Caspari Center Media Review………….December 4, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 15 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activities, attitudes towards Christianity, Christians in Israel, and the Pope and the Catholic Church. Of these:
1 dealt with Messianic Jews
4 dealt with attitudes to Christianity
5 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with the Pope and the Catholic Church
1 was a book review
Most of this week’s Review is taken up with an article on the Messianic community in Poria Elit and attitudes towards Christianity and missionaries in Israel.
BeKehila, November 22, 2007
BeKehila (November 22) carried a lengthy story concerning a “Christian cult” in Poria Elit, in the north of the country. The settlement – if such it may be called, suggests the writer – numbers 220 families and is almost completely neglected. The only bright spot – quite literally – used to be the synagogue, where the residents met and conversed. Despite its “popularity,” the synagogue was recently destroyed. The report suggested that the residents were very wary of talking about the incident – scared, indeed, of the repercussions mentioning it might bring. One person interviewed, however, intimated when asked who had been the synagogue’s objectors, that “There is a large sect here, forty families of Messianic Jews. They control the settlement. They have a lot of power and influence here – and a lot of money. I don’t envy the person who would open his mouth and volunteer more information.” The same informant added that the settlement’s Rabbi was obviously a grievance to the members of the sect “and they look for ways to plot against him.”
The account then proceeded to describe the “reign of terror” in Poria Elit: “Indeed, in the tiny, tranquil settlement of 220 families, is to be found the largest concentration in the country of Messianic Jews, as they call themselves. These are in fact Jewish apostates to Christianity. They have turned the place into a missionary center funded by veteran money and two of the sect’s leaders are well-known missionaries. One of them, Eric Morey by name, operates the ‘Galilee Experience,’ a tourist attraction under whose framework they convey Christian concepts to people.” The article then proceeds to give accounts of stories of different people influenced by the congregation, told by one resident. In one family, whose need made them vulnerable to attack, the wife was persuaded to work for the “organization” in return for a loan while the rest of the family “leapt onto the bandwagon with both feet.” They were on the point of baptism when the local Rabbi stepped in and succeeded in dissuading them from taking such a fatal step.” When expressed, attitudes towards the community are extremely negative: “According to prevalent estimations, they receive money for every skull which they are able to influence. This is the only explanation for why they try so hard and what they live from. Many of them don’t have other jobs.” The “reign of terror” is such that “it’s dangerous to speak. It’s not advisable to get onto their black list. They have enormous power based on the large sums of money which pour into their pockets.”
The Rabbi did agree to talk – and wasn’t hesitant in identifying a “Christian hand” in the complaints raised against the continued building of the synagogue, insinuating that the community was able to influence the engineer to object to its location. Eventually, the Jordan Valley local council intervened and issued an order for the building’s destruction. While many of the residents have signed a petition initiated by the Rabbi for approval to rebuild, he is convinced that “the Christians’ power is too great and they apparently have influence in the local authorities because of their money.” He also intimated that the reason why the sect had been able to gain such a stronghold in the settlement was due to the residents’ virtually complete ignorance of Judaism. The struggle has extended beyond the confines of the settlement itself into the upcoming local Jordan Valley council elections. The Rabbi informed the paper that its current head, Yossi Vardi, “appears to have his own reasons for supporting the Messianic Jews and isn’t in favor of fighting them.” The Poria Elit synagogue has thus become a central issue in the council elections.
The piece also suggested further reasons behind the “sect’s” takeover of the settlement – now suggesting that its general neglect had also constituted a factor. One of the residents interviewed clearly implied that the large and impressive villas to be seen in the settlement – in stark contrast to the surrounding “poverty” – belonged to the Christians.
Attitudes to Christianity
Ma’ariv, November 28; HaModia, November 27; Yediot HaGalil, November 23; Jerusalem Post, November 23, 2007
Although writing about Christmas while in the United States – an article which would not normally fall under our purview – David Forman also related to the (non-)celebration of the holiday in Israel (Jerusalem Post, November 23): “Christmas is a minor event in a Jewish state. The anniversary of Christ’s birth creeps up unnoticed. Only a day or so before Christmas is the event acknowledged by the Israeli media. Midnight Mass in Bethlehem generates a few minutes of coverage on the news. A Jew in Israel is provided a welcome relief from the Christmas season while a Jew in the United States is exposed to it. The difference between life in Israel for a Jew and life in the US for a Jew is expressed in two holiday greetings that reflect the culture of each society: In Israel – Shana Tova [happy New Year]; in America – Merry Christmas.”
