Caspari Center Media Review………….June 3, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 42 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Christian sites, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:
5 dealt with Messianic Jews
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
26 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with Christian sites
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
Messianic Judaism and Jews were the direct focus of much of the Israeli media this week, not only due to continuing coverage of issues raised by Bat-El Levi’s participation in the World Bible Quiz on Independence day but also because of the burning of New Testaments in Or Yehuda, an incident into which the Attorney General has ordered an investigation.
BeSheva, May 22, pp. 2, 22, 23; HaDaf HaYarok, May 15; Yediot Netanya, May 16, 2008
Following Rav Braunson’s article printed in BeSheva last week (see last week’s Review), Yediot Netanya (May 16) devoted a lengthy interview to Tzurit Braunson herself, the winner of the World Bible Quiz. It noted all her achievements in her short fifteen-and-a-half year life, including her reservations regarding participation in a state-run competition of whose government she disapproves. Despite these reservations – and the significant pressure brought to bear on her by various Rabbis to refuse to participate as a protest against Bat-El Levi’s presence – she ultimately came to agree with other Rabbis that it was important for her to take part precisely because she is a “kosher Jew.” In her own words, “‘In my view, it’s a great pity, and a very serious and sad thing that the State of Israel which founded the tradition of the Quiz for Jewish youth from the Land and the diaspora in order to strengthen the Jewish people and to bring the diaspora community closer to the Land, that that same State should allow such a girl to participate in the competition. I had several conversations with her and I heard her say from her own mouth that she is Jewish exactly like I am, just that she believes that it’s possible to be Jewish and to believe in Yeshu. I still don’t understand how she can call herself Jewish and how she even dares to compare the two of us. Her purpose and that of her sect is to convert Jews and that’s a great heresy in Judaism, so what kind of Jew is she?’”
Yad L’Achim’s director, Shalom Dov Liphshitz, responded to Rav Braunson’s opinion piece in BeSheva in an article headlined “Beware, Christianity!,” printed in the same paper on May 22 (p. 23). In it he claimed that the “very fact that [Jews] sat on the same platform with such a girl and related to her equally [with other Jews] granted the mission an official and dangerous legitimacy to which its members so aspire.” Claiming that the Supreme Court has ruled that Messianic Jews are not Jewish in any form, Lipshitz argued that, “What the Supreme Court understood, for some reason the parents did not.” He went even further by implicitly comparing Bat-El with a Fatah member, appearing to backtrack on the claim made before the results were known, that Bat-El was likely to win and therefore should not be allowed to participate: Had a girl from Fatah taken part, “would religious parents also then have agreed that their sons and daughters participate in the Quiz, even though there was no chance of her winning and it would be a shame to make an unnecessary scandal?” He attempted to rebut Rav Braunson’ argument that the Rabbis had been divided in their view by arguing that none of those who called for the boycott had changed their minds – conveniently ignoring the fact that their ruling had been flouted by nearly all and sundry. He also rejected the claim that the controversy had created precisely the situation which Yad L’Achim had sought to avoid – publicity of Messianic Judaism – by asserting that, “the missionaries publicize themselves willy-nilly in an aggressive form [the intention here is probably “intensively,” rather than to actual violence],” so that the former claim is “complete nonsense and based on utter ignorance.” In actual fact, he maintained, the publicity which resulted from Yad L’Achim’s protest has led many to an awareness of the problem of Messianic Judaism, including the fact that “the principals of religious schools have turned to us for advice as to how to deal with requests on the part of Messianic Jewish families to register their children – so that not only did the publicity do no damage [just the opposite of what Yad L’Achim had initially claimed] but actually had great benefit.” Finally, he responded to Rav Braunson’s argument that halakhic rulings in such cases should take the sacrifice of the participants into consideration by stating that under such circumstances, sacrifice of such a kind was of no weight in light of the need to ensure the survival of the Jewish people by preventing idolatry – “to the point of death.”
Rav Yitzhak Stern, from Yad Binyamin, also responded to Rav Braunson’s piece (BeSheva, May 22, p. 2). In his opinion, the latter’s mistake was to emphasize the fact that Bat-El was unlikely to win – rather than concentrating on her actual participation. This, in his eyes, constituted the true “profanation of God’s name”: “This is a contempt for the Tanakh. The Quiz’s purpose – and the decision to hold it on Independence Day – were intended to point to the intimate relationship between the people and Israel and Eretz Israel, between the people of the Tanakh and the land of the Tanakh. The participation of a missionary girl was designed to shake this decision and to publicly demonstrate that the Tanakh does not belong exclusively to Jews, may God forbid. This awful scheme was another method of the mission and the Minister of Education, whose whole goal is to relegate the Tanakh to irrelevance [this in face of the fact that the Quiz is a Bible Quiz, designed to encourage Jewish youth to study and learn from it!] and to diminish the connection between the people of Israel and their land and Torah. The purpose of the boycott was therefore not merely to prevent her from winning but also to make it clear to the Jewish people who the Tanakh belongs to.” In line with Dov Lipshitz, Stern argued that the sacrifice of not participating would have constituted a far greater reward to the youth than receiving the prize from the Prime Minister.
