Caspari Center Media Review………….November 30, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 14 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activities, Christians in Israel, and the Pope and the Catholic Church. Of these:
1 dealt with attitudes to Christianity
3 dealt with anti-missionary activity
4 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian tourism
5 dealt with the Pope and the Catholic Church
This week’s Review was taken up with various aspects of Israel’s relations with the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.
Attitudes to Christianity
Al HaMakom, November 15, 2007
In a letter printed in Al HaMakom (November 15), Yossi Peles responded to an article in the paper from October 18. The author, Yitzkah Even Esh, wrote in his piece that “I am telling you to take the Christian books you have in the house and burn them, so that no trace should be left [of them] – because the two things don’t go together, Judaism and its opposite.” Peles took issue with the content and attitude of Even Esh’s statement alike. He reminded the paper’s readers first of all of the burning of Talmuds in the Middle Ages: “How can you explain your coming to terms – which is a form of agreement by silence [by printing the article without any comment] – with burning the books of members of another religion? Can you decently do to others what is abhorrent to you?” Nor is it true that the New Testament is the “opposite of Judaism”: “It’s another interpretation, different from yours (and even from mine) of Judaism. Most of the texts in that books are the fruit of Jewish writers and even if I too, like you, reject with both hands the faith that they present, I still understand their value and spiritual and historical importance.”
The paper’s editorial printed on the same page a direct response to Peles’ letter, citing a halakhic authority: “A gentile who writes a Torah scroll with the names [of God] therein, on the one hand the scroll has no sanctity because the names were not written for the sanctification of HaShem [God], and on the other, it is forbidden to treat it with contempt and so it must be put in a genizah [a place for storing holy books which are no longer in a fit state for use]. An idolater who writes a Torah scroll for idol worship, that scroll must be burned. There is no prohibition again such burning because the names written in it have no sanctity because they were not written for the consecration of HaShem according to the faith of Israel, and in order not to give credit to idolatry, the Sages ordained that their books should be burned (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 45b; Maimonides on that place, 6, 8). Likewise, Bibles printed by missionaries which include the New Testament, which is the foundation of the Christian idolatry, must be burned or got rid of by other means, so that they may not be given credit.”
Mishpaha, November 15; HaModia, November 16; HaZofeh, November 23, 2007
In the midst of the kassam rockets which have been bombarding the town of Sederot for the past several years, Mishpaha (November 16) reported this week that the town has also recently been barraged by missionary activity. “The missionaries weren’t satisfied with distributing literature in bustling locations but went from door to door in numerous neighborhoods giving out copies of the ‘New Testament’ printed in a special edition for the citizens of Sederot, with a thick cover and gold-edged pages, and informing people that the books would serve as an ‘amulet’ to keep the citizens safe against the kassams .. Their purpose was to frighten the citizens and disseminate amongst them dubious missionary literature and to make them false promises conditional on their walking in the way of that man.” When Yad L’Achim was informed of the situation, the organizastion immediately sent workers to the city “to counter-balance the soul hunters.” A similar report in HaModia (November 16) added that the Yad L’Achim workers identified the leaflets as being written by the “infamous missionary Ya’akov Damkani.” In their effort to warn Sederot’s residents, they “clarified to them the true identity behind the amiable and friendly appearance of the missionaries.” Yad L’Achim’s director stated in regard to the events: “The recent missionary activity in Sederot proves how vicious the missionaries can be, even in the face of the citizens of a town who are suffering daily from the growing fear of the unceasing flood of kassams. They perceive them as prey for their sinister hunt and scheme to convert them. It is known that members of Yad L’Achim are about to lay their hands on the precise address from which the missionaries are coming in order to be able to stop their activity by legal means.” The piece in HaZofeh (November 23), which ran the same story, printed it with the headline “Missionaries promised to residents: ‘The New Testament’ will protect you against the kassams.”
Christians in Israel
BeSheva, November 15; Ma’ariv, November 16; Hadash BeBeit Shemesh, November 9; Yediot Ahronot, November 20, 2007
In the continuing saga of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Hadash BeBeit Shemesh (November 9) reported on the indictment of the two businessmen in the patriarchal real estate scandal – some of the property in question being in Beit Shemesh.
BeSheva (November 15) gave a brief history of the struggle between Ireneos and Theophilos, indicating that three days after the Knesset Ministerial Committee recommended that the Israeli government recognize Theophilus as Patriarch, the Greek Orthodox church petitioned the court in Jerusalem to issue a search warrant for all the personal effects located in the “room in which Ireneos has been hiding since his deposition … including all valuables, medals, crosses, icons, ancient prayer garments, various rings, and other objects.” The petition was made following a perceived increase in traffic to and from the Patriarch’s room, with people entering and leaving with suitcases!
