural attaché, Erd Banko, said that the Christian religious figures were unable to accede to the request to remove their crosses and explained: ‘It’s as though Jewish Rabbis would be asked to shave their beards. It’s simply not done, it’s unnecessary.’” Rabinowitz’s explanation expressed his sharp indignation: “Such an appearance as this at the Western Wall and a meeting with me is hurtful and insulting. I informed them that even on his visit to the Wall the pope did not wear a cross but concealed it. While the Western Wall is open to people of all faiths, this does not give them the right to trample on the sensitivities of the Jews praying there. It’s exactly the same as saying that it wouldn’t cross a Jew’s mind to enter a place of worship belonging to another religion wearing a prayer shawl and phylacteries.” The response of the Wall’s Heritage Fund raised a further specter: “If the group had entered with crosses, they would likely have sparked off an outrage.”



In honor of Haifa’s bestowal of its “Noble Citizen” award to its Chief Rabbi, She’ar Yashuv Cohen, HaZofeh (November 9) conducted a lengthy interview with the eminent figure. Towards its conclusion, he was asked about Jewish relations with Christians and Christianity. Cohen heads the “Supreme Committee for Relations between the Chief Rabbinate and the Vatican and religions.” When asked “What is the state of our relations with Christians and moderate Muslims?,” his reply was: “It is important to know that the Catholic Church has undergone a revolution. In effect, the former pope removed from the Christian religion the guilt against the Jews for the execution of ‘that man’ and annulled anti-Semitic prayers. It’s very important to maintain contacts with the Vatican. Today a Committee exists in the Chief Rabbinate which meets once a year with Vatican officials, on the agreement that there won’t be any missionizing amongst the Jews.” The latter is, of course, the sticking point in Jewish-Christian relations: “With respect to Christian supporters of Israel. The question is how we can distinguish between them and the mission. We must find a way to create the conditions under which this friendship doesn’t, God forbid, turn into missionary work. It’s not a simple issue and we are looking for ways to set clear boundaries between support for Israel and attempts to convert Jews from their religion. It’s along this narrow line that we’re endeavoring to walk.”