Caspari Center Media Review………….March 28, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 28 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Jewish-Catholic relations, Christians in Israel, Christian tourism, and anti-Semitism. Of these:
10 dealt with Messianic Jews
5 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
4 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
3 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with Christian tourism
2 dealt with Jewish-Catholic relations
1 dealt with anti-Semitism
This week’s Review is dominated by the attack on the Ortiz family in Ariel, David Ortiz being the leader of the Messianic congregation in the city.
Jerusalem Post, March 21; Ma’ariv, March 21, 24; Haaretz, March 21 (pp. 1, 10), 23, 24; Yediot Ahronot, March 21, 23, 24, 2008
On Thursday, March 20, a mishloach manot – traditional Purim gift package – was delivered to the Ortiz home in Ariel, the “capital of Samaria” according to its website. The youngest son, Amiel – 15 – opened it and set off the bomb inside, which seriously injured him in the eye, lungs, hands, and legs. At the moment of writing, he is in stable but serious situation in Schneider Hospital in Tel Aviv – with no threat to his life but with a long period of recovery ahead of him. The apartment itself was severely damaged. The event was widely reported in the Israeli press, not only on the day on which the incident occurred, on prime-time news, but also in follow-up pieces and live interviews with other Messianic figures, including one of his brothers, on various Israeli TV channels. Since the Review does not include TV coverage, the information provided here is supplied exclusively from the written press.
Underneath a graphic picture of the wounded teenager, the Jerusalem Post (March 21) reported: “MYSTERIOUS EXPLOSION: A 15-year-old Ariel resident was critically injured yesterday when a device hidden in a Purim basket exploded in his kitchen. The teen’s parents are leaders of a controversial Christian group who have received threats in the past. Police are investigating a link to yesterday’s explosion and previous threats, as well as any possible criminal or nationalist leads.”
Under the headline, “Assassination attempt by means of booby-trapped mishloach manot,” Yediot Ahronot (March 21) reported on the day following the incident that the police initially suspected that the device was intended to injure the youth’s parents, “members of the ‘Messianic Jews’ cult.” The cleaner, who had found the “present” left on the doorstep, had brought it into the house, where Amiel opened it. A neighbor summoned the ambulance and the paramedics sedated Amiel in order to take him to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tivka, where he was immediately brought into the operating room. At that time, the police indicated that “all directions of investigation were being examined, including the possibility that the bomb was an attempt to injure the family simply because they are Messianic Jews” – and the option that a Satanic cult was responsible. The investigation is being aided by means of the security cameras the congregation installed, which record who enters and leaves the building. Part of the premises are occupied by the Ortiz family while the upper floors serve as a meeting place for the congregation.
On the same day, Ma’ariv carried a similar report under a similar title: “Explosive gift.” It emphasized the “mysterious” aspects of the incident which, it suggested, “may even expose a secret religious war being conducted under our noses.” In addition to suggesting that the police are considering the attack linked to the family’s Messianic identity the piece indicated that “people in the neighborhood say that the youth’s family has been under a lot of attack because they belong to the organization called ‘Messianic Jews,’ who believe in Yeshua the Nazarene.” Stating that the police have ruled out both nationalistic and criminal aspects, the report quoted Ron Nahman, Ariel’s mayor, as saying, “‘We’re talking of a family which has lived in Ariel for over fifteen years. If this incident did in fact occur against a religious background this is very serious, because freedom of religion exists in Israel.’”
