Caspari Center Media Review………….June 25, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 19 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, and Christian sites. Of these:
5 dealt with Messianic Jews
4 dealt with anti-missionary activity
4 dealt with Christians in Israel
4 dealt with Christianity
1 dealt with archaeology
1 was a book review
This week’s Review continues to focus attention on the book burning in Or Yehuda, as well as various other anti-missionary activities.
Gal-Gefen, May 29; Chadashot Netanya, June 20; HaModia, June 20; Yediot Ahronot, June 18; Chadashot Ono, May 30, June 6, 2008
The echoes of the book burning in Or Yehuda are still resonating in the Israeli media. A short update in Chadashot Ono (May 30) reported that Uzi Aharon, into whose actions the Attorney General has recommended an investigation, has allegedly welcomed the step: “‘I will be very happy if an investigation is opened. I have full confidence in the law-enforcement authorities. We will permit the investigation to be conducted without disturbance and we will await its conclusions.’”
On June 6, the same paper provided a slightly different story. In reporting on the demonstration held by “Bina” against the book burning (see last week’s Review), the piece also included another version of Uzi Aharon’s stance, one which he expressed in disapprobation of the demonstration: “‘I myself do not agree with the act of book burning. I’ve said in the past and I’m saying it again: this wasn’t the intention. It was a marginal act, performed by a number of youths. But you have to understand that this represents a phenomenon of the mission – which isn’t a marginal phenomenon. It saddens me that the press have turned things upside down, that they’ve turned me from a prosecutor into the accused … I’ve already said that I don’t agree with the act and that it certainly wasn’t planned, and we’ve made it clear that we are sorry about what happened.” His point, ultimately, focused on demographics. With the rise in number of foreign workers and the high birthrate among minorities in the country, “‘if we give the mission a free hand to convert people then we shall truly lose the Jewish majority in Israel.’”
A third version appeared in Gal-Gefen (May 29), in which it was reported that while Uzi Aharon is suspected of involvement in the act, “he claims that at the time of the book burning he was in Jerusalem and when he arrived he tried to prevent the rest of the books from going up in flames.”
Two responses to Yair Lapid’s reaction to the burning (see last week’s Review) appeared in this week’s media. The first, in the religious paper HaModia (June 20), was more irate over the person than his statements – i.e., his failure to denounce attacks on the Orthodox. As part of this argument, Yosef Lavi asked whether “the books of the mission – which aren’t pulled out to serve the needs of Christians but flood Jewish settlements in order to entice them to convert, aren’t also worthy of some of this [his] wrath?” In a series of reasons explaining why “Jews don’t burn books,” Lavi asserted that Jews are the ones who have been persecuted, that books which “poison the soul” are different from ordinary books, and that burning them is a form of self-defense. He further maintained that the New Testament was “composed with the deliberate intent not only of falsifying history but also to prepare the ground for the persecution of the Jews. The Jews the composers of these books meant to destroy from the face of the map and to inherit their place in history. These books denied the right of the Jews to live according to their faith and decreed ‘punishments’ on whoever was not swayed by their writers and didn’t run to fulfill the task that they determined for them.” Since, in Lavi’s opinion, the New Testament is responsible for all the horrors of Jewish history, from the blood libels up to the Holocaust, “why then should we be obligated to stand in awe of the books of the ‘New Testament,’ which were created precisely to take from the Jews both their history and their identity.”
Yet none of these facts actually form the heart of the issue. The real problem lies with the relationship of the New Testament to Messianic Jews: “The sect of the ‘Messianic Jews’ – who complain so bitterly over their persecution in the country – is not an innocent sect of poor, persecuted people … The ‘New Testaments’ which they distribute are not intended for Christians – for whom it represents their most holy book. These books which they distribute amongst Jews are part of their campaign to make them [the Jews] cross the final line. We’re talking about the most despised group of people within the Jewish fold, whose members call themselves ‘Messianic Jews.’ Apostates who, in order to make their Jewish soul-hunting work easier insist on keeping the designation ‘Jews.’ For this purpose they stick their noses into the ‘Who is a Jew?’ debate and demand that the arrogance of their sect be added to the list of characteristics. They are indeed Jews by birth, sinners of Israel in their bodies, who will need to give an account of their idolatrous incitement and seducement. Their primary goal is to turn other Jews into Christians. They assert that they are completely Jewish, that they only add on their belief in ‘that man.’ They have churches throughout the world where outside instead of a cross they have the Star of David and inside Torah scolls in an ark. But they are not satisfied with their own conversion. The heart of their activity is pulling other Jews to Christianity through their disguise.” In line with his initial claim, Lavi thus concludes: “They aren’t the ones being attacked, they are the antagonists.”
