Caspari Center Media Review………….April 10, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 26 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Jewish-Catholic relations, Christians in Israel, and Jewish-Catholic relations. Of these:
3 dealt with Messianic Jews
5 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
6 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
5 dealt with Christians in Israel
5 dealt with Jewish-Catholic relations
This week’s Review included an interview with David Ortiz, as well as continuing reactions to the “conversion prayer” and other Jewish attitudes towards Christians and Christianity.
Ma’ariv, March 28; BeKehila, April 4; Yediot Petah-Tikva, March 28, 2008
In the continuing coverage of the attack on the Ortiz family (see previous Reviews), Yediot Petah-Tivka (March 28) – the city to whose hospital Amiel was first taken – also devoted a lengthy article to the subject. In line with its headline, “My son was almost killed instead of me,” it opened with a statement by Amiel’s father, David: “Immediately on being informed of the wounding of the 15-year-old youth from Ariel last week as the result of a booby-trapped mishloach manot present delivered to the house, his father knew in his heart that the injuries to the son born to him in his old age were a ‘mistake’ and the ‘wrong address’ … and that the bomb hidden in the package was in fact intended for him and his wife, due to their membership in the congregation of ‘Messianic Jews’ … ‘They didn’t want to kill our son, they wanted to kill me and my wife, and that’s frightening … Whoever left parcel knew that we were meant to be at home and that we would open it. It was only by chance that we went to Jerusalem, without any prior planning.’” The piece was a very personal one, giving detailed information concerning the course of the events and the family’s response. It also included a sidebar, entitled “Controversial cult,” evidently culled from some of the sources quoted previously in the national press.
In his column reviewing cultural events in Israel in Ma’ariv (March 28), Menachem Ben responded very fiercely to the incident in Ariel: “The explosive device which was sent to the house of the Messianic Jews in Ariel and exploded in the face of their fifteen-year-old son is not only a criminal abomination but also a cultural crime against spirituality, faith-belief in God, and the New Testament (a really superb book, hugely interesting, even if it doesn’t match up to the Tanakh) – not to speak of the gross violation of the freedom of religion in Israel, apparently guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence. You don’t have to believe in Yeshu as the Messiah (and I truly don’t) in order to be disgusted and pained by this awful attack (the youth lost two toes). What would these terrorists send to Pinchas Sadeh [an Israeli poet/author] or Yona Volk if they confessed their love for Yeshu? (Volk: ‘My sweet Jesus/ continue to be human and forgiving/ despite everything’). By the way, why don’t I believe in Yeshu as the Messiah? Because according to Isaiah 11 (‘and the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid’), the only proof for the Messiah’s coming is that the world will be redeemed and become a paradise. Just look around you.”
The religious paper BeKehila (April 3) devoted an eight-page article to the “Mission capital,” sending a reporter and camera man to Ariel to investigate “in the wake of the booby-trapped mishloach manot,” how “thousands of years after Elijah the prophet’s fight against Jezebel’s prophets of Baal, the struggle has returned to the hills of Samaria.” The piece opens with the pair’s arrival at the scene of the attack: “The three-storied building in the center of Ariel appears quiet. Only a sharp eye can discern the cameras installed on the roof capturing every moment … Our camera man, Ezra Landau, prepares his camera to shoot a picture of the house and suddenly, out of nowhere, a small silver car appears out of which several guys jump out. They quickly approach us, present police badges, and ask us to identify ourselves. Only after they’ve turned over my journalist’s papers thoroughly are they convinced that we’re merely a pair of reporters and not a couple of Orthodox ‘terrorists’ planning to continue to attack the house’s inhabitants. ‘So what, is this story of interest to the Orthodox?,’ asks one of the plain clothes men. I shrug my shoulders, but he’s insistent. ‘Do you have any idea who did this?’ We evade giving an answer and leave. It turns out that the police are endeavoring to turn over every stone in order to find a thread that might lead them to whoever lies behind the sending of the ‘explosive’ mishloach manot which was apparently not sent here accidentally.”
