Caspari Center Media Review………….May 19, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, attitudes towards Christianity, Christian Zionism, Christian sites and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:
8 dealt with Messianic Jews
4 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with Christian sites
1 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 was a book review
In the run up to the World Bible Quiz held annually on Independence day, this week’s review focused largely on the controversy caused by the participation of Bat-El Levi, a Messianic believer.
Jerusalem Post, May 1; Ma’ariv, April 29, May 1, 4; BeSheva, May 1; Shavuon, May 1; Israel HaYom, May 4; BeKehila, April 1, 2008
The local Messianic community is privileged to have the honor of being represented in this year’s World Bible Quiz by Bat-El Levi, the daughter of Ruti and Yitzchak Levi, who live in the settlement of Adam. According to the report in the Jerusalem Post (May 1), Bat-El, an eleventh-grade student in a state school in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev, “won this year’s national bible quiz for state schools and will be one of four finalists from Israel competing for the International Bible Quiz Championship on Independence Day.” This event made the news because an anonymous caller tipped off her identity to Yad L’Achim. The organization immediately took action to stop her participation, contacting Orthodox and National Religious Rabbis with a call to forbid their students to take part in the Quiz if Bat-El is allowed to participate (see Jerusalem Post, May 1; Ma’ariv, April 29, May 1; Shavuon, May 1; Israel HaYom, May 4; BeKehila, May 1; BeSheva, May 1). Those Rabbis who responded to the call have further suggested holding an alternative Bible Quiz open only to religious students. Yad L’Achim are also planning to hold a mass demonstration outside the theater to “protest against the scandal” (BeKehila, May 1; Ma’ariv, May 1).
According to all these reports, the reasons for the religious protest ire were that that “‘the missionaries will draw great encouragement from the fact that one of the members of the Messianic-Christian community has won the national Quiz and has a chance of being the World Bible Quiz winner’” and that the Bible Quiz is designed for “Jewish youth” and “‘members of the ‘Messianic Jewish’ sect are not recognized as Jews.’” (With respect to the first “accusation,” it was also noted that in the national finals Bat-El “also beat some of the participants from religious schools” [Ma’ariv, April 29].) As the reporter for BeSheva noted, the religious community and Yad L’Achim are presenting the event as one planned in advance: “‘This is their new and abominable form of deceiving innocent Jews and to make it clear to them that you can be Jewish – and even a prominent Jew – at the same time as believing in that man and following his ways, God have mercy. As if this wasn’t enough, the missionaries are even likely to use the ‘Bible Queen’ for mass operations amongst the youth, activity which is liable to bring about disaster.’” Yad L’Achim’s Director stated: “‘They’ve taken a missionary girl from the Messianic Jews and she’s likely to win the Bible Quiz or come second. By getting publicity in this way as the ‘Bible Queen’ they will enter [Jewish/Israeli] consciousness as if they are Jews. It’s simply an exploitation to entice Jews to Christianity.’” Or in the words of Rabbi Aviner, “‘It’s not just a Christian girl, it’s a missionary girl. Once they held crusades in order to bring Jews closer to Christianity; now they’re operating in different ways.’”
While MK Meir Porush is pushing the Ministry of Education – which is partially responsible for the event – to disqualify Bat-El from the competition on the grounds that the Bible Quiz will become “‘a lever for conversion,” the Ministry of Education examined the religious claim that only Jews are allowed to compete and arrived at the legal conclusion that “‘the student [Bat-El] is Jewish and cannot be disqualified from the Quiz’” (Ma’ariv, May 1). The BeSheva reporter (May 1) also noted that at least three other leading contenders were unaware of the controversy. One of them is a student at a yeshiva in Beersheva, whose head was quoted as stating: “‘Our yeshiva network respects the legal decision of the Ministry of Education to hold the Bible Quiz as scheduled. There is no more symbolic day in our State than Independence Day, on which to emphasize the commitment and legitimacy that the citizens give to its laws.’” Bat-El’s father was quoted in Ma’ariv (April 29) as saying that, “‘If anyone tries to stop my daughter participating I believe that God will repay them. I’m a godfearing person who believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and in all the prophets.’” Calev Myers, “founder and chief counsel of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, an advocacy group that represents members of the Messianic community, said that the rabbi’s call to boycott the quiz was a show of weakness. ‘If the participation of a Messianic Jewish lady is enough to shake up those rabbis’ world, it shows the weakness of that world,’ said Myers. ‘Why should they have a problem with a young woman who knows how to quote from the Bible?’” (Jerusalem Post, May 1).