Haaretz (March 21) entitled its report on the same day – splashed across the front page with another graphic picture – “Suspicion: booby-trapped gift to missionary family.” Stating that the Ortizes are “members of a Christian missionary organization,” it added that, as “members of the ‘Messianic Jews’ organization,” the family and friends (members) had recently installed cameras on the premises in order to prevent attacks. It included further quotes from Ron Nachman, citing him as saying that, “‘There isn’t a sect or a congregation of ‘Messianic Jews’ in Ariel,’ but he added that the parents belonged to an organization well known to him and to the city’s residents, among others reasons because the mother goes around wearing a white scarf like [the members of] Neturei Karta [an anti-Zionist Ultra-Orthodox group in Jerusalem].” On an inside page (10), a second article identified the “Christian missionary organization” with Messianic Judaism. This piece reported that the medics broke into the apartment on the third floor and found Amiel injured across the top half of his torso, while the sappers who examined the remains “promptly dismissed the investigators’ initial assessment, that it was a Purim cracker.” According to this report, the police received numerous reports from residents who had heard such “explosions” over the holiday, further noting that the police were currently taking testimony from neighbors concerning “the social behavior of members of the organization, who lived close to one another and about protest action taken against them in recent months, in the form of the distribution of tracts to passers-by. “‘We are aware of their missionary activity and we are checking into the matter,’” a senior police officer was quoted as stating. At the same time, the police were also investigating the possibility that the act constituted a “‘warning sign’ from criminals towards a member of the family, known to the police. The possibility that the bomb was sent against a nationalistic background has also not been completely ruled out.” According to the report, Ami was sedated before the police were able to interrogate him, and at the point of writing were waiting until his condition had improved before hearing his account of the incident. When he arrived at Beilinson, his life was still in the balance. In a related report on the same page, Ron Nachman added that he knew the Ortiz’s as a “‘good family who contributes to the community.’” Here his statement concerning the absence of any Messianic congregation in Ariel was clarified as being a function both of size – there are at most a “few families” – and of conduct: “‘Missionary activity is against the law. In the past we cooperated with the police to check whether there were any sects in Ariel. We found that there were neither sects nor churches or anything like that. This is one family, at most several families.’” Nachman was, however, worried by the possibility that the incident was evidence of religious conflict: “‘If this is true, it’s disturbing, because the whole issue of a religious background to the attack, of the religious against the religious, is a new phase, something which shouldn’t happen in the State. We need to remember that the police haven’t ruled out a nationalistic direction.’”
On the following Sunday (March 23), Yediot Ahronot ran an account of the incident, under the headline, “We hope we aren’t next in line,” with the subheading, “The serious wounding of a youth by an explosive in Ariel is arousing concerning amongst the members of the sect, who are experiencing unceasing attacks.” This article opened with the harassment of the congregations in the Negev (Arad and Beersheva), and was accompanied by a picture of three members of the Beersheva congregation. It stated that, “even after years of residency in the region, they still receive threats, primarily from the Ultra-Orthodox. They recount their unbearable daily sufferings and the incitement against them which turns into criminal acts – most of which end up with closed files at the police station. Only this past week, three incidents took place. In a ceremony conducted in the congregational building in Beersheva, tens of Ultra-Orthodox harassed them with shouting and curses. Several days later, stones were hurled at the house, causing a lot of damage. That same week, a security camera was stolen from the congregational building. According to them [the members], every exit from the building turns into a nightmare: Ultra-Orthodox passing by swear at them, shout at them, attack their faith, and give them no respite. The situation is even worse in Arad, where a real war is being conducted between the Messianics and the Ultra-Orthodox. The congregations’ members say that attacks occur every day. Lura Beckford, from the Arad Messianic congregation, recounts: ‘The Ultra-Orthodox hound us. They sit outside our house and outside the congregational building and threaten us. Frequently it ends up in an actual physical attack. We don’t feel safe even sitting in a coffee shop. They disseminate lies about us and incite people against us.’ The puncturing of tires has turned into a routine event, as also graffiti scrawled on the walls of their houses and the congregational building – ‘murderers’ and ‘we’ll send your corpses from Arad in coffins.’ According to them, the war is also being carried out against their children. Ultra-Orthodox recently went to the State schools in Arad and incited the students against the congregation’s children. Many people have taken their children out of the school, and next year they hope that at least they’ll have their own school. An additional effect is on income. ‘The Ultra-Orthodox go to our employers and tell them that we are missionaries and that they have to fire us. They exert an enormous amount of pressure on them until they do so,’ they said yesterday. The congregation in Yafo is also under attack. According to them, last year they were harried by the Ultra-Orthodox organization ‘Yad L’Achim,’ whose workers go to their services, take their picture, disturb, and threaten them. Yaron, one of the members: ‘Frequently we get abusive messages on the movement’s website, and before Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] when we gave a lecture here, about fifteen religious guys showed up who barred the entrance. The incident of the youth in Ariel is an exception in its severity, and I hope it won’t reoccur.’ Rivka Lazarovitch (63): ‘I don’t know the family from Ariel. There’s no really close connection between the different congregations in the country.’ Yesterday, at a conference in Yafo, one of them, Ilan, prayed for the injured youth. ‘Let us also pray for the people who did this, that they will repent, and in this way the bad that was done in this case will turn into good,’ he said. At Yad HaShemonah near Jerusalem, fifteen Messianic Jewish families reside. Yad L’Achim workers have already visited the place, and there have been encounters with them. Itai Meron, the administrator of the guest house there: ‘We aren’t missionaries. We don’t preach to any one to convert or to change their religion. We’re Israelis in every respect. Our children serve in select units in the army. We believe in Yeshua as the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel. We love Israel just like any other Israelis, if not more.’ Ami Geez, the chef at the guest house: ‘Most of the Israelis who stay here aren’t aware of our religious activity. We don’t make a big show of it. Everyone lives according to his faith.’” The incident in Ariel was covered in a brief quarter column, noting that Ami’s family had spent the night at the hospital and that, after operating to amputate his leg [an inaccurate detail] and to save his lung, Ami was due to undergo a battery of further surgeries. This report quoted a friend of the family, Michael [Mike] Decker [a lawyer], as saying: “‘We’re dealing here with an awful hate crime against a minority group which is harassed in the State of Israel. Amiel is a completely ordinary teenager studying in an ordinary school and everyone is in shock over what has happened to him.’”
