Caspari Center Media Review………….May 22, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 19 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, Christian sites and tourism, Christianity, and art. Of these:
6 dealt with Messianic Jews
5 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with Christian tourism
1 dealt with Christian sites
2 dealt with Christianity
1 dealt with art
Following the World Bible Quiz held, in which Bat-El Levi, a Messianic believer, acquitted herself admirably but unfortunately did not advance to the later stages, this week’s review still contained much coverage of the controversy caused by her participation. Other anti-missionary activity also garnered a lot of coverage.
Jerusalem Post, May 6, 7, 9; Ma’ariv, May 7; HaDaf HaYarok, May 6; HaZofeh, May 7, 2008
Following the threats of the Chief Rabbis and other leading figures in the Orthodox world to boycott the World Bible Quiz held annually on Independence Day, the event in actual fact went ahead as planned, with no disturbances noted by the press. Nor, would it appear, was the threatened alternative Quiz for “religious participants only” held. Most significant is the fact that official rabbinical rulings were flouted by the religious public.
On the day prior to the Quiz, the Jerusalem Post (May 7) printed an article on the subject on its front page, quoting some of the objections raised: “‘Choosing her as a finalist in the International Bible Quiz for Jewish Youth is a transgression of Halacha and is a distortion of the goal and essence of the quiz,’ wrote Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger in a letter to Education Minister Yuli Tamir. ‘The Chief Rabbinate of Israel vigorously protests [the participation] of this representative … Bible quiz participants have always been Jews who believed in the Torah handed down by Moses. The Chief Rabbinate calls to disqualify this girl from taking part in the quiz … It is unacceptable that a member of a cult that has removed itself from the Jewish faith take part in a quiz dedicated to a book that has been holy to the Jews since their inception as a people,’ the rabbis wrote.” In contrast, the piece asserted that, “Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the savior yet see themselves as Jews.” This latter attitude won the day: “[Yuli] Tamir’s representative, Lital Apter, said the minister had no intention of canceling the quiz or asking Levi not to take part. ‘It is too bad that on the 60th anniversary we are dealing with these sorts of things. This should be a time of celebration, not of controversy. The point of the quiz is to check the participants’ knowledge of the Bible, not to scrutinize their faith. The legal department in the Education Ministry verified that Levi is Jewish according to the criteria of the state. That’s good enough for us,’ Apter said.” Other participants also refused to bow to the pressure: “[Tzurit] Berenson/Braunson [the eventual winner] said religious activists have been trying to discourage her and the other participants from taking part in the quiz, ‘but we have all decided to go ahead with it.’”
On the same day, Ma’ariv (May 7) addressed the same subject in much the same words, opening with the question: “Scandal on Independence Day: Will the Chief Rabbis and members of the ‘Yad L’Achim’ organization succeed in leading to the cancellation of the Bible Quiz, one of the outstanding symbols of the day?”
Surprisingly, the lengthy piece in the religious paper HaZofeh (May 7) was not dissimilar in tone: “In a red dress and two plaits – at least metaphorically – a single girl is threatening to ruin the 60th anniversary celebrations of the State of Israel by her presence.” In describing how Yad L’Achim discovered Bat-El Levi’s “religious faith,” the article noted that the organization “employs in its operations devices and ways that the even the Mossad [the Intelligence Agency] wouldn’t be embarrassed to use. ‘We have people inside, including non-Jews, working for us, and don’t expect me to reveal all our secrets to you – but we have our methods.’” It appears from this article that Shalom Dov Lipshitz’s assertion, quoted in last week’s Review, that the event was “planned,” came in response to the question: “‘What’s the problem with Bat-El participating in the Quiz? Surely there’s no argument over the extent of her biblical knowledge?’” Significantly, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan – identified with the national-religious camp – issued an explicit ruling calling on participants not to take part if Bat-El did. In the words of Dov Lipshitz, “‘Because he believes in that man he has crossed the boundary between Jew and Gentile and has essentially become a Gentile. For example, we can lend money to him at interest because he is not our “brother.” Likewise, he will not inherit from his Jewish relatives. You should understand that the blood ties have been cut between us; he’s an apostate clear and simple.’”
