May 27 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….May 27, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 24 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, interfaith activity, anti-Semitism, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:

6 dealt with Messianic Jews
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
8 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with interfaith activity
2 dealt with anti-Semitism
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with human rights
Still in the wake of the World Bible Quiz, this week’s Review contained further responses to the event, while other anti-missionary activity also continued to feature prominently.
Messianic Jews
Yom L’Yom, May 7; BeSheva, May 7, 15; Ma’ariv, May 16; Yediot Bika’at Ono, May 16; HaZofeh, May 16, 2008
Some of the weekly papers which contain responses to the Bible Quiz are only now appearing. Thus, the article in Yom L’Yom (May 7) appeared before the Quiz was held. It quoted Shalom Dov’s letter in protest against Bat-El Levi’s participation, which warned that “‘her parents belong to the missionary Messianic Jewish community in the settlement of Adam, Geva Binyamin, the congregation meets in their house, and its leader is her grandfather, Ya’akov Siegel.’” The formulation of the letter quoted in this article made Yad L’Achim’s contention that Bat-El was “planted” in the Quiz even clearer: “‘The missionaries are sophisticated. They planted in the middle of the preparations and early rounds of the Bible Quiz – which is an international Jewish event – a missionary Messianic Jewish girl …”
BeSheva (May 7) carried the letter appealing to both contestants and participants not to take part in the Quiz if Bat-El Levi was allowed to do so.
The same paper, after the event, published a piece by the father of the World Bible Quiz winner this year (Tzurit Berenson/Braunson), who serves as the head of a national-religious (hesder) yeshiva in Nahariya. Under the headline, “Sages, beware of your petitions,” he opened by stating that the contestants, their teachers, and educators had been made to face a very difficult decision as people “who fear God and wish to do His will without, God forbid, also causing a stumbling block.” While he was under no illusions that Bat-El is indeed part of the Messianic community – “she herself told my daughter that this was her faith [and] people even said that they themselves had seen her distributing the ‘New Testament’ at a festival at Nitzanim” – he acknowledged that three opinions had existed within the rabbinic camp with regard to what action should be taken. The first was “to ignore her participation. The second was to protest it and attempt to exclude her. The third was that taken by Yad L’Achim, who called on the three Israeli contestants to boycott the Quiz. Despite the support due to Yad L’Achim for their work against the mission, however, Rav Braunson was of the opinion that “this time, however, assessment of the situation presented by its director included evaluations of things unrelated to their expertise, with the result that the reality was in effect not totally clear to them.” This fact led to the circumstance that, while various Rabbis signed the petition on the grounds that Bat-El might win the Quiz, “anyone following the contest from its early stages would have known that she stood no change of reaching a high place. If they [the Rabbis] had clarified this fact with people knowledgeable about Bat-El’s ranking in the preliminary stages, they would have known the level of her knowledge. A distance of several telephone calls stood between the deep fear of her success and a responsible assessment that the fear was ungrounded … The Rabbis who published their opinion that the contestants should withdraw were not aware of this fact but ‘knew’ that she had a good chance of winning.”
The Rabbis were also mistaken, Rav Braunson claimed, in assuming that the withdrawal of the other Israeli contestants would lead to the cancellation of the whole Quiz. In his opinion, however, this too was a mistaken presupposition, and one which a person familiar with the running of the State would not have made. “In other words, a boycott by the Israeli participants would not have accomplished their purpose. Worse than this: Rather than resulting in what eventually happened – that the missionary girl with the low mark that she received simply disappeared despite having been on the platform for a brief time – two more serious things, God forbid, would have transpired. Firstly, despite her low mark, had the three Israeli contestants withdrawn, as the only remaining Israeli representative, the missionary girl would inevitably have been crowned the Israeli ‘Queen.’ Yad L’Achim and their supporters did not understand that their initiative would have led to precisely what they were endeavoring to prevent – and in the worst possible fashion!”