Others are not as sanguine about the appurtenances of Christmas in the Jewish state. As in previous years, the ultra-Orthodox community is up in arms over the appearance of Israeli-made sweets in the form of Santa Claus. As an article in Ma’ariv (November 28) pointed out, they object to the sale of such products even to the Christian population in the country. Even the fact that the company (Elite, part of the Strauss group) made sure that it produced special kosher packages for the Orthodox community for Hanukka did not assuage the latter’s outrage that the company was also concerned for its other customers, seeing “in the promotion of the celebration of Christmas a slight of their sensitivities.” Strauss’s response to the Orthodox outcry was that it marketed its products “to all the citizens of Israel, out of respect for all the religions. We apologize if the distribution of any product caused an affront to any of the sectors.”
In the wake of a comment made by Saib Erekat in the run-up to the Annapolis Summit, to the effect that Ehud Olmert “is about to gain a place in the region’s history as great as no one else since Jesus,” HaModia (November 27) took pains to point out the implications of such a comparison. Having first identified Jesus as “‘that man’ – the rebel and denier of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of Judah – who created the Christian movement which has become the source of all Israel’s troubles for the past two thousand and eight years,” the paper then proceeded to remind its readers that “‘that man’ (may his name and memory be blotted out) succeeded in fomenting an historic world revolution against the Jewish people and the Jewish religion. Up until then there had been no other ‘religion’ than Judaism, for all the others were idolaters.” It added a further reminder: “‘That man’ got to where he did from the Jewish people as the offspring of a Jewish mother, and when he rebelled against his people and denied God, he created here, in our region, in Eretz Israel, the Christian religion which ever since has become a vicious thorn in the body of the Jewish people.” The point of the article is to draw out the implications of Erekat’s comparison of Olmert to “that man”: “Olmert will be presented alongside President Bush and Abu Mazzen, and the trinitarian picture will memorialize a diplomatic event which the Arabs wish to see in the same way as what ‘that man’ did to Eretz Israel and the Jewish people …”
If he wins in the upcoming local municipality elections, the leader of the National Unity party, Zev Hartman, is planning to restore to Nazareth Elit’s its original name – Netzer Elit [Upper Netzer – from the word “branch”]. According to a piece in Yediot HaGalil (November 23), Hartman claims that “this name was given [to the place] just over 3000 years ago when king David established ‘settlements’ and sent a group of Sages to study Torah in the Galilee and they in fact built a yeshiva in the city which is today called Nazareth Elit but was then called ‘Natzrat of the house of David.’” Hartman considers his views to be supported by Christians, who have “recently” come to believe that “Yeshu is the offspring of the house of David and that it is well known that only at a later age did Yehoshua change his name and religion.”
Al HaMakom, November 22; HaModia, November 27, 28; Yom L’Yom, November 22, pp. 2, 6, 2007
Yom L’Yom (November 22, p. 6) and Al HaMakom (November 22) both ran last week’s story concerning the “missionary” activity in Sederot.
Yom L’Yom also published on the same day (p. 2) a personal account of an Orthodox Jew exposed to this missionary “preaching.” According to the report, entitled “The missionary who disguises himself as an Orthodox Jew,” Yitzhak Kakun was walking down a street when he noticed two soldiers in conversation with a man. When the soldiers called out to him, he approached, and only then noticed something strange about the person with whom they conversing. Claiming that the soldiers had no clue what they guy was talking about, he then informed his readers that they told him that he “was showing us the Bible in his hand and telling us about this wicked man from Nazareth.” The other soldier then chimed in, declaring that, “We called you over so that you could tell us that he is attempting to convert Jews. If you confirm this, he’s going to be buried here [i.e., we’ll kill him on the spot].” Yitzhak apparently responded to this statement by saying, “Don’t touch the boy, we’ll deal with him properly” and proceeded to engage the “missionary” in a conversation of his own: “The missionary: ‘I have a right to talk to anyone and give him my views.’ ‘Your views or the New Testament [?]’ – and he picked up his feet and fled.” The following day, Yitzhak saw the man talking with a Russian immigrant. After he intervened and the “missionary” had again “fled,” the immigrant informed him that, after several conversations with the “missionary,” he had that day asked the man to explain his message to him: “… he began to tell me that only with them could we in Sederot find healing for what is happening to us here.” Yitzhak gave his advice as to the best way to deal with such missionaries: “Our best and proper way to confront them is to go from house to house and reach out to those who are straying, to give true spiritual healing during a time of crisis to those who are in need of it. Only thus will we overcome the missionaries.”
