Caspari Center Media Review………….March #2, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 14 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, interfaith activities, and the arts. Of these:
6 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
3 dealt with anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with interfaith activities
3 dealt with the arts
This articles contained in this week’s Review relate – virtually without exception – to “holiness” in one form or another, whether it be its violation in the eyes of the anti-missionaries, Israeli attitudes towards the Vatican’s new list of sins and its policy of beatification, or the preparations for Easter. These are complemented by items relating to “Eleazar/Eliezer” in the New Testament and the Holy Sepulcher.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Globes, March 14; Dakot 24, March 12; Ma’ariv, March 11; Haaretz, March 17; Yediot Ahronot, March 11, 14, 2008
In the run-up to Easter, Globes (March 14) provided its interested readers with a description of what happens in the Christian world during Easter week. Divided into Catholic and Protestant columns, the former concentrated on Palm Sunday and the Via Dolorosa events in Jerusalem, while the latter contrasted the cross-carrying and thorn-piercing experiences of Catholic adherents with the “joy” of the Protestants – chiefly expressed, according to the report, in the various ceremonies associated with eggs: decorated, races, etc.
The majority of the articles in this section relate to the Vatican’s recent “revision” of the seven cardinal sins. In addition to those articles reprinted from the foreign press (Ma’ariv, March 11) or given very brief coverage (Dakot 24, March 12) were those which reflected Israeli attitudes towards the event. Two lengthy pieces appeared in Yediot Ahronot, on March 11 and 14. The first, written by Yediot staff, represented the “revision” as “the third generation”: “… 1500 years after the original list was compiled, the Vatican has decided to ‘update’ it. The seven new sins, which join the seven earlier ones, endeavor to cope with the ‘problems’ of progress [modernity] according to Catholic thinking.” This piece suggested that officials in the Vatican are “worried by research which indicates that more than 60% of Catholic Christians no longer attend church for the good of confession and hope that the new list will succeed in encouraging greater motivation to confess their sins in their lazy members.” It also includes two “takes” on the move by two Israelis, Ziv Lentzchner and Aviad Kleinberg. The former asks, “God knows why there existed a reason to enlarge the number of prohibitions. The original seven were sufficient – human behaviors of which we are all culpable, in order to turn our lives in the shadow of the threat into unbearable and ultimately impossible. Think what you will of the Holy Spirit – I can’t see that I’ve ever gone through a month in my life without falling prey to the lusts of the flesh, gluttony, the pursuit of money, laziness, anger, jealousy, and pride. Take all of these out of my life and, believe me, there won’t be much left.” He goes on to say: “It’s rather embarrassing to confess, but if it were possible to remove these two [sins] – the use of contraception and cell research – the new list wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps even I could put my name to it.” Aviad Kleinberg – the author of a book on sins, has an equally intriguing view: “It’s an interesting list. First of all, it no longer speaks of the basis human longings but of acts which are the result of these cravings. The first two sins are an expression of pride (a readiness to alter the order of God’s creation), the third laziness (seeking an escape from dealing with difficulty), and the rest are various expressions of greediness. Of the seven, only one constitutes a criminal offense in every country (drug use). One is perhaps a transgression, and the remainder are characteristic of materialistic/comsumeristic Western culture. To a certain extent, all seven can be understood as expressions of this culture, of the crippling search for wealth that’s turned into an obsession.” In some ways, the two opinion columns are more of a reflection on Israeli society than on the church: “The Church is a conservative body … but something in the eruption of globalism and the absence of any restraints in the global village has aroused it to diverge from its normal path. It’s internalized. Maybe the time has come that we should also internalize” (Kleinberg). “How good it is that the new Israelis, the successful … haven’t been baptized, one like the next, to Catholic Christianity.”
