Caspari Center Media Review………….January 8, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 12 articles on the subjects of Christianity, Christian Zionism, Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, and interfaith activities. Of these:
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity (Christmas/Sylvester)
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
4 dealt with Christian Zionism
2 dealt with the interfaith activities
1 dealt with the Anglican Church
To the last vestiges of the Christmas celebrations were added this week those of Sylvester. Most of the rest of this week’s Review centered on various aspects of Christian Zionism and interfaith activities.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Tzafon-1 Haifa, December 28; Yediot Eilat, December 28, 2007
Under the headline, “Christmas without snow,” Mirit Kushnir-Strumatza and Miri Hadash reported their experience of Christmas in the home of the Khoury family in Tarshicha (Tzafon-1, December 28). The Christian quarter in Tarshicha, an Arab village, is decorated for the occasion with plastic trees and Santas – in lieu of the snow which doesn’t reach the region – and illuminated crosses placed on the roof-tops. Santa distributes presents through the quarter – a custom, the reporters suggested, which may derive from the “many gifts which Yeshu received at his birth.” The article concluded with their own version of the “Christmas story”: “Two thousand years ago, a young couple fell in love in the city of Nazareth. They weren’t married, but the young woman Miriam suddenly discovered that she was pregnant. Because of all the whispers and gossip, Miriam and her fiancé Joseph were forced to leave the city and in their wanderings came to Bethlehem – but here too their sufferings weren’t over. Night fell, and they couldn’t find even a room to put themselves up in. With no other choice, they decided to sleep in a storage barn. That same night, Miriam was struck with birth pangs. Joseph gathered together some straw and padded a manger, in which he placed the infant when he was born – as the donkeys and horses watched on. According to the Christian faith, it was God’s choice that the messiah would be born in off-putting human circumstances, poor and modest. After his birth, a radiant light burst over the barn, and shepherds frightened by the strange phenomenon met an angel who brought good tidings of the messiah’s birth. The news of his birth quickly spread from town to town and from village to village, bringing with it hundreds of visitors, among them kings and princes, who came to observe the wonder and brought with them an abundance of gifts, silver, and gold.” According to the subheading, “Christians devote Christmas to soul-searching, inner renewal, and in light of the approaching New Year, the opening of a new page – as in the Jewish New Year.”
As the city of Eilat prepared to celebrate Svlvester, Yediot Eilat (December 28) set out to discover whether, in the face of rabbinic prohibitions against its “observance,” “Will spirituality or materialism win?” The latter reference was to the fact that most of the celebrations of the “festival” were due to take the form of parties and banquets. The “spirituality” lay in the Rabbis’ claim that Jews have plenty of reasons to celebrate and do not need to participate in “overtly Christian” holidays. Last week, the city’s Rabbis issued a call in an advertisement in a local paper to Eilat’s residents not to celebrate Sylvester “in any way, shape, or form.” According to R. Moshe Hadya, “‘Sylvester was an indigent in some period, and when he died people turned him into an idol. The moment we start celebrating idol-festivals we’re participating in idolatry. I don’t have any problem with the fact that Eilat’s residents wish to find a reason to celebrate – just don’t link it to idolatry. Celebrate on another day – why celebrate precisely on a day when the Gentiles are celebrating?’” In similar fashion, R. Yosef Hecht added: “‘What brought Haman’s decrees on Israel was the Jews’ identification with the party Ahasuerus prepared, at which he boasted that he would seize all the Temple’s treasure … They took part and identified with the seizure.’” While hotel managers – who announced that whoever wished was welcome to celebrate the civil New Year with a fancy meal and a musical performance – made sure to declare their respect for the Rabbinic establishment (partly due to the fact that the latter issues them with their kashrut licenses), they were equally adamant that, “Eilat, which is a tourist city, welcomes members of all religions with great love and enables every tourist to celebrate his religious festivals according to his understanding and faith.” “‘Many of our guests are Christians, and we should enable them to celebrate their holidays in the hotel in the same way as all our Jewish guests wish to celebrate the Jewish festivals. This is precisely the attitude we would expect to receive if we were abroad.’”
Yediot Haifa, December 28, 2007
A lengthy report in Yediot Haifa (December 28) claimed that the city is being “visited” by a ‘plague’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are going door to door speaking to people about “the work of the Creator.” “The representatives – or ‘evangelists’ [mevasrim] as they’re called in the organization – raise the question of who God is and how He is to be worshipped right at the beginning of the conversation.”
