June 6 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….June 6, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 17 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
1 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
6 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian tourism
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
Responses to the book burning in Or Yehuda continued to fill the press this week, together with reactions to the scheduled deportation of a German Christian post-graduate student at the Hebrew University.
Messianic Jews
Kol HaZman, May 30; Mishpaha, May 29; Israel HaYom, June 1; Yediot Bika’at Ono, May 23, 30; Yediot Tel Aviv, May 23, 2008
Yediot Bika’at Ono (May 23) reported on the General Attorney’s instructions to the police to investigate Uzi Aharon (see last week’s Review). It quoted substantial large portions of Mazuz’s letter, including a statement that Aharon’s actions appear to constitute a violation of the law which prohibits “infringement of religious and moral sensitivities.” It also included Aharon’s response: “‘I welcome the Attorney General’s decision. I have full confidence in the legal authorities. We shall wait patiently for the results of the investigation which will determine whether I was involved in the burning or not.’”
Responses to the book burning continued to be published in the Israeli press. Natan Zahavi in Kol HaZman (May 30) asserted that “Operation book burning 2008-model in a Jewish city in the State of Israel sent a shudder through many people. The lethargic Israeli police and those among its top echelon did not arrest the perpetrators, the Attorney General and the State defense lawyer muttered something unintelligible about the event, and the Minister of Justice is swimming in Eilat, preoccupied with the slow assassination of Dorit Beinish, the President of the Supreme Court, and has no time for such trivial issues as book burning … In Or Yehuda, where racist attitudes were displayed towards Ethiopian immigrants not long ago, people have managed to preempt Heinrich Heine’s prophecy [that where books are burnt, the burning of people will follow] and turn it on its head. They first burned people and then, twenty years later, books … We’re living in 2008 and apparently it doesn’t matter to anyone that in a State of ‘Survival,’ ‘A Star is born’ [the Israeli equivalent of American Idol], and the Eurovision song contest, the values of civilization, human life, human rights, and respect for life are terms which don’t raise a hair on their heads.”
A. Shushan, in the religious paper Mishpaha (May 29), gave a chilling example of what the relatively harmless tradition of Lag B’Omer can turn into at times. His son came home from the bonfire claiming that he had burned his teddy bear on the pyre. Yet what crimes had the soft toy committed, other, perhaps, than having outworn its usefulness? The fact that effigies such as Haman, Hitler, and Ahmadinejad are burned on Lag B’Omer is no guarantee that innocent teddy bears will at some time replace truly wicked figures; we must be very careful that the “holiday” does not turn into an auto de fé. Shushan continued with his “cautionary tale,” however, not by denouncing the burning but justifying it: “This year in Or Yehuda they took the issue of ‘purging the evil from amongst you’ very seriously, even performing it early. A week before Lag B’Omer in an orchestrated and coordinated burning, abominable and corrupt books from the house of study of Christian missionaries were burned at the stake. There’s no more worthy and fitting fate for the greatest perversion in history and for the disseminators of the atrocities of the missionaries who do not balk at any means of converting Jews. Only one problem remains. The burning was meant to persuade the convinced. All the people who stood around the bonfire and celebrated know very well how to identity copies of the New Testament and quietly throw them into the bin without reading them … there are easier ways to express your frustrations that aren’t associated in any way with faith in something or reading silly texts hundreds of years old.” The trouble comes with those – with their little spirituality and faith – who read in the press about an Orthodox Jew performing an act which reminds them of the burning of Jewish books and synagogues “and ask themselves what we [Orthodox Jews] are really afraid of – that perhaps these books really do contain something.” Moreover, burning books is counterproductive, since it merely gives the missionaries the opportunity to reprint their Scriptures in abundance – and to enjoy the publicity and sympathy of much of the Jewish population: “The soul hunters are backed from all sides, and the broadcasted burning only gives motivates them to renew the dissemination of their lies … [which] will encourage more people to endeavor to examine the books in order to understand what is so appalling to the hated Orthodox.” Even in denouncing the book burning, Shushan’s point appears to be more to defend the Orthodox than to denounce the act itself: “The struggle against the mission is dirty and difficult. But we must be careful not to adopt easy solutions. Public burning is one of these. When it is performed by people dressed in Orthodox garb who have already accumulated many hours of hatred in the media and are the victims of an unsympathetic and hostile atmosphere, no good will result from it.”
