June 11 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….June 11, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 18 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Christian tourism and sites, and Christians in Israel. Of these:

6 dealt with Messianic Jews
1 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
4 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
2 dealt with Christian tourism
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian sites

Responses to the book burning in Or Yehuda continued to fill this week’s press as well, combined with the police refusal to open an investigation into “Messianic Judaism,” on the grounds that “missionizing does not constitute a call for conversion.”
Messianic Jews
BeSheva, June 5; HaZofeh, June 6; Yom L’Yom, June 5; Chadashot Ono, May 23, 30; Makor Rishon, June 10, 2008
Following the Bible Quiz, BeSheva has been conducting a discussion regarding the events surrounding Bat-El Levi’s participation. On June 5, Daniel Shalit contributed a piece in which he suggested another alternative to those already raised: to cancel the Quiz altogether. His arguments rested on the claim that “competing” over the Bible was contrary to the Book’s own spirit – which is one of “appeal and command”: “‘And you shall love!’ ‘And you shall know!’ ‘And you shall observe!’ ‘And you shall do!’ (‘walk humbly’)”; a spirit of revelation and “fascination” rather than of technicalities and ‘trivial pursuit.’ Perhaps more significantly, turning the Bible into a quiz – i.e., turning the study of it into a means rather than an end in itself – is part of the Israeli secularization process whereby the Bible has become a “national book” and Jewish tradition (the Oral Law – Mishna and Talmud) are almost completely neglected: “But in effect, in a paradoxical way, this is to adopt the Christian approach. Christianity received and adopted the Bible (the ‘Old Testament’) and the prophets as heralds and preparers of Yeshu and the ‘New Testament’ while rejecting the Talmud and Siddur (prayer book). Thus the Zionist fathers were able to speak about the ‘biblical heritage’ and the ‘ethics of the prophets’ (see the Declaration of Independence) as about a consensus, something respected and universal – after it had undergone Christian treatment. So there’s nothing surprising about the fact that the Bible Quiz so naturally attracts Christians and ‘Messianic Jews.’”
Mina Fenton, former member of the Jerusalem municipal council and a fervent anti-missionary supporter, contributed her own opinion piece regarding Bat-El Levi (Makor Rishon, June 10). She took issue with the writer of a letter published in the same paper on 15 May, in which he had asserted that since Bat-El is Jewish she was eligible to participate in the Quiz and that the unnecessary fuss had brought the group publicity which they could otherwise not have dreamed of receiving. [It would appear that this letter was not covered in the previous Reviews.] Fenton protested that Messianic Judaism is in fact a “dangerous sect” of people who “pretend to be like any other Jew. This is a family of Christians and Jews (apostates), who believe in Yeshu and everything connected with him. If so, how can you states that Bat-El is Jewish! … The Siegel family are Christians who converted (deceitfully) in Basel, Switzerland.” In light of these “facts,” Fenton called for an investigation of the identity of all future Quiz participants. She also pointed out how the incident had revealed the “methods” employed by the Messianic Jewish community: “… of assimilation into Israeli society, of going to school with everyone else, of approaching children and inviting families to their homes, and then begins the concentrated activity. They work day and night and the results correspond to this.”
In the continuing uproar over the burning of copies of the New Testament in Or Yehuda, Shraga Bar On contributed an opinion piece to the religious paper HaZofeh (June 6). Subtitled “From the gemara up to Bialik, there is deep shock over violent acts towards books, which represent our spiritual world,” Bar On displayed his own shock towards the incident: “It is permissible to recommend burning books in writing. But to do so in practice – that is forbidden … [It appears that] very little culture exists in our schools. And in at least one religious school in Or Yehuda a monstrous subculture exists. The Deputy Mayor of a city in Israel even participated in a ceremony in which copies of the ‘New Testament’ were burned. Are these the faces [is this the face] of our children? The face of our education system? The face of our public officials? The face of the ugliest mass hatred which can be imagined? Whoever remains indifferent in the face of such acts displays his indifference towards the pain of the people of the Book. Whoever participates in such acts crosses the line and joins a satanic group whose power is destructive rather than creative, which burns rather than sanctifies God’s name.”