Christians in Israel
Yediot Haifa, December 28; Yediot HaGalil, December 28, 2007
A Greek-Catholic school in Shefaram was taken to court this week by parents complaining that it was refusing to issue end-of-trimester certificates to their children. The school claimed that the parents owed them various financial debts and would not release the certificates until these were paid. The issue was resolved by the intervention of Archbishop Elias Chacour, who informed the court as it was sitting down to discuss the charge that he possessed the authority to decide in the school’s name and would not allow any prevention of the certificates’ distribution.
A former Nazareth Elit councilman, Salim Houry, has announced that he will work towards the establishment of a church in the city for the benefit of its Christian residents (Yediot HaGalil, December 28). “‘I’m not a populist, I’m a realist and want the good of all the residents of Nazareth Elit, but especially the group which I represent, the Christians. A church is a most essential thing for the Christian population in the city, nor can we can forget that lots of tourists come to the city.’” Fierce resistance to the idea is being displayed amongst members of the council, who have declared that there will “never be a church in the city.”
Merkaz HaInyanim, December 31; Jerusalem Post, January 1; Haaretz, January 1; Yediot HaMifratz, December 28, 2007
Merkaz HaInyanim (December 31), Haaretz (January 1), and the Jerusalem Post (January 1) all reported on the agreement signed between the International Fellowship of Jews and Christians and the Jewish Agency (see previous Review).
The Jewish Agency representative in Petersburg (US) has been meeting important people and hosted and warmly greeted by many since his recent arrival in the city. In a report published in Yediot HaMifratz (December 28) under the heading, “Closest to God,” he noted that with all the honors he received, nothing was more significant than his meeting with Geoffrey and Arlett – “a devout Christian couple who belong to one of the Baptist churches in the suburbs of Petersburg.” The couple’s name was mentioned to the representative by a local Rabbi, who recommended that he talk with them. When he did so, their enthusiasm was so great that he was overwhelmed: “… I felt that my status in their eyes was more than that of a mere representative of the Agency who had come to the city to promote Israel. The feeling they gave me was that sitting opposite them was someone who had been blessed by the hand of God and received a special status in this world. Someone whom God’s hand had touched.” Following the meeting, the representative understood that he should make contact with as many churches as possible in the area and fix a date on which all their members could express their support of the State of Israel. His conclusion was clear and unambiguous: “So when people tell you, ‘All the world is against us’ or you hear politicians casting doubt on the fact that we are the chosen people, always remember that somewhere out there in North America a small group of around 50 million Christians is supporting you.”
Haaretz, January 2; Jerusalem Post, January 1, 2007
Isi Leibler contributed an opinion piece to the Jerusalem Post (January 1) entitled, “On dialogue between Jews and Muslims,” noting that “Dialogue with Muslims has become the flavor of the month.” In warning that, “Bottom line: Dialogue with Muslims becomes counterproductive when we grovel and demean ourselves [in] order to curry favor. All that is achieved is a façade of goodwill which ultimately only strengthens extremists at the expense of the few genuine moderates with the Islamic community” – he argued that, “The Jewish track record of dialogue with the Church illustrates that until Pope John XXIII’s dramatic condemnation of anti-Semitism at the Second Vatican Council, our efforts had little impact beyond reinforcing relationships with marginal Christian philo-Semites.” His point was that well-meaning Jewish attempts to talk with Muslims can be very dangerous in their ultimate effect: “If we bask in expressions of mutual love but fail to proclaim to our partners in dialogue that Israel is central to our Jewish identity, we make a mockery of dialogue and effectively capitulate to the extremists. Of course, Muslims are entitled to criticize Israeli policies. But there must be understandings in advance that, as distinct from genuine criticism, efforts to delegitimize or demonize Israel make it impossible for us to share platforms with them. We must also insist that the condemnation of Muslim anti-Semitism be an agenda item in all such encounters.”
