May 5 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….May 5, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activities, Christians in Israel, Christian Zionism, Christian sites, Jewish-Catholic relations, conversion, and the arts. Of these:

1 dealt with Messianic Jews
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with anti-missionary activities
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
6 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian sites
1 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
2 dealt with conversion
1 dealt with the arts
This week’s review was largely taken up with the Orthodox Easter celebrations. It also featured an article reviewing the right of Messianic Jews to make aliyah under the Law of Return.
Messianic Jews
Jerusalem Post, April 23, 2008
In an article entitled “Court applies Law of Return to Messianic Jews because of fathers,” the Jerusalem Post (April 23) reviewed the recent High Court of Justice “precedent-setting ruling” that “Messianic Jews are entitled to Israeli citizenship according to the Law of Return if their father is Jewish.” While Messianic Jews who are halakhically Jewish (born to a Jewish mother) have been denied the right to citizenship since a land-mark court ruling fifteen years ago, twelve non-Jewish Messianic believers born to Jewish fathers recently won a petition to the court against the Ministry of Interior’s decision to deny them citizenship “because they allegedly engaged in missionary activity.” The Law of Return explicitly grants citizenship rights to “the grandchild of a Jew” – i.e., to a person whose father’s mother was Jewish.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Jerusalem Post, April 25, 28, 2008
In Shmuely Boteach’s latest reflections on Jesus to the Jerusalem Post (April 28), he examined the unlikely fact that Jesus could really not have had any “harsh words for the hated occupiers?” Basing himself on the work of Hyam Maccoby, Boteach queried, “Was it really possible that Jesus, who cast himself in their mold [that of the ancient prophets who spoke out against oppression and injustice], would not criticize the Roman army of occupation? Could it really be that as Pontius Pilate crucified tens of thousands … of Jesus’ fellow countrymen, he would turn his scorn away from the murderous Romans and inveigh instead against the afflicted Jews?’” He also suggested a parallel with Nazi Germany: “If Jesus had lived in Nazi Germany and, during the years of 1940 to 1945, focused his preaching exclusively on matters of faith while ignoring completely the gas chambers and blitzkrieg that was all around him, would we have considered him a righteous leader?” His conclusions – based on his conviction that “Surely a man as great as Jesus would be on the side of the victims rather than of their oppressors, and would never have advocated blindly accepting Roman rule” – is that: “It is for this reason that we have to rethink Jesus’ mission and what he was trying to accomplish … it is time for the world Jewish community to reclaim the Jewish Jesus by understanding his original mission and his great love for his people before his story was later edited by Pauline writers and before he was made into an enemy of the Jews and a friend of the Romans. In my next column on this subject I intend to summarize Maccoby’s conclusions that will, based on the sources, make the real Jesus known not as an enemy of Judaism but as a Jewish patriot who sought to win Jewish independence from Rome, and who was thus cut off mercilessly by Pontius Pilate for his act of rebellion.”

In an opinion piece on “Jimmy Carter’s Christian problem” – which attempts to explain Carter’s political views – Ira Rifkin in the Jerusalem Post (April 25) succinctly summed up the theological background to Carter’s split from the Southern Baptist Convention, to which he attributes the former President’s “indulgence for Hamas and his generally antagonistic attitude toward Israel”: “The historical Jesus was a Jew, which remains an often vexing circumstance for many Christians … Liberal and conservative Christians – like liberal and traditionalist Jews, Muslims and virtually every other religious grouping – tend to emphasize those aspects of scripture with which they are most comfortable. When it comes to the Hebrew Bible – what Christians call the Old Testament – liberal Protestants tend to favor the ethical teachings, which they generally interpret as demanding support for those perceived to be victimized by a fallen and unjust world. Palestinian Arabs have been cast in this role by the liberal churches without their fully considering – and sometimes purposefully obfuscating – the part that Palestinian rejectionism, violence and corruption has played in worsening the Palestinian plight. In contrast, conservatives, and most evangelicals in particular, often give more weight to the Jewish eschatological role, the so-called messianic end times they believe will culminate in Jesus’ triumphant return to Earth. Israel plays a central role in the drama, which is why some traditionalist Protestants become outspoken Christian Zionists. Without a sovereign Israel and the ingathering of the Jews, they believe, there can be no second coming.” Quoting the work of Amy-Jill Levine, a “Jewish New Testament scholar at Nashville’s liberal Protestant Vanderbilt Divinity School, [who] has written extensively on contemporary Christian attitudes towards Jews and Israel,” Rifkin noted that “Christianity’s historical problem with Jesus being a Jew” is “not so much because of what the historical Jesus preached as it was a product of later teachings by the early church leaders who were the Christian religion’s true architects. Their motives included fending off Roman hostility, appealing to gentiles and anger toward the Jewish establishment for rejecting Jesus as the messiah.”
Anti-missionary Activity
BeKehila, April 17, 2008
When Yad L’Achim discovered that Boris Minsky, “one of the dominant ‘preachers’ in the Messianic Jewish ‘community’” was halakhically Jewish, its members initiated a vigorous campaign to return him “to the bosom of Judaism, despite the fact that he was an integral and dominant part of the Messianic Jewish forces of persuasion. After two years of intensive mental warfare, Boris Minsky has returned to Judaism. He and his family have cut off all connection with the Messianic community in which he was active until only a few months ago. Next Saturday night, on Passover eve, Baruch will sit down, for the first time ever, at the Seder table. He will join 45 adults and 79 children whose Jewish souls have been rescued from the missionary ‘vale of tears’ into the light of Judaism by members of Yad L’Achim.”
Christian Zionism
Haaretz, April 25; Yediot Ahronot, April 28, 2008
On a visit to Israel with five hundred of his colleagues from the International Christian Chamber of Commerce, Dale Neill informed Haaretz (April 25) that the ICCC believes that Israel can truly serve its function as a “light to the nations” economically. “‘We say this as businessmen, not on the basis of religious faith. We believe that Israel will be a world economic power and we are here to help that happen … Israel is the most strategic country in the world. Unfortunately, however, she is not always properly represented. Israel must not be perceived as a problem but as a country which shares her knowledge and technology with others, especially with those who are just beginning to develop’” One of the primary reasons for this conviction lies in Israel’s success in transforming itself from an agricultural-based economy to a high-tec State. Neill was here for an ICCC international conference designed to assist the Israeli export business via new agreements and to mediate between Israeli firms and potential investors in such African countries as Benin, Liberia, Ruanda, and Burundi