In contrast to many of the other reports, this piece also included a section about Yad L’Achim, the “anti-Messianics,” under the headline, “We are doing holy work.” According to this report, “Yad L’Achim is an Ultra-Orthodox Israeli organization which works against what it considers to be missionary organizations, against mixed-religion marriages in Israel, and against around twenty spiritual movements which it perceives as movements which preach conversion. Although people within the Messianic Jewish movement defined them this week as ‘an obsessive and radical organization,’ those at the head of the organization perceive themselves as doing holy work.” Yad L’Achim’s Director, Dov Lifshitz, was quoted as saying that the organization is engaged in a “‘continuous policy of thwarting the [work of] non-Jewish Messianic movements.’” In denying any use of violence, Lifshitz also denounced what happened in Ariel: “‘Of course, we’re against action such as that which was carried out in Ariel. From our perspective, violence is corruptive.’”
Haaretz printed a follow-up report on the incident March 23, three days following the attack, this time also published in the English edition. This piece focused on the threat experienced by the community as a whole, expressed in the words of the single person willing to talk to the Haaretz reporter while engaged in helping to clean up the house and clear up the damage caused by the explosion: “‘The same people who hounded that family might find me tomorrow,’” one man said, describing his fear and reluctance to be identified. According to him, the congregation is composed of immigrants – some from the States, some from the former Soviet Union – and of sabras (local Israelis). He was quoted as saying that there are “a few thousand Messianic Jews in Israel who ‘believe in the Torah of Israel, the God of Israel, and that Yeshua, who was a Jew, had no intention of founding a new religion. We accept Yeshua as the Messiah. We accept the Tanakh and the New Testament as its continuation … The events that take place her are not underground – it’s an open thing.’” When asked whether the congregation was a “mission,” the speaker replied: “‘That depends on the nature of the people involved. Some tend to tell others about their beliefs, and other don’t. I think it’s very positive to tell, but I can’t persuade you to accept our belief. This is an intimate, family place. As a congregation, it was nice to remain anonymous until now. But here you can see how people hate and fear us. We are not a cult. We see ourselves as law-observing Jews and Israelis. One of our most important values is loyalty to the State of Israel, obeying the law and serving in the army. Many congregation members, including the brother of the boy who was hurt, serve in elite combat units.’ According to this report, two of Ami’s fingers were amputated on Sunday. [In fact, he has lost two toes.]
Ma’ariv interviewed Ariel (24), one of Amiel’s older brothers, on March 24, in a lengthy piece entitled “I forgive.” When his father informed Ariel of the attack, he assumed that it was a terrorist attack and expected to be met by a flurry of ambulances and paramedics at the hospital. He was confused by the lack of activity and only when he identified himself as Amiel’s brother was the enigma resolved. Despite the harassment the family has experienced, including the treatment meted out to Ariel at school for his involvement in a “cult,” he never anticipated that it would reach the stage of violence. While Amiel never spoke of his faith at school, and his classmates were completely surprised to learn of it when they came to support the family in the aftermath of the explosion, Ariel felt the hurt of not being understood and being excluded: “‘They all write about us as part of a cult. What’s a cult? You could think that it’s what we’re doing. Do we hold rituals and burn cats? Do we sacrifice virgins at the stake? When they portray us as a cult it sounds sinister and negative. We’ve never done anything bad to anyone. We’re Jews, we’ve served in the army like everyone else. I was circumcised and had a bar mitzvah. This is our faith, our way of life, and at most it’s a bit different – so what? … They say about my parents that they’re missionaries. Nu, really, like in every other religion, they also believe very deeply, and believe that this is the way. But they’ve never forced it on anyone else, not even us. This thing that’s been done to us stems from cowardice. It’s terror. What’s the difference between the person who did this to us and Hamas? In my wildest dreams I never thought that they would hurt us physically. We’ve never received an actual threat. Really, it’s never even entered my mind.’” Like others among his siblings, his parents’ faith did not truly interest Amiel. According to Ariel, “‘the Messianic faith didn’t play a large part in his life. But, like the rest of his brothers, he took part in the prayers and observance of the tradition out of deep respect for his parents.’” The interviewer noted Ariel’s calm and lack of feelings of vengeance: “It’s difficult to understand the calm that Ortiz radiates. He attributes the reason for this to the way his parents brought him up, and during the course of the interview he was calm and collected. His little brother, the son of his parents’ old age, is lying unconscious a few meters from us but Ortiz prefers to focus on feelings of hope and not on those of the anger which threatens to overwhelm him. ‘What will I tell him when he wakes up?’ he wonders. ‘I’ll tell him I love him. I’ll tell him what happened to him, and I’ll tell him everything will be alright. We’ll support him and he’ll get through this.’ His mother Leah, too, says with teary eyes outside his room from she doesn’t move: ‘I look at the half of the cup that’s full. I have faith in God, my son is strong, and we’ll get over this.’ Outside the intensive care unit at Schneider hospital many members from Messianic Jewish congregations from across the country gathered yesterday. They all came to support the family and to pray. ‘My parents’ faith will only be strengthened in the wake of what’s happened,’ Ortiz stated yesterday. ‘This is a test which God is giving us. According to our way of life and our faith we endeavor to be good and more tolerant people. Every day I get up in the morning and thank God that I am able to breathe and thank Him that my brother is alive. I hope that the police will do everything they can to find the person responsible for this. I think that that’s in the interest of the whole State, because today he’s hurt us, but tomorrow he might hurt someone else whom he doesn’t like. I would only ask from all the citizens that they pray for my brother. I hope that this time, after all the red lines which have been crossed, that people will finally understand and learn to accept us as part of this State. We are Jews in every form and respect. The easiest thing is to hate someone whom you don’t know, to fear him. If I could say something to the person who did this, I would say to him, May you be ashamed.’”
In his column “Religious gangsterism” in Yediot Ahronot (March 24), Yaron London noted that a “tone of reconciliation, or at least a sense of understanding, has penetrated the reports concerning the attack which took place on Thursday in Ariel.” According to London, the police have dismissed out of hand the possibility that the attack was either nationalistic or criminally motivated. He also interpreted the mayor’s remarks as an attempt to deny that Ariel had any association with any sect or cult. His conclusion was clear: “We don’t know who perpetrated the attack. But we do know that amongst those who harass the missionaries the Ultra-Orthodox who are jealous for God’s name are prominent. These people do not understand that violence demonstrates Judaism’s weakness and not its strength. In a State in which the lives of non-Jews are much harder than those of Jews, and in which a Jew cannot be forced to convert, nor be enticed by showing him that the gates of society will be opened before him if he bows his knees before an icon of the cross, the marketplace of ideas must be open to all competitors. Jews who fear competition and engage in gangster-like manipulation in order to warn off competitors, do not trust the nature of their merchandise. We thought that the Jewish State would free us from such fear. But lo and behold, it once again turns out that the captive does not release himself from his own bonds. The prison is in his own soul.”
Alongside the report in Yediot Ahronot (March 21) was a sidebar explaining “Messianic Judaism,” with the subtitle, “Between Jews and Christians”: “Messianic Judaism is a collection of loosely-associated religious groups which define themselves as Jewish but primarily contain elements from Christianity. They regard both the Tanakh and the New Testament as Scripture but don’t accept the Oral Law [halakhah] or halakhot which derive from it. They define themselves as Jews who see Yeshua (Yeshu) as the Messiah and the Son of God, but they don’t consider themselves as Christians and even distance themselves from certain Christian ceremonies. Messianic Jews meet twice a week and at their services they sing worship songs [shirei halel] to God, pray, and study the Tanakh and the NT. Once a week, on Shabbat, they also conduct the ceremony of the matza and wine. They enlist in the army and some of them wear kippot [yarmulkes] and prayer shawls. Many people consider Messianic Judaism to be missionary and most streams of Judaism do not regard them as a legitimate part of Judaism. Such people perceive them as purely Christians. There are around 100 congregations [kehilot] of Messianic Jews in Israel, the most prominent of which is in Yafo, established in the 1930’s. Other congregations exist in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Carmiel, and elsewhere. The precise number of Messianic Jews in Israel is unknown, estimates being of only a few thousand.”