According to this report, “Several minutes after the explosion occurred, the police’s working theory was that it was a nationalistic attack. Large police and sapper forces surrounded the house and patrols were sent out to the nearby Arab villages. With time, when the injured family’s identity was established, the police understood that they were facing an escalation in the unceasing struggle against the missionary sect whose members operate openly in Ariel. The accusatory finger in the general press was automatically pointed at Orthodox organizations working against the mission, such as ‘Yad L’Achim’ – despite the fierce denial of its members and the fact that the police didn’t even turn to the organization with questions or as part of their investigation. In fact, as our report revealed, it was most probably a local initiative that beneath the surface is the incredible story of the Messianic missionary organization which exists in Ariel, which has become the center of mission in Israel with the outspoken support of the enthusiastic Mayor, Ron Nachman, who is embracing the members of the sect with open arms in return for hundreds of millions [of dollars] which are streaming into the public coffer. The story presented here is unbelievable. Until one sees what’s happening with one’s own eyes, it’s difficult to believe – how, in the State of Israel, in a Jewish city, situated in the settlement hills of Samaria, a group of devout missionaries is operating openly, backed with an abundance of funds from Christian organizations in the States, soul hunters of innocent and impoverished Jews – and all with the warm and sympathetic support of the local authority.”
The article continued with a review of the composition of Ariel’s residents, apparently with the intent of indicating that the growth of the “mission” was somehow linked to the fact that out of the city’s 17,000 inhabitants, many Arab students, residents of neighboring Arab villages, study at the College; more than half the population is from the former Soviet Union, “whose Judaism, perhaps, is under severe doubt”; and that seven shops in the city sell pork. All these groups are distinguished from the “‘ordinary’ Israelis, most of whom are secular, a minority religious.” In addition to the “Christian community,” which numbers around 800, “in recent years members of an evangelical sect have established a congregation in Ariel, numbering around 50 families, whose whole purpose is missionary work, the hunting of Jewish souls, and their conversion.” In reporting the Mayor’s attempt to downplay any “missionary activity” in the city, the piece indicated that Nachman’s move was directly motivated by the fact that the “evangelicals” are closely associated with the American Christian Zionists from whom Ariel receives millions of dollars annually. A city council member, Moti Lentziano, was quoted as saying that Nachman has made a point of becoming “buddies” with the Christian group since 2005. While the former was initially convinced that these were merely “‘innocent American citizens who had come to live in Israel’” – “‘they were very nice and smiled a lot’” – when he looked into the matter further he realized “‘their true intentions and I then began a war against the Mayor … At every [council] meeting, he repeatedly declared that we must bring lots of Christian pilgrims to Ariel because they contribute vast sums of money. He’s even established a hotel in the suburbs which only accommodates Christians.’” Lentziano also claimed that the first “Christian-Messianic families” to move to Ariel did so twenty years ago. One of them was a neighbor of his, who wore a kippa [yarmulke]. When Lentziano saw him driving on shabbat one week, he was certain that it was a matter of life or death (pikuach nefesh). When he asked him, however, the person maintained that it was a case of mistaken identity. Lentziano also asserted that a travel agency established by “members of the mission in Ariel” sent children free of charge on visits to the States. “‘This innocent trip in effect turns into a brainwashing voyage. For example, they make sure that each child stays alone with a specific family. Never are two children put together with the same family, so that they can deliver their message without disturbance. They distributed the New Testament to the children during the trip.’” Even though not religious himself, Lentziano was “very surprised when I heard about the attack. It’s definitely not members of ‘Yad L’Achim,’ who only operate according to the law …’” Like others, he too regards the “niceness” of Messianic Jews as a negative rather than a positive trait: “‘Generally, they’re very nice. Their niceness is their weapon. They’re educated from youth never to get angry, in any situation. They throw smiles to every corner and it’s hard to find such nice people like them amongst Israelis. These things buy people and they fall into their trap.’” In contrast, the primarily Russian Christian community in the city does not entice people: “‘They live their lives and don’t try to attract people to themselves.’”