In another – very different response – an article in HaDaf HaYarok (May 15), under the headline “The boycott didn’t work,” the author pointed out that in looking for any mention of what eventually transpired, he could find no indication. He further stated that none of the participants had heeded the rabbinic ruling, including a girl whose principal was one of those who had signed the petition calling for the boycott.
A further alternative was suggested in a letter printed in BeSheva (May 22, p. 22). Relating this time to the Jews for Jesus’ publicity campaign rather than the Quiz, Adi Gersiel suggested that their advert in Ma’ariv (Yeshu-Yeshua-Yeshu’ah) may constitute part of the paper’s anti-Orthodox stance. Since the advertising company had evidently consulted with the paper’s editors, it would appear that the advert’s publication meant that the latter were not of the opinion that its content would injure its Jewish readers’ sensitivities – or, more accurately, that they possessed few.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Globes, May 23; Tzafon-1, May 23, 2008
In an article examining how modern religion is adapting to the digital world – entitled “God waiting” (on an analogy with “call waiting”) – Guy Weinberger looked at the case of Christianity (Globes, May 23). Claiming that it has proved itself a “brand name” through its ability to change with the times, he asserted that Christianity “has survived the printing revolution, which turned the New Testament from a book written in Latin found only in the Church into a book accessible throughout the world to the consumer in the language which he likes and understands.” In answering the question whether Christianity will similarly adapt to the digital age, Weinberger’s reply was an unequivocal “yes.” He provided proof in the form of announcements and text messages sent to mobile phones along the variety of “You have a new message from the pope. Do you want to read it now? Yes or no?” Or a service called “Mary’s text,” which enables you to send “prayer requests” to God and “to receive a private priest who will pray in your name during mass.” In discussing the possibilities and potentials of the technological development, Weinberger asked whether at some point (in the not too distant future) “we won’t have a digital church which we’ll be able to screen from our computer onto a plasma screen and which will enable us to be with God while we’re eating humous with our family …” In a twist on the hermeneutical principle of “divine condescension” or “accommodation,” in which God “speaks in the language of men,” Weinberger suggested that it should be possible to “let God speak to us in a language which we understand and in the media channels to which we’re accustomed … A digital God is user-friendly, more personal and more accessible …”
According to a report in Tzafon-1 (May 23), the Mayor of Akko (Acre) is suing a member of the local council for slander, claiming that the latter insinuated that he evacuated a municipal building being used as a girls’ religious school “in favor of a body whose purpose is Christian missionary activity” and thereby of supporting such activity at the expense of a Jewish group. The Mayor considered such charges as baseless and as an affront to both his name and the municipality in general.
Ma’ariv, May 20, 21, 22, 23; Jerusalem Post, May 21, 23; HaModia, May 21, 22, 23 (pp. 7, 16); Yom L’Yom, May 22; Gal-Gefen, May 1; HaZofeh, May 23; Haaretz, May 23 (pp. 10, 12), 25 (Hebrew and English editions) (pp. 5, 16); Yediot Ahronot, May 23; Makor Rishon, May 21; Israel HaYom, May 21, 22; Hadashot Shelanu, May 20; Shavuon, May 22; Mishpaha, April 17, May 22; Yated Ne’eman, May 23, 2008
Hadashot Shelanu (May 20) and Shavuon (May 22) both carried the story of the current Jews for Jesus’ publicity campaign (see previous Reviews).
For some reason, we received a piece from Mishpaha from April 17 in this week’s media coverage, which reported on Boris Minsky’s return to Judaism after having become a “prominent Messianic evangelist (see previous Reviews).
Most of this week’s anti-missionary coverage focused on the incident in Or Yehuda in which the acting Deputy Mayor, Uzi Aharon (Shas) piled copies of the New Testament onto a bonfire. The episode caused widespread outrage in many quarters – for different reasons. The episode appears to have begun three months ago, when Yad L’Achim began receiving complaints that “Jews for Jesus and other missionaries were distributing propaganda material in the city, primarily amongst the Ethiopian community” (Gal-Gefen, May 1) (see previous Review). According to this report, Aharon met this week with the Chief Sephardi Rabbi in order to discuss what steps to take to deal with the situation. In addition to deciding on several courses designed to preserve the Ethiopian community’s Jewish identity, Aharon was also due to meet with Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s spiritual head, to discuss further possible action. According to HaZofeh (May 23), Yad L’Achim have put up posters throughout the city warning residents of the latest danger: “‘They [the missionaries] are solving the problem of the kassam rockets for us by saying: “Call upon Yeshu and you will be answered.”’” While such circumstances appeared “fictional as in children’s books, this is real. We find in our midst huge mental forces, for we have always heard that God will bring trials upon a person only according to what he is capable of bearing. It transpires that, with His help, we are withstanding this and are stronger than all else.”