Likewise, the report in Ma’ariv (March 21) also carried a sidebar giving the background to “Messianic Jews” who “believe in the Tanakh and the New Testament”: “A number of sects operate in Israel, amongst which are thousands of Messianic Jews who believe in Yeshu. The most prominent among them operate under the names ‘Messianic Jews,’ ‘Jews for Yeshu,” and ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ Messianic Jews are careful to call Yeshu Yeshua, explaining that this is his real name and that the name Yeshu was given to him by his Jewish opponents according to the acronym ‘May his name and memory be blotted out [Yimach Shmo Ve-zikhro].’ They are convinced that only those who believe in him will enter Gan Eden [paradise] and claim that they are the ‘true Israel.’ They also believe in both the Tanakh and the New Testament, don’t celebrate Christian holidays, don’t observe the Jewish Shabbat but do celebrate some of the Jewish festivals. According to them, they have existed since the inception of Christianity.”
Haaretz (March 21, p. 10) also included a much briefer description: “Messianic Jews are based in the States and believe in Yeshu. They celebrate Jewish festivals with a Christian overtone, such as Seder night with the inclusion of Christian characteristics and history. They hold bar mitzvahs for their sons, a ceremony at which the boys announce their love for Yeshu.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Yediot Ahronot, March 20, 24; Haaretz, March 21 (Hebrew and English editions), 2008
Under the title, “The days of the Messiah,” Yediot Ahronot (March 24) published a lengthy article on what Christian pilgrims can expect to find regarding Jesus’ life and ministry in the Galilee. In clarifying the headline, the subtitle read: “2000 years ago, the Galilee was wrapped in an atmosphere of the footprints of redemption [a reference to the Jewish conception of the inception of the Messianic age]. Around its beaches, Yeshu drew crowds with his miracles and delivered his most well-known teachings. Twenty-first century pilgrims are still seeking here a sign of life from the Jewish revolutionary who changed the face of the world.” It continued with a note regarding the difference attitude pilgrims hold to Israelis in regard to the Sea’s low water level. While this is most worrying to Israelis, who depend on the Kinneret for much of their water supply, the pilgrims apparently do not perceive the threat, coming as they do “to unite with Yeshu their Lord, to listen to stories about Galilee fishermen who joined him and became apostles of God, to be baptized [litbol] in white in the holy water, and to make supplications for better days on the top of the Mount of Beatitudes … Filled with emotions, they stride on the paths, sail in the boats on the water, carry in their hearts the good news of their Messiah and in the hands the holy cross. From here they’ll proceed to Jerusalem, whence Yeshu ascended into heaven, and afterwards disperse throughout the world.” One of the advantages of the low level of the Kinneret was the fact that it enabled the discovery of the “Jesus boat,” which can be seen at the Museum “Man in Galilee – Beit Yigal Alon” located at Kibbutz Ginnosar. “Did Yeshu actually sail in it or not? That’s already a matter of faith. Moving on to the Mount of Beatitudes, pilgrims listen to the Sermon on the Mount and/or sing songs of worship. According to the tradition, Yeshu delivered here the famous Sermon on the Mount in which he outlined the principles of his faith. The eight verses of the Beatitudes each begin with the word ‘blessed,’ which gave the name to the church here.” At Tabgha, pilgrims can visit the Church of the Loaves and Fish, which commemorates “Yeshu’s miracle of feeding 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. According to Christian tradition, Yeshu also appeared here to his believers after his death and delivered to Peter – Shimon bar Yona the fisherman – the role of pastoring the flock.” Just north lies the Church of St. Peter, which contains a stone table which “Christians identify as the place where Yeshu promised the preeminence [bekhora] to his apostle Peter at breakfast. With respect to Capernaum, “Christians believe that [it] was Yeshu’s place of residence after he was banished from Nazareth.” The traditional site of Peter’s house can also be visited, visible through a pane of glass, “Peter being the first pope according to Catholicism.” Next on the itinerary, the Church of the Twelve Apostles, whose name derives from “the faith that around Capernaum Yeshu shoes his twelve apostles.” “The trip in Yeshu’s footsteps won’t be complete without a visit to the baptismal site on the river Jordan next to Kibbutz Kinneret. The countenance of the priests and believers who are baptized [ha-tovlim] in white in the shade of the huge eucalyptus trees raises astonishment even amongst the greatest skeptics. It’s no less fascinating to watch the pilgrims becoming excited over the souvenirs and being careful to buy bottles of holy water.” One last stop: Job’s spring and waterfall. This tradition associates the waters with the healing place to which Job came in order to overcome the sickness of the boils with which he was visited by Satan.”