In response to a question directly suggesting that Yad L’Achim’s efforts to stop the competition had “failed,” Dov Lipshitz disclaimed any responsibility: “‘We are not a party in this [issue] at all, it’s not connected to any failure on the part of the organization. For every Jew it’s a terrible failure – but it’s not linked to Yad L’Achim at all.’” Maintaining that “failure” was the wrong term in the first place, Lipshitz argued that it boiled down to “stupidity” – the “‘stupidity of the government who allows such a thing … If she had taken part in a maths tests, well enough. But how can they allow her to participle in the Bible Quiz, which symbolizes the Jewish people? Does this mean that the whole Torah of Israel is nothing?’” Lipshitz’s hope was that a segment of the audience – and of the participants themselves – would get up and leave in the middle of the Quiz in protest in order to “‘demonstrate what they think of the event. That would be a great sanctification of God’s name.’” He further responded to a question whether it wasn’t fair to pit the “great Torah Sages” against a fifteen-year old girl and involve her in an ideological struggle, by claiming that Bat-El is a pawn in the missionaries’ hands, not Yad L’Achim’s: “She’s really a tool in the hands of the mission, who will say that we were there, which means that we are Jews. They’re exploiting her for evil purposes … The girl is a pawn in their hands, not ours.’” According to the report, Yad L’Achim maintain that there are “‘between 15,000 and 20,000 people in the movement” – although it is not clear whether the reference is exclusively to Messianic Judaism or includes the “‘50 other sects’” mentioned in the same breath. Lipshitz went on to say that, “‘We call this a ‘financial crusade,’ which draws hundreds of Jews to Christianity every year.’”
In a sidebar, the article gave a brief background to Messianic Judaism: “Messianic Judaism is a group of independent congregations which define themselves as Jewish and contain elements from Christianity and particularly from evangelicalism. Messianic Jews do not have a standard prayer book and their Scriptures include both the Tanakh and the New Testament. In most cases, their prayers are personal and are said by the worshippers. One of the fundamental tenets of Messianic Judaism is evangelism – i.e., the dissemination of their faith. Messianic Jews see themselves as believers not as religious. [Editor’s note: This distinction is relevant in Israel, where people are regularly defined as either “religious” or “secular.” The term “religious,” however, is intended to delineate “Orthodox.” Thus “Messianic Jews” are not Orthodox but do “believe.”] According to them, they do not have any pictures of Yeshu or Maria and don’t go to church. From their perspective, prayers may be said at any time and in any place. In their view, every believer must develop a personal relationship with God. Their personal prayers are directed towards God (‘Our Father in heaven’) and usually end with the words, ‘In the name of Yeshua the Messiah, amen.’ From the believers’ perspective, every Jew can continue to keep the Jewish tradition and is not called upon to accept upon himself Christian tradition – apart from the ceremony of baptism … The number of Messianic Jews in the country is estimated to be around 10,000 people and they sometimes suffer from persecution, especially at the hands of the Orthodox. The peak [of this] was reached in March, when a fifteen-year-old Messianic Jew was serious wounded by an explosive device in his home in Ariel, after he had opened what looked like a Purim basket. The police are saying that the bombing occurred against a criminal background. The suspicion is that the real background is that the youth belongs to a Messianic Jewish family.” The information given in the sidebar is credited to Wikipedia and in actual fact is quoted verbatim (in abbreviated form) from the Hebrew edition.
In an brief piece entitled, “Once they conducted crusades, now they’re sending young girls” (a quote from Rabbi Aviner), HaDaf HaYarok (May 6), the Kibbutz weekly, categorically stated that, “The Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, will not be able to cooperate, in any way, with the proposed boycott that the Orthodox Rabbis are attempting to impose on the Bible Quiz … The Minister of Education and the Ministry of Education are unable to cooperate with this boycott. If this means that the Bible Quiz, held specifically on Israel’s sixtieth Independence Day, will be cancelled, so be it.”
In a report following the competition, the Jerusalem Post (May 9) noted that the winner’s “bold move” in appealing to Olmert for the release of Jonathan Pollard “was somewhat overshadowed by the week-long buildup of tension over the contest, which Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger have asked Education Minister Yuli Tamir to cancel, due to the inclusion of a messianic Jew, Bat-El Levi.”