According to a report in Ma’ariv (May 20), which apparently broke the story, Aharon, who is himself a lawyer, “decided to deal with the phenomenon … in the wake of complaints which reached him. He took a car out onto the streets of ‘Neve Rabin’ with a loudspeaker and a call echoed in the secular neighborhood: ‘Dear residents, at this time missionaries have distributed books of the New Testament and books derogatory to Judaism,’ burst the message out of the loudspeaker. ‘High school students will come from door to door. You are requested to give them the books so that they will be destroyed.’ At the same time, the students went round collecting the books. When they had all been gathered, they were all burnt.” The act was apparently one of “measure for measure” for the missionaries’ attempts “with the fuel of money to burn Jewish souls,” in Aharon’s words. The Deputy Mayor also explicitly associated the burning with the festival of Lag B’Omer, traditionally observed with the lighting of bonfires: “‘All the books went up in fire, and Lag B’Omer was held a week early in Or Yehuda, where the residents observed the commandment to “purge the evil from your midst.”’” According to a report in the same paper the next day (May 21), Aharon had appealed to the head of a yeshiva in the city, whose students had consequently gone door to door collecting the missionary material – not only New Testaments but also tracts and other literature. This piece quoted Aharon as stating that, “‘In a spontaneous act, the students piled up the material which they had gathered in a public square and burned it. This was a spontaneous protest demonstrating that we are alert to the missionaries who are attempting to take over our region.’” It further indicated that Aharon had turned to rabbinic authorities in an appeal for their support in amending the current anti-missionary law. Yom L’Yom (May 22) asserted that the missionary campaign in the city has specifically targeted children. According to this account, Aharon initiated the collection of the material in response to the complaints of numerous parents. “The youth and children who went from door to door, in a prompt operation, decided of their own accord to burn them in a square close to the Matzlawi synagogue in ‘Neve Rabin.’ According to the residents, a storm erupted [either an actual physical wind or a mental outburst] and a huge bonfire flamed to the participants’ voice of protest. In the fire burned hundreds of copies of the ‘New Testament’ whose distribution into their mail boxes the residents denounced. Rabbi Uzi Aharon told ‘Yom L’Yom’ that the unusual initiative was caused because by the ‘intensive Christian missionary activity’ in Or Yehuda.” An article in the Jerusalem Post (May 21) indicated that the story in Ma’ariv on May 20 had identified the “missionaries” as “local messianic Jews.”
In response to the criticism leveled against the incident in many quarters, Aharon later both retracted his claims and apologized for the incident and defended his actions – apparently depending on the audience to whom he was speaking. Amir Mizroch, in the Jerusalem Post (May 21), wrote that, “The burning of hundreds of New Testaments by yeshiva students in Or Yehudah last week was regrettable and unplanned, the city’s deputy mayor, the man who spurred the students to act, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon of Shas used the opportunity of speaking to the Post, which publishes a monthly Christian Edition, to apologize to Christians worldwide, saying he hoped the incident would not inflame tensions between Jews and Christians.” In the following paragraph, however, it informed its readers that in an interview at 9:00 on Army Radio on May 21, Aharon “defend[ed] his actions, which he called ‘purging the evil among us’” while in another interview at 10:30 he stated that, “‘We need to stop being ashamed of our Jewishness and to fight those who are breaking the law by missionizing against us.’” By the early afternoon, “he had already been interviewed by Russian, Italian and French TV, explaining to their highly offended audiences back home how he had not meant for the Bibles to be burned, and trying to undo the damage caused by the news [and photographs] of Jews burning New Testaments. But then he also told The Associated Press that he didn’t condemn the Bible burning, calling it a ‘commandment.’” To the Post – an English-language paper – he said that, “he was very sorry for the book burning and that it was not planned … he had organized, together with ‘three or four’ yeshiva students … to go to apartments … and round up packages given to them several days earlier by messianic Jews. The packages contained a New Testament and several pamphlets, which Aharon said ‘encouraged on [sic] to go against Judaism.’ ‘I wasn’t even on the scene when the boys rounded up all the Bibles and brought them to one place … Once I arrived the most I could do was pull a Bible out of the fire. I put it in nylon and now it’s in my car … We respect all religions as we expect others to respect ours. I am very sorry that the New Testament was burned, we mean it no harm and I’m sorry that we hurt the feelings of others … [but we cannot allow Messianic Jews to] come into our homes and incite against our religion, and turn our children away from Judaism. That is against the law’ … By the evening, Or Yehuda’s deputy mayor said he had heard nothing but praise and thanks from residents of his city. Aharon said that he had never met or held a dialogue with any Jewish messianic group or person, but that he would welcome such a meeting.” In a brief note in Haaretz (May 23), Aharon was described as having claimed the previous day that, “he did not burn the books … they were burned without his knowledge by two or three youths who collected them.”
