July 8 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….July 8, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 7 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, and Christian sites. Of these:

2 dealt with Messianic Jews
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christian sites
1 dealt with Christianity
This week’s Review contained several articles reflecting Israeli attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus, together with the Ministry of Justice objection to a recently-proposed amendment to the law regarding proselytizing.
Messianic Jews
Jerusalem Post, July 3; Haaretz, July 4, 2008
Haaretz (July 4) conducted a lengthy interview with Birgitta Yavari-Ilan, a forty-four-year-old Swedish veteran resident of Israel for its regular column of “Family matters.” In it, she disclosed that her marriage to her soon-to-be second husband, a South African psychologist, is to be conducted by a “Messianic Jewish Rabbi” in the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe in Jerusalem. This “idea-representative,” who recently traveled to Iran on “business,” considers herself a “‘home-made Jew’” who “also loves Jesus.”
In an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post (July 3) looking at the way in which missionaries have changed tactics in recent years, Emanuel Feldman rebuffed the possibility that Jews can believe in Jesus: “They are now appealing to Jews from a pseudo-Jewish perspective. In order to entrap Jews, in other words, much missionary activity has been judaized. Jesus is no longer Jesus; he is now ‘Yeshua,’ a nice, Jewish-sounding name – as seen in recent missionary ad campaigns on Jerusalem’s buses … Today’s emphasis is on his supposed role as messiah. Further, many missionaries themselves now refer to themselves not as Christians but as ‘messianic Jews.’ They wear yarmulkes, don a tallit, and even have their own ‘rabbis.’ The State of Israel is a crucial target for such missionaries, and many so-called messianic Jews are actually born Christians who have given themselves Jewish names and moved to Israel for one reason: to proselytize Jews. This new strategy is illustrated by several recent media articles … about ‘messianic Jews’ who claim that they are discriminated against in Israel – a questionable accusation. The article’s description of messianic Jews made not a single reference to the divinity of Jesus. It slavishly followed the news release of the missionary group that issued it – which was careful not to mention the fact that so-called messianic Jews believe Jesus is the son of God … An innocent reader comes away from such articles with the impression that ‘messianic Jews’ are simply another group within Judaism. There are Orthodox Jews, hassidic Jews, haredi Jews, and there are messianic Jews – all part of one big, happy Jewish family.” In line with his failure to mention Chabad, Feldman’s conclusion was clear: “1. It is a distortion to claim that one can be a Jew and at the same believe in Jesus as a god or as a messiah, or a prophet or savior. 2. It follows, therefore, that terms such as ‘Jews for Jesus,’ or ‘Jewish Christians’ are grotesque perversions. Such terms are misleading, misguided, misconceived, and ultimately a miscarriage of truth – for no Jew can believe in any divinity other than the One God, and no Jew can view Jesus as anything other than a teacher of another faith system.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Jerusalem Post, July 2, 2008
Haaretz (July 7) ran a story on the research being conducted by Hebrew University professor Israel Knohl into “messiahs before Jesus.” It opened with the statement that, “The belief that the messiah died and rose from the dead after three days is considered to be a fundamental Christian tenet, distinguishing it from Judaism.” According to the report, however, Knohl’s assertion is that such an ‘article of faith’ was part and parcel of Judaism before the rise of Christianity. On the basis of his reading of a recently-published inscription known as “Gabriel’s Revelation,” discovered eight years ago, Knohl argues that its messianic prooftexts from Daniel are related to Gabriel’s command to the “prince of princes” to “rise/live.” Knohl differs, in this regard, from the inscription’s editors, Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur, who claim that the word “rise/live” following the phrase “in three days” is illegible. Knohl links the 87-line inscription, which is dated to the end of the first century B.C.E., to the Jewish revolt against the Herodian dynasty in 4 B.C.E., led by one Simon in Transjordan, where the inscription is said to have been found. The latter was killed by Roman troops in a narrow gorge – described in the text as a “rocky crevice.” He thus believes that the inscription was written by Simon’s followers who believed, according to Daniel, that their slain leader would rise from the grave three days after his death. The fact that the inscription thus appears to illustrate a belief in a messianic figure who would be killed and rise after three days, based on the book of Daniel, leads Knohl to identify it as the “missing link” between Judaism and Christianity: “‘I identified here an unknown Jewish belief, that the shed blood of the messiah was necessary in order to bring about national redemption. The idea of a suffering messiah who rose after three days was known in Judaism before Yeshu. The principal concepts of the myth of Yeshu already existed [before him] in Judaism.’” Knohl also believes that in speaking of Ephraim the text associates this figure with the “Messiah ben Joseph” and brings him into proximity with David: “My servant David, ask Ephraim.” Knohl also claims that “Yeshu may have known this tradition which appears in the Gabriel Revelation”: “‘In the New Testament, Yeshu foresees his death indirectly. In the past, scholars have thought that later editors put this prophecy in his mouth after his crucifixion. But the fact that such a tradition already existed points to him being influenced by such ideas.’” On the basis of this understanding, Knohl argues that Jesus should properly be considered as a “Jewish nationalist”: “‘He didn’t die in order to atone for the sins of people, as Christians claim, but in order to bring redemption to Israel.’”

