July 1 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….June 1, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 15 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, and Christian sites. Of these:

2 dealt with Messianic Jews
1 dealt with attitudes towards Jesus
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
3 dealt with Christians in Israel
4 dealt with Christianity
2 dealt with interfaith dialogue
2 dealt with the arts

This week’s press contained several articles reporting on the circumstances of Messianic Jews in Israel.
Messianic Jews
Jerusalem Post, June 26, pp. 1, 6, 2008
On its front page, under the headline, “Messianic Jews to protest ‘discriminatory’ immigration policies,” the Jerusalem Post (June 26) ran a story concerning the UMJC’s intention to “protest this weekend against what they call Israel’s discriminatory policy against Jews who believe that Jesus is the messiah.” Noting that the three-day conference the organization is currently holding in Jerusalem is set to discuss the recent wave of incidents involving Messianic Jews, Ross Resnik was quoted as stating that, “‘We are planning to call on the Israeli government to address the problem of discrimination against Messianic Jews who wish to make aliya. Messianic Jews see Israel as the place of our past, from the earliest visit by Abraham to the modern rebirth of the Jewish state. And it is the place of our future, which will culminate in the messiah’s return. We are avid supporters of Israel in the present, and that’s why we brought our conference here. But we are also concerned about recent expressions of violence against Messianic Jews.’” In countering objections by the Orthodox community that “Messianic Jews should not be considered Jews … [and] should be marginalized and distanced from Jewish communities” in Israel, Resnick declared: “‘People need to heart that message [of the Gospel]. But just because it is such a vital message does not mean that everything goes. Our way is by showing solidarity with the Jewish people, by being part of the people.’”
On page 6 of the same edition, a further lengthy report was devoted to Messianic Judaism in general, under the headline: “Local Messianic Jews say they face increasing fear of attack.” It opened with a report on the condition of Ami Ortiz, seriously wounded by an explosive device disguised as a Purim gift in March: “Safety pins and screws are still lodged in 15-year-old Ami Ortiz’s body three months after he opened a booby-trapped Purim gift basket sent to his family. The explosion severed two toes, damaged his hearing and harmed a promising basketball career … interviewed at the Tel Aviv hospital where he is being treated, Ami comes across as no different from any Jewish Israeli his age. He’s a sabra who speaks English with a Hebrew accent, has an older brother in an elite army unit and was hoping to join the youth squad of Maccabi Tel Aviv. But his religion also holds that one can embrace Jesus – Ami calls him by his Hebrew name, Yeshua – as the messiah and remain Jewish.” That name cropped up again in another paragraph: “Many Messianic Jews say they recognize the sensitivities involved and do not distribute religious material or conduct high-profile campaigns. But [Or Yehuda deputy mayor Uzi] Aharon noted a recent ‘Jews for Jesus’ campaign with signs on buses that equated two similar words – ‘Jesus’ and ‘salvation.’” Quoting Shalom Dov Lipshitz, Yad L’Achim’s director as saying, “‘They are provoking … it’s a miracle that worse things don’t happen,’” the article concluded with the statement that, “the Messianic Jews are taking no chances, These days they worship under the protection of an armed guard.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
HaIr Tel Aviv, June 27, 2008
In a rather strange account of his experience of Shavuot this year, Gil-Marco Shani incorporated several references to Jesus. Reading the Book of Ruth, as customary on Shavuot, with his British journalist girlfriend, she informed him that “Yeshua of Nazareth” was from the house of David. “‘Yosef, Yeshua’s adoptive father, was from the house of Jesse,’ Holly tells me.” Jesus appears to entered Shani’s mind at that point: going out on the balcony to smoke a cigarette while Holly was sleeping, the sight of a far-away figure – a homeless person or a terrorist? – evoked for him the thought: “Yeshua commanded people to love the poor and the enemy in the same way.” The “almost human” aspect of the moon then led him to see in it “the face of Yeshua of Nazareth.”