The second, by Gad Avi Asaf in Chadashot Netanya (June 20), was equally as stringent in tone. Asaf objected that the association between the incident in Or Yehuda and Germany was absurd: “The problem is that the link between the book burning carried out by the Nazis and that of the eccentric group which burned some copies of the New Testament in Or Yehuda is like the link between the burning of a house to warming up dinner in the microwave – primarily because, in contrast to the books burned by the Nazis, which were the glory of human culture, the New Testament is a degraded book responsible for all the decrees, persecutions, and destruction/apostasy which we have experienced over the course of two thousand years, including the Holocaust, which Pope Pius XII knew was happening yet preferred to sit on the sidelines and keep silent. True, I’ve never personally burned any books – including Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which I wouldn’t bother to burn because all this symbolic act of burning books is stupid and silly – but what can you do when people need their childish emotions and books which are worse than poison are at hand? … We don’t need to jump on every opportunity to find only the evil in us and to preach ethics at us.”
Yediot Ahronot, June 20; Mishpaha, June 19; Yom L’Yom, June 19; Yated Ne’aman, June 17, 2008
Yated Ne’eman (June 17) published a report this week – not printed in any of the other articles we received – that “a group of MKs from various parties, from both the coalition and the opposition, laid a bill on the Knesset table yesterday for the introduction of a law which will prohibit all preaching and persuasion for the purposes of changing one’s belief, in all and any form” (see previous Reviews). The bill’s sponsors were: Uri Ariel (NRP/Mafdal), Rabbis Shmuel Halpert and Ya’akov Cohen (United Torah Judaism), Ya’akov Margi (Shas), Yoram Marziano (Labor), David Rotem (Israel Beitenu), and Yitzhak Galanti (Pensioners). At present, the law only applies in the case of an approach to minors, while with respect to adults some “benefit” must be proffered. The amended law would apply equally to both adults and minors.
According to a report in Mishpaha (June 19), Yad L’Achim has charged the HOT cable channel in Israel with aiding and abetting missionary activity by broadcasting a “missionary” channel. HOT returned the favor by suing Yad L’Ahim to the tune of 500,000 shekels (around $160,000) for misrepresentation. The cable company had already informed the anti-missionary organization that the channel was “an independent broadcasting channel not under HOT’s ownership.” This means that HOT has “no influence whatsoever on the content of this channel and does not identify in any way with its message.” Yad L’Achim preferred not to accept this version and published an advert in which it claimed that HOT was aiding the “dissemination of the mission.” This, HOT’s lawyer, is arguing, constitutes slander.
A lengthy article in Yediot Ahronot (June 20) was devoted to Yad L’Achim’s fight against the use of the anthroposophic Waldorf method in Israeli schools. While the sect adopts certain Christian principles, it is primarily a secular educational method. Long scandalized by what it considers such “idolatry” in the Israeli educational system, Yad L’Achim was delighted to receive “evidence” from parents at the Zomer School in Ramat Gan – where the method is employed alongside the regular, secular curriculum – indicating that the pupils in this track were engaged in “Christian ritual” practices – the worship of icons together with the lighting of candles. (The school itself claims that the paintings and statues were part of the Grade 7 class’s study of the Renaissance.) “This was all they [Yad L’Achim] needed.” At Zomer, at least, the students come primarily from privileged and prominent Israeli families. The article also examined the methods employed by Yad L’Achim in its fight against the phenomenon. While it acknowledged that the organization conducts its activities “mostly in a serious fashion,” it called into question its claims that Rudolf Steiner, the movement’s founder, was anti-Semitic: his books were burned by the Nazis for being too “humane” and he himself could not have called for the State’s destruction because he died long before it was even created. Yad L’Achim’s principal objections to the sect/method are that it is a religious not secular movement (at the same time as being idolatrous – worshipping nature) and that it disguises this fact under false pretences. It is unclear, however, to what extent these grounds are undercut by antagonism towards the economic advantage under which the appear to anthroposophists labor. At the other end of the scale, the article indicated that neither the students and their parents nor the teachers are linked in any substantive fashion to anthroposophy; few of them could sensibly define its characteristics, admiring it merely as an educational tool. Today, the anthroposophic movement in Israel runs eleven schools and sixty kindergartens.