In a sidebar entitled “Jews and Muslims in common fight,” the article noted that “while the members of the [Messianic] community accuse the Orthodox of violence and scheming, in actual fact it is the members of the sect who are arrested and judged and given sentences on probation due to violence … Not only is the Jewish public disgusted by the sect but the Muslim community is also” – quoting David Ortiz’s comments about his work in the Arab villages. In another box, the paper posed several questions directly to Ron Nachman concerning the activities of the “missionary sect” in Ariel. According to the report, Nachman declined to address the questions, preferring to send his own response. This included the comment: “‘It should be remembered that none of the good Jewish organizations in the world support Israeli settlements over the Green Line – in contrast to the President of the United States, for example, and tens of millions of Christians who support the State of Israel and love it and Ariel, as well as other settlements and institutions in the country. Ariel is one of the names of Jerusalem and isn’t different from Jerusalem, where many non-Jews and Christians also live. No one addresses such questions to the Mayor of Jerusalem.’” [For the public demonstration against John Hagee’s upcoming visit to the city, see the articles under Anti-missionary Activity.] Attitudes towards Christianity
Jerusalem Post, April 1, 7; Calcalist, April 6; Haaretz, April 3 (Hebrew and English editions), 2008
According to a report in Haaretz (March 3; Hebrew and English editions), Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, has come out clearly against the possibility of any Jewish cooperation with Christian Zionists: “In his speech last night [at the annual conference of the Reform movement’s rabbis and cantors in Cincinnati, Ohio] … Yoffie declared that an alliance with Christian Zionists must be rejected for the sake of Israel. Christian Zionist support for Israel is harmful, he said. It’s not ‘unconditional support for the Jewish state,’ but rather support for certain leaders, certain parties, for a political agenda that is unacceptable to Yoffie and, he believes, to a majority of Israelis. The Evangelicals reject a two-state solution and oppose Israeli territorial concessions, and for that reason the Reform Movement cannot cooperate with them.” It is this political aspect which prevents an alliance; Yoffie apparently does not reject dialogue with Christian Zionists who do not hold such political views.
Under the title, “Would Jesus want to convert the Jews?” Shmuely Boteach took a similar stance in an opinion piece published in the Jerusalem Post on April 1 – this time in response to a full page ad taken out in the New York Times by the World Evangelical Alliance which represents “hundreds of evangelical Churches, organizations, and leaders, some being among the most prominent in the country – affirming their intention to proselytize Jews. The ad said, ‘The most loving and Scriptural expression of our friendship towards Jewish people, and to anyone we call friend, is to forthrightly share the love of G-d in the person of Jesus Christ … We recognize that it is good and right for those with specialized knowledge, history, and skills to use these gifts to introduce individuals to the Messiah, and that includes those ministries specifically directed to the Jewish people.’” To this Boteach naturally took exception – quoting Jesus himself to back up his argument: “The time has come for them [Christians/evangelicals] to once and for all declare their reciprocity by refraining from ever directly targeting Jews for conversion. This is what Jesus would want and says so with ferocious directness, going so far as to condemn all who attempt to pry Jews away from Judaism: ‘Whoever goes against the smallest of the laws of Moses, teaching men to do the same, will be named least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who keeps the Law of Moses, teaching others to keep them, will be named great in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:19).” He then continued with a list of reasons why “proselytizing Jews is a bad idea” for Christians: “It’s bad for Christianity because it betrays the tragic fact that after thousands of years of persecuting Jews, many Christians still have not evolved enough to respect the Jewish faith. It’s bad for Christians because if they reject the Jewishness of Jesus they will never fully understand his teachings or his life … Time magazine recently identified the new effort by scholars to re-Judaize Jesus as one of the most important new ideas in the world. Using public forums to teach our Christian brothers and sisters of the essential Jewish nature of Jesus and his teachings is vital to a renewed relationship. Jesus was a Pharisaic Rabbi. Everything he taught and lived was based on the Torah and the Talmud … Jesus’ mission was to renew Jewish attachment to the Torah in a time when the threads of tradition were being unwoven due to the oppressive hand of the occupying Roman beast.” His conclusion: “Rather than worrying who needs to be converted to get into heaven, Christians and Jews should join together to create heaven here on earth.”
In a letter printed in response to the above article, Jacques Tolub from Ra’anana, wrote: “It is an error to persuade a Jew to become a Christian, or vice versa – a violation of conscience. Welcome, yes, to those who come, but only spontaneously. Each religion is, theoretically, loving, generous and fraternal. But what is done in the name of religion is often dreadful.”