On the same subject, but in very different vein, Alon Nuriel in Yom L’Yom (June 5) reported that Uzi Aharon received a phone call this week from the Director of the Center Against Anti-Semitism in Oslo, in which she informed him that “people across the world are taking the position that those harming the Jewish people are in fact the missionaries who show contempt for the books sacred to Christianity by distributing among the Jewish people.” The repugnance of such persons derives from the fact that the recipients of the literature threw them into the trash. Moreover, the Director accused the Israeli media of “arousing anti-Semitic sentiments and not accepting the clarifications and explanations against the missionaries and attacked their activity by enticement of the subject [and] choosing to attack the book burning.” According to the same article, Yad L’Achim representatives stated that “in over forty years they had never seen such a great sanctification of God’s name in [the amount of] propaganda against the negative phenomenon of conversion.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Haaretz, June 9, 2008
In a piece about “First fruits and firstborn” in honor of Shavuot (Pentecost), Michael Handelzats addressed the biblical principle of the “elder shall serve the younger,” illustrating its occurence also from the New Testament. In examining David’s lineage, he suggested that, “Matthew counts 14 generations from Abraham to David, five of them leading not through firstborns; then there are 14 additional generations, starting with David, and then his son Solomon (not a firstborn either); then there is the exile to Babylon, and then another 14 generations ending with Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth. Here it really gets weird. Joseph is not Jesus’ father, as Mary conceived thanks to the Holy Ghost. But Jesus has at least one older brother, James, although how that could have happened (Joseph was on the verge of marrying Mary when he discovered she was with child, so presumably they could not have had an older child), God only knows … Both Testaments follow the ‘relay race’ of our primal biblical dynasty, with the seed being passed on through the male line, despite some interference by women at crucial points. The line does not lead through firstborns in all cases.”
Anti-missionary Activities
Mishpaha, June 5; Makor Rishon, June 4; HaModia, June 10, 2008
One of the interesting developments from the Or Yehuda incident – and perhaps other recent events involving Messianic Jewish activity – has been a written “ruling” issued by the police stating that “‘Activity towards conversion does not constitute missionizing’” (see HaModia, June 10; Mishpaha, June 5; Makor Rishon, June 4). In response to a letter sent to the Minister of Internal Security, Avi Dichter, by Yad L’Achim director Shalom Dov Lipshitz, in which the latter claimed that the “missionary propaganda” which “displayed clear signs of giving incentives to anyone who responded to the call in the tracts” was “completely forbidden under existing Israeli law,” the police replied that while the tracts “called on Jews to join a Christian sect” they were not a “‘call for conversion, nor did they even mention any religion, including Christianity.’” According to the report, “The letter concluded with the disturbing assertion that ‘Since no offense of missionary activity exists in criminal law, only activity towards conversion’ – thus and no less – ‘we are not dealing with a criminal offense and therefore no place exists for police intervention in this matter.’”
The same article also reported on Avi Dichter’s investigation into a soup kitchen in Modi’in –“Modi’in Center” – which MK Porush had asked him to conduct in light of the latter’s claims that it was operating as a mission front. While Dichter allegedly visited the facility and “noted that ‘one of the workers prayed in the name of ‘that man’ [Mishpaha; Makor Rishon, “in the name of Yeshu”; HaModia, “conducted a Christian ritual”], spoke about Holocaust Memorial Day, and afterwards a meal was distributed,” he also asserted that, “‘There was no activity on the premises pointing at the committing of criminal offenses according to Article 174a of the criminal law – merely charity work by an organization which believes in helping and assisting the needy. Moreover, from a survey which the center conducted on the spot it was clear that the workers were not guaranteeing anyone any financial or material incentives to convert, and therefore there is no criminal offense.’” Also of significance was Porush’s alleged reaction: “… he did not know whether to laugh or to cry when he heard the statement. Is a public and explicit blessing to ‘that man’ not in any way an enticement to convert? Does the giving of a free meal to any one who comes to the place not fall under the definition which prohibits by law the giving of money or equal in money …?!”
Nitzan Kedar also came out very strongly against missionary activity in Chadashot Ono (June 23). Its sole purpose – “backed by large sums of money” – he claimed, was “not to reveal the light to anyone but to persuade Jews to convert to Christianity.” While he could not reconcile himself to book burning, as a Jew living in the State of Israel Kedar was of the opinion that “perhaps precisely such an act would wake up the government, not just to speak but also to act … Whoever thinks that my attitude is extreme, let him consider how much he would want to see the Christian community flourishing in his own neighborhood, perhaps next to the synagogue in which he and his companions pray.”
Christian Zionism
Haaretz, June 3, 2008
Colette Avital, an MK and former General Consul in NY, and presidential candidate in 2007, does not share many other Israelis’ positive view of Christian Zionism. In her opinion piece published in Haaretz (June 3), entitled, “They only appear to be supporters,” she came out strongly against John Hagee, for example: “As someone familiar with the evangelicals’ views and beliefs on the second coming of Jesus, there is nothing surprising to me about his statements. It only causes me to sigh in relief because the truth is coming out. This time it was not a slip of the tongue, and the statements are documented on the Church’s Web site. Do we still need to point out that Jesus can return only after Armageddon, and to this end it is best if Israel continues to be at war?”
Christian Tourism
Jerusalem Post, June 4; Ma’ariv, June 3, 2008
“Birthright Israel” is a program designed to bring Jewish youth to Israel in order to expose them to Jewish life in the State and encourage them to make aliyah. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (June 4), “an increasing number of non-Jewish participants, including Christians, have managed to get through the screening process of the program … According to Birthright Israel’s Web site, participants are eligible if they are recognized ‘by the Jewish community or by one of the recognized denominations of Judaism, or if either parent is Jewish and the applicant does not actively practice another religion.’ But it is evident that this criteria is not always used when selecting participants … ‘One of the questions we had to ask was “what is your favorite holiday memory”’ And people are telling us: Christmas with my family. But we are still saying, “Okay, you can come on the trips,”’ Edwards said.” Gidi Mark, Taglit-Birthright Israel’s marketing director, was quoting as saying, “‘We don’t decide who is Jewish, we decide who is eligible for Birthright.’”