Due to the fact that some of the New Testaments burned were published by the Bible Society in Israel, the Post interviewed Victor Kalisher, its current director. Kalisher, as “the son of Holocaust survivors, spoke to the Post about his shock and dismay at the burnings. ‘As Jews we were raised and taught that where books are burned, worse things can happen … What worries me is that nobody has stood up against this. It seems there is a war against messianic Jews in Israel. Nobody cares about many, what I believe to be cults, in Israel … which are not based on the Bible … But God forbid a Jew learns about the messiah from the Bible.’” Also interviewed was Michael Zinn of Beit Sar Shalom: “‘I expect Israeli society to put a large question mark on this incident,’ he said.” The Post also culled the legal opinion of Calev Myers, “a lawyer representing messianic Jews in Israel.” According to Myers, “the incident in Or Yehuda was an ‘illegal act’ committed by Aharon and his yeshiva charges … according to Criminal Code section 170 and 172 it was illegal to harm in any way a place, symbol or icon of religious importance to a community who imbues that icon with religious significance. Furthermore, it was illegal to speak publicly in a way that is offensive to people of any religion, he said … ‘I expect the police to investigate everyone who was involved in the book burning, including those who incited the youths to act, even if that includes Mr. Aharon … It is not in Israel’s national interest to allow the burning of their [Christians’] holy book … The messianic Jews in Israel are Jews like anyone else. They are registered with the Interior Ministry as Jews, So they are just as entitled to hand out pamphlets as anyone else, as long as it is from adults to adults and does not involve minors.’” At the same time, the Post indicated that “Several messianic Jews and at least one Christian group in Israel contacted by the Post on Tuesday expressed fear that if they spoke on the record, they would be attacked.” Myers was described as “waiting to see whether Or Yehuda police open an investigation into the incident, and if they don’t, he will petition, through the Jerusalem Institute for Justice that he runs, for Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to order a probe.”
A further article in the Post (May 23) reported that in fact Mazuz “has asked the police to open an investigation into deputy Or Yehuda Mayor Uzi Aharon, who is suspected of organizing the burning of copies of the New Testament. ‘The national headquarters are continuing to examine this issue,’ a police spokesperson said.” According to a piece in Ma’ariv (May 23), the Attorney-General has ordered the head of the investigation and intelligence unit to open the inquiry. “‘According to the face of things it appears that the described event raises suspicion of the committal of a crime,’ wrote Mazuz. ‘No need exists to load words onto the gravity of the actions, to the extent that the reports are accurate.” Quoting a report in the same paper, the article asserted that Aharon had participated in the burning with hundreds of yeshiva students.
In addition to the media reports, the press abounded in reactions and responses to the burning. Several pieces related to the fact that this incident represents an escalation in the harassment of Messianic Jews: “The public burning of copies of the ‘New Testament’ is a significant intensification in the war against the dissemination of the Christian faith being conducted by religious factions … The uncompromising war against Christian propaganda literature also involves victims. Amongst those who have been injured in the recent events is Bat-El Levi, the State school Bible Quiz ‘Queen,’ whose family belongs to the ‘Messianic Jewish’ community … Not only this, but two months ago a youth from the Messianic Jewish congregation in Ariel was wounded by an explosive device disguised as a Purim gift. The struggle against missionizing also continues in the Knesset. At this time, the chairman of the Shas party, MK Ya’akov Margi, is attempting to promote a bill which would prohibit all missionary activity in Israel, with the agreement of Jews that they would not attempt to persuade Christians to convert and Christians that they would not attempt to persuade to Jews to convert – the same also applying to Muslims” (Ma’ariv, May 20). Likewise, Amir Mizroch in the Jerusalem Post (May 21) asserted that, “The incident in Or Yehuda is the latest sign of rising tension between segments of the modern Orthodox and haredi sectors and the messianic Jewish community. Two months ago, the son of a messianic Jew was seriously wounded by a parcel bomb left outside his home in Ariel. Earlier this year, haredim demonstrated outside messianic Jewish gatherings in Beersheba and Arad, and there were instances of violence. And just before Independence Day, a group of religious Zionist rabbis called for a boycott of this year’s International Bible Quiz after discovering that one of the four finalists from Israel, Bat-El Levi … was a messianic Jew.” Mizroch attributed “the rise in tensions” as being “partly due to an increase in the number of messianic Jews in Israel over the past few years, with some estimates putting the community at 15,000, and partly due to increased fervor within haredi anti-missionary groups.”