In an article in the Calcalist (April 4) devoted to the attitude towards idleness in the major institutional religions – “Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucionism; our apologies to the Bahai, Sikhs, pagans, Rastafarians, and Hari Krishna” – the section on Christianity read as follows: “But why blame the Jews when we can blame the Christians? It is they who brought us what is commonly known as the Protestant work ethic – the concept that lauds hard work and the accumulation of wealth as holy labor, an ethical concept which integrated well into the capitalist economic system and also brainwashed good and idle Jews. Idleness (Acedia, Sloth) was already considered one of the seven cardinal sins in early Christianity. ‘These aren’t sins for which you are punished but which lead to the destruction of the soul,’ says Prof. Aviad Kleinberg, a lecturer in the Department of General History at Tel Aviv University and the author of The Seven Sins (2007). ‘The sin of sloth has two aspects. The first is the concrete one – the avoidance of work or from commitments in order to engage in more pleasurable things. The second is idleness in the spiritual sense – despair, a sense that there’s no point doing anything. God is a very hard boss – He punishes, He postpones payment; but one cannot on that account despair and stop serving/worshipping Him.’ At least from the perspective of the Catholics, labor isn’t perceived in economic terms. But then the Protestants arrived and everything got distorted. Martin Luther, a German priest who was born in the fifteenth century and was one of the founders of Protestantism saw in physical work a way to serve God. He also believed that every person is born to a specific profession, which he is forbidden to change (the way to hell is paved with professional seats). In the sixteenth century, John Calvin – a French theologian and father of the Calvinist movement – joined him. The wicked Calvin claimed that some people are predestined – those who will get to heaven – and one of the ways to know you are one of them is material success. ‘One of the revolutions of the Protestant world was the attribution of a far greater role to economic work and the accumulation of wealth as a religious act,’ says Kleinberg. ‘Material success was considered a way to measure God’s blessing, and everyone was expected to work hard in order to make his soul fit. What started out as a means turned into an end in the modern capitalist world: you don’t make money in order to serve God but in order to make money for its own sake; and not necessarily with your own hard labor but also by exploiting the hard work of others.’” Under a subsection entitled, “But boss, I’m not being idle/lazy, I’m just strengthening myself,” the author compared the trend in Orthodox Judaism towards integrating religious faith with internet technology to “fundamentalist Christians in the States [who] have already being using the net as territory for netting believers. And that’s far funnier than it sounds: the Christian sites will help you spend many hours in religious transcendence rather than earthly labor.” Recommending such sites as Godtube, The Brick Testament, God Hates Figs, and Betty Bowers, the author concludes: “Try it and be redeemed.”
Mishpaha, April 4; Yediot Yerushalayim, April 4; Yated Ne’eman, April 3; HaModia, April 3 pp. 3, 6; BeKehila, April 3, 2008
Under the headline, “Today: Protest demonstration against visit of chief evangelical pastor who runs a missionary congregation in Ariel, BeKehila (April 3) reported on the occurrence of a large demonstration in Ariel protesting the Mayor’s “giving gross leeway to members of the mission in his city to do whatever they wish”. Long-scheduled, the demonstration focused on the visit of John Hagee, together with 160 other “priests” – a trip “coming after a donation of four million dollars which Hagee contributed to the municipal sports center. In exchange, his name will be inscribed on a huge sign on the roof of the sports center in red letters at a great height.” All Ariel’s residents have been invited to the ceremony, at which a Christian orchestra will play, following which the “priest will deliver his pearls to the city’s residents.” According to the report – which referred its readers to the extensive article in the same paper on the same day – “All this [missionary] activity is funded by members of the evangelical sect in the United States, in line with their belief that the ‘redemption’ will come when they’ve succeeded in capturing more and more Jewish souls from within the Jewish people and converting them [to Christianity].”