The even more serious second consequence, in Rav Braunson’s eyes, was halakhic in nature. “A halakhic ruling must correspond to the reality which it is designed to regulate. Recognition of the implications of their non-participation on the youths must be one of the elements in the decision-making process. It is impossible to make a ruling concerning how they should act without listening to them and finding out where they stand. One cannot imagine the crisis which would have occurred amongst them when, after the Rabbis had told them the Quiz would be cancelled, they had seen with their own eyes that it in fact did take place. What would the response of the Rabbis who directed them to sacrifice so much have been when they saw that their sacrifice was in vain and, on the contrary, led to a profanation of God’s name?! … Several of the Rabbis with whom I conversed who supported Yad L’Achim’s position acknowledged that they had not thought of the heavy price which the youngsters would have been called upon to make … God forbid that rather than saving souls they might have been destroyed.”
Rav Braunson’s conclusion was equally clear: “‘Yad L’Achim,’ the organization which raised the subject, presented only one possible solution. The Rabbis joined the initiative out of a sense that they must take action and because this was the only course suggested to them – and by no less than the experts in the fight against the mission. The only thing that they were requested to do was to confirm their support of the initiative. When a proposition is put forward that others sacrifice their souls, a meeting should be convened in order to examine the situation in a wide forum and to investigate whether an alternative solution exists. It is not sufficient that the Rabbis rule according to information given to them. If they have insufficient details, they are obligated to obtain them before they make their ruling.”
As in his previous response, Menahem Ben in Ma’ariv (May 16) continued his criticism of those attempting to cancel the Quiz: “It was good that [Prime Minister] Olmert and [Education Minister] Yuli Tamir attended the Bible Quiz and paid no attention to the boycott called by the Chief Rabbis (because of the participation of a Messianic Jewish girl, who didn’t win in the end. So what?). And the Bible Quiz … is still waiting to go back to the good old days in which it attracted contestants from all over the world. Perhaps some TV celebrity should pick up the gauntlet and create an event which would remind us that the Bible belongs to the whole world … It could be serialized and sponsored by Christians the world over.”
A similar response was expressed by Ayal Rotschild, the Quiz’s broadcasting director. Having noted that he and the team with whom he works are all devoted to making the Tanakh “the central factor which serves as the basis and common foundation of all parts of the Jewish people, in Israel and the diaspora,” Rotschild noted that nobody who participated, whatever their level of knowledge of the Bible or Judaism, has ever been belittled. “Amongst the contestants this year was a young girl from the State school system, who won several preliminary rounds and became one of the four Israeli representatives. There was nothing special about her. She didn’t demonstrate exceptional proficiency and wasn’t one of the obvious candidates to win one of the first places. According to our custom, we didn’t check who she was or who her parents are; we only rejoiced to see here amongst the other contestants. And then one day, we awoke to headlines in the press declaring that the mission had infiltrated the administration of the Quiz and that one of the contestants wasn’t Jewish. The snowball began to roll, the media turned her into a genius, the Rabbis began to call for a boycott of the Quiz, enormous pressure was exerted on the contestants to withdraw, and one of the question askers even rang at the last minute to cancel his participation. Bat-El is Jewish, and because of this she is eligible to participate in the Bible Quiz for Jewish Youth. Her faith is irrelevant to the matter – in precisely the same way as other contestants’ faith has never been investigated. She isn’t a missionary and didn’t speak about her faith with anyone. As a result, no one in the administration even knew that she belonged to the Messianic Jewish sect. The Quiz’s purpose is to bring Jewish youth from all over the world closer to the Jewish tradition, to the Jewish people, and to the Land. Bat-El is no different from any of the other contestants in this regard – and if anyone should be concerned, it’s her parents, who sent her to a place of Torah in which she was likely to be influenced and to return to the bosom of Judaism.” Like Rav Braunson, Rotschild noted that the whole business would have come to nothing since Bat-El did not progress beyond the first round. He also remarked on what Rav Braunson could also have commented – the fact that the controversy also accomplished precisely what Yad L’Achim sought to avoid, namely the publicity given to the Messianic Jewish community, as well as potential converts. Also like Rav Braunson, Ayal Rotschild expressed grave doubts concerning Yad L’Achim’s methods: “I can’t but ask myself whether Yad L’Achim’s actions have any substance to them or whether they’re all simply PR, just as in this case. My greatest disappointment is of the Rabbis. Like a herd, they flocked after Yad L’Achim’s position. And behold, the Quiz was held, the hall was full, and when the event was over the recognition filtered into people’s minds that the people are ten times better than their leaders.”