Strangely enough, the most negative reaction to the Quiz came from Chaim Wasserman in a letter to the Jerusalem Post (May 6). “Sir, – After the Great Schism in Jewish history, it became well established over the next 2,000 years that the line in the sand is drawn at Jews’ belief in Jesus as the messiah or the son of God. Accordingly, the assertion by Calev Myers, the founder and chief counsel of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, that religious Zionist rabbis’ protest over a Messianic Jewish woman’s participation in the annual Bible Quiz is a show of weakness, is naivete, if not hubris. The early followers of Jesus in the First Century CE were banished from the Jewish community. Maimonides faced similar deviations from historical Judaism and so penned his 13 principles of the Faith. His code of Jewish law explains why followers of both Christianity and Islam are irreconcilable with Judaism. That this young lady can quote proficiently from the Bible carries little weight. So can many fundamentalist Christians, lovers of Israel and the Jewish people. Protestants and Catholic scholars of the Old Testament know how to quote the Jewish Bible in the original. Would they, on the basis of their keen knowledge, qualify to participate in this Bible contest? Every religion has the right to establish what its fundamental assertions of faith are. Normative Judaism determined long ago that Jewish followers of Jesus are – sadly – apostates.”
Zman Holon, May 7; Yated Ne’eman, May 7; BeKehila, May 7; HaModia, May 9, pp. 6, 9, 2008
According to a report in HaModia (May 9, p. 6), Jews for Jesus’ recent publicity campaign met with failure from an “unexpected source.” MK Rabbi Ya’akov Cohen was informed about the campaign and immediately acted to intervene. He turned to the advertising company responsible for the posters on Egged public transport, which agreed to violate its contract and remove the adverts, claiming that it was unaware of their contents. The article claimed that the posters were indeed removed, several days before the contract was due to end. In a related effort, Cohen also turned to the company responsible for public adverts in the city. While this company also agreed to remove the posters, at the time of printing it still had not done so. Against this background, Cohen and Yad L’Achim are proposing another amendment to the missionary law, which would prohibit any advertising encouraging conversion. According to Zman Holon (May 7), Egged [the bus corporation] instructed the advertising company to remove the posters from its vehicles, including city buses lines in Rishon LeZion, Rehovot, Holon, and Bat Yam. The posters themselves carried the caption – modeled after the Breslaver logo playing on Rabbi Nachman’s name (Na-Nach-Nachm-Nachman-Me’uman) – “Yeshu = Yeshua = Yeshuot [salvations].” Egged’s – and Dan’s –response to Yad L’Achim’s appeal was that, while they do not usually know the contents of the posters, “‘In a case where there are elements of damage to the State of Israel, division of the people, damage to the religion of Israel, or one or another part of the population – the company is requested to receive approval and undergo a check from Egged. The present case is borderline, since the use of Christian elements may arouse associations with mission work. They didn’t ask us and decided to go ahead with the campaign, and so we asked them to remove the posters immediately.’” The director of the advertising agency, on the other hand, claimed that it had received approval from the bus companies. “‘I believe that there was no particularly vulgar message here,’” said the Dan spokesman, “‘and therefore both Dan and Egged approved the posters.’”
In a parallel move, Lev L’Achim, a sister organization of Yad L’Achim, has petitioned the management of the International Convention Center to stop any cooperation with “missionary organizations” and not to allow the latter to hold any conferences at the center “even under the disguise of ‘charity’ organizations or ‘peace conferences’ and the like” (Yated Ne’eman, May 7). The petition was raised after the failure to prevent the Epicenter Conference held at the venue on the eve of Passover, “for which no legal grounds could be found for the cancellation of its contract.”