More anti-Christian Zionist activity was reported in HaModia (April 3, p. 3) and Yated Ne’eman (April 3). Both papers ran the story of Lev L’Achim’s intention to prevent the occurrence of a “huge missionary conference called the ‘Epicenter Conference’ due to take place next week at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. Evangelical Christians and Messianic Jews have joined forces to organize the conference, which is bringing 3000 guests from all over the world … It is in effect a conference of numerous missionary organizations operating in Israel for the express purpose of converting Jews, may God have mercy.” The report in Yated Ne’eman identified the bodies involved as the Joshua Fund, the MJAA, the Joseph Project, and others, claiming that they all work to distribute funds to the needy in Israel. It further stated that, “various public figures scheduled to attend the missionary conference have cancelled their participation following appeals from ‘Lev L’Achim’ members. Likewise, the ‘Lev L’Achim’ organization has appealed to the administration of the International Convention Center and the Mayor of Jerusalem with a request that the missionary conference not be held and not to aid and abet those seeking to convert Jews, God have mercy.” According to a piece in Mishpaha (April 3), Lev L’Achim, which “conducts an intensive war against these ‘Jews,’ appealed this week by letter to [Bibi] Netanyahu [one of the invited speakers] with a request not to participate in the conference … ‘The main speakers at this event are priests and members of the “Messianic Jews” sect,’ writes Ze’ev Stieglitz, one of the leaders of the fight against sects in the framework of ‘Lev L’Achim.’ ‘Therefore we have turned to your honor with the appeal, Please do not attend this conference. To associate yourself with those who are called within the Jewish people “meshumadim [apostates], traitors, converts to Christianity,” who operate as a fifth column to convert Jews [to Christianity] in Eretz Israel will not bring you honor.’” In addition, Lev L’Achim also issued a warning concerning missionary activity in the run-up to Pessach: “In recent years we have been witness to a wave of donations – whether food or money – from missionary organizations which pull the weak and needy to convert their faith in exchange for assistance. Unfortunately, their hold is increasingly strengthening as they receive funds from the Welfare Ministry of the State of Israel …”
The Ministry of Justice recently issued an opinion recommending that the Minister of Justice disregard the proposal of an anti-missionary bill by Yad L’Achim (HaModia, April 3, p. 6): “‘To the extent that the phenomenon of missionary activity is increasing and threatening, criminal justice is not the appropriate instrument to deal with it. It would appear that educational and propaganda activity constitutes the proper and most effective means.’ These words conclude the opinion prepared by the office of the Minister of Justice, Prof. Daniel Friedman, by lawyer Ravid Dekel from the Department of Counsel and Constitution in the Ministry of Justice. This opinion calls the Minister to oppose the proposal of a bill prepared by the legal staff of the organization ‘Yad L’Achim’ and presented by MK Ya’akov Margi (Shas)” (see last week’s Review). The latter bill asks for the addition to the existing law of the clause: “A person trying to persuade someone, by direct address, to convert his religion – his sentence should be six months’ imprisonment.” Likewise, “The person who holds a conversion ceremony of another person or takes any other action in order to bring another person to change his religion when such a change is a result of preaching and/or persuasion – his punishment should be six months’ imprisonment.” In response to the Ministry of Justice’s move, Yad L’Achim’s director wrote Daniel Friedman a letter stating: “‘Just as the lawmaker knows how to pass various laws against the enemies of our people with respect to the safety, security, and future of the Jewish people, so the lawmaker should also pass laws against the enemies of our people, the missionaries, who seeks to destroy all remnant and memory of the Jewish people and to convert them to Christianity. There is no doubt that if the security forces were aware of bodies concretely enticing and injuring the State through their words/actions they would certainly prevent them by the power of the law, and wouldn’t heed the freedom of expression – so too, in our opinion, should the attitude be towards the attacks of the mission against Jews and the national Jewish soul.’” He further added, with respect to the reference to education and propaganda, that, “‘In a State in which members of different religions live and which contains sites sacred to all the religions, educational and propaganda means are insufficient. [Missionary activity] must be countered by means of the law, in order to prevent conflicts between members of all the religions. In this way, a member of one religion will not be able to influence a member of another religion to change his faith. In our opinion, the formulation of a law in this spirit contains no religious or inter-religious discrimination.’” Lipschitz appended to his personal letter to Friedman a bill originally presented to the Knesset six years ago by Shinui leader Tommy Lapid, “who also saw in the missionaries a disaster and sought to put a legal stop to their destructive activity.” At the time of printing, the Minister had not responded to the letter.
According to a report in Yediot Yerushalayim (April 4), another legal move was put in motion this week through an appeal to the National Committee not to “approve the change of purpose of a residential building in the [Jerusalem] neighborhood of Rechavia to that of an institution. The reason: the claim that a Messianic group is seeking to base its activities in the premises, which will lead to riots.” The appeal was presented by local councilmen Yair Gabbai, Meir Turgeman, and Yosef Deutsch, and requests that the local council decision to “approve the building plan of ‘Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry”’ be overturned.