Anti-missionary Activities
Yom L’Yom, June 26, 2008
Yom L’Yom (June 26) reported last week’s story of the legal conflict between HOT and Yad L’Achim.
Christians in Israel
Yediot Ahronot, June 25, 29; Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2008
Once again, by default we have included here an article from Yediot Ahronot (June 29) regarding the aliyah of Christians married to falashmura. In a lengthy report, the sad story of hundreds of mixed Ethiopian families whose Christian spouse is denied permission to make aliyah is revealed. According to the article, Ministry of Interior officials in Addis Ababa are compelling married couples to register as singles or widow/ers, with the falashmura spouse being allowed to immigrate while the Christian spouse is forced to remain in Ethiopia. While they produce legal marriage certificates, the officials effectively reject them and register people as unmarried in order to prevent the children from making aliyah. This policy is being deliberately pursued by the Ministry of Interior, it is claimed, in order to prevent Christians from making aliyah. Spouses with marriage certificates are being impelled to sign false documents, in many cases without knowing what they are signing because the documents are in Hebrew or Amharic. Several such cases have been discovered only accidentally, when attempting to rectify another mistake on a person’s ID. Ministry of Interior officials deny that that are employing any such policy – which flouts the stipulations of the Law of Return which grant spouses of people of Jewish offspring the right to make aliyah with their families. The heartbreak is enormous – not the least part of which is the sense of discrimination on a racial basis (the color of their skin), since Ethiopian olim are well aware that thousands of non-Jewish Russian and other nationals spouses have successfully made aliyah.
The Jerusalem Post (June 27) ran a lengthy piece on the “only Christian kibbutz-style community in Israel,” Nes Ammim. Formed in 1963, it originally consisted of “European families who stayed in Israel for a year or two, living in modest houses, receiving modest salaries and eating in a communal dining room. Its European founding fathers established the agricultural settlement with the far-reaching goal of building a bridge between Jews and Christians after World War II.” The philosophy behind the kibbutz was motivated by the awareness that the Holocaust was “‘facilitated by a centuries-long negative image of Jews and Judaism that has deeply wounded the Christian faith.’” Today, most of the residents are single and in their twenties and spend a year on the kibbutz, many as an alternative to serving in the German army. While the Holocaust plays a central role in bringing such youth to Israel, it does not always function in the same way. Thus, for instance, although one volunteer “‘feels and, still feel, a responsibility for recollecting, dealing with the past and commemorating the future,’” another came precisely because he was “‘sick of hearing about the Holocaust in Germany. In school, they talked too much about it. That was all we learned in history. I never even heard about the Vietnam War.’” According to Tati Weiss, head of the Nes Ammim studies department and public relations manager, “‘The community has changed over the years but its goal is still to improve Christian-Jewish relations. We want European Christians to come live in Israel for a long period to learn about Judaism and the country … The community always operated on the belief that Christianity did not come about to replace Judaism. [As part of Nes Ammim’s founding principles] we acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a Jew. The community is still here to understand the Jewish roots of Christianity.’” While its members suffered due to the Second Intifida, “Today, interest in volunteering in Nes Ammim has increased … the community still relies on donations for investments and renovations but the guesthouse is successful and appeals to both Israeli and European tourists. The village also sponsors seminars on interfaith dialogue.”
Yediot Ahronot (June 25) included a piece on Dave Pickwitt (see June 3 Review). In contrast to the previous article, this stated that “in the last few months, [Dave] has managed to bring not a few women on the fringes of prostitution into the bosom of Christianity.” It also claimed that Dave “does not hide the fact that his goal is to rehabilitate the prostitutes and to free them from drug abuse by means of Christianity: ‘I believe that kicking the habit and leaving prostitution can only be done through God. The facts are that most of the drug-addict prostitutes who come here and try to use a secular program don’t succeed, while 80% of the girls whom we send to a Christian monastery in Haifa manage to kick the habit. I don’t speak forcibly to them about God, I don’t ram the New Testament down their throats, but I do tell them how God saved me.’” MK Zevulun Orlov was quoted as objecting to the project at large: “‘I am going to ask the Ministry of Justice to investigate whether we’re dealing with a crime.’”