On a different note, a lengthy article in Yediot Bika’at Ono (May 16) under the headline, “Storm in Or Yehuda: Messianic Jews operating in the middle of the Ethiopian community,” and the subtitle, “Days of the Messiah,” examined the “missionary” work of the Messianic movement within the Ethiopian community in Or Yehuda. It appears that several of the falashmura families in the area belong to the Messianic Jewish “stream” – “a movement which while it seeks recognition as an additional and legitimate branch of Judaism but actually constitutes a red flag before the eyes of the religious establishment.” In the words of the author of the piece, “This fact has caused the latter [the religious establishment] to raise its ugly head of radical and unconcealed disgust as we are familiar with it, towards the stream which sees in Yeshua the son of God.” The families are accused of holding Bible studies and “trying to convince their neighbors to join their congregation.” When the information reached the city’s Deputy Mayor (of Shas), he immediately appealed to the Chief Rabbi to intervene. As with the majority of the national papers, the local press included a sidebar explaining “What is Messianic Judaism?” Based on the entry in Wikipedia, this includes the information that while Messianic Jews define themselves as Jewish, “officially the stream is classified as part of institutional Christianity” – and most of its members are not Jewish. According to Messianic Judaism, the prophecies in the Tanakh speak about the New Testament and about Yeshua the Messiah. They read the New Testament in continuity from the place where the Tanakh ends.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Yediot Ahronot, May 14; Haaretz, May 13, 2008
Although it is difficult to ascertain precisely what attitude Noam Gutsman holds towards Christianity, the former Israeli, now head of the London-based firm GLG, has invested 30 million US dollars in the Christian website GodTube, according to a report in Haaretz (May 14).
Aviad Kleinberg, who regularly relates to Christian topics, contributed a piece to Yediot Ahronot on May 14 in honor of the Vatican’s newly-opened Latin site. Noting the usual reasons claimed for the use of the ancient tongue – its theological and historical significance – Kleinberg brings his readers back down to the level of children. Don’t believe what they tell you about theological discussion, he says; it’s only a matter of “so the children won’t understand.” Latin isn’t useful for being serious; it’s handy for when you don’t want people to know that you aren’t being an adult.
Anti-missionary Activities
HaMahaneh HeHaredi, May 7, 15; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, May 7; Yom L’Yom, May 7; HaModia, May 16; Yated Ne’eman, May 7; BeKehila, May 15; Mishpaha, May 7, 15, 2008
HaMahaneh HeHaredi (May 7), HaShavua BiYerushalayim (May 7), and Mishpaha (May 7) carried last week’s story concerning the “missionaries’” “imitation” of Yad L’Achim by wearing T-shorts emblazoned with the slogan, “Let him give you a hand” (see last week’s Review).
Likewise, HaMahaneh HeHaredi (May 15), BeKehila (May 15), Mishpaha (May 15), and HaModia (May 16) all reported Jews for Jesus’ latest publicity campaign (see last week’s Review). This story asserted that Yad L’Achim had obtained a copy of an “internal document” in which it was stated that, “‘The campaigns are due to start in 2008 and to continue until 2013. These campaigns are perhaps the most important thing that we have ever done to fulfill our mission to make that man’s messiahship an unavoidable subject for Jews … [Eretz Israel] is the only place in the world in which we don’t have to wonder who is Jewish. All we have to do is to go out and speak with everyone we meet.’”