Although not strictly an episode belonging to the category of “Christian tourism,” Ian Brown, a former soloist with the “Stone Roses,” recently visited Israel and, on a tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, thought to enter a Greek Orthodox church dressed in his usual garb – above the knee shorts and T-shirt. According to the report in Ma’ariv (June 3), Brown was refused entry by a priest. Brown was not to be deterred, however, and a fistfight broke out between the two, ending – after a barrage of verbal curses – with Brown on the outside and the priest on the inside – and “a train of disturbed nuns crying gevalt.”
Christians in Israel
Kol HaIr, May 30; Yediot Yerushalayim, June 6, 2008
The Orthodox Syrian Church in Israel is set to lease land it owns in Jerusalem to the Africa Israel Company. According to this report, the latter will pay the former $175,000 annually to the church, whose patriarch resides in Damascus, and intends to build a luxury project on the property, having bought it from the owners two years ago. Aware that it would find it difficult to sell the proposed apartments at the price it was asking ($7,000 per square meter), the company came to an agreement with the church that the latter would extend its lease until 2110. A sidebar gave details of the Syrian Orthodox Church: It developed from the church in Antioch in Syria and its language of prayer is Aramaic. Its members consider themselves to be the descendants of the Assyrians and live principally in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Church also owns property near the Armenian Quarter in the Old City and claims jurisdiction over part of the Holy Sepulcher; its representative is one of the few personages in Israel to hold a Syrian diplomatic passport.
A piece in Kol HaIr (May 30) entitled “Jerusalem – the time is short and the holiness great” (a play on a well-known Jewish saying paralleling the parable of the workers in the vineyard) examined some of the traditions of Easter celebrated in the city: “The festivities begin on Sunday, the day on which Yeshua entered the city as the Messiah son of David on a colt with masses of people waving palm branches before him and calling out ‘Hosanna’ [save us] – from which comes the name of the day, Palm Sunday.” The following “fascinating event” is that of the feet washing, which takes place on the Thursday of holy week: “The ceremony reconstructs an event described in the New Testament in which Yeshua girded his loins with a towel and washed the feet of his twelve disciples as a symbol of his humility … The week concludes with the most important ceremony. This is the ceremony which symbolizes Yeshua’s resurrection and the victory of Christianity. It’s held on Saturday, known as the Saturday of Holy Light or Fire … According to the tradition, the Holy Spirit descends from heaven as a flame and lights the patriarch’s torch … Seven weeks after Easter – like seven weeks after Passover – the Christians celebrate their own giving of the Law … According to the New Testament, flames of fire descended from heaven and caused the disciples of Yeshua, an offspring [netzer] from the House of David, to speak in a medley of different tongues, in which they began to disseminate his teaching.”
The Anglo File section of the weekend Haaretz (June 9) carried a lengthy report on the Conrad Schick Library at Christ Church – “one of Jerusalem’s unsung treasures – a small room chock full of books, letters and documents in the historical Christ Church complex … a treasure trove of Christian, Jewish and Muslim daily life in nineteenth-century Jerusalem, providing an invaluable primary source for scholars of this fascinating era …” According to the report, “The precious documents found in the rare holdings closet put the Conrad Schick Library on a list of over 50 priceless collections whose preservation and digitalization is the goal of the Historical Libraries and Archives Survey, a project under the wing of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London.” The “church’s new rector, Rev. David Pileggi,” was quoted as saying that “the library’s niche is 19th-century Christian involvement in the Holy Land, the Christian contribution to Jewish and Palestinian nationalism, and to the Zionist enterprise. But how did the missionaries contribute to Zionism? … [Pileggi] explains the irony thus: 19th-century Jerusalem Jews patronized the Christian hospital, which was the only one in the city when it opened in 1844. However, Jewish community leaders eventually forbade them from using the hospital for fear it would lead to their conversion to Christianity. But the crying need for medical care in the overcrowded Jewish Quarter of those days had to be met, and so 10 years later, the Rothschilds sponsored the first Jewish house of healing.” Pileggi added that, “‘We have Israelis coming in here all the time telling us they think their great-grandfather or some other relative worked for the society,’ Pileggi says, adding that one of the rewards of his work is being able to put people in touch with their past and trade information.” As for the library’s name: “Why is an Anglican Church library named after the German architect Conrad Schick? … Schick, who worked in the compound’s vocational school and drew up plans for its renovation (and also designed the neighborhood of Meah She’arim, among many famous Jerusalem buildings), sums up what he [Pileggi] says the library is about. ‘He personified the type of person who came to Palestine out of genuine compassion, and this is our way of paying tribute.’”