Haaretz, June 30 (Hebrew and English editions); Jerusalem Post, June 26, 27, 2008
Haaretz (June 30, Hebrew and English editions) reported on the recent Anglican GAFCON conference held in Jerusalem, noting that the group has decided to “sever relations with the liberal wings of the church in the United States and Canada … and to adhere to its own theological principles and maintain its own council of archbishops. However, the move falls short of a total rift, since the conservative Anglicans also resolved to remain within the Anglican communion” (see previous Review).
Maintaining the connection between the conference and the Gay Pride march, the Jerusalem Post (June 27) noted that “part of the reason for the lack of local media [in the former] may have been due to the low-key ambience at GAFCON.” The choice of venue was in large part of function of the real purpose of the conference: “‘Jerusalem, perhaps more than any other city, embodies the message that we believe in and the historicity and truth of the gospels. Jesus’s life examples and teachings are real, just as the city of Jerusalem is real. And that is an important message to send out, at a time when there are those in the church who have ceased to take the scripture seriously.’” Acknowledging that the conference “had nothing to do with homosexuality,” the Post nonetheless asserted that, “… it was the issue of homosexuality more than any other that sparked the ingathering of Anglican clergymen. Ordination of homosexuals and same-sex marriages are the most glaring examples of what some Anglicans perceive as a blasphemous deviation from Jesus’s gospel.” According to David Rosen, the international director of the American Jewish Committee, “‘In the Catholic Church, a local bishop would never dare publicly support the ordination of a woman, let alone a homosexual. Protestant sects are much more centralized. The Anglican Church is somewhere in between. That’s why it was more susceptible to the split that we are witnessing.’” There were also local Anglican reservations about the conference. The article noted that the Bishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, considered it a “headache,” commenting on the fact that his communion “receives hefty support from some of the more liberal Episcopalian dioceses in North America … and dozens of hospitals and charitable institutions that receive ‘liberal’ Episcopalian money. Dawani, then, cannot be seen as the willing host to a group of conservative Anglican clergymen who vociferously attack their liberal brothers for ripping apart the church by compromising biblical truth.” As to the issue of homosexuality, which in the Middle East “is an anathema,” the article suggested that Dawani dealt with the matter by protesting against the “importation” of conflicts “‘into an already contentious region.’”
Jonathan Tobin contributed an opinion piece to the Jerusalem Post on June 26, under the title “Real friends, and real enemies,” in which he discussed the “Vigilance Against Anti-Jewish Bias in the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace” document published by the PCUSA, which we reviewed last week. Not only does it contain, he asserted, “justification for anti-Israel invective” but in its commitment “‘to criticize forms of Christian Zionism’” it specifically encourages church members to “attack fellow Christians who have lent their support to the idea that the Jewish people have a right to sovereignty over their historic homeland” – at least partially on the basis of statements made by Eric Yoffie, leader of the Union for Reform Judaism against John Hagee (see previous Reviews). In light of this, Tobin maintained that “the Presbyterians’ renewed flirtation with anti-Zionism should serve as a wake-up call for the vast number of American Jews who have clung to their prejudices about Evangelicals, despite the sea change in the Protestant world that has occurred in the last generation … Though the gap between the Christian right and most Jews on domestic issues is still vast, when it comes to the life-and-death questions of Israeli survival and opposition to terror, it is the people who look to the Hagees of the world for leadership, rather than to the Presbyterians, who stand with Israel … American Protestants … need to understand that their silence will be taken as complicity with the actions of these [anti-Zionist] radicals. They must understand that their churches cannot pretend to be friends with their Jewish neighbors while supporting an economic war on the Jewish state. And they must be prodded to take action to rescind such measures enacted in their names.”