The prominent Israeli author Meir Shalev added his opinion to the list (Yediot Ahronot, March 14): “At first glance there appears to be a true attempt here to update and modernize. Much of the content relates to unethical experimentation, to drug use, and to the pollution of the atmosphere. This is even likely to cause the Jewish reader to commit the sin of jealousy: Christians are introducing ecological innovations while we’re still waving chickens over our heads [a reference to the custom of transferring sins to fowls in order to procure atonement]. But we can relax. If Christians are still forbidden to use contraceptive methods, the Catholic Church is still apparently as conservative as it has always been.” Noting, like Kleinberg, the shift in emphasis from attributes to acts, Shalev suggested that, “If the Church has gone over to bad acts, it’s a sign that it has decided to focus on enforcement of the law rather than on supervision of the soul.” Like Kleinberg and Lintzcher, Shalev also took the opportunity to compare Christian with Jewish practices: “It seems to me that it wouldn’t hurt us to learn something from the Catholic Church and to update our sins as well. We also have sins which are bad attributes and sins which are bad acts. The important thing is that each one of them gets repeated over and over again – and in many cases, in ways that can’t be corrected. So, here’s a revised list in the spirit of Proverbs [chapter 6]: “‘There are six things which the Lord hates, yes seven which are an abomination to Him: shortsightedness, the refusal to take responsibility, corruption/bribery, the inability to understand and rank the elements of reality, a thick skin, no vision, stupidity.’”
Finally, we have included under this section a piece entitled “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Haaretz, March 17), which looked at the Vatican’s newly-revised policies regarding the process of canonization. Although the writer is himself a Catholic priest, and the item was translated from the New York Times, it is of some significance that Haaretz thought the subject of interest to its readers.
HaModia, March 11, 13, 14, 2008
Having received a letter from Yad L’Achim’s director containing “full details” of all “124 missionary congregations” operating in Israel, MK Shmuel Halpert has announced his intention to present a bill to the Knesset “prohibiting all missionary activity whatsoever” – in addition to the current law which forbids the giving of benefits in order to induce a person to convert (HaModia, March 11). Halpert was astonished to discover that “a number of the congregational leaders are Jewish.” The report also claimed that the missionaries have “recently received unexpected support from the pope, who called on Christians to include a call for the Jews to convert to Christianity in their prayers.”
Under the headline “A holy call,” a group of Rabbis published an advert in HaModia (March 13) summoning support for the rescue of souls from “trouble.” The ad is in aid of drumming up contributions to Yad L’Achim’s Shabbat Zekhor annual fund-raising campaign, motivated by the theme of that week’s Torah portion, “Remember what Amalek did to you.” All those who participate are promised God’s blessing: “You will be blessed with good abundance and success in body and spirit, and everything which goes with Him, out of all goodness.” In large letters at the bottom, the Rabbis declared that the campaign falls under the category of “pikuach nefesh” – the saving of life – and therefore makes the desecration of Shabbat permissible. A second article on the same subject (March 14), reported that the Rabbis have also determined that Yad L’Achim’s work constitutes a fulfillment of the commandment of rescuing captives
Yediot Eilat, March 7, 2008
In a piece entitled, “American antiquities preservers,” Yediot Eilat (March 7) noted the scheduled participation of ten Christians “who define themselves as friends of Israel” in a course on preservation maintenance being run by the Antiquities Authority. According to the report, the ten – part of an organization called the “Blossoming Rose” – will come several times a year as volunteers to help maintain the archaeological site of the biblical “Tamar” in the Arava. The site is located near Ein Hatzeva in the heart of the Arava and was a military and administrative center due to its proximity to a major junction leading to all parts of the country.
Haarezt, March 17, 2008
Under the headline, “Christian pilgrims, Palestinian teens and Jewish Israelis join Palm Sunday parade,” Haaretz (March 17) noted that “Local Jews joined the process this year, some as part of a course they are taking about Judaism and Christianity. Other participants included Palestinian teenage scouts from the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israel granted the scouts special permission to enter Jerusalem for the festivities.” According to the report, “Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ followers shaking branches to greet him as he entered the holy city. The festivities mark the start of Holy Week when, according to the New Testament, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, crucified and then resurrected on Easter Sunday.”
