Caspari Center Media Review………….December 13, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 12 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
1 dealt with attitudes to Christianity
3 dealt with Christians in Israel
4 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
1 was a book review
This week’s – rather sparse – Review was largely devoted to anti-missionary-linked activities and the relation between Christmas and Hanukka, this week being the beginning of the latter holiday.
Hadashot HaIr, November 30, 2007
In a rather strange reference, the local Ramle paper Hadashot HaIr (November 30) included an allusion to “Messianic Jews” in a report on the (then) upcoming Annapolis conference. Having stated that both the Palestinians and the Israelis have come to understand that concessions are the only way to peace and the removal of terrorism, the author remarked that just as “the al-Queida members, as Hamas and Hizbollah, have invented [for the Arabs] a new God, in the same way many of the Messianic Jews have re-written religion and other gods.”
Attitudes to Christianity
Yediot HaEmek, November 30, 2007
Writing a long letter to Yediot HaEmek (November 30), Hillel Meir of Nazareth Elit, gave a brief history of Hanukka. In explaining the custom of spinning tops, he suggested that it originated with the persecution of the Jews during the Hasmonean period. When the Greeks forbade them to study Torah and came round their houses to make sure the populace was complying, the Jews pretended that rather than studying the holy books they had been playing a game with dreidels – and thus made fun of them. He then proposes a further reason: “Another explanation for the link between the spinning top and Hanukka lies in the proximity of the date of the festival to Christmas. On Christmas eve, the eve of Yeshu’s birth, the Christians would harass the Jews, so the latter would hide in their houses and play different games to pass the time. The spinning top game originated as a game of chance: each of the side of the top has a letter written on it indicating whether the player has won or lost his money.”
Christians in Israel
Ma’ariv, December 2; Yated Ne’eman, December 3; Jerusalem Post, December 4, 2007
While the first two of these articles could have been placed in the above category, we have dealt with them here because they have been noted under this section in previous years. Continuing the theme of Hanukka, as is its wont during this period, Haifa is celebrating an “interfaith” happening – the “Festival of Festivals.” The author of an article in Ma’ariv (December 2) was scathing of the event, accusing its organizers of disregarding facts in favor of commercial considerations. He raised serious objections to the basic assumption upon which the idea is built – namely, that since the three religious festivals, Hanukka, Ramadan, and Christmas, all fall (at least vaguely) around the same time, their celebration can usefully be combined. Having dealt with Ramadan – which “wanders” because of Islam’s lunar calendar – he then turns to “Christmas. “Christmas is the day on which Yeshu was born according to Christian tradition. That same tradition determined the date as 25 December. In other words, even if we do somersaults in the air and chronological figures-of-eight, Christmas cannot fall this year on Hanukka. But why let the facts interfere?” Jewish festivals always occur in the same season, and even when they do not, the leap year allows for an alignment. “Therefore, Haifa’s authorities ‘imposed’ Hanukka on the Christians and Muslims, forcing them to light the candles on the feast. And all so that the nations of the world will see that the Jewish people really are a ‘treasured possession’!” The article concluded with the implications of such a premise if carried through to its logical conclusion: “Why should we not continue with the ‘confest’ throughout the year? Why shouldn’t we celebrate Easter with the Seder night? … And what about the fast of Ramadan? This is a parallel to the Jewish fast of the Day of Atonement, and the conceptual parallel to both is the ‘Pentecost’ – the forty-day Christian fast. Isn’t it therefore a good idea to combine these three and find a reason to celebrate?” [The author’s ire is not specifically against non-Jews being compelled to light the candles, but that the Haifa authorities have chosen a Jewish festival as the occasion for an “interfaith” event. Obviously, there is no question of changing the date of Christmas – merely of also celebrating it as part of an inter-religious happening.]
Yated Ne’eman (December 3) related to the same event, quoting large sections of the above article from Ma’ariv. The paper’s religious perspective expressed itself in its explanation of the origin of the “Festival of Festivals”: “A number of years ago, Hanukka fell during the Muslim fast of Ramadan – which the mosque preachers [use to] devote to increasing their anti-Jewish incitement – and the abominable Christian festival. This is the same holiday on which Jews all over the world in past generations hid themselves in their houses because it was accompanied by wild anti-Semitic crusades and physical injuries to Jews near at hand. Someone in the Haifa municipality had the disreputable idea of ‘uniting’ these three events into one ‘festival’ and attracting Jews, Muslims, and Christians to celebrate together in this mixed city.”