A report in Yom L’Yom (June 19) – the paper which claimed to have first exposed the issue – indicated that in response to an appeal by Yad L’Achim, Yuli Tamir, the Education Minister, stated that the anthroposophic method is recognized by the State educational system. In light of what it considers the State’s refusal to heed its warnings, Yad L’Achim is threatening to take the case to the Supreme Court.
Christians in Israel
Yediot Ahronot, June 18; Jerusalem Post, June 23; Haaretz, June 20, 23, 2008
Although perhaps not strictly an issue of “Christians in Israel,” we have included here a piece printed in Yediot Ahronot (June 18) which examined the government policy of bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. It pointed out that the Law of Return, under which the Ethiopian community is being brought back, “was built against the reality of Eastern Europe, where they were many mixed families and a Christian-secular culture in which the Jews who assimilated and distanced themselves from Judaism did not officially convert.” This is not the case in Ethiopia, where, no secular culture existing and few mixed marriages, “the falashmura – despite their conversion – remained a distinct community. They are no different in any way from assimilated Jews from the former USSR, who denied their Jewish identity for many years because of governmental pressure. In Russia there were also Jews who went to church – and some still do so, living as Christians also in Israel, and there are not a few who are Christians in every way.”
The Jerusalem Post (June 23) and Haaretz (June 23) both reported the appointment of Archbishop Fouad Twal as Jerusalem’s new Latin Patriarch, succeeding Michel Sabbah who recently “retired after 21 years as patriarch.” Twal (67) was born in Jordan and was named as Sabbah’s assistant in 2005.
The offspring (by marriage) of one of the most prominent and celebrated Christian families living in Israel died this week, at the age of 96 (Haaretz, June 20). Valentine Vester was the proprietor of the American Colony Hotel, a Jerusalem landmark. “Born in 1912 in Britain to a wealthy family, Vester, an Oxford graduate, came to Jerusalem in the 1960s with her husband Horatio, the grandson of the Colony’s founders.” Horatio was the grandson of Anna and Horatio Spafford who, in 1881, “led a small American contingent to Jerusalem to form a Christian utopian society known as the American Colony. Colony members, later joined by Swedish Christians, engaged in philanthropic work in Jerusalem, gaining the trust of the local Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities. A year after arriving in Jerusalem, they bought the pasha’s house from the Husseini family, and turned it into an inn. Over the years it became a luxury hotel.” Horatio himself died in 1985 and while Valentine considered Britain her true home, devoted herself to the hotel in Jerusalem.
Haaretz, June 23; Jerusalem Post, June 22, 23, 2008
Two articles, in the Jerusalem Post (June 23) and Haaretz (June 23) reported on the Anglican conference which recently took place in Jerusalem (see previous Reviews). According to the Post, “The meeting, known as the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), is perhaps the most tangible demonstration yet of the division within the 77-million-strong Anglican church.” The Post article also commented that the conference was due to “coincide with Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade, which takes place on Thursday, June 26” – a note presumably included because of the conference’s conservative stance. The conference members are said to be set to boycott the Lambeth Conference scheduled for next month “in protest against what they call the secularization of the Anglican Church.” In a denial of the anti-homosexual focus of the meeting, organizers pointed out a parallel between “‘contemporary events and events in England in the sixteenth century … Then the Catholic Church in England was faced with the choice of aligning itself with either Rome [Catholics] or Geneva [Protestants]. But when forced to decide its identity, it sought to distinguish itself from both the practices of the Papacy and the excesses it associated with the more radical reformers.’” According to Haaretz (June 23), the conference’s members see its purpose as being “‘to emphasize our connection to Jesus’ life and the Bible, while we stand in the place where he walked.’” Although the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, is “considered a traditionalist,” he chose not to attend, issuing a press release in which he stated that “he did not invite nor seek to hold the conference in Jerusalem, and that he plans to attend the Lambeth Conference in July. Nonetheless, he held a reception yesterday for the visiting bishops.”