Kol HaZman, March 14; Arei Modi’in, March 14; HaIr-Tel Aviv, March 13, 2008
In an absorbing interview with Alex Ansky, a well-known Israeli actor, Alex recounted how he served as his father’s model for Jesus’ face on a mural in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Ansky’s father – Eliezer Asher – became an artisan working in mosaics and sculpture at the age of 60, when the events of the Six-Day War in 1967 convinced him that a time of peace and co-existence was about to be inaugurated in a new Israeli society. Having wandered into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher one day and made friends with its presiding priest, Eliezer agreed to restore a mural on one of the walls. He spent six years in the process, one and a half on Jesus’ face itself: “Over the next six years, entirely gratuitously, without receiving a cent from the church, my father used to arrive at the church early every morning, climb on the scaffolding he had built, and reconstruct – piece by piece – the mural on the wall. He ate from the meals which the priests shared. I was by then already working for Galei Tzahal [the army radio station], my mother was acting in New York, and he worked. Deliveries of stone arrived from Verona [where Eliezer had studied] according to his orders, and he reconstructed the picture of the crucifixion. When he came to Yeshu the crucified’s face, he chose the last verse which Yeshu uttered in his life: ‘Forgive them, God, for they do not understand what they are doing.’ The choice of this verse caused him a dilemma. In the pictures of the crucifixion in churches in Spain, for example, the expression on Yeshu’s face is one of anger and vengeance. A Mel Gibson-like expression of tallying counts. My father chose an appeasing expression for Yeshu’s face on the cross – not full of anger but the contrary, forgiving of those who were killing him. My father worked a year and a half, no less, on Yeshu’s face. He said, ‘It must be clear that I didn’t paint him with a squint. That I didn’t portray him as someone with any interest. He couldn’t be too human, in possession of wants that every normal person has. He must be the ultimate forgiver, a complete believer in the victory of the good.’ He needed several facial outlines on which to base his picture, and who did he choose as his model? Me. His son, Alex Ansky.” At the same time as Eliezer was proud of his work, he kept his creation of it a secret until he died. Having also done a sculpture for the Rabbinate in Tel Aviv, he did not wish that to be destroyed if it became known that he had also restored a mural in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Asher Kesher – who has proved his interest in Messianic Judaism with several pieces in Kol HaZman – added an epilogue to the interview with Alex Ansky. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher also contains a mosaic whose existence and creator have long been neglected by tourists, guides, and church officials alike. Kesher interviewed Nuseibi – the family responsible for the Church’s main door – about the mosaic: “‘Do you know who made it?’ ‘I think it was a Jew, about twenty years ago.’ ‘Is it not a problem that a Jew created a mosaic in the church?’ ‘Every church is responsible for its own area,’ he retorted fiercely. ‘The Armenians do in their section what they want.’” The Armenian expert, for his part, thought that “‘a Jewish woman did a mosaic twenty or thirty years ago. But an Armenian artist from America by the name of Rabond Samurian was responsible for the design.’” According to Kesher, “If you make a great effort, you can make out lines of resemblance between Yeshu in the Armenian mosaic and Alex Ansky – but you have to make a real effort and to look at the mosaic from a specific vantage point.”
Two reviews, one in Arei Modi’in (March 14) and the other in HaIr Tel Aviv (March 13) looked at Nick Cave’s latest album, “Dig, Lazarus, Dig.” While the latter took little interest in the background, the former examined its history – and its biblical sources – in great detail, if not with total accuracy: “The story of Eleazar from Bethany, the brother of Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha, is brought in the Gospel of John: Miriam is the one who anointed the Nazarene with oil and dried his feet with her hair. Her brother Eleazar is the one who fell sick. The sisters sent for Yeshua the Nazarene, saying, ‘Our Lord, see, he whom you loved is sick.’ Yeshua heard this and said: ‘This sickness is not to death but for God’s glory …’ Eleazar was taken to his people and died from his sickness. Four days passed following his death and when Martha went towards Yeshua, she said: ‘My Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Yeshua said to her: ‘Your brother will arise.’ Martha replied: ‘I know that he will be resurrected on the last day.’ Yeshua said to her: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die …’ Martha went home to Bethany on the slopes of the Mount of Olives and called to her sister Miriam and to all the Jews who had gathered there to comfort them. And they all went with Yeshua the Nazarene to the burial cave covered with a stone. Yeshua took care to roll the stone away. He stood opposite the entrance, his hair waving in the warm wind, lifted up his eyes to his Father in heaven and cried: ‘Eleazar, come out! – and the dead man came out, wrapped in his shroud. Yeshua said to them: ‘Leave him alone, let him go.’