Again, although not strictly within our purview, we are including here an article on the Christian communities in the PA areas. According to a piece by Etgar Lefkovits in the Jerusalem Post (December 4), Justus Reid Weiner, an international human rights lawyer, recently addressed an audience at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where he serves as scholar in residence. Weiner “cited Muslim harassment and persecution as the main cause of the ‘acute human rights crisis’ facing Christian Arabs, and predicted that unless governments or institutions step in to remedy the situation – such as with job opportunities – there will be no more Christian communities living in the Palestinian territories within 15 years, with only a few Western Christians and top clergymen in the area. ‘Christian leaders are being forced to abandon their followers to the forces of radical Islam,’ Weiner said … ‘In a society where Arab Christians have no voice and no protection, it is no surprise they are leaving,’ he said.” He further pointed out the “‘180 degree difference’ between the public statements coming out of the mainstream Christian leadership in the Holy Land – who ‘sing the PA’s tune’ – and blame Israel for all the Christian Arabs’ ills – and the people’s experience on the ground. ‘The truth is beginning to come out,’ he said. ‘The question is what is being done with the truth.’” His comments were supported by Malcolm Hedding, Director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, who was quoted as saying that “‘power politics’ have prevented the major Christian leaders from speaking out on this issue … ‘The Christian world needs to stand up and speak out about this.’”
Kol HaIr, November 28; Yediot Yerushalayim, November 30; HaModia, November 30; BeSheva, November 29, 2007
Kol HaIr (November 28) ran the story of the recent events in Arad (see previous Review).
Under the heading, “Dangerous missionary material in National Parks Authority’ leaflet,” HaModia (November 30) reported its opinion that the inclusion of a “Christmas trail” in literature distributed to the public by the National Parks Authority constituted missionary material by encouraging Israelis to visit Christian sites. It claimed that the material contained lengthy articles about Christian baptism – “all under the heading: ‘On the country trail’ and ‘The Good News of Nazareth.’” Readers who contacted the paper complained that, “‘This is a complete lack of sensitivity on the part of a state-run institution which is supposed to be operated in a proper fashion first and foremost towards its Jewish citizens and to serve them rather than the missionary organizations.”
In the on-going saga of Yad L’Achim’s pressure on Ramat Rachel Hotel, BeSheva (November 29) ran a piece stating that the organization had requested a meeting with the management of the hotel and kibbutz and the Chief Rabbis of the local regional council under whose jurisdiction both kibbutz and hotel fall. The piece reported that, “following unilateral cancellations, the meeting took place with the above parties in the surprising absence of representatives of Yad L’Achim.” Despite the latter’s non-attendance, several points of agreement were arrived at during the meeting. These included an announcement by the hotel (in distinction to the kibbutz, the two being distinct legal and administrative entities) that it accepted Rabbi Harel’s demand that it “desist from [hosting] all missionary activity immediately, even if there was any doubt concerning such activity and would consult with him regarding all planned activities likely to give the appearance of any missionary tendency or shade – i.e., preaching or conversion of Jews on the hotel’s premises or grounds.” Yad L’Achim also requested that it be allowed to inform Rabbi Harel and the hotel’s management of “any suspicion of any such activity.” In light of the above, the hotel also declared that it was canceling “all the conferences planned for 2008 which may be suspected of including missionary activity, in liaison with Rabbi Harel.” In what may have been a veiled allusion to perceived “blackmail,” the hotel also announced that it would “cheerfully continue to heed Rabbi Harel’s instructions also with regard to kashrut, Shabbat, and matters connected to Judaism in the spirit of our holy Torah.” (For the full story, see previous Reviews.)
An article in Yediot Yerushalayim (November 30) contained the news that Mina Fenton, one of the strongest and most active anti-missionary figures in the Jerusalem local council, has announced her resignation – apparently due to the fact that she has no guarantee of being elected vice-Mayor.
Jerusalem Post, December 3; Makor Rishon, December 3, 2007
Cardinal Carlo Martini was recently honored for his efforts in promoting Jewish-Christian relations (Jerusalem Post, December 3). In a speech thanking the Center for Interreligious Understanding for a gift of a six-branched candlestick symbolizing the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, Martini stated: “It isn’t sufficient to object to anti-Semitism. We also need to learn about the Jewish people, to understand them, and to express the greatest consideration for their needs. But primarily we need to love them not just because of the historical connection between us but first and foremost because of their achievements through the years and their enormous contribution to mankind.” Formerly a liaison officer in the Vatican responsible for arranging meetings between Jews and Christians and promoting mutual understanding, Martini recently moved to Israel to become head of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem. The menorah was a replica of one given to John Paul II in 1999 (Makor Rishon, December 3).
Jerusalem Post, December 5, 2007
This was not strictly a book review but an article looking at the works of Christopher Hitchens, a “British-born author, journalist, and provocateur.” In April his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything was released and became an immediate bestseller; an anthology he edited called The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever came out earlier this month. The titles eminently indicate Hitchens’ perspective on religion – not just Christianity, but also Judaism and Islam. Thus, for example, the latter book includes writings by Lucretius, Spinoza, George Eliot, Anatole France, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “The longest of all the contributions – 61 pages – is an attack against the Quran by Ibn Warraq, a former Muslim scholar who hides his true identity.” Hitchens says he wants The Portable Atheist to be a resource “‘for the embattled person in some case of small town idiocy, persecution or attempted stultification of children … There are quite a lot of good conservatives and free marketeers and so on who think Christianity, in particular, is servile and irrational … Many people, including humanists and agnostics, in this country [America] are very reluctant to criticize Islam because they think it is the religion of another people, and thus deserves respect … on cultural terms … this is a sentimentality for which we have no patience.’”