An anti-missionary demonstration took place this week in Arad, permitted by the police on instructions by the Supreme Court (HaModia, November 27). The report claimed that the police dragged their feet in issuing the permit and forbade the use of loudspeakers. The demonstration was prompted by alleged “missionary” activity amongst the youth in the city. Speaking at the rally, Rabbi Avraham Milstein said that, “the missionaries are attempting to attract the youth under the guise of welfare projects. When they develop a personal contact with the youngsters they endeavor to make them desert Judaism, may God have mercy. Because they know that the youths’ parents object, they brief the youngsters as to how to get around their parents’ views.” The account also reported that Yad L’Achim members are standing guard around the congregation’s premises in the city and warning passers-by of the danger posed from within. Yad L’Achim’s director claims that the members of the congregation have “rented apartments in the city and are attempting to influence Jews to convert, God forbid” and that “their children are in secular schools where they try to influence their classmates. They serve in the army and operate there too, something which obviously endangers the state.” The article further stated that, “It appears that in an effort to deceive innocent people, the missionaries erected a sukka in their church [sic] during Sukkot and blew the shofar on Rosh HaShana.”
Yad L’Achim’s call for stricter anti-missionary laws in Israel was also backed this week by an initiative by MK Shmuel Halpert (HaModia, November 28). In a speech to the Knesset, Halpert warned of the increase in missionary activity and what he defined as the indifference on the part of the police and government, calling on the Knesset to pass a bill forbidding all missionary activity and all forms of conversion.
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, November 26; Yediot HaEmek, November 23, 2007
The Jerusalem Post (November 26) ran the story of the agreement made by “Russian-Jewish tycoons” to fund the new Jerusalem courthouse in order “to resolve church property dispute” (see previous Review).
According to a report in the local Yediot HaEmek paper (November 23), a compromise has been reached allowing the Israel National Roads Company to continue paving the highway from Nazareth to Nazareth Elit (see previous Reviews). The agreement will allow the controversial junction (which the Greek Orthodox Church, on whose land it was being built) to be constructed at this stage in such a way as to enable access to the church’s proposed building site. The church’s opposition to the construction of the junction – which it feared would become permanent simply by being a fact on the ground – has been allayed by a promise by the INRC to complete the project within two years of the opening of the axis to traffic.
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, November 26, 2007 (English and Hebrew editions)
Haaretz (November 26) ran a report by Reuters that Pope Benedict XVI “yesterday called for a ‘just and definitive’ solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, asking the world to pray for the success of the Annapolis conference” – which is designed to resolve “the conflict which for 60 years has been bloodying the Holy Land and which has caused so many tears and so much suffering among the two peoples.”
Jerusalem Post, November 23, 2007
Noga Martin reviewed A.J. Jacobs’ recently-published book, The Year of Living Biblically (Simon and Schuster, 2007). The book “chronicles both the author’s own attempt to follow the Bible literally and understand other groups who do the same.” Jacobs – “an avowed secular humanist (yes, he’s Jewish)” – and a descendant of the Vilna Gaon, “starts out on his biblical question something of a maverick. Whereas most people who explore religion seek out a community, he goes it alone. While willing – even eager – to consult spiritual ‘advisors,’ Jacobs chooses to go directly to the source and interpret the Bible for himself. He also skips the commentaries, despite being admonished by an Orthodox aunt that without the rabbinical footnotes, the Bible ‘doesn’t make any sense’ … While Jacobs devotes most of his project to the Hebrew scriptures and their precepts, he acknowledges that to give the New Testament a miss would be to ‘ignore half the story.’ He concedes that fundamentalist Christianity is a social force to be reckoned with in the America of 2007. For the last four months of his biblical year, he delves into the Christianity of both the ‘hard-core’ Falwell-style evangelists and more liberal sects who seek to apply the teachings of Christ to the dilemmas of the 21st century.”