In a similar interview Gunar Olson gave to Yediot Ahronot (April 28), the ICCC’s chairman explained how the organization was founded: “‘Our mission is to lead businessmen to walk in the omnipotent God’s paths … our commission is based on the premise that an essential contradiction exists between the person who is merely a Christian active in the market arena and the person who brings the laws and governance of the kingdom of God into the marketplace and his activities … the kingdom of God can direct the whole of our personal and business lives.’” In this way, the ICCC, “equipped with these messianic ethics,” emphasizes “the high morals of its members and its diligence in making sure they have clean hands, follow a business ethic, and absolutely avoid any form of corruption.”
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, April 27 (Hebrew and English editions); Jerusalem Post, April 22, 23, 27; Kol HaIr, April 25;
In a page of pictures, Haaretz (April 27, p. 9) noted various activities linked to the Orthodox celebration of Easter this week. On a second page (4), the caption remarked that the “Holy Fire ceremony, which dates back to the 12th century, is part of Orthodox Easter rituals and the flame symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.” A related article in the Jerusalem Post (April 27), cited as from the AP, reported that, “Christians believe that Jesus was crucified and buried where the church [of the Holy Sepulcher] now stands. On the day before Easter, Eastern rite churches mark the holy fire ritual. It honors the belief that a holy fire appears spontaneously from Jesus’ tomb as a message that he has not forgotten his followers … Barricades within the church separated the different Christian groups. Greek worshipers climbed on the side of the tomb as part of their celebration, holding crosses and wearing T-shirts with Jesus pictures on them. Others danced to a tambourine in the church courtyard. Several pilgrims fainted from the shoving and pushing.”

Warnings regarding the dangerous conditions existing in the Holy Sepulcher were raised again this week in relation to the Easter celebrations by experts from the Jerusalem Institute for the Study of Israel at a conference called “Between Church and State” (Kol HaIr, April 25). Attended by various international Christian experts, the call was issued for the prevention of a “massive disaster” by creating a proper emergency exit from the church (see previous Reviews). The reason why such an opening has not been made is dissension between the various Christian groupings responsible for the church – which has also meant that the public toilets in the church have been neglected, due to a row over the location of sewage pipes.