Two reports, in BeKehila (May 7) and HaModia (May 9, p. 9), ran the same story of the “missionary” campaign at the new age festival held at Nitzanim near Ashkelon over Passover. With Yad L’Achim in possession of “prior knowledge” of the intended “reinforced presence” of the missionaries, they had originally hoped that the festival’s organizers would stand by their promise that the latter would not be given official approval to set up booths. According to the reports, despite this, the “missionaries” set up improvised tents and even went to the lengths of wearing shirts with the logo “Yad L’Achim,” underneath which was a picture of “that man’s” hand and the caption, “Let him give you a hand.” [The caption is a play on Yad L’Achim’s name, the first part of which also signifies “hand.”] Yad L’Achim complained to the police both about this and the fact that the “missionaries” were approaching minors. The police, however, refused to take action, claiming that, “‘If a youth has been approached by missionaries, he should come and complain himself.’” When Yad L’Achism realized that they had “no choice,” they brought a fifteen-year-old youth. “Even when the police saw him they made him wait half an hour and ‘maybe calm down.’” In response to the objection that “‘indifference … doesn’t correspond to the law of 12 months’ imprisonment for preaching to a minor [in fact, the sentence is six months],’” the police officer allegedly asserted, “‘I don’t know of any such law. Let every man live by his own faith.’” The article identified the “missionaries” as leading figures from such congregations as Shemen Sasson in Jerusalem, Kehilat Carmel, and “an American congregation which calls itself ‘Messianic Jews’ which operates in the south of the country.”
Christian in Israel
Haaretz, May 9, 2008 (English and Hebrew)
The issue of the land owned by the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem and leased to the JNF and Israel Lands Administration has arisen once again, this time as a result of Israel’s long-delayed approval of Theophilos III as Patriarch (for both issues, see previous Reviews). “Last week the transaction being arranged with the JNF was presented to a committee established by the Holy Synod, a kind of board of directors of the patriarch. And then the storm erupted. The synod’s members discovered that the patriarchate had agreed to turn over these hundreds of dunams in the center of Jerusalem for a payment of a mere $9 million from the State of Israel.” Politics appear to be behind much of the controversy. One of the reasons for Israel’s delay in approval of Theophilos’ appointment seems to have been his refusal to sign a guarantee that he would “be ready to sell assets to the State of Israel in general, and to Jews in particular. Theophilus refused to sign such a guarantee, although behind the scenes he explained to anyone who wanted to listen in Israel just what his policy was: He would not agree to sell assets to the State of Israel or to Jews beyond the Green Line, but he was ready to do business if it concerned properties within Israel proper … That was one of the reasons why last December the government finally recognized Theophilos as the legal patriarch.” Objectors argue that the Church has no need of PA approval for the sale of lands within the Green Line: “‘It’s true that the PA is opposed to the sale of church assets beyond the Green Line, and mainly in Jerusalem, to Israel or Israeli groups,’ says Khouri [a Greek Orthodox lawyer]. ‘But as far as I know, the PA has no opposition to transactions made by the Greek Church within the Green Line, and the same is true of the Jordanians.” From a financial perspective, the sum of $9 million is an insult when the property is worth, on estimate, almost a half billion dollars. What is the urgency in the matter, opponents ask, when the lease is not up for another forty-two years? According to the report, “Sources close to the bishops opposed to the transaction say they are even willing to ‘give a gift’ to the State of Israel and to bequeath it the land on which the Knesset stands, free of charge. But they are not willing to give away the rest of the 520 dunams for a song. The sources say they see the deal as presented to them as being, in effect, the payment exacted for Theophilos for recognition by the Israeli government. ‘It looks like governmental bribery,’ says attorney Khouri.” Theophilos’ supporters claim that, to the $9 million must be added “additional sums that the state is committed to transferring to the patriarchate over the years. ‘Everything will be done in a transparent manner, and everyone will see that this is a good deal,’ promises a colleague of the patriarchate. Opponents of the transaction are not sure that things will be so easy.”
Yediot Haifa, May 7; Zman Haifa, May 7, 2008
According to these two reports, two sets of meetings between Haifa public officials and French bureaucrats have culminated in agreements that the city will serve as the base for French tourists visiting the north of the country and (Catholic) pilgrims visiting the country. The agreements regarding package tours were reached at an Israeli tourist fair held in Marseilles recently. As part of a deal with the Catholic community, it was also agreed that part of the French pilgrims’ itinerary would include “tours in which Jewish life in Haifa would be presented, such as tolerance and cooperation between the various communities and religions resident in the city.”