Jerusalem Post, April 7; Yediot Yerushalayim, April 4, 2008
Under the headline, “Netanyahu calls Christian Zionists Israel’s best friends,” the Jerusalem Post (April 7) reported that in a speech at a meeting in Jerusalem this week organized by John Hagee, which brought 1,000 Israel supporters to the country, Netanyahu stated: “‘This is a friendship of the heart, a friendship of common roots, and a friendship of common civilization.’” Benny Elon also lauded the pastor while denouncing Eric Yoffie’s “politically based remarks” as “‘shameful’”: “‘You are the right man in the right place in the right time,’ Elon said Friday at a book launch of Hagee’s book In Defense of Israel, which has now been translated into Hebrew. Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin called the burgeoning ties between Israel and the evangelical world ‘one of the most important things,’ after close to 2,000 years of enmity[,] persecution and pogroms. ‘What we have to understand is that the Christianity of persecution and intolerance and Jew-hatred is not the Christianity of Pastor Hagee and most evangelists today,’ Riskin said. He called the rapprochement between Christians and Jews ‘one of the miracles’ of the 20th century.”
According to Yediot Yerushalayim (April 4), Hagee and his wife have contributed four million dollars towards the completion of a home for autistic children in Gilo. The couple arrived in the country this week and will attend the dedication ceremony. They were also accompanied by 600 members of their congregation who have come to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.
Christians in Israel
Yediot HaEmek, March 28, pp. 48, 62; Tzafon-1, April 4; Haaretz, April 7, 2008
While initially a subject for “Christian Zionism,” the establishment of the Christian resort center on the top of the Mount of Beatitudes has now also become a matter of “Christians in Israel.” A lengthy article in Yediot HaEmek (March 28, p. 62) reported that the construction workers have left behind a “large pile of rubbish” which is spoiling the landscape and interfering with the view afforded guests in neighboring facilities. According to the piece, “Domus Galilea – or Beit HaGalil in Hebrew” is a Neo-Catholic project, a Christian denomination “which sets its purpose as bringing rapprochement between Jews and Christians. This is a trend which primarily exists in Protestant Christianity, and it is quite rare to find it under the wings of the Catholic Church.” (For the project, see previous Reviews.) Unfortunately, the reality does not quite come up to the ideal: “While the intention of the founders of ‘Domus Galilea’ may have been to draw Jews and Christians closer together, of this moment their Jewish neighbors aren’t very happy with what’s happening there. The complaints aren’t against the beautiful building or the activity conducted there, but against the fact that its founders haven’t bothered to remove the rubbish which accrued from the construction work. We’re talking about a huge pile of rubbish which was thrown from the west side of this religious building, right opposite the cabins of Vered HaGalil guest house.” When the guest house owners turned to Domus Galilea with a request to solve the problem, despite the customary courtesy always extended, the answer they received was that “‘they would deal with the matter – but nothing’s moved.’” The official response from Domus Galilea was: “‘It’s not nice for us either to see this pile, but you have to understand that the work was going on until recently and each time new rubbish was added. At the moment we’re right in the middle of preparations for a big ceremony which will be held here with guests from all over the world. This means that this week we shan’t be able to deal with the matter. But I promise that afterwards we’ll remove the rubbish as quickly as we can.’”
In honor of Easter, the organization “Sons of the Savior [b’nei ha-moshia]” hosted the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs this week in the hall of the Catholic Church in Yassif. Although the brief report in Tzafon-1 (April 4) did not specify the exact nature of the organization, it reported that the Minister, Yitzhak Herzog, “blessed those present and the religious officials and noted the importance of the organization’s social work.”