Yehoshua Sobol contributed a satirical piece on the subject to Israel HaYom (June 1), in which he presented himself as mystified by the mysterious way in which his television screen appeared to keep jumping out of time, showing scenes from Berlin in the 1930’s when he thought he was watching a video of the events in Or Yehuda.
Bika’at Ono (May 23) published a lengthy article by Noam Gil in which the latter expressed his hope that “we can shake free from hypocrisy and stop pretending to be innocent”: “The writing is on the wall. Whoever relates publicly to Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and the missionizing of other religions as ‘an existential danger’ and uses such radical terminology in complete seriousness is in danger of performing the same acts.” Calling the book burning a “fascist act,” Gil identified it as the breaking of a record. According to his report, Aharon asserted that the incident got out of control when, he himself only having burned missionary literature, the yeshiva students involved threw copies of the New Testament onto the bonfire as well. Aharon’s superior, Mayor David Yosef, was quoted as denouncing the “radical act”: “We’re shocked by this act. The people of the Book remember other periods, dark and awful, in the history of mankind in which the burning of books served as a means to advance despicable purposes … The municipality [of Or Yehuda] had nothing to do with this act. In our view, books represent all the things which we wish to bequeath to our children – culture, ideas, language, acceptance of the other, and tolerance. Books are the best part of us, and protecting them is protecting a cultured and enlightened way of life.’”
On a very different note, in its regular column on Tel Aviv gardens, Yediot Tel Aviv (May 23) looked at the American-German neighborhood which includes Beit Immanuel youth hostel. In its brief review of the locality’s history, the column noted that the hostel is currently being run by Messianic Jews and proceeded to provide a definition: “‘Messianic Jews’: Jews who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Yeshua as the Messiah.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Ma’ariv, May 30, 2008
In response to Meir Shalev’s opinion piece regarding the book burning (see last week’s Review), Menahem Ben contributed one of his own, entitled “Pearls before swine.” Ben’s ire was raised precisely by Shalev’s deprecation of the New Testament in comparison to the Tanakh: “I am not suspected of not being a lover of the Tanakh, which has no rival or parallel, but despite this I say: The New Testament is a wonderful spiritual and religious book. Not only are the four Gospels fascinating in their four opening accounts of the book but also selected parts of the letters and sermons (although not all) are outstanding in their high level of spirituality and religiosity – even if I completely reject the claim that Yeshu was the messiah and redeemer (truly not, because if he had been the redeemer, the redemption would have had to have come, and it hasn’t, so don’t talk to me about the messiah). It’s true that the Hebrew of the Tanakh is naturally superior to that of the translated Hebrew of the New Testament (despite the fact that Prof. Franz Delitzsch’s translation is superb), but the New Testament is still certainly one of the most beautiful continuations that have been written of the Tanakh, even if I prefer Isaiah to Yeshu (who said, among other things, ‘don’t cast your pearls before swine’). In addition to relating to Meir Shalev’s column, Ben also gave suggestions for recommended reading for the upcoming Hebrew book week. His list included Helena Yegev-Mor’s autobiography, The Parable of the Fig Tree which, he stated was of particular interest “against the backdrop of the terrible schemes against Messianic Jews in Israel.” (For the book, see April Review.)

Anti-missionary Activities
HaModia, May 29, 2008
Under the headline “Supreme Court grants Israeli citizenship to missionaries, in wake of State’s approval,” HaModia (May 29) carried the report of the Supreme Court’s decision to grant Israeli citizenship to twelve Messianic Jews (see previous Reviews). According to the piece, in a “change of policy,” the Interior Ministry has agreed to “‘recognize’ the Jewishness of missionaries from the group of ‘Messianic Jews.’” Yad L’Achim’s director called the decision a “‘dark day’ and claimed that it was a deliberate sabotage of the holy struggle against missionary activity in Eretz Israel.”
Christians in Israel
Yediot HaTzafon, May 23; Haaretz, May 27, 29 (pp. 4, 7), 30; Kol HaIr, May 30, 2008
Yediot HaTzafon (May 23) ran the story of Akko’s Mayor’s law suit against local council member Molli Cohen for slander, the latter claiming that the former was favoring Christian missionary groups over Jewish bodies (see last week’s Review).
