Caspari Center Media Review………….January 15, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 19 articles on the subjects of Christianity, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, and conversion. Of these:
6 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity (Christmas/Sylvester)
6 dealt with anti-missionary activity
6 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with conversion
Various aspects of Christianity constituted the focus of this week’s Review – including attitudes towards Christmas/Sylvester, the condition of Christians in Israel/Gaza, and conversion.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Hadashot Netanya, January 4; HaKibbutz, January 4; Yediot HaSharon, January 4; BeKehila, January 3; Kol HaIr, January 4; Zman HaNegev, January 4, 2008
This year – after Christmas – students in the lower grades in a high school in Kiryat Nordau were given homework relating to Christmas, Yeshu, and Santa Claus, according to a report in Hadashot Netanya (January 4). One zealous student asked help from his family and “succeeded in surprising his classmates, who discovered that the content of the questions was based on Christmas, Yeshu’s birthday and – how not? – Santa Claus.” The sister of another student who wished to help him with his homework complained to his teacher, who responded with “indifference” and said that, as far as she was concerned, the girl could complain to the Ministry of Education. The Municipality stated in response that, “The educational authority regards the incorporation of Christmas as part of the school curriculum as a very serious matter. The matter will be passed on for investigation and treatment by the supervisory board of the Ministry of Education which is responsible for what is studied.”
A lengthy feature in Kol HaIr (January 4) described one Israeli’s experience of Christmas mass in Bethlehem. Obviously not interested in its religious aspect, the reporter interrogated the limited number of priests whose attention he was able to corner. While asking what precisely the grotto was, he then wanted more urgently to know whether the priest was married, and was celibacy not difficult (“yes, very”)? Having been told that “‘Christianity and Judaism can never live in harmony [because you’re waiting for the Messiah and we think he’s already come],” “I wanted to ask: So where is he?” Having only reached Bethlehem by skirting the barrier, the reporter also expressed his desire to return to show the soldier on duty the pictures he had taken, and “to explain to him that we’re only human beings who want to celebrate, it doesn’t matter what. But it would have been a complete waste of time – he’s an officer.”
In an article otherwise completely unrelated to our concerns (HaKibbutz, January 4), the author opened with the fact that Christmas had “brought him to a renewed perusal of the basic literature of Christianity: the four books of the evangelists (the Gospel according to Matthew, according to Mark, Luke, and John).”
In a brief questionnaire asking five personalities “Is there a place to celebrate Sylvester in the Jewish State” (Yediot HaSharon, January 4), the answers given were mixed. Uzi Cohen stated that it is a Christian holiday – so let Christians celebrate it, while Jews have their own holidays. “Enough – we aren’t a dog after a man, we have our own personality.” Shlomo Saraf expressed his opinion that it merely marks the civil year. Although it is not a Jewish holiday, he himself has a personal reason to celebrate – he was born on January 1. Assi Dayan declared: “Of course we should celebrate it – after all, it’s the holiday of the accountants, and Jews are excellent at maths.” Ofir Pines thought that, while it’s not a Jewish holiday, “I respect the festivals of others – and even though it might sound strange, even in Israel a new civil year began on January 1.” Finally, as a Russian immigrant Anna Aronov pronounced that while she had celebrated Sylvester all her life, “in Israel I feel its importance less.”
The behavior of other important people was perhaps less laudable. A strange piece in BeKehila (January 3) noted that the Labour Party recently conducted “an enormous religious activity.” In celebrating the “Nitel” (?), an Arab member of Knesset brought a plate of chocolates “wrapped in colorful silver paper decorated with various Christian figures” – which the MKs fell upon “as though they were devout Christians.” The Party Chairman, Eitan Cabal, warned them: “‘Either you calm down or I’m taking the chocolates away.’ Everyone indeed calmed down – except for Ehud Barak and Fuad Ben Eliezer who, despite all the threats, continued to down the chocolates.”
An “advert” in Zman HaNegev (January 4 [!]) warned “righteous Jews” against celebrating Sylvester in the following harsh terms: “Sylvester was an indigent anti-Semitic cat in the thirteenth century and hated yellow Jewish birds! Did you know that every Sylvester Christians cats – may their name be blotted out – eat innocent Jewish birds and inflict pogroms on them? We Jews have no connection with this festival and especially this cat, and anyone who celebrates it should be ashamed of himself.” [Editor’s note: “cat” appears to be euphemism here for “Christian(s).”]