In a very “anti-missionary” tone, Menahem Ben contributed an opinion piece to Ma’ariv (May 4) on the subject. He linked it first and foremost to the fact that the Quiz is held very close to Holocaust Day, “which marks the darkest and most awful racism and hatred of all.” Precisely on that day, “the ugliest information reached us of well-known hatred precisely of the Orthodox Jewish kind: radical groups, with Yad L’Achim at their head … are pressuring their friends to boycott the World Bible Quiz for Jewish Youth if the girl Bat-El Levi, who belongs to a Messianic Jewish family, is allowed to participate.” He then associated this act with the explosive device sent to the Ortiz family in Ariel (see previous Reviews), further recalling the problems the congregation in Beersheva is experiencing with Orthodox elements. In this respect, he stated quite categorically that, “Even if ‘Yad L’Achim’ itself isn’t directly involved in the matter, there’s no doubt that it is largely responsible for the attack and the various pogramniks are nurtured by its inspiration.” Ben also considered that the Ministry of Education should have taken stronger action. In his opinion, it should also have denounced the very attempt of the Orthodox “to stain, to boycott, to shame an Israeli girl … who studies in an Israeli state school … who won all the former rounds with distinction” He further noted that while in recent years the Quiz has become restricted to “Jewish youth,” at its inception it was designed for all “Bible lovers from every race and religion – as befits our world Book of Books, which is admired by billions all over the world.” He also pointed out a possible source of threat behind the Orthodox objection to Bat-El’s participation: “It’s worth remembering, by the way, that the Orthodox yeshivas – in contrast to the national-religious ones – completely neglect study of the Bible in favor of the Talmud, and that the level of Bible proficiency amongst these yeshiva students is extremely low. To study the Bible in its plain sense – God forbid! It contains too many sins and offences to which the delicate students shouldn’t be exposed. But to learn to hate and cause others to hate and to boycott by way of appealing in the name of the Bible and the Bible Quiz – that they can do.”
As with the reports on the attack on the Ortiz family last month, Ma’ariv (April 29) also contained a sidebar giving “background: Messianics.” This was largely a quote from a member of the Messianic movement, related to the Levi family: “‘As Messianic believers we see ourselves as part of the Jewish people. We are Jews both according to birth – we were born within the Jewish community – and according to our faith. We accept all of Scripture, observe all the Jewish feasts, only in addition we also believe in the New Testament and consider Yeshua the son of David to be the Messiah of Israel.” The author added his own comments, to the effect that, “It should be noted that members of the community take care to call the Christian Messiah by his full name, Yeshua, and explain 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.’ He [the relative] also explained that many Messianic Jews define themselves as great Zionists, serve in the army and aspire to receive recognition as a legitimate stream of Judaism. According to him, they are careful to keep Shabbat – apart from using a car to get to the service – circumcise their children, fast on the Day of Atonement, and keep kashrut and the purity laws according to their own understanding. Most of them do not celebrate the Christian holidays, except for Christmas. They claim that over the years they have been persecuted by the rabbinic establishment – persecution which reached its peak a month ago with the wounding of a youth from the congregation in Ariel …”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Haaretz, May 2, pp. 12, 40; Kok HaZman, May 2; Israel HaYom, May 4, 2008
In a discussion concerning the dates of various national and religious Jewish holidays, Michael Handelzatz in Haaretz (May 2, 12) recalled how the Jewish calendar differs from the Christian one: “About 3,760 years after the creation of the world according to the Christian calendar (plus or minus three years) a Jewish baby by the name of Yeshua was born in Bethlehem. When he was in his thirties, after the Passover Seder (which since then has come to be known as the ‘Last Supper’), he was arrested, tried, and crucified. Three days after he was buried he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Since then, Christians have marked resurrection day as the day known as Easter. Because the origin of the date of Easter is linked to the date of Passover but Christians count their years from the birth of their Lord (the same Yeshua) and their months according to the earth’s movement around the sun, a need was created to calculate in advance when Easter would fall …”
The same paper (p. 40) devoted a lengthy article to Simcha Jacobovici, the director of the documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” During the course of the interview, the interviewer asked Jacobovici, the son of Holocaust survivors, “How does a religious Jew wearing a yarmulke and tzitziot [fringes] make a film about Yeshu?” The answer Jacobovici gave was this: “‘I’ve been asked that question many times, but in my eyes there’s no contradiction. In contrast to Jews who say, “He’s theirs [the Christians’],” I know that he’s ours.’” The article contains some further facts concerning the film’s production and reception. It cost four million dollars to produce and was three years in the making. While in Chile there were public demonstrations against its screening and it was banned in Italy, the British bought the film for $400,000 but never screened it.
Under the column “What you wanted to know: Sacred Cow” in Kol Zikhron (May 2), a reader asked about the synagogue Ohel Ya’akov in the city, wanting to verify whether it had been built by Christians and thus served first as a church. In fact, the synagogue was built by Templars, “but only because they were considered the best builders in the area … Before they turned it over to the residents, the Templars held a service in it.” In order not to offend the Turks, it was claimed, moreover, that it was intended for use as a cowshed. Later, Rav Kook forbade its use, not because of its Christian origins but because it did not include separate sections for men and women.
The relations between the leaders of Shas (the Sephardi religious party) and one its members, Nitzan Chen, have had their ups and downs. According to a report in Israel HaYom (May 4), while at present he isn’t in their favor, they are pleased to have him around “since as a traditionalist they can expect him to deal with the Christian [TV] channels and pornographic broadcasts.”
Ma’ariv, April 30; Gobes, April 29, 2008
These two pieces contain a report of the ICCC conference being held in Jerusalem this week (see last week’s Review).