In a rather strange piece, Gafi Amir contributed to Yediot Ahronot (March 20) under the title, “I so much want to be baptized [litbol] in the Kinneret,” she confessed that by nature she was jealous, and that while this jealousy found many objects, she had realized that she was obligated to turn that jealousy, first and foremost, to “those who fall within her own category.”* This, it turns out, includes Christians: “Right now, I’m jealous of Christians, and in my opinion I have a complete right to be jealous. They have good holidays which I want too. All Saints Night [Day]** is an excellent invention. I know that ours, the Jewish, have beautiful customs***, it’s true. We’re already coming back to the sabbatical year, to Purim, and to Seder night! But my jealousy led me this week to Christianity [Rome]. The cradle of Christianity and the city in which, if we judge according to what we see, the largest number of Mercedes per person. Because finding my way in a place isn’t one of my prominent attributes, I spent a long time in the neighboring village of Yafia, under the impression that I was in Nazareth … up until the tenth century Yafia constituted the district capital, whereas Nazareth served as the local cemetery, or – as John said in his Revelation – ‘Has any good come out of Nazareth?’ So allow me, please, to join John in his amazement. The huge traffic jam at the entrance to the city led me to reconsider my theological inclinations, and St. Paul Street – which looks like the crossing between Alenby and Amman – isn’t very impressive. I’m sorry, Yeshu and Miriam. I went to look for Christians somewhere else. The Yardenit baptismal site in the Jordan Valley has been one of the foundation stones for Christians from all over the world since John baptized [taval] Yeshu here and immediately the heavens opened, God’s Spirit came, and his sons and grandsons gained the night of All Saints, while we were left with Purim. In fact, the Christians are plenty good imitators. Long before Yeshu, Elisha the prophet sent Naaman the leper, the Syrian army officer, to immerse himself [litbol] in the Jordan. Naaman immersed himself [taval] seven times and was healed. On the other hand, Yeshu – and apparently Naaman also – weren’t baptized [tavlu] in the Yardenit. The original baptismal site has been identified east of Jericho, close to the Jordan border. It’s just that it’s not safe there for tourists because of the Intifadas. The Ministry of Tourism and Kibbutz Kinneret didn’t let history get in the way when they built the baptismal site near the kibbutz. At the entrance there’s an impressive wall decorated with ceramic tiles containing passages describing Yeshu’s baptism in Greek, Russian, Italian, English, and Hebrew. In Christian eyes, baptism is fellowship/being united with God and new birth. According to all opinions, [it is] a spiritual experience for the sake of which they stream from all over the world, group after group, led by priests. In the changing rooms they put on their white robes, excitedly descend the wooden steps, float in the Jordan, and the priest blesses them in Latin with his hand on their heads … It’s fascinating to stand on the wooden steps and watch young and old Christians alike, including women, in the depths of this ecstatic experience. Soon the children are asking to be baptized [she-yatbilu] as well. It’s just that at this time of year the water is freezing and the baptism is accompanied by shrieks, as well, umm, as robes which become transparent in the water. After a moment of wonderment, we’d already stopped wanting to convert.” Asking, “Do you want to join in as well?,” Gafi provided details of how to get to the site and its opening hours.
* “Jealousy in my own category”: enables me to covet the hairdo of the clerk in the post office
** All Saints Night (Halloween): a holiday on which it’s allowed to send kids to disturb the neighbors and ask them for food.
*** A beautiful Jewish custom: to dress up every year for a TV program. Lia from “Survival,” for example, whose outfit primarily consists of a thong.
A further response to the allegedly “new seven cardinal sins” issue which we covered in last week’s Review found its way into the press this week, this time with a specifically feminine angle. Lihi Lapid, writing in Yediot Modi’in (March 21) entitled her piece: “To add iniquity to sin (or: seven sins in four minutes)”: “A week ago, a voice rang out from the Vatican, the heart of Christendom, which added seven sins to the previous list. Because I’m not immersed in Christian tradition, I decided to check out what the original seven sins are whose punishment is the death of the soul … Indeed, we’re talking about the most awful of feelings, I thought to myself. And then I popped out to the store to buy food to satisfy my children, and on the way I passed a shoe shop. And I looked in the window. And that was it, that was the end of the story, because in four minutes I managed to commit all seven sins because of the pair of cool high-heeled shoes I saw there. From the moment I set eyes on them, I coveted them. After covetousness came lust which filled my heart. But then I saw the price, and I was filled with anger. Anger over the fact that someone could dare put such a price on a pair of shoes. And then I said to myself that I would look great in them – which, of course, is a sin of out and out pride, the knowledge that my legs still look good. So I went in and tried them on. When I tried to walk in them I wobbled all over the place like a lulav [palm branch used during the Festival of Sukkot/Tabernacles] (oops, wrong religion) and I fell into the pride of laziness. I’m surely not really going to make such a great effort just to look good. And then I became jealous – jealous of all the women who can wear such shoes as if it were nothing, to run and jump in them. And then my mind returned to normal logic and I remembered that they were unjustifiably priced and I left the shop without buying them (which to my mind is a sin in itself – to disappoint a tired saleswoman), and opposite was a sign offering a special of coffee and pastry, and I was immediately overcome by gluttony. Of course I gave into the sin, because I deserved some compensation for not have bought the shoes. And I wolfed down a croissant. Chocolate. After I sinned the seven old sins in four minutes, I checked out what the new ones are, and discovered that they include scientific research, drugs, the creation of poverty, and other such things. But truth be told, I didn’t really go into them too deeply because I got angry (oops, an old sin) over the first one. Because the first one is a ban on the use of contraceptives. I was angry, because to say that using contraceptives is a sin is itself a sin … We can try and educate the young generation to postpone engaging in sexual intercourse – perhaps even try to convince them to put it off until they’ve got married. But we can’t in any way tell them not to use contraceptives … Amongst girls between the ages of 15 and 19 [in Israel] the rate of legal abortions stands at one to a hundred women. So it’s far better to take something ahead of time to avoid having to go through that. Because if a young girl has already decided that she’s going to do it, she should at least be protected. And to tell her that if she’s going to do it that she should protect herself, that is everyone’s job – especially that of mothers.”