Numerous articles were devoted to the news that the Interior Ministry has ordered the deportation of a German postgraduate student on the grounds that she has been engaged in missionary work. Barbara Ludwig (32), who undertook her undergraduate studies in philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and is now working towards an MA in Religious Studies at the same institution, was recently arrested and incarcerated in Ma’asiyahu prison in Ramle on the charge of not having arranged her residency status (Haaretz, May 29, p. 4). “Despite attempts by the Hebrew University’s legal department to demand her release so she could finish her studies, the Custody Tribunal at Ma’asiyahu ordered her to leave the country within 30 days.” According to same report, the head of the Population Administration’s central region, Elinor Golan (Meretz), “sent two letters to Ludwig’s lawyer stating that Ludwig’s repeated requests for residency status had been denied because she was ‘doing missionary work.’” Ludwig herself “denied being a missionary, although she admits being in contact with Messianic Jews. ‘They may have seen me at some meeting of the Messianic Jews,’ she says. ‘I go around with Jews, with Christians and with Messianics, and I read books about Christianity. So what? That’s not a reason to deport me,’ Ludwig said.” Her lawyer, Michael Decker, stated that a hearing of her case in 2004 had been a “‘humiliating religious interrogation’” which included the question whether she believed Jesus was the Messiah. According to Kol HaIr (May 30), Ludwig’s initial request for a student visa – submitted in 2003 before she had even begun her studies – was rejected after six months, and she was ordered to leave the country. During the subsequent five years, Ludwig submitted numerous appealing against the ruling, which were all denied. This March, however, she received a letter stating that her case was being reviewed and that a decision had not yet been taken. Having spent three days in Ma’asiyahu, Ludwig was released on bail on condition that she leave the country within thirty days. “On the day she was released, she received a letter from the Interior Ministry according to which she is a missionary who is attempting to legitimate her status in the country among other ways by undergoing conversion.” According to the same report, her fellow students signed a petition arguing that it was especially important that German students be allowed to study in the country “‘because of the difficult history between Germany and the Jewish people.’”
In parallel to the Israeli government’s discussion with Russian authorities regarding the transfer of Russian-owned land back to their original owners (see previous Reviews), the PA is also due to give back land in Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, and Jericho which belongs to the Provoslavic Church (Haaretz, May 27). According to a Russian news-follower, a member of the Pensioner’s Party, the Provoslavic Church has recently being undergoing a “renaissance” in Russia and that it exerts considerable influence over Russia’s domestic and foreign policy alike.
Christian Tourism
Calcalist, June 2, 2008
According to an article in Calcalist (June 2) looking at the increase in tourism – finally – “Out of more than two millions tourists who arrived in Israel this year or will come during the remainder of 2008, around a half are Christians. The regular itinerary of Christian groups is as follows: the first night in Tel Aviv, two nights in Tiberias (a visit to Nazareth and sites in the Galilee), and four nights in Jerusalem, including visits to Bethlehem, Masada, and Jericho. 75% of the Christians come through Israeli travel agencies; the remainder – about 250,000 – come through Palestinian agencies in East Jerusalem.” The reawakened tourism has helped revive the Palestinian tourism business. A change may also be discerned in the place of origin of tourists coming through Palestinian agencies. While American and West European groups continue to visit, “a dramatic rise has occurred in the number of tourists from East Europe, especially from Russia and Poland. An increasing number of pilgrims are also coming from Greece and South Korea.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, June 1; HaModia, June 1, 2008
According to these two reports, “Negotiations between Israel and the Vatican have made ‘significant progress,’ after a decade of inconclusive talks, according to a joint communiqué issued last week.” Although the “thorn in the side” of Israeli-Vatican relations has long been the matter of taxes to be paid by church premises in Israel, “A member of the Israeli delegation said Thursday that the most significant progress was made on church legal matters and not on the critical dispute over taxation of church properties in the Holy Land.” The legal structure of the Catholic Church’s authority in Israel has been “agreed upon but never confirmed by the Knesset.” The next high-level meeting is scheduled to take place in Israel in December.