Yom L’Yom (May 7) reported on the “missionary” work of the Messianic falashmura families in Or Yehuda and the anti-missionary efforts taken to counter it – primarily a conference to strengthen the Ethiopian community’s ties to Judaism (see above, under Messianic Judaism).
Christian in Israel
Modi’in, May 15; Haaretz, May 15, 2008
A lengthy article in Modi’in (May 15) looked at the “real” life of Chinese foreign workers in the city – when they go home after work, at eight in the evening and before getting up again at 5am. For the Christians among them, a Finnish volunteer by the name of Irma gives weekly Bible Studies, gives advice and help, and offers some peace of mind.” Irma is sponsored jointly by a Finnish organization and the Chinese church in Jerusalem, and the Bible studies are open to all the residents of the “Caravan city” in which the Chinese workers live. A nurse herself – who sometimes gives first aid to the workers – Irma also liaises with Kav L’Adam, a volunteer organization which works to defend the rights of foreign workers in Israel, who are frequently exploited. Irma is assisted by Marion, an American-born Chinese woman, who has been in Israel since 2006 and, in her words, is a “‘missionary, single but not a nun. I work in cooperation with the Chinese congregation in Jerusalem and the Jewish Messianic community. Every Monday I come here and teach a Bible study and help them with all sorts of electrical and TV problems.’” Allowed to stay in the country five years and three months, on average the Chinese workers spend the first three years repaying the costs of coming to Israel. Once this “debt” is repaid, they send most of the money they earn – if they are paid – back home, frequently living in appalling conditions in order to survive.
A second story concerned four long-term tenants on the premises of buildings owned by the Russian Delegation in Israel, a representative of the Russian Church (Haaretz, May 15). This affair surfaced in the past, and has been raised again recently by renewed efforts on the part of the owners to remove the tenants, all Israeli residents. The four are all aged between 60 and 90 and have resided in the complex for over forty years. They were invited to move into the complex – at that time deemed cheap and undesirable because of their proximity to Arab neighborhoods – by Dr. Helena Cagan, the first children’s doctor in Israel, who was appointed supervisor of the premises. Today, when the tenants have renovated the buildings and the property lies in the center of Jerusalem, the Russians have woken up to the complex’s value and are endeavoring to remove the unwelcome tenants by claiming that they have violated the terms of the agreement. The tenants have no doubt whatsoever that the person responsible for the action is Vladimir Putin. Not only are the Russians not prepared to recompense the tenants for their evacuation but they are also demanding payment from them for ostensible “alterations” made. While the Russians are also seeking the return of other property in the area, including land on which official Israeli institutions stand, this action affects elderly people with little clout and will most likely result in their becoming homeless.
Interfaith Activities
Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2008
A group of law students at Ono Academic College have formed an unusual friendship. The students include Melkite Catholics, Druze, Rabbis, and Qadis, “a diverse classroom full of Israeli clergymen – Christian, Muslim, Druse and Jewish,” who “have discovered that while they may not agree on issues of faith, they can still learn to like each other.” Among the things over which the group has achieved consensus is the fact that they all believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial as “anathema.” “Also, all the religious leaders have a common gripe against the secular legal system. Over the past decade … there has been a gradual weakening of powers held by the religious courts.” According to the College’s Vice President, who is also its Dean of Law, the friendship is not entirely accidental: “‘We want to show that it is possible to bring together religious leaders for constructive discussion at a time when religion is being blamed for some of the worst military conflagrations across the globe,’ said Schwartz. ‘These leaders might not change their opinion on the major issues – whether religious or political. But that does not necessarily stand in the way of creating friendships with people who think differently from you,’ he said. ‘And if these leaders think it is possible, maybe others will follow – and that is an added value that is impossible to calculate.’”