HaModia, January 4, 10; HaZofeh, January 11 (x 2); BeKehila, January 3; Yom L’Yom, January 3, 2008
BeKehila (January 3), HaZofeh (January 11, p. 7), and HaModia (January 4) all carried the story of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ latest door-to-door campaign in Tel Aviv. When a crowd gathered in protest, the members of the sect called the police on the “false charge” that their lives were being threatened. “The police discovered that it was the missionaries who were disturbing the peace of the neighborhood in a cynical and silly attempt to knock on the doors of the residents while they were resting, and instructed them to get into their mobile van which would take them to the police station.” When the crowd followed the van to the station, the officer went out to inform them that the missionaries had been admonished that any further complaint against them would be listed against them. The same story noted that Yad L’Achim claim to have exposed a new missionary center on Elisha the Prophet St. in Beersheva. Once again, a protest erupted, interrupting the missionaries “at the peak of their study” and causing them to “quickly scatter from the place, cutting the study short. The head of the local sect, the missionary Vladimir Simiyonidi fled before the eyes of tens of demonstrators and wasn’t seen further.”
Under the headline, “Financial Crusade,” HaZofeh (January 11) also reported on a meeting held between Yad L’Achim members, together with Mina Fenton of the Jerusalem municipal council, and members of the Chief Rabbinate council. In laying out the extent of Christian missionary operations in Israel, the former indicated the “factors which lead to a sympathetic attitude towards missionary activity. According to their statement, the two central elements which are succeeding in converting Jews are the Messianic Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We’re talking about around ten thousand (!) Jews at least who have converted. (This is according to statistics gathered from 100 centers of the above-mentioned movements.” The article suggested that the success was also due both to the influence on other rabbinic figures of such movements as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (under the direction of R. Yechiel Eckstein) and that of Christian Zionists such as John Hagee (“‘and then we’ll build the Christian Temple on the Temple Mount’”). The (unnamed) author also accused Chabad of accepting funds from Christians and concluded his report with the announcement that his family would immediately cease and desist from any further contributions to that movement!
Yom L’Yom December 3) carried the story of the recent Christian appointments to the Jewish Agency (see previous Reviews).
Finally, a piece in HaModia (January 10) enthusiastically described the success of Jewish “propaganda” literature – which was able to “reconvert” a Jew who had joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Christians in Israel
BeMahane, January 4; Jerusalem Post, January 4, 8; Haaretz, January 8; Kol HaIr, January 4; Mishpaha, January 3, 2008
As reported in BeMahane (January 4), one of the significant events of this year’s Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem’s was the Latin patriarch’s visit to the city. Resident in Jerusalem, the patriarch was escorted to the border by Israeli forces and thence to Bethlehem by Palestinian authorities. The place where he crossed is “that through which the crusaders passed on their way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, which was opened especially for this occasion.” In contrast to the crusaders, however, the patriarch had to pass through heavily fortified gates, opened manually in order to avert potential electrical failures, two (suspicious) parked cars also being towed just before his arrival. According to the Jewish police captain, “We’re not in the city at the moment, but you need to remember that if anything does happen, we’ll go in. The Palestinian soldiers escort the patriarch inside the city and there’s a certain passing of the baton – but not of authority for security, because that stays with us. If, God forbid, something does happen, they don’t have the means to deal with it. So we’re prepared also for medical and security needs.” In fact, the security situation in Bethlehem is better now than it has been for a long time – and the city’s hotels were fully occupied over the Christmas season. This in turn contributes to an upturn in its overall economic situation – “which is likely to weaken Hamas.”
In remarking on the fact that the liaison with the Palestinian authorities did not include the city’s Mayor – “a Christian who is identified with Hamas” – the report quoted the head of the Liaison and Coordination Bureau as saying: “In order to get to this position, he made a pact with Hamas. If the Christians opposed Hamas, this wouldn’t have been able to happen, because they constitute 45% of the city’s residents.” While 9,000 permits to enter Israel over the Christmas period were issued to Christian Palestinians – primarily to visit relatives, but also, according to the Liaison head, to visit the “church of the mall”!, only 400 were given to Palestinian Muslims – out of which a mere 280 were actually used. The reason for the latter phenomenon appears to be that “the Muslims’ economic situation doesn’t always allow them to visit Israel.”
Under the headline, “Fearful Gaza Christians pray for peace on Greek Orthodox Christmas,” the Jerusalem Post (January 8) documented the growing worries of the Christian community in the city as the number leaving rises. “Some 400 Christians, fearing persecution under Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers and hoping to escape economic hardship, left the territory to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem last month, some not planning to return. The Christian community has never publicly accused Hamas of persecution, and its leaders have reassured the Christian community that it is safe in Gaza. But Christians say they fear radical Islamic groups will feel impunity under Islamic rulers. No one has yet been arrested in connection with Ayyad’s death [the manager of the Christian bookshop, murdered last October].” Other factors contributing to the lack of festive cheer were the privation the sealing of the border has generated, together with continuing clashes with Israeli troops – five Palestinians being killed this week – and “infighting among Palestinian factions.”