Under the headline, “Memories of Eden,” Tom Segev included a review of the BBC’s recent film, due to be screened on Easter Sunday, which in his opinion “question[s] one of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity” (Haaretz, March 21). “Christians generally believe that the son of the carpenter from Nazareth was crucified with nails that were hammered through his palms. The BBC says it was done differently … Jesus does not spread his arms to the sides, as in a universal movement of embrace. Instead, he raises his arms. The nails are not hammered into his palms, but into the bones of his forearms. His legs are not hanging down, but are folded upwards, in a fetal position. The creators of the film say they reconstructed the Crucifixion on the basis of an archaeological study, among other things the skeleton of a crucified man found in Jerusalem shortly after the Six-Day War. Several Christian spokespersons are very angry.”
Haaretz, March 21; Yom L’Yom, March 20; HaModia, March 21; BeKehila, March 20, 2008
In the wake of the incident in Ariel, Haaretz (March 21) published an account of Yad L’Achim’s activities under the headline: “Ultra-Orthodox anti-missionary group: We oppose violence.” It repeated the claim made by the organization that, “‘The organization knows nothing about the incident in Ariel. We fight against the mission but we are against violence, may God have mercy. If such a thing was done, it’s a very serious thing indeed.’” The rest of the article repeated facts concerning Messianic Jews printed on the same day in the paper in connection to the bombing. It also mentioned Ultra-Orthodox attempts to introduce or reinforce anti-missionary bills in the Knesset, giving the content of the existing laws.
Yom L’Yom (March 20) and HaModia (March 21) ran the same story of “thirty Australian missionaries” who “invaded” the Schneider children’s hospital in Petah Tivka recently and “distributed a prominent missionary symbol and literature.” Yad L’Achim, the source of the information, was equally upset by the fact that the group, from an organization called “Maneh International” (?), was accompanied by the hospital’s public relations staff, as if giving its official stamp of approval to the event. According to the report, however, when the hospital discovered that the group had been distributing literature, it requested that they refrain from doing so, stating that it was forbidden. Although the purpose of the visit was to cheer up the children, the dissemination of literature runs the risk of violating the law of directly approaching minors with the intention of “converting” them. While these two papers failed to identify the exact nature of the “prominent missionary symbol,” its identity was revealed in the report carried in BeKehila (March 20). This, much briefer piece, was accompanied by a rather indistinguishable picture of what the caption identified as “the sheep which the missionaries distributed.” Mystery solved: “Members of the group visited the hospitalized children and extended to them a special present, a large soft-toy sheep which in Christianity symbolizes the figure of that man [Jesus].”
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, March 20, 24, 2008
In the only story relating to Easter this week, the Jerusalem Post (March 24) reviewed some of the festivities which took place. “Undeterred by recent violence, Christians from around the world sang and prayed to mark Easter Sunday at a Jerusalem church believed to be built on the site where Jesus rose from the dead. Polish men in feathered fur hats, Indian women in saris and Palestinian clergy in white and gold robes found shelter from the sweltering heat in the cool, cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City. The outgoing Roman Catholic leader in the Holy Land, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, criticized Israeli and Palestinians responsible for recent bloodshed, including IDF operations, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and a fatal shooting attack in a Jerusalem yeshiva … Protestants, who venerate a spot outside the Old City known as the Garden Tomb as the site of Jesus’ burial, gathered there early Sunday morning to sing songs accompanied by a rock band. Some raised their hands and swayed to the music. ‘We can say that resurrection day was the happiest day in history,’ Peter Wells, the site’s chaplain, told the crowds, speaking at a podium bearing the words, ‘Jesus Is Alive.’ ‘So once again, the Lord is risen,’ Wells said, and the assembled believers answered in unison: ‘The Lord is risen indeed, hallelujah!’”