Ma’ariv, May 15; Haaretz, May 14, 2008
According to a letter published in Haaretz (May 14), a group of Slovakian academics and teachers who recently participated in a Holocaust seminar at Yad VaShem have formed an organization called “We don’t want to be observers.” According to its manifesto, the organization is a grass-roots movement intended to demonstrate solidarity with the victims of the Holocaust. “‘Our initiative denounces the repeated appearances of top representatives of the Catholic Church, who make light of the totalitarian nature of the Slovakian state during the war.” One of its first acts was to protest the mass held by Archbishop Jan Sokol in memory of Jozef Tisso, the leader of Fascist Slovakia during the war, and himself a priest. In an open letter, published in Slovakian papers, which the organization also hoped would be reprinted in the Israeli media, its members stated that, “‘We don’t want to observe from the side and see how bishops, on the basis of false solidarity, express sympathy for the totalitarian regime simply because at its head stood a priest. The regime acted with humiliating inhumanity towards those whom it was supposed to defend. In tens of thousands of cases of persecution of such people, it ended in their death. We cannot accept any attempt to shake free from responsibility for the death of myriads of innocent people. Many Christians are part of our movement, including Catholics.’”
Under the title, “Is Harry Potter anti-Semitic?,” an article in Ma’ariv (May 15) reported on the findings of a conference held recently at Bar-Ilan University. One of the lectures delivered, by Dr. Hilda Nasimi, suggested that while the series is characterized by tolerance and pluralism, this may not extend to Jews: “‘Harry Potter has an explicit and open attitude of tolerance and multiculturalism. As the series progresses, it includes an exceptionally wide range of figures: Indians, Irish, Greek, Egyptians, and others. But Israel and Jews are not represented in any of the books, a fact which obviously raises questions.’” Dr. Nasimi believes that while Christian motifs are clearly evident in the series, its author ignores the “Jewish foundation” of these themes. “‘The struggle is a struggle of the sons of light against the sons of darkness. To a large degree, Harry symbolizes Yeshu, and in one of the books he even bleeds from his hands like Yeshu the Crucified. Symbols which appear in the series represent the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom on earth known from Christianity. The basis of Christian tradition lies in Judaism, so that the absence of a Jewish figure is more obvious and pronounced.’” More significantly, perhaps, Nasimi also claims that in a series which “universalizes” “dark regimes” – like that of the Nazis, according to a statement by made by the author herself – the Holocaust itself becomes generalized and no longer particular to annihilation of the Jews. “‘The Jews become accidental victims rather than essential ones.’” According to the reviewer, Dr. Nasimi “considers that the series indirectly calls for racism.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, May 13; Yediot Ahronot, May 13, 2008
At the presentation of the new Israeli ambassador’s credentials to the Vatican, the pope blessed Israel on her sixtieth anniversary (Yediot Ahronot, May 13). “‘The Holy See is united together with you and thanks God for the fact that the Jewish people’s aspirations to live in their home in the land of their fathers have been fulfilled in full.’” In a second report, in the Jerusalem Post (May 13), the pope was cited as urging Israel “to help the dwindling Christian community in the Middle East”: “‘I pray that, in consequence of the growing friendship between Israel and the Holy See, ways will be found of reassuring the Christian community’  that they have a secure future in the region.” According to this report, Benedict XVI indicated that “problems facing Christians are related to Israel-Palestinian tensions. ‘The Holy See recognizes Israel’s legitimate need for security and self-defense and strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism,’ the pope said. At the same time, he urged Israel to alleviate travel restrictions causing hardships for Palestinians. The ambassador said Israel would do its utmost ‘to help strengthen the Christian communities in Israel.’”
Human Rights
Mishpaha, May 15, 2008
In the ongoing case of a child kidnapped by her Israeli mother from his Belgian Christian father who was given custody over his son, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled this week – in the language of the religious paper Mishpaha (May 15), that “conformance to the Hague Conventions which prevent the kidnapping of children is more important than the rights of an Orthodox child and ordered that he be returned to his non-Jewish father resident abroad.”