Ma’ariv, May 9, 2008
In a review of Kfar Kana (Cana), the author of a piece in Ma’ariv (May 9) gave the background to the village’s significance: “Imagine for a moment that you’re at the heart of a wedding celebration in a small village in the Galilee. A poor family. They have no money for wine. The celebrations are going on, the hearts being made joyful with water (because there’s no wine, of course) and a mother and her young son arrive. As a compassionate Jewish mother, she says to her son, ‘Look, they have no wine …’ The young son says to the hosts: ‘Fill the jars with water.’ The ‘architriklini’ (a Greek term for the master of festivities) tastes the drink, and behold, see it’s a miracle, the water has turned into wine. This is the first of young Yeshua’s miracles, performed at Cana. Admit it, you also would have been astonished at such a miracle. A second event took place in the same village: Yeshu promises a father who’s worried that his son is about to die that he’ll live – and he does. These two miracles attracted a group of disciples around Yeshu, who followed him and spoke at length of the wonders he performed.” According to the report, Christian tradition also associates Bartholomew’s daughter with Cana, memorialized by the Church of St. Nathaniel (Bartholomew).
Jerusalem Post, May 6, 11, 2008
These two articles both relate to the recent United Methodist Church’s decision “to abandon efforts to divest from companies that allegedly contribute to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Five divestment resolutions were shot down at the United Methodist Church General Conference in Texas last week, after a protracted campaign by Jews to halt the effort.” According to Ethan Felson, the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, despite this achievement, “‘This [the divestment campaign] is an ongoing thing, and in many ways this is a proxy for a much larger conversation that has political and theological dimensions. In some ways it is a reaction to Evangelical support for Israel, and in some ways it is calling attention to the theological issues related to the promise of the land. There is a constituency within this church informed significantly by Palestinian liberation theologians and more fringe elements that see every tragedy in the region as the fault of just one party, the Jewish state.’” Even more disturbing than the divestment resolutions, Michael Lando suggested (May 6), was “a background document, which dismissed concerns about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Among the statement in the report are a reference to the founding of the State of Israel as ‘the original sin’ and a passage defining Israeli actions as acts of ‘terror.’ The Methodist report claims the Holocaust has been the cause for ‘hysteria’ and ‘paranoic sense’ [sic] among Israelis. Thanks to an alliance of grassroots church activists who have nurtured ties to the Jewish community the convention also passed resolutions promoting Holocaust awareness and working to combat anti-Semitism, as well as a resolution opposing the proselytization of Jews.” The second report (May 9) highlighted the Jewish activities and responses to the defeat of the resolutions – including those of B’nai Brith International, the Reform Religious Action Center, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and Jewish Voice for Peace. “The groups described the actions, taken at the church’s quadrennial convention in Fort Worth, Texas, as contributing to interfaith understanding and the quest for peace in the Middle East.”
Ma’ariv, May 12, 2008
While doodling on an art pad in the company of a friend with links to the Vatican, the latter remarked that the architect Nir Ben Natan’s drawing resembled a cathedral – and offered to pass on the “plans” to his Catholic associates. From there, things evolved until Ben Natan was invited to Rome to meet with the Vatican official responsible for church buildings, Over the course of his job, Bishop Mandera has come to the realization that it is important to “modernize” in order to attract people back to the church. Part of such appeal is the architectural style. He was impressed by Ben Natan’s sketch and “‘interested by the fact that a Jewish Israeli had suggestions for a cathedral. He gave his own analysis of the plans. He said that it was a spiritual building in which the transparent glass roof enabled a dialogue between man and God.’” Asked how it was that a Jewish architect made sketches for cathedrals, Ben Natan replied: “‘For me, it’s not a big thing. Over the course of history, especially in Europe, there have been periods during which all architectural work focused on the building of churches and other sacred places. We’re not talking here of being “a light to the nations.” Cathedrals are always signposts of architectural development, and as such they are always a source of inspiration, wittingly or unwittingly.’” Ben Natan attributes the fact that his drawing most closely resembles a cathedral to his affinity to a linear style. Thus while the building could serve as a sacred site for any religion, it is most suitable for a Christian church. While the cathedral ultimately may not be built in Rome, the plans are attracting interest from other European countries.