Numerous opinion pieces denounced the burning of sacred books. The original article in Ma’ariv (May 20) asserted that while “several Rabbis asked with regard to the New Testament replied that according to halakhah even a Torah scroll written by a ‘heretic (min)’ should be burned,” “despite this, it’s hard to find a Rabbi who will give his blessing to an act of this kind, in light of the ruling ‘on account of the ways of peace,’ in order to prevent disputes. Apart from this, the burning of books is likely to create the impression that we are speaking about a struggle against Christianity itself. At the same time, Ultra-Orthodox factions claim that the chances are slim that any Rabbi would stand up and denounce the bonfire in Or Yehuda.” The Jerusalem Post (May 23) and Haaretz (May 23, p. 10) both reported that the ADL “condemned the book burnings and called for respect for holy texts of all religions. ‘We condemn this heinous act as a violation of basic Jewish principles and values,’ said ADL Interfaith Director Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg. ‘The Jewish people can never forget the tragic burning of Talmuds and Torahs throughout history. It is essential that we respect the sacred texts of other faiths.’” The well-known Israeli author Meir Shalev, in Yediot Ahronot (May 23), suggested that added to the recollection of other such burnings should be that of the scrolls and letters during the destruction of the Second Temple, “because a Judaism which burns books is a Judaism which resembles the worst of its enemies, and like them, will bring destruction upon itself.” He went on to say: “Apart from this, behind the violence lie fear and awe, as if reading the New Testament is liable to remove a person from Judaism to Christianity. As far as my experience is concerned, my reading of the New Testament led to a real strengthening – far more than the foolish acts of those who have become newly religious did. I discovered that the New Testament is ten times better – when it comes to personages, ideas, plots, complexity, writing ability, and openness. And I was happy to discover that everything Yeshu says there had already been said before him by the prophets in the Tanakh. Overall, the reader of the New Testament will discover that Yeshu did not speak in any way at all about the foundation of a new religion. That his disciples did after him, especially Paul, who is the true founder of Christianity. Yeshu was a good Jew – much better than the Shas members of Or Yehuda. He sought to cure the ills of the Judaism of his time, precisely as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos did before him, and it’s a great pity that the religious Jewish leadership of that time – corrupt and materialistic like that of Shas today – didn’t listen to him. In short, I recommend to every person in Israel – secular and religious alike – to read the New Testament. Not everything in it is interesting, but you are promised a true Jewish experience.”
An anonymous article in Haaretz (May 25, p. 5) stated that, “On the occasion of Shas’ annual Lag Ba’omer celebration, the party introduced a new custom – burning copies of the New Testament … The burning of religious books connotes horrific events from the past that are difficult erase from memory. In 1933, the Nazis incinerated the works of Germany’s greatest Jewish literary figures … Throughout history, people have burned religious books of other faiths … A democracy must not tolerate behavior that is considered normal in totalitarian regimes. The concern is that the persecution of Messianic Jews is rationalized by a twisted interpretation of Jewish sovereignty, as if we were dealing with something resembling an Iran-like enterprise whose raison d’etre were taking revenge on the gentiles … The burning of Christian holy books in Or Yehuda is especially worrisome in light of the continued harassment of Messianic Jews in the country. Their homes are torched, they struggle to earn a living, and, just two months ago, a 15-year boy was seriously hurt when what he thought was a Purim gift package blew up in his face … Just this past Independence Day, the religious community threatened to boycott the annual World Bible Quiz because of the participation of a young girl from a Messianic family, as if knowledge of the Bible necessitates belonging to the Jewish religion, or any other religion. The Messianic Jews number a few thousand in Israel, and as long as they do not stalk children or try to convince them to change their religious beliefs, their standing in this country should be equal to that of other religious and ethnic groups, who enjoy freedom of practice and worship as stipulated in the Declaration of Independence and protected by law. The indifference to their persecution attests to the treatment of minorities in Israeli society. If it were Jewish holy texts rather than Christian books that were burned in some European country, it is safe to assume that the leaders of that country would fall over themselves in rushing to condemn the act, all the while being painted with the broad brush of anti-Semitism.”
Chaim Be’er, in Ma’ariv (May 21), also related to the “red line” of book burning, attributing it to the Nazi regime. Goebbel’s attempt to “clear the shelves of the remnants of culture in order to make room for an evil civilization of racism and genocide” was “an event in which Germany crossed the red line which, once gone over could not be crossed back again.” Be’er also reminded his readers that just as Uzi Aharon claimed that the missionary literature maligned Judaism, so too members of the Inquisition burned Jewish books because they denigrated Christianity. “This is a lawless claim which reason cannot tolerate: instead of dealing with the things written in these books – burn them. The New Testament is a book sacred to Christians, for which some of whom are ready to give their lives. It’s not proper even to consider burning books holy to others, even demonstratively. Think what would have happened if the same lawyer had dared to burn the Quran … Burning books is completely unacceptable from a moral standpoint and also a foolish thing. But no less worrisome is the fact that top-ranking Rabbis did not immediately publicly denounce the act … The Rabbis’ response is no less shocking than the act of the pyromaniac from Or Yehuda. Perhaps we have turned into ‘a light-Judah to the nations’” [the Hebrew term ‘or’ means ‘light’ – such that ‘Or Yehuda’ recalls the expression in Isaiah of the Servant being a ‘light to the nations’]. In a similar “light,” on a pictorial page in Haaretz (May 23) depicting “a weekly guide to multi-cultural lines” – divided into four, with “high” at the north, “low” at the south, “good” on the east, “bad” on the west – Uzi Aharon’s picture appeared in the north-west box (high-bad) with the caption: “How calming it is to discover that despite everything we live in an enlightened State.” Another “light” was shed on the subject by a piece in Israel HaYom (May 22), in which Dan Margolit recalled that Or Yehuda is named after Yehuda Alkalai, one of the heralds of the Zionist movement: “Fire in a settlement which bears the name of Yehuda Alkalai is a great victory for the mission.”