Two stories concerning non-Jewish soldiers serving in the IDF appeared in this week’s press. The first, printed in Haaretz (April 7; Hebrew and English editions) concerned a group of “ethnic Russians” – i.e., Pravoslavs – living in Israel who are the target of a conversion campaign. One of those opposed to this trend was bold enough to define it as “spiritual genocide”: “‘Mass conversion programs for [Russian] immigrants are a form of collective rape. True, there is no inquisition here, but there is brainwashing. It’s like resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by converting the Arabs; instead of transfer, conversion. The Russians see the thing as a serious affront, and the affront they endure here makes it to Russia, too. There have been calls there to use the same criteria accepted here, and to make Jews’ advancement conditional on conversion to Catholicism … I really think the IDF should have a Pravoslavic priest appointed alongside the chief military chaplain; every army in the world has diverse religious services … I think the time has really come to formalize this position and stop the conversion of IDF soldiers. After all, it’s clear that the groups of neo-Nazis are a result of the conversion system … This entire conversion system is one giant fraud … to the victims, they stress primarily that this will strengthen their ties to the state, and they don’t always realize that when converting, they are also abandoning Jesus …’”
The second article, which appeared in Yediot HaEmek (March 28, p. 48), described the case of Nir Ruashda (19), a Christian Arab from Nazareth Elit, who elected to serve in the IDF in a combat unity. According to the report, Nir’s dream from the age of fifteen was to enlist and to serve in a combat engineering unit. This week he finished his basic training. Before entering the unit, he changed his name from Nimar to Nir: “‘All my life I’ve lived amongst Jewish and Arab friends together. I don’t feel different from any one else. That’s the way it was in high school and that’s how it’s been in basic training. When the soldiers I serve with and the commanders were told that I’m an Arab, no one was surprised. Nobody asked questions and turned round in astonishment. They treated me like any other soldier. I don’t think they should have treated me differently either.’” Ruashda is in fact following a family tradition, something which presumably influenced his decision. According to his father, “‘My brothers and other members of the family served in the IDF and the security forces. It’s a natural thing for a citizen of Israel to serve in the army and it doesn’t matter if he’s a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew and or Beduin. In my time, when I was Nir’s age, I wanted to serve but my family objected because then they saw things differently. Later, when my younger brothers reached army age, it was already easier for them to serve.’” Both parents brought up their children to love the country: “‘They receive and have received everything from the State – education and other rights, so they also need to give what they can to the State.’” According to the report, “Ruashda sees his future in the security forces, the army, or the police force.”
Haaretz, April 1 (Hebrew and English editions), 4; Jerusalem Post, April 7 (x 2), 2008
Haaretz (April 1) reported this week that the “Vatican is expected to issue a statement next week in which the Catholic Church will make it clear that the resumption of the use of an old Latin prayer by Pope Benedict XVI during mass on Easter Sunday is not an attempt to call on Jews to convert, or a sign that the church intends to initiate missionary efforts among Jews … The Chief Rabbinate of Italy, as well as the leadership of German Jewry, announced that they are cutting off ties with the Catholic Church until the wording of the prayer was changed.” Several days later, the Jerusalem Post (April 7) printed an article stating that the Vatican had indeed “issued the assurances Friday, shortly before Pope Benedict XVI begins a visit to the United States that includes a stop at a synagogue in New York … The revised prayer does remove some key words that Jews found particularly offensive in the earlier version, including a reference to what it called their ‘blindness’ and the need to ‘remove the veil from their hearts.’ The Vatican statement said it wanted to reassure Jews that the new formulation of the prayer ‘in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church’s regard for the Jews’ that has evolved from the Second Vatican Council and its Notra Aetate (In Our Times) document. That, it said, sustains ‘the bonds of esteem, dialogue, love[,] solidarity and collaboration between Catholics and Jews.’ It said the document recalled the ‘unique bond’ linking Christians and Jews, and rejects ‘every attitude of contempt or discrimination against Jews, firmly repudiating any kind of anti-Semitism.’”
Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Park East Synagogue – a modern Orthodox congregation – when he visits the States for the first time this month. According to the Jerusalem Post (April 7), this “will be the first visit by a pope to a synagogue in the United States and Benedict’s second as pontiff to a Jewish house of worship. On his first papal trip abroad in 2005, Benedict entered a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, that had been destroyed by the Nazis.” This visit will perhaps be the more memorable for the fact that Park East Synagogue’s Rabbi, Arthur Schneier (78), is a Holocaust survivor from Austria, whose native tongue is German. “The rabbi said sharing the war experience with the pope brings the two men closer. ‘When you emerge from that kind of tragedy with all the human lives lost,’ he said, ‘it does something in terms of shaping your outlook and what you need to do to make sure that this becomes a better world and we don’t repeat the mistakes of history’ … When the pope and his Vatican entourage arrive in the late afternoon [on the eve of Passover] at ‘my home’ – as the rabbi calls the synagogue – they’ll be welcomed in the main sanctuary by children of the Park East Day School and synagogue officials. In what Schneier called ‘one significant, symbolic act,’ the rabbi and the pope are to sit side by side as greetings are exchanged and psalms are chanted in Hebrew.” According to Monsignor David Malloy, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “‘By this personal and informal visit, which is not part of his official program, His Holiness wishes to express his good will towards the local Jewish community as they prepare for Passover.’” The pope is also scheduled to meet with Jews and representatives of other faiths in Washington.