The threat of external persecution has led to more positive consequences in Galilee, on the other hand. According to a report in Haaretz (January 8), the small Christian populace in Kafr Kana (Cana) – whose numbers are also dwindling – have long felt that “the Muslims laugh at us because of our many dates [on which the different Christian communities celebrate Christmas and Easter], joking that with us Jesus was born twice and was resurrected twice.” The unpleasantness this caused led to a grass-roots decision to merge the holidays, creating a greater sense of solidarity amongst the Christian community: the Greek Orthodox agreed to celebrate Christmas and Sylvester on December 24 and 31 respectively, while the Catholics agreed to accept the Orthodox date of Easter. The solution doesn’t fit well with all concerned, however. Although four Russian pilgrims were disappointed to find no mass being celebrated in the Greek Orthodox church in Kafr Kana on January 1, the “local” Greek Orthodox community is the least pleased with the arrangement. “The vast majority of its priests come from Greece – that is to say, they are not Israelis and not Palestinians, as is usual in the other churches, and it is possible that this is one reason for their hesitancy. The local priests, who have grown up in the complicated reality, are more open to solutions that the Greeks find hard to accept.’” Apart from the fact that the Greeks are also more dependent – including financially – upon the Greek patriarch, whose authority is the Patriarchate in Jerusalem, the Catholics also claim that “their mentality is difficult.”
The report included information on Kfar Kana itself: “Tradition holds that this is where Jesus performed a great miracle, when he came to the wedding of an impoverished couple and turned the water in the celebrants’ cups into wine. To this day, Kafr Kana wine is sold in bottles bearing labels that associate the wine with that wedding. ‘There are those who really do believe it is from then,’ said a salesman at a souvenir shop in the village last week.”
Mishpaha (January 3) carried a story of an attack by two Christian Arab youths on two Jewish brothers aged 9 and 10 on their way home from school in Ramle. The incident apparently took place without reason, eyewitnesses reporting the boys’ identity to the police. The family was informed of this and also told that the youths appeared to be “collaborators planted in the neighborhood by the Ministry of Defence.” The parents themselves considered that the attack was probably occasioned against the background of the Christmas celebrations. An investigation into the affair is being conducted.
The fact that the President’s annual honoring of local clergyman took place this year at his official residence with a delay for the belated arrival of the Minister of the Interior was noted in Kol HaIr (January 4) under the headline, “The Christians can wait.” The Minister’s spokesperson was asked: “Is it polite to let [the] Christians wait?” and answered: “‘The Minister was delayed and was therefore five minutes late.”
The conservative Anglican conference scheduled to take place in Jerusalem in June is under threat by local church leaders. According to the Jerusalem Post (January 4), “Arab Anglican leaders have called for [its] cancellation,” claiming that it “could exacerbate Christian-Muslim tensions in the Palestinian territories,” “inject the Anglican Communion’s political disputes into the diocese of Jerusalem,” and perhaps “‘have serious consequences for our ongoing ministry of reconciliation in this divided land.’” The head of the Anglican Church in the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt, similarly “questioned meeting in Jerusalem, saying it was unlikely Palestinian Anglicans would support the meeting ‘for various reasons.’” The Arab Anglican leaders are concerned that the conference might “wreck the Anglican Church’s carefully balanced position within Palestinian society and the Anglican Communion.” While the Palestinian church is “strongly opposed to gay or female clergy and follows the conservative position within Anglicanism … it receives financial support from American dioceses that are at the forefront of the gay rights movement.” Equally significant are the political aspects: “‘It is my region, and I know it better than you,’ Anis told Akinola [the conference’s chief (African) organizer], cautioning against an overt pro-Israel spin to the meeting. ‘To say we will do a pilgrimage to attract bishops, and [that] it is not entirely a pilgrimage, is not right in my point of view.’” While the current Anglican bishop, Darwani, has “quietly moved away from some of the policies espoused by [Riah Abu el-]Assal [his predecessor],” “public identification as a pro-Israel church has leaders of the small Arab Anglican community in the Palestinian territories worried.”
Ma’ariv, January 4, 2008
The unusual move of converting to Judaism children whose mother is a Christian was taken this week by the Chief Rabbinate. The couple married abroad when the father was Jewish and the mother a believer. Following their aliyah to Israel, the father became Ultra-Orthodox, while the mother continued to believe in Jesus. During conversations with the Rabbinate, the mother “refused the idea that she too should convert, declaring that she believes in Yeshu and reads the New Testament. At the same time, she said that the book is hidden in a cupboard, that she only reads it when the children are at school, and that she agrees to raise them as religious Jews, keep a kosher house, etc.” Despite their concerns that “the mother believes in Yeshu and doesn’t hide this from her children,” the children were allowed to stand before a conversion court, which determined that it would go ahead with their conversion.