One of the other four natural elements – water – was also the focus of Orthodox celebrations. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (April 23), “Touching the water of deliverance, Eastern Christians follow[ed] in Jesus’ footsteps” at the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus and where, “according to the gospels, after the baptism, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove declared Jesus the son of God.” “The water was everywhere. It filled little bottles to be taken home, it shot out of makeshift showerheads, it filled large tanks. The believers donned white robes embroidered with crosses and Greek letters and showered in the water, they climbed into the large tanks to immerse themselves, they wet their clothes with it. They even drank the murky stuff, despite warnings from Israeli authorities.” Their attendance was enabled in part by a temporary lifting by the IDF of the military curfew in force since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000 (Jerusalem Post, April 22). According to this report, “‘Believers come to the Holy Land for a ‘pilgrim’s baptism,’ said Aristorchus. ‘It is not a baptism that is part of conversion. Rather people are drawn to the Jordan River because it has holy attributes as mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments’ … ‘The blessed water is believed to provide both spiritual and physical healing,’ said Chrysostum.” According to the Jericho Coordination and Liaison Office Director, Israel wants “‘to provide freedom of religious expression at a place considered to be the third-most important holy site for Christians.’”
Christian Sites
Ma’ariv, April 23, 2008
In a piece on Mount Tabor, the travel guide commented that, “Christians recognized its beauty and added a touch of sanctity to it. The New Testament tells about Yeshu who ascended the hill when suddenly, before his disciples’ eyes, his face was transformed and shone like the sun, his garments became white as light, and above him a clear, soft cloud floated which covered them all.”
Jewish-Christian Relations
Jerusalem Post, April 24, 2008
Although Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to the US was, according to Ben Harris in the Jerusalem Post (April 24), “long on symbolism and short on substance,” it also “revealed a pontiff serious about strengthening Catholic-Jewish relations … In encounters with Jewish leaders in both cities [New York and Washington], the pope expressed his goodwill and hopes for continued dialogue while offering greetings for Pesach.” Equally as important as his words was what he did not mention – his decision to revive the Latin mass with its prayer for Jewish conversion on the one hand and an explicit declaration on the other that the “Church is opposed to converting Jews, a step that some Jewish leaders have been seeking. Still, even those who have had harsh words for the Vatican over the issue praised the symbolic value of his attention to the Jewish community.” Benedict specifically met with Jewish leaders separately following a larger interfaith gathering in Washington. At this meeting, he stated: “‘At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. In addressing myself to you, I wish to reaffirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the past 40 years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.’” Despite the Vatican’s efforts to reassure the Jewish community over the “conversion prayer” issue, “some Jewish leaders remain unsatisfied and had hoped that Benedict would finally put the matter to rest. That possibility now seems extremely unlikely, given Benedict’s multiple opportunities to address Jewish concerns in recent days.”
Ma’ariv, April 28; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, April 17, 2008
Two pieces addressed the issue of conversion, one to Judaism and one to Christianity (and back). The first, in Ma’ariv (April 28), was an article on the life of Helena Yegev-Mor, a writer who has just published her second novel, which is largely autobiographical. Helena was born to Finnish puritan Lutheran parents who settled in Israel in 1946 convinced that the end of the world was at hand. The strict upbringing she received did nothing to endear her to Christianity. When she was nineteen, she decided to convert: “‘I had to make a decision about which side I belonged to. I felt that my State was Israel, that I wanted to live here and that I wanted my children to have a clear identity.” It also helped that on her deathbed, her grandmother revealed that she herself was Jewish. “Like the heroes in her story [The Parable of the Fig Tree], Yegev-Mor does not dissociate herself from her past. ‘I read chapters from the Tanakh with my twelve and thirteen year olds every day. We also read from the New Testament, because in my view it is the cradle of western culture. One thing I find difficult to give up is Christmas. I have this weakness – I really love its ritual and celebrations. We celebrate it every year, and my children greatly enjoy it.’”

In the second story, Daniel Asor – an orphan who grew up in a boarding school, became a fighter pilot, and went to the States to make his fortune – became embroiled in Christianity there (HaShavua BiYerushalayim, April 17). Written from the perspective of one who is now an Orthodox rabbi, Asor tells his story as one who has been saved from the “fifty gates of impurity.” Having “made it big” in the States as a pilot and businessman, he was approached by Christians who invited him to a Bible study. The precise identity of these Christians is unclear, since Asor refers both to an evangelical church where he celebrated Passover for the first time in his life, and “priests” – including those who wore “robes” and whom appear to have been Catholics from the references. Asor’s journey back to Judaism came primarily through renewed contact with an Orthodox branch of his family, together with a near-fatal plane crash. When he walked away from the latter miraculously alive and unscathed, his first instinct was to utter the Shema. This, together with other circumstances, ultimately led him back to Israel and Orthodoxy.
Haaretz, April 27, 2008
Zadie Smith has written a book called White Teeth which appears to be the basis for a documentary shown this week on YES TV in Israel. “Knock on the Door” examines the sect of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the review, its broadcast was “puzzling” for several reasons: its esoteric nature and the way in the whitch it presented. “While it is obvious that a documentary can deal with a foreign subject, the film does this in a very sympathetic, almost missionary, fashion.” According to the film, “although they are a Christian sect, they don’t celebrate Christmas or any other festivals, including birthdays, in order not to distract their attention from Yeshu. They also refuse to accept blood transfusions because blood is sacred. That’s also connected in some way to Yeshu’s crucifixion.” One of the two Jehovah’s Witnesses whom the film follows is a Jewish Holocaust survivor – “which appears to constitute the local interest.” The review concludes: “If one insists on learning something here, it’s about the suspicion of the majority towards minorities.”