The same “red line” appeared in a rather surprising piece in the religious Makor Rishon (May 21), in which Hadar Ravid related it to Jewish values. Also associating the proximity of the act to Lag B’Omer, she stated, “we can already tentatively determine that there’s one bonfire which we shall remember far longer, unfortunately – a bonfire which brings only shame and reproach on us … the burning of books is our red line as Jews – who brought the Book of Books to the world and still see themselves as the people of the Book – which we cannot cross.” Ravid also linked the consequences of the burning to that of the Bible Quiz: “There can be no doubt that the burning of books will also create the opposite effect [to that which Yad L’Achim hoped to achieve] and will arouse sympathy for Christian activity … We must respect the Scriptures of Christians and Muslims despite what they have done to us over long periods of history … The war against the mission must be conducted in other, more worthy, more Jewish, more honorable ways. The burning of books, which is contrary to the values of Judaism, is certainly not the right way.”
In similar fashion to Calev Myer’s insinuation that Messianic Jews have the same right as Chabad to distribute literature (Jerusalem Post, May 21), Arieh Rakotesh from Haifa wrote to Ma’ariv (May 22) claiming that, “Non-violent Christian missionary activity is not prohibited by law, and is no different in substance from the work of the members of Chabad, who disseminate literature calling people to become religious.” He further protested that, “We must purge from our midst the evil [a reference to Aharon’s own statement in regard to the New Testaments and missionaries] in the form of figures of the sort of Mr. Aharon, whose acts bring a bad name upon the State of Israel and give legitimacy to the burning of synagogues and Jewish holy books throughout the world. The State of Israel cannot ignore such shameful acts and must denounce them officially and publicly, so that the event cannot be seen in the eyes of the world as silent agreement on our part.” In like fashion, Ya’akov Seter from Beit Gurion wrote to Haaretz on May 25: “The fact that no great cry (or even a small whisper) was heard from the mouths of the Rabbis of Israel against the despicable act demonstrates that there is no deep denunciation of the act in religious circles … [it appears that] there is wide agreement amongst many circles in Israel (not all religious) that the burning of Messianic Jews is legitimate in Jewish Israel.” Finally, Israel HaYom (May 21) carried a cartoon depicting a pile of books being burnt and in the smoke the words, “That fire burns all the books” – apparently an allusion to “that man” – i.e., Jesus [‘that fire’ = auta ha-esh; ‘that man’ = auto ha-ish].
Other anti-missionary activity also appeared in the media this week. An article in HaModia (May 22) reported that, “the missionaries are exploiting the economic distress of Holocaust survivors in order to convert them.” According to the piece, MK Meir Porush recently addressed a question to the Minister of Defence, Avi Dichter, in which he claimed to have attained material from Kehillat Kol BeMidbar, pastored by Tony Simon, “which made Holocaust survivors living in Israel a convenient target, in their opinion, for persuasion to convert.” Typically, the information was provided to Porush by Yad L’Achim. No details of the “campaign” were given.
Another piece related to the activity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Yated Ne’eman, May 23). According to this report, Bible studies being held by the sect in a community center in Netanya were halted through the efforts of Rabbi Moshe Lachover, a member of Lev L’Achim, a sister organization of Yad L’Achim. When approached by Lachover, the center agreed to stop the Bible studies from being held on their premises.
Having received information concerning the work of Jews for Jesus in the Ukraine, Yad L’Achim is reported as intending to send a worker to the area to counter the campaign designed to “take control of the whole Jewish community” in the region (HaModia, May 23, p. 7; Mishpaha, May 22). In a letter from a Rabbi in Toronto to the organization, the former claimed that the Jews for Jesus movement disguises itself through the “appearance of purity, synagogues, ‘Rabbis,’ observance of Shabbat and certain commandments” but inwardly is full of filth and uncleanness. He added that, “This is the essence of the danger of Messianic Jews who pretend to be kosher and innocent Jews and exploit this image to catch in their net the old and young alike who have a limited Jewish background.” The Rabbi asserted that the effectiveness of Jews for Jesus’ methods has led to the ‘conversion’ of “thousands” of Jews in the Ukraine.
Makor Rishon, May 23; Haaretz, May 23, 2008
According to a report in Makor Rishon (May 23), the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is partially funding a program to reduce violence in Eilat. The project is funded jointly by the Ministry of Internal Security and local municipal authorities, with the IFCJ contributing 38% of the budget. One of the participants in the fourth annual conference of “A city without violence” is an Orthodox Rabbi, who was asked how he could accept assistance from “Christians who believe that the coming of the Messiah is the coming of Yeshu to the Holy Land.” His answer was: “‘When Yeshu comes, we will ask him, “Are you a Jew?” If he says “No,” we’ll return the money.’” He was not the only person not to object: the organizers of the conference plan to ask for more money in order to extend its reach to other places.