According to an article in Ma’ariv (November 16), as part of his efforts to strengthen Ukrainian national identity and independence from Russian influence, the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, has decided to open a national Ukrainian church in Israel. To the church, to be built on land in Jerusalem and run by Ukrainian priests and monks, is due to be attached a hostel for Ukrainian pilgrims. The move has angered the Russian Church in Israel and threatens to create a crisis in Israeli-Russian relations if Israel recognizes the church. Since the Ukrainian church has never had an independence presence in Israel, the opening of such a church is dependent upon the approval of the Greek Orthodox Church.
In the wake of negotiations to return the Russian Compound in Jerusalem to Russian control, a report in Yediot Ahronot (November 20) indicated that an agreement has been reached whereby the Russian-Israeli millionaire Arkadi Gaydamak will cover the costs of transferring the Israeli offices located on the premises to their new location. The agreement is due to be signed during 2008 and will consist of the funding of a new building to house the Jerusalem District Court.
Haaretz, November 20, 2007
A brief report in Haaretz (November 20) indicated that part of the Blair Plan to be proposed at the Paris Summit due to take place in two months with the purpose of raising funds for development plans includes “the promotion of tourism in Bethlehem through the establishment of new installations and the easing of access for Christian pilgrims.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, November 18, 19; Ma’ariv, November 12; Jerusalem Post, November 18, 22, 2007
Haaretz (November 19) ran the New York Times Weekly Review story printed in the Jerusalem Post last week regarding King Abdullah’s audience with the pope (see previous Review).
A senior Vatican official recently lashed out at Israel for failing to fulfill obligations to which it committed itself in an agreement signed in 1993 (Jerusalem Post, November 18; Haaretz, November 18). In an interview posted on Friday 12 November on Terrasanta.net, “an online publication about the Holy Land,” Archbishop Pietro Sambi charged that “The Holy See decided to establish diplomatic relations (in 1993) with Israel as an act of faith, leaving to latter [sic] the serious promises to regulate concrete aspects of the life of the Catholic community and the Church.” These include the status of expropriated church property, services performed for Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations by various Catholic groups, and tax exemptions for the church, together with the granting of permits for Arab Christian clergy traveling to and around the West Bank. Sambi blamed the situation – in which he saw Vatican-Israeli relations prior to the agreement as being better than they are now – on Israel’s “‘absence of political will.’ ‘Everyone can see what kind of trust you can give to Israel’s promises,’ Sambi said.” A Vatican spokesman was also quoted as saying that Sambi’s views “‘reflect his thinking and his personal experience’ during the diplomat’s former position [as papal envoy] in Israel.” The Israeli reaction, as expressed by a Foreign Ministry official, stressed that “‘Israel is interested in good relations with the Vatican and Israeli and Vatican officials are working to overcome gaps that exist.” The article also mentioned the tensions which had erupted earlier this year “when the Holy See’s ambassador to Israel initially decided to boycott a Holocaust memorial service because of allegations that during World War II Pope Pius XII was silent about the mass killings of Jews” (Jerusalem Post, November 18).
The same paper reported on November 22 that the “Vatican has distanced itself from comments made by its former ambassador to Israel.” According to the article, “While the archbishop’s comments are not likely to harm Catholic-Israeli relations in the long-term – an official with the Chief Rabbinate’s office told The Jerusalem Post relations have never been better – the underscore the tension within the Catholic Church over its Israel policy. Pope Benedict XVI is an avowed advocate of closer political relations with Israel and theological dialogue with Judaism. However, his views are not held by all within the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy.”
The Post also ran an article quoting from an interview held with the current Vatican ambassador to Israel, Monsignor Antonio Franco (November 21). At the center of the discussion was Vatican “frustration over the decade-old failure to reach an agreement with Israel on tax exemptions, amid mounting criticism among senior Vatican officials on the state of relations between the Jewish state and the Holy See.” According to the piece, “The total amount of unpaid property tax [deriving from the fact that the church’s claim that the property is only used for worship and not for any commercial purposes] amounts to roughly NIS 300 million, with the Latin Patriarchate the biggest offender.” Negotiations on the issue between the two sides are due to resume on December 12, with the Vatican said to be willing to “pay only a symbolic fee for the city services they receive.” “A secondary issue between the two sides has to do with the legal structure of church authority in the Holy Land, which has been agreed upon but never confirmed by the Knesset.” A response to the threatening crisis was given by Rabbi David Rosen, who helped broker the original agreement: “‘The Vatican is showing remarkable patience and understanding regarding commitments made by the State of Israel in the Fundamental Agreement, which were to be resolved within two years but which have still not been resolved’ … He added that this patience on the part of the Vatican was a testimony of their commitment to good relations with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”