In light of the upcoming US Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, the Jerusalem Post (June 22) published a report on its divestment policy, asserting that its vote “to begin a process of ‘phased, selective divestment’ from companies operating in Israel” opened up a “new front in the Middle East conflict and a new rift in Christian-Jewish relations.” Expectations of the 2008 GA are that it will “resemble a similar convention held by the Methodists this year, one in which church members unanimously rejected the most partisan policies on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Much of the article was devoted to a review of a “remarkable document” named “Vigilance Against Anti-Jewish Ideas and Bias” which appeared on the Church’s web site in May of this year: “This was a remarkable work in many ways. Rather than talk in bland generalities, the church document stated outright that ‘we are aware and do confess that anti-Jewish attitudes can be found among us’ and that ‘anti-Jewish theology can unfortunately be found in connection with the PC(USA) General Assembly overtures.’” Although the document was “celebrated by the church’s interfaith partners as well as by PCUSA’s harshest internal critics,” “then, with no fanfare, no announcement, without even an explanation, this document was quietly replaced with an ‘updated’ version, one which stripped the work of any acknowledgement that the church continues, as it does, to traffic in retrograde theology and stances. Gone was acknowledgment of problems with the stands that the church is currently taking, and gone was the reference to Israel’s sole responsibility for Palestinian suffering as being ‘inaccurate,’ replaced by broad generalizations and hints that criticism of PCUSA had more to do with misinterpretation of good intentions than with actual error.” The writer asked the pertinent question whether the document switch – and the lack of public debate surrounding it – cannot be traced to “a church hierarchy most distant from those thousands of small, important conversations. If PCUSA leaders are only willing to take themselves seriously, not the difficult subjects they insist be made part of the church agenda, it is just a matter of time before the damage they cause to the reputation of their institution, a reputation that took centuries to build, becomes permanent.”
Haaretz, June 17, 2008
According to a report in Haaretz (June 17), “A marine scientist has discovered a series of mysterious stone patterns on the lake bed of drought-stricken Lake Kinneret [the Sea of Galilee]. The man-made piles of stone … sit 30 meters from each other along a 3.5-kolmeter stretch of the eastern shore.” While the structures have “not yet been scientifically examined,” several theories have already been posited regarding their nature. These include the suggestion that they were “part of a boundary between the ancient lakeside towns of Hippos, also known as Sussita, and Gadara. Both towns were part of the Decapolis, a group of 10 towns that flourished in the eastern part of the Roman province of Palestine, and are mentioned in the New Testament.”
Haaretz, June 20, 2008
Yitzhak Leor reviewed Netta Stahl book, In the Image of a Jew: Representations of Jesus in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Literature (Reisling, 2008) in Haaretz (June 20), under the title: “And he will return to the Land of Eretz in a tallit [prayer shawl]” – a quote from Uri Zvi Greenberg – and the subtitle, “Netta Stahl endeavors to domesticate the stranger: to write about Yeshu in Hebrew literature.” Leor opened his review with the assertion that not only can such a book now be written but surely we should expect it to be so, given the attention Jesus has received in modern Hebrew literature. According to Stahl, the distinction between the Crucified One and the Jewish “Christ” was accomplished in large part by the Enlightenment, early nationalism, and several Zionist circles, all of whom attempted to “domesticate” Jesus by returning him to his “source” or “origin” – “in other words, to return him to Judaism, through national fiction, a fiction which was not available to the Sages of the Talmud or to Hebrew literature throughout the generations until the Enlightenment.” A large part of the literature on Jesus is written in Hebrew, even when composed by East Europeans – as if “they had no need, apparently, of taking Yeshu off the wall of the church and putting him back into the fields of Bethlehem, so that he would be part of the fantasy of the Holy Land … Stahl writes: ‘In the works which were written after the creation of the State, and particularly by authors born in the Land, we don’t find any more ambivalence in their attitude towards Yeshu but a firm ground of identity and closeness.’ Stahl doesn’t ask ‘How come’ – perhaps because such a question is beyond her field of research; it is undoubtedly linked to questions of ideology.” Leor added that she also successfully deals with the issue of how Jesus has become part of Hebrew literature the more the latter has itself become part of Israeli literature – while one would normally expect that he would fade into oblivion once Jews had left behind their proximity to the churches and culture of Europe.
Professor Stahl currently teaches Hebrew Literature at Johns Hopkins University and the book – based on her 2005 Ph.D. dissertation (Tel Aviv University), which won the prestigious Koret publication prize for a first book in Jewish Studies – is due to be published in an expanded version in English as Other and Brother: Representations of Jesus in Twentieth Century Hebrew Literature. Yitzhak Leor is a writer, poet, and playwright.