In an earlier report (March 20), the paper noted that, having reaching his seventy-fifth birthday, Michel Sabbah has tendered his resignation as Latin Patriarch and Archbishop of Jerusalem. According to the article, “He will be replaced by Archbishop Fouad Twal, a Jordanian … [whose] appointment continues the trend of appointing indigenous clergymen to fill the church’s most senior positions, which began in earnest after World War II. The trend, which was tied to the reversal of colonialist enterprises, began in the Protestant churches, with Anglicans and Lutherans preferring locals to Europeans in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.” Apparently in response to claims that Sabbah’s office has been marked by strong anti-Israel statements and acts, Father David Neuhaus was quoted as saying, “‘Patriach Sabbah was the first to speak in the name of the Christian faithful, not in the name of the Church. He is a son of the people who carries with him the experiences of the people. Current events are too close to real life for the patriarch to ignore them. He is too rooted in the land.” His successor was educated in Catholic institutions in the Land, served in the Vatican Foreign Service between 1987 and 1992, and was appointed Archbishop of Tunis in 1992.
Haaretz, March 24; Yediot Ahronot, March 24; Israel HaYom, March 24, 2008
Although an unusual form of Christian Zionism, we thought it fitting to include in this section the several reports of the official baptism of Magdi Allam (55), a prominent Italian Muslim journalist and writer, by the pope during Easter mass on Saturday. Magdi has been an outspoken critic of radical Islam – and a defendant of the pope against Muslim outrage. Born in Egypt but not a practicing Muslim for most of his life, he apparently converted out of a genuine belief, fostered in part both by death threats and by the conviction that “‘behind the ideological source of [Muslim] hatred, violence, and death lies the discrimination against Israel. Everyone possesses the right to exist except for the Jewish State and its residents. Today, Israel is the paradigm of the right to exist.’” The fatwas were issued “because of his support of Israel” (Israel HaYom, March 24). According to Haaretz (March 24), Allam is “considered a supporter of Israel and has even criticized Iran’s position and its threats against Israel.” His latest book, Viva Israel, “also aroused protests from Muslim organizations.” According to Israel HaYom, “he entitled it thus after he received death threats from Hamas.”
Yediot Ahronot, March 20, 2008
In honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations, the residents of Sardinia are planning to come to visit the Holy Land in their hundreds, encouraged by their local bishop. Catholic officials on the island who met with the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican assured the latter that “the first group of 3000 pilgrims would arrive in Israel close to Independence Day.” The Vatican press also “gave an extraordinary and honored platform to the ambassador’s words. ‘If the Church believes in dialogue and considers that it is a tool which can assist in mutual understanding, then it behooves it to encourage pilgrimage to Israel,” it printed.”
Haaretz, March 18; HaModia, March 21, 2008
Following a survey of the events surrounding the pope’s “conversion prayer,” HaModia (March 21) reported that “this week it was published that the pope has changed his mind and will announce this in a letter to be sent to the Chief Rabbis. Haaretz (March 18) published a similar report, stating that “Jewish and Catholics sources in Rome announced yesterday that Pope Benedict XVI has approved the publication of a declaration of reconciliation to the Jews, following the hurt they suffered in the wake of his decision to renew a mass which calls for their conversion to Christianity. The declaration is due to be announced shortly – perhaps even this week – and will be addressed to the Chief Rabbi of Israel.” At the same time, the first report also noted that, “Jewish and intellectual circles in Italy recently expressed astonishment at the fact that, in contrast to earlier years, the Vatican has not this year published any announcement in honor of January 27, fixed as International Holocaust Day. In failing to do so, it should be noted, the pope has exhibited a lack of sensitivity, especially in light of the fact that he was a member of the Hitler youth in his teens.”
Ma’ariv, March 21, 2008
In a newly-released cassette broadcast by Al-Jazeera, Osama bin Laden has once again threatened Israel. Although the tape’s authenticity has yet to be verified, the voice it contains “calls upon the Palestinians to use fire and iron in order to raise the siege on Gaza and to ‘free Palestine.’ ‘Our enemies did not take Palestine by negotiation or dialogue but by means of fire and iron,’ the voice said, ‘and this is also the way to reclaim it.’”