Although strictly speaking a book review, a lengthy article by Ariel Shenbal in Haaretz (May 23) looked at David Brog’s reasons for advocating why Israel should not reject Christian Zionists. Brog – a cousin of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak – is the executive director of “Christians United for Israel,” and has his most recently book is entitled Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State, translated into Hebrew by Sarah Fox (Gefen/Modan, 2008; originally published in English by FrontLine, 2006). We have thus included it here rather than as a separate book review. Shenbal perceived both the book’s publication and its translation into Hebrew as an “important and welcome event.” In questioning why a group of people whose whole desire is to support the Jewish State in a time when no one else appears interested in doing so is rejected by the Jewish community, he presents the issue in terms of Christian Zionists being the heirs of the “righteous among the nations”: obviously, no one doubts the place of the latter in Jewish history. According to Shenbal, the book’s purpose is obviously to promote the Jewish acceptance and ‘embrace’ of Christian Zionism (in both meanings – embrace of/by). Despite this – and the fact that it is not an academic or “objective” volume – Shenbal applauds Brog on his efforts. Brog addresses the four problems which Christian Zionism poses to the Jewish community, two political (the American Jewish Democratic “left” and the Israeli left) and two “ideological” or religious (the long Jewish memory and the mission), asserting that the former are more easily dealt with than the latter. He sums up the dilemma Brog’s position poses through two quotes from Luther – one from his early days, the second from his latter days. He thereby raises the issue of whether Christian Zionists are not liable to one day turn their love into hate. Brog answers that question by point to the dispensationalism embedded in the movement, which accords roles to a particular groups in particular historical periods. Dispensationalism, Brog argues, will never allow its adherents to dismiss the ultimate purpose – which includes God’s choice of Israel as His chosen people – and thus prevents the possibility of evangelical anti-Semitism. In conclusion, he sums up in the following words: “As we have said, Brog is a fervent advocate of the mutual alliance between the Jews and Israel and right-wing Christian evangelicals. His book is an important and interesting document which does not shy away from dealing honestly with the many difficulties and obstacles which stand in the way of such friendship. In some cases, Brog manages to persuade, in other parts it’s clear that he is trying to convince himself, but either way we are speaking of the beginning of a discussion which must quickly and firmly develop in Israeli society. Whatever our attitude may be towards the subject – it’s embedded in our soul.”
Christians in Israel
HaIr-Tel Aviv, May 16; Ma’ariv, May 25, 2008
A lengthy article in HaIr-Tel Aviv (May 16) was devoted to an examination of a Christian organization dedicated to taking care of drug-using prostitutes. The center – named ‘Door of Hope’ – is run by Dave Pickwitt (40), originally from the States. Pickwitt, “a devout Christian,” came to Israel nine years ago and initially taught English in Holon. Two years ago he relocated to Neve Sha’anan in Tel Aviv to devote himself fulltime to helping the city’s prostitutes. According to the report, “Today, he is the director of ‘Door of Hope,’ a day center open six days a week and one of the only places in the country for prostitutes who are the victims of human trafficking. The center serves a varied populace of 70 to 80 women between the ages of 20 and 60, mostly of Russian, Arab, the Caucus region, and Oriental [Eastern] background … A summary of Dave’s history sounds like a version of the Cinderella story of the American nightmare – something which only adds to his eccentric image. He isn’t a typical missionary and doesn’t come from a devoutly religious family. On the contrary, his childhood was so full of tragedy that the story becomes almost a comedy. ‘My father, my mother, my sisters, my uncles, my grandfather and grandmother were all alcoholics, drug addicts or a combination of both,’ he recounts. Up until the age of 17, Dave managed to accumulate a long history of drug and alcohol use and be sent to a closed care center. He came to Israel within the framework of a extended trip around the world, and met his wife here. They were married, lived in the country for a while, and then moved back to the States, where they had a son. Up until he was 29, Dave was a drug addict and alcoholic and continued to live a standard way of life, as it were. Three and a half years ago, Dave – newly divorced and teaching English for a living – began to go to the old central bus twice a week, accompanied by a cart loaded with thermoses, coffee, and cakes, and to wander amongst the prostitute drug users, offering them food and help. A year later, he moved to Neve Sha’anan in order to turn the weekly project into a fulltime job from his lounge, which he operated as a kind of shelter. ‘If you ask why I moved to Neve Sha’anan, it’s because I won’t find this kind of prostitutes, drug addicts, and problems in Herzliya Pituach, and I wouldn’t have opened this type of center anywhere else in the country. If I moved half a kilometer in any direction, nobody would let me open such a project in any premises, on the grounds that I would bring dirty people.’”