Interfaith Dialogue
Makor Rishon, June 30; Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2008
The International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) is set to elect its first woman president (Jerusalem Post, June 27). The sole candidate for the post is Devorah Weissman – “a modern Orthodox feminist” and former Professor of Jewish Education at the Hebrew University. Speaking in the run-up to an international convention, Weissman stated: “‘There are many groups and organizations that deal with the issue of interfaith dialogue. But at the ICCI … we place these dialogues in the framework of the search for peace. We’re not interested in interfaith dialogue per se, but as a means to develop and advance peace among people who share something important in common: religious faith … Although we should not and could not give exclusivity to the religious dialogue when we try to advance the peace process, we shouldn’t ignore it. It has to be an important path in all these efforts. Religion and faith are an essential language that should be at the forefront [of peace efforts]; it is a part of the culture of the people in the region.’” Noting that in recent years the orgnaization has increased its focus on dialogue with Muslims, she explained: “‘It’s not that we don’t have any more issues to discuss among us [Jews and Christians], but it is clear to us, Jews and Israelis, that the issue of dialogue with our Arab and Muslim neighbors has become a kind of emergency.’”
According to a report in Makor Rishon (June 30), this is the first time the ICCI convention has been held in Jerusalem since its formation in 1947. It was attended by 160 participants, including Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In the eyes of Rivka Sneh, the atmosphere was one of “great goodwill, good intentions, and lots of faith that inter-religious reconciliation is that which will make the most important contribution to the establishment of peace in the Middle East.” However, in light of Jewish history and Israeli reality, “these intentions seem somewhat naïve.” In similar sympathetic vein – rather than the denunciation which might have been expected from the Orthodox paper – Sneh noted that “one of the discussions dealt with an interesting quotation from the March edition of the American magazine “Time.” “One of the articles cited a list of ten activities and ideas which bring about change in the world and which have already begun to do so. Among these are ‘re-Judaizing Jesus.’” The topic was addressed at the convention by Dr. Zack Driscoll, director of “Bat Kol,” an organization which teaches Judaism to Christians. According to Driscoll, “for Jews it was never a question whether or not Yeshu was Jewish.” Christian recognition of this fact, however, is likely to have “an enormous affect on the world.”
Globes, June 27; Haaretz, June 27, 2008
Under the title “A multi-disciplinary Yeshu,” an anonymous author reviewed Jordi Savall’s recording of Haydn’s “The Last 7 Words of Christ on the Cross” (Globes, June 27) While the reviewer was sufficiently impressed by the quality of the music, s/he found the most interesting part of the CD the blurb which accompanies it. Two well-known writers – the Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago, the atheist rewriter of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and Raymond Panikkar, a “theologian who explains [Yeshu’s] last words from a religious perspective.” “Saramago’s text is literary, Panikkar’s academic. The combination is truly extraordinary.”
Mohamed Kacimi’s play “Terre Sainte” (Holy Land/Adama Kedusha), directed by Nola Chilton, was shown at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem and reviewed by Ariel Hirschfeld in Haaretz (June 27) under the title “A cat named Jesus.” The cat under discussion is a street cat who belongs to a female inhabitant of “occupied territory” and whose blood – “the blood of Jesus” – stains the street. “This is a play about occupation; about the life of the occupied, who are fighting for the remnants of their humanity; and about the occupiers, who know nothing about the taste of occupation. Nothing here is untouched by destruction; it is a reality of sheer affliction.” In this context, “Jesus” appears to stand for the latter: “This is the only place in the world of the occupied in which the word ‘Jesus’ is not devoid of all content. Only the wounded cat, which frightened a soldier who was sitting on the turret of a tank and who broke its leg, can carry the vestige of the world of belief. But the cat is not the heir of Jesus. It does not have even an iota of the value or power that resided in the son of God. The cat and the people who surround it in ‘Terre Sainte’ inherit nothing from the living world of tradition, beliefs and values. They are ground into the dirt, dispossessed of all the instruments of belief and trust, clinging to the absolutely last threads of that world of life and love; and when the last threads of that world unravel, they too no longer possess life.”