Although not strictly a piece on interfaith, we have included here an article printed in Haaretz (January 2) which looked at “The way in which the Christian Scriptures and the Quran are marketed says much about the state of Christianity and Islam. The competition never rests for a second.” The author argues that both religions consider themselves “people of the Book” and work under the assumption that “they are commanded to disseminate ‘Scripture’ to as many people as possible.” (As an aside, he noted, that while the Jews are also the “people of the Book,” they “do not feel a similar duty.”) According to the report, while the Quran is around 20% shorter in length than the New Testament, it is considered by many in the West to be much more difficult to read. The fact that it is possible to access the Bible and the Quran alike in more ways than ever before – written, audio, internet, etc. – however, does not necessarily mean that people are familiar with their content. Thus, according to a Gallup poll conducted in the US, half of the American population does not know which is the first book of the Bible; only a third know that Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount (it is widely attributed to Billy Graham!), a quarter do not know what Easter celebrates (“Yeshu’s resurrection, the founding event of Christianity”), and 12% think that Noah was married to Joan of Arc! Within the Muslim world, many pupils who study the Quran do not understand it, as it must be read in the original Arabic.
The battle between the two religions is expressed, among other ways, in the fact that the Saudis, for example, prohibit the distribution of the Bible in the Kingdom. Demographically, while the Christian world is still larger than the Muslim – 2 billion to 1.5 billion – the latter is fast catching up the former. According to some Christian scholars, Islam will have become the largest religion in the world by 2050. Some Muslims, on the other hand, are worried that Muslim terrorism is having an adverse affect on Islam’s dissemination of the Quran throughout the world. Christians nonetheless still possess a significant marketing advantage over Muslims: not only do their publishing houses make huge profits but the Bible is also sold by thousands of secular distributors. Muslim publishing houses are much smaller – and much less advanced. While the Bible has been translated into more than 900 languages, the Quran is only read – and therefore also only published – in Arabic, although there are now more than twenty English translations of it. The second advantage Christianity (the Bible) possesses over Islam (the Quran) is America: “Around 80 million evangelical Christians live in the wealthiest and strongest nation in the world, and it supports the largest number of missionaries, broadcasting stations, and publishers than any other country. Despite the wealth which accrues to several of the Arab states from oil revenues, the level of the poor in Arab in countries is extremely high.” Finally, Christianity also benefits from the freedom of religion in the West: “In contrast, Muslim countries are largely theocracies. Open competition is an advantage to religion; American evangelism is flourishing precisely because America has no official church. Theocracy is ultimately a source of idleness and conservatism.” The article draws this conclusion regarding the outcome of the “war”: “… in the struggle over Scripture, two things are certain. One is that the drive to disseminate Scripture will kindle one of the fiercest encounters of the twenty-first century. The region in which it is primarily being conducted – Africa, from the south to the Sahara – is a barrel of explosives of weak countries and ethnic hostility. The second is that the Christian Scriptures and the Quran will continue to influence the lives of people, whether for good or bad. It would appear that the bush’s branches are continuing to burn with God’s fire.”
Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2007
In a piece entitled, “Anglicans choose Jerusalem for key June conference,” George Conger noted in the Jerusalem Post (December 31) that the Anglican Church will meet in the “Holy Land to chart the church’s future course” regarding its stance towards homosexuality within its ranks. The “Global Anglican Future Conference” is designed to “permit traditionalist Anglicans to come together around the central and unchanging tenets of the historical Anglican faith,’ Bishop Gregory Venables of Argentina said.” According to the report, “Jerusalem was chosen as the venue as a sign of their commitment ‘to a land that is our common heritage.’ The meeting would also ‘bring fellowship and bear testimony to the Christian communities in Israel/Palestine’ that have been under intense pressure from Islamic militants.” Such support cannot be taken for granted: “However, Anglicans are as divided over Israel as they are over homosexuality. While the meeting will focus on the current crisis facing the church, some Anglican and Jewish supporters of the gathering hope the presence in Jerusalem this June of conservative Anglican bishops from every continent will present an opportunity to broaden Israel’s support in the developing world.” This stance comes in the face of such anti-Israel expressions as charity cards portraying “Mary and Joseph unable to reach Bethlehem due to ‘Israel’s separation wall and a state-of-the-art military checkpoint” and nativity scenes “complete with the wall, depicting the ‘year the wise men won’t get to the stable.’” According to the article, on the reverse side, support for Israel is growing fast in Africa: “A 2006 poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 47 percent of Nigerian Christians favor Israel and 12% favor the Palestinians, while 16% favor both sides and 10% neither side, with the remainder undecided. Another March 2006 Pew poll found that 48% of Americans back Israel, 13% the Palestinians, 4% favor both sides and 14% neither side, with the remainder undecided.”