The center is assisted through the help of volunteers from Jerusalem. On the day when the reporter interviewed Dave, “a group of American Messianic Jews arrived to spend the day in the shelter, to help a little and to pray for the fallen women. Among them was Henry, a student of Christianity at a monastery in Jerusalem, originally from South America. Apart from the faith that they share with Dave, the lives of the contributors seems like the furthest thing possible from this piece of land in Neve Sha’anan. A blond girl speaks about how she loves shopping, and someone else shows her her telephone decorated on the back with inlaid stones in the form of the flag of Israel with the word ‘Chai’ [Life] in the middle … They are full of goodwill, but don’t really have any of the tools to communicate with Israeli drug-using prostitutes.” Dave takes photos of all his ‘clients,’ which he puts on his web site. “‘Lots of people in the world are praying for these women, but they need to see their picture.’” The reporter described the way in which Dave speaks about religion as reminding him of “an American Christian caricature”: “‘I know what it’s like to feel alone and rejected, because I saw people suffering and I could identify with them. God tells us that we need one another. And I’m telling you this because if I don’t love these women, who will? That’s what the Big Boss wants me to do, to love people who have no experience of love and don’t know what it is’ … At the same time – something rare among religious people who work with drug addicts – Dave doesn’t preach to anyone who doesn’t want to listen. Most of the prostitutes claim that they don’t have any knowledge whatsoever about his religion because he’s never talked to them about it, although prayers on their behalf and murmurs about a higher power sometimes come from his mouth. ‘I only teach those who come to me and want to listen,’ he says.”
Under a subsection entitled, “Acts of Christian kindness,” the article reports the presence of “tens if not hundreds of groups, projects, initiatives, and organizations run by thousands of Christians, Messianic Jews, or a combination of both, which are engaged in giving humanitarian aid in fields in which the government is failing to supply assistance.” These include drug rehab centers, soup kitchens and clothing centers for the homeless, shelters for battered women, and aid to refugees. “Bridges for Peace” and the “Joseph Project” are specifically mentioned. “Although it’s difficult to characterize them all, it can be said that most of them are from the States or Western Europe. What led Christians and Messianic Jews to be linked to Israel and to support populations which apparently have no connection with them is, of course, religion, or, as some define it, ‘the God of Israel.’ Dave explains that ‘Yeshua was born here and that we see our roots as identical to those of the people and here and linked to this land’ … Despite his skepticism regarding the municipality’s ability … to effectively take care of the problem of drug addiction, like most of the Christian and Messianic activists, he will never criticize the government’s failures. ‘We aren’t here to come down on the government. Our goal is to help it to help this State.’” At the same time, both Christian and Messianic groups fear the reaction of Orthodox Jewish circles, apprehensions which have only increased with the attack on the Ortiz family in Ariel, “an act which was apparently carried out by the anti-missionary group Yad L’Achim. According to the claims, this was merely the latest and most violent in a long chain of harassments on the part of members of the organization. Some of the Christian and Messianic organizations are prevented from publicizing their names and addresses in public out of fear that the Jewish religious groups will come and knock on their doors.” Dave maintains that the fact that he does not push Bibles into people’s hands has “protected” him so far against the “schemes of the Jewish religious. It pains me that people have been brought up with anti-missionary brainwashing since their school years. Christianity is a religion which was born here, and the New Testament contains nothing against Israel. If anything, we are those who carry out part of the most essential things in the region.’”
From one extreme to the other, the second article in this section – which perhaps falls here by default, the only other place it might have occurred being “Christian tourism” – reports on the unfortunate incident of a Christian tourist who fell victim to the “Jerusalem Syndrome” (Ma’ariv, May 25). This official designation defines a “madness of messianic megalomania,” one which recently attacked a thirty-eight-year-old American tourist who jumped four meters from the balcony of the hospital in Poria. Not feeling well, the tourist was taken to the hospital, where he experienced a severe psychotic attack.
Pnai Plus, May 22; Jerusalem Post, May 22
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (May 22), Bethlehem is “repackaging itself.” The intention is apparently to the fact that “Jesus’ traditional birthplace is even branching out” – seemingly a reference to the opening of a “shiny 2,800-seat convention center” in the city, which its mayor hopes will “put Bethlehem on the map as a convention host, not just as a destination for pilgrims visiting Jesus’ traditional birth grotto. ‘I think this economic conference will create a new era in this city,’ Batarseh said.”
In a review of the history of Yaffa – “Port stories” – following biblical references came those relating to the New Testament. “Christians see in this region the place where one of the most important miracles in the history of Christianity took place: on the roof of the church, Peter – Yeshu’s successor and the first Roman pope – had a vision in which he saw a sheet descending from heaven loaded with every good thing from the Land: milk, meat, seafood, and all sorts of other non-kosher foods. A divine voice from heaven [bat kol] delivered him a message from God: “What God has commanded do you not make unclean” (Acts 10:15). [The text actually reads: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”] The vision’s message was clear: Now, after Yeshu’s death, there was no longer any need to keep the Jewish laws of kashrut. In this way the Christians became a sect which allowed the inclusion of non-Jews, and in effect this was the point of the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Ma’ariv, May 1, 2008
A report in Ma’ariv (May 1) stated very briefly and without any details the delivery of a papal letter to Israeli Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger asserting that, “the revival of the Latin liturgy calling on God to enlighten the Jews to the Catholic Church [sic] is not a call for missionary work toward Jews.”