Under the headline “Confessions of a heterophile,” Hillel Halkin in the Jerusalem Post (July 2) related – in favor of the latter – to Jerusalem’s “coincidental” hosting of the “Gay Pride” march and the GAFCON conference: “Both of these were perfectly legitimate if atypical activities for Jerusalem to host. My sympathies, though, lay with the Anglicans.” As a secular Israeli, Halkin “happens to believe” in Genesis: “In biblical terms, same-sex marriage mocks the image of God: This may be a primitive way of thinking, but it is the only one about the subject that I am capable of. The Anglicans who gathered in Jerusalem this week were just as primitive as I am. They were mostly black and mostly African, and they did not have the good fortune to have grown up in sophisticated Western cultures that have deconstructed sex as they have deconstructed everything. I’d sooner march with them, in Jerusalem or anywhere, than against them. For once I’d have humanity, all of its dead and most of its living, on my side.”
Anti-missionary Activities
Mishpaha, July 3, 2008
In a rather strange occurrence, Mishpaha (July 3) was the only paper to report the statement issued this week by the Ministry of Justice in response to a proposal to amend the present “missionary” law in Israel. The statement ran as follows: “‘The proposed law seeks to determine preaching for the purpose of conversion or persuading a person to change his faith as a criminal offense. The very nature of such an offense is that it relates to the limiting of discourse and expression. The fundamental position of the Ministry of Justice is to approach the determination of criminal offenses of this sort with extreme caution, in light of the importance – which cannot be underestimated – of the freedom of expression in a democratic state.’” (This statement was written by the deputy Attorney General to the Minister of Justice.) Yad L’Achim director, Shalom Dov Lipshitz wrote in response: “‘We have to act against such a malicious purpose, even if its achievement are ‘minor’ in your words. We cannot speak in terms of ‘minor’ or ‘major’ when dealing with the loss of Jewish souls. The responsibility for the loss of every Jewish soul lies with us all. Even the missionaries report no less than fifteen thousand Jews who have converted as a result of their activity.’”
Christian Sites
Yediot Ahronot, July 1, 2008
In a brief piece noting that a recommendation has been made that the Bahai gardens in Haifa be designated as a “world heritage” site, Yediot Ahronot (July 1) reported that “representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, in cooperation with members of the Israeli Board of UNESCO, have worked in the past two years towards the recognition of Christian sites in the Galilee, including ‘The way of Yeshu and the Apostles,’ Nazareth, Cana, and other places, as world heritage sites.”
Jerusalem Post, July 1, 2008
Reporting on the outcome of the US Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly last Friday, the Jerusalem Post (July 1) noted that, “Jewish groups cautiously praised” it for its decision “not to ‘over-identify’ with either party in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” and to “become ‘non-partisan advocates for peace’ and ‘a voice for the victims of violence in both Israel and Palestine’” (see previous Review). At the same time, the Assembly endorsed “an Arab-Israeli peace proposal that Jewish leaders say would spell the end of the state of Israel. ‘On Peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel’ includes an endorsement of the ‘Amman Call’ on Arab-Israeli peace issued in June 2007 by a conference of the World Council of Churches. The proposal includes a Palestinian Arab ‘right of return,’ which Jewish leaders say would lead to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state … The high emotions around the resolutions underscored tensions in a denomination that traditionally has identified strongly with the Palestinian cause but has made an effort recently to be more sensitive to Jewish concerns.”