Yediot HaEmek, April 25, 2008
As part of a trip through the Jordan Park, part of the itinerary includes a visit to Bethesda, where “three of the most important apostles of the Christian church were born: Peter, his brother Andrew, and Philip. According to Christian tradition, Yeshu visited the city and worked miracles there, such as restoring the sight of a blind man and the miracle of the fish and loaves.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Ma’ariv, May 1, 2008
The controversy over Pope Pius XII’s role during the Holocaust has ignited once again with the revealing of the private papers of Chaim Berles, a close friend of Angelo Roncalli, the papal nuncio in Istanbul during the war years and later Pius’s successor. The unusual friendship between Jew and Catholic was close and deep, and the correspondence and conversations between the two, much of which Berles recorded in his diary, indicate the efforts the latter made to convince his superior – Pius XII – to act on behalf of European Jewry. According to the report in Ma’ariv (May 1), Roncalli “committed himself to helping without hesitation. He displayed a sympathetic attitude towards his guest, sent letters, messages, telegrams – directly to Rome and by indirect means through the assistance of his colleagues, Vatican ambassadors in other countries. He did not cease calling on the pope to exert his influence, to exploit the weight of his spiritual office, to intervene, to make his voice heard clearly and sharply in order to halt the destruction machine and put an end to the perpetual suffering. When he did not receive an answer, or when responses to his appeals were delayed for months or were composed of short, laconic replies, his despair penetrated also into his intimate conversations with Berles. He consistently reported to Pope Pius XII and to the Vatican Secretary of State every scrap of information regarding the killing, the slaughter, the abuse, and the expulsion of the Jews from their homes, accompanied by detailed suggestions concerning what could and should be done. But the Holy See continued his silence. Very rarely did he make any reference, in non-committal and general language, to those suffering in the war. The Jews were not mentioned.” According to Prof. Dina Porat, head of the Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Tel Aviv University – and the only person to have been given access so far to Berles’ papers – “‘The private documents reveal the depth of the friendship woven between Berles and Roncalli … very rare in its intensity, secrets, and ideas which they shared with one another … Also very rare is the fact that Roncalli criticized his pope, in delicate language but very clearly.’” One of the examples of Pius XII’s attitude towards the “Jewish problem” is illustrated in brutally expressive terms in Berles’ papers. “About a year before Roncalli saw the ‘Auschwitz Protocol,’ Berles approached him with an idea: to grant transit papers under the aegis of the Vatican to children in occupied Europe and thus to save them from the horrors of the war and to send them to relatives in Palestine/Eretz Israel. Roncalli responded immediately. The Vatican ambassador in Egypt, his confidant the Irish priest Arthur Hughes, brought a detailed brief and delivered it personally in Rome. The response was delayed for more than a month: ‘The Vatican cannot assist in the transfer of Jews to Palestine because this might lead to the restriction of access by Christians to the holy places …’”
Haaretz, May 2, 2008
Under the title, “Learning to live with one another,” Miriam Feinberg Vamosh reviewed Raymond Cohen’s recently published book, Saving the Holy Sepulchre (Oxford University Press). With the revealing subtitle, “How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue their Holiest Shrine,” Cohen examines the almost miraculous way in which the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem has been kept and restored. “Chronicling complexities that make a Gordian knot look like a slip tie, Raymond Cohen, a professor of international relations at the Hebrew University, traces a process that began with insistence on preeminence and reached a point of making do with negotiatated condominium, to reconstruct the crumbling complex, culminating in the dedication in 1997 of the new dome over the tomb. Cohen vividly describes the complex that has risen over the course of 16 centuries, a building project he describes as an ‘unplanned collaboration between Byzantine and Frankish [Crusader] architects living in different centuries.’ Even the most recent example of ecumenical collaboration, the restoration of the rotunda dome, has the simplicity and understated symbolism it does, according to Cohen, less for reasons of artistic choice and more because it was the only décor on which all denominations could agree. Yet the dome, renewed inside and out, is a symbol of the success of the collaborative efforts the book describes.” Part of Cohen’s purpose is to point out the ways in which political processes, including Israeli policies, have affected the church’s history. Thus, for example, Israel refused to hand over the keys of the Deir el-Sultan monastery adjacent to the church – traditionally held by the Ethiopians – to the Copts in 1979 because they feared “risking the right of El Al planes to fly through Ethiopian airspace, and … hampering Ethiopian Jewish immigration.” The pope also had much to do – indirectly – with the church’s narrative. According to Vamosh, “the announcement by Pope Paul VI, in 1966, of his impending visit to the Holy Land, brought Jerusalem to center stage once again. Reconstruction and reconciliation became necessarily more closely linked than ever before.” The dome itself was only completed when an American Catholic philanthropist donated the necessary sum to the Pontifical Mission, a compromise accepted by the Greeks and Armenians, with the ‘threat’ of a “second historical visit of a pope to Jerusalem around the corner in 2000.” As the reviewer notes in conclusion, “Like its title, the book also ends on a harmonious note … Perhaps this is its lesson: achievements not because of, but in spite of, all-too human tendencies to squabble even over the sacred.”