July 21 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….July 21, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 14 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, and Christians in Israel. Of these:

2 dealt with Messianic Jews
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
3 dealt with Christian Zionism
4 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christianity
1 dealt with inter-faith activities
1 was a book review
Internal and external affairs figured largely in this week’s Review – from further events related to the book burning  in Or Yehuda to evangelical objections to Olmert’s policy over Jerusalem.
Messianic Jews
Haaretz, July 11; Yediot Bika’at Ono, July 4, 2008
The English edition of Haaretz (July 11) printed the interview with Birgitta Yavari-Ilan published in last week’s Magazine in Hebrew.
According to a brief report in Yediot Bika’at Ono (July 4), “The Messianic Jews and Christian book burning affair in Or Yehuda refuses to die down. This week, lawyer Boaz Arad from the organization ‘Ometz’ appealed to the Attorney General with a request to instruct the police to open an immediate inquiry in order to bring the perpetrators to trial. Last month, following claims that the missionizing of Messianic Jews was increasing in Or Yehuda, Aharon Uzi, the deputy mayor, organized the burning of books belonging to the movement. Young students from the city participated in the event and Christian books were also added to the pyre.”
Anti-missionary Activities
HaModia, July 17, 2008
According to a report in HaModia (July 17), MK Ya’akov Cohen is introducing a bill to “prohibit the entrance of the mission to schools and public places” in Israel. Cohen listed over “120 missionary centers throughout the country” and “20 missionary newspapers which are distributed across the country,” with “tens of media broadcasts operated by missionaries, and even in cultural centers and state schools missionaries are inserting their children.” Likewise, similar activities are taking place in “hospitals, universities, shopping malls, etc.”
Christian Zionism
Yated Ne’eman, July 17; Haaretz, July 11; Ma’ariv, July 17, 2008
Both Yated Ne’eman (July 17) and Ma’ariv (July 17) dealt with Ehud Olmert’s relations with Christian Zionist (re)sources. At the same time as – and likely due to – the current investigations into Olmert’s fundraising efforts, “the American media is now examining the Israeli Prime Minister’s financial dealings with the deep pocket of his Christian Zionist supporters and exposing the fact that the funding has been cut off – although for very different reasons” (Ma’ariv). It appears that the millions of dollars which the evangelical community had been in the habit of donating to Olmert abruptly ceased to flow when it was learned “during the Annapolis conference that Olmert is prepared to divide Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians, something which, in their eyes, constitutes the unthinkable.” According to a survey conducted by Reuters, while Olmert was certainly not the only Israeli politician to tap into evangelical coffers, he was the “one of the most aggressive fundraisers following his election as Jerusalem Mayor in 1993.” Ironically, perhaps, no one is arguing that this money was raised illegally. At the same time, however, many evangelicals no longer want to see Olmert remaining in office.
Haaretz (July 11) devoted a long article to “Lovers of Zion,” in which it interviewed several tourists/pilgrims to the country. These included Maria Constantinoiu, chief editor of the international desk on Jurnalul National, one of Romania’s most widely read papers, who said that she considers herself “‘more Israeli than Israelis whom I meet. My loyalty to Israel is greater than yours. You take Israel for granted, whereas for me it is precious and unique … I know quite a bit about Jewish history, tradition and religion, and I live your politics. I am more knowledgeable about what is happening in political life in Israel than in Romania.’”

Also interviewed was Alexander Kryukov, a cultural attaché at the Russian Embassy who published “studies of the Israeli political hierarchy and the Israeli media in the period 1948-1980. In 1989, when diplomatic relations between Israel and the Russian Federation were renewed and an embassy was opened in Tel Aviv, Kryukov was called upon to teach Hebrew in the same institute in which he had learned the language 15 years earlier” – on a whim, because he had intended to study Malagasy (the language of Madagascar), “but at the last minute a course in Hebrew was opened and he took it out of sheer curiosity.”
Another interviewee was Dr. Paul Friedemann, a German doctor who did his national service on Kibbutz Tsova through the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, “a Protestant organization established in the 1950s in order to atone for the Nazis’ crimes,” then moved to Tel Aviv to work in an old-age home for Holocaust survivors, and finished the year with a stint tutoring “at-risk Arab and Jewish children in a Jaffa-based institution.” He and his wife named their first child, a daughter, Noa, after the singer Ahinoam Nini, one of whose performances they attended in Berlin.
Agnieszka Jagodzinska, a Polish Catholic, found her interest in Judaism and Israel sparked when she had to choose a seminar at University: “‘I saw there was one about the materialism of Polish Jewry. I asked myself what I knew about Jews. I didn’t know a thing, and I chose a course that was given by Prof. Marcin Wodzinski. A lot of students turned up for the first class, and he announced that only those who had been able to find a seat would stay in the course. I was sitting on a chair that was missing a leg and praying that the chair would not break and I would find myself outside.’ The class was composed of students like her, who knew nothing about Jews, others who were looking for their Jewish roots and also students for whom the memory of anti-Semitism led them to take an interest in Jewish culture. That first seminar in Jewish studies led her to four years of study in the subject and a Ph.D., with a dissertation on the changes in the culture of Warsaw’s Jews in the second half of the 19th century.”
Wodzinksi himself is a “Hebrew-speaking Polish Catholic who is studying Jewish Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland”: “‘I am researching Jewish culture because it is part of my past. I take an interest in the present but have no commitment to it. In order to succeed in research, it is best not to develop feelings about it, and therefore I did not choose to study the Holocaust. I am a Jewish history freak, and my only ethical commitment is to the truth.’”
Another in the long list of non-Jewish Hebrew speakers in Frederic Hermel, a sports reporter resident in Madrid: “Frederic Hermel’s love of Israel started thanks to Jesus, whom he describes as ‘a rabbi who was born, lived and died as a Jew.’”
A further Hebrew-speaking voice – although one much more isolated – is that of Egyptian Hussein al-Sarag, an Arabic translator, who has translated “numerous Israeli nonfiction texts, including political works” and novels from Hebrew into Arabic. “A lone voice in Egypt, he is not afraid to speak openly about his good relations with Israelis and his fondness for Israeli culture. His curiosity in this regard dates back to when he was 16, after 1967: ‘I was surprised by the outcome of the war and I wanted to know who the enemy was,’ he says. He acquired his Hebrew during three years at the University of Cairo, and to this day he can declaim chapters from the Bible and passages from the poetry of Hayyim Nachman Bialik … ‘The enemy turned out to be cultured … I look for the strange and unusual in the Israeli society, and write about it from the viewpoint of the Egyptian reader. We have to know as much as we can about Israel, and that is my mission.’”
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, July 18 (Hebrew and English editions); Ma’ariv, July 18; Yediot Ahronot, July 20; Jerusalem Post, July 11, 2008
In a column called “On site” in the Jerusalem Post (July 11), Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi looked at the Ethiopian Church on Ethiopia Street in Jerusalem: “The Ethiopians believe that King Solomon presented the banner of Judah to the Queen of Sheba during her visit to Jerusalem. Above the Ethiopian church’s courtyard gate is their emblem of the Lion of Judah bearing the cross and the crown of royalty … There are testimonies to an Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem as early as the Byzantine period. The community suffered from poverty and persecution until the 1880s, when Emperor Johannes IV sent money for [its] development. The Kadne-Maharet (Covenant of Mercy) Church, which was dedicated to Mary, was inaugurated in 1893 … The monks bake the consecrated bread in a small adjoining structure. The spacious surrounding garden contains a statue of Mamher Valda Sama’eth, head of the Jerusalem Ethiopian community in the late 1880s and the driving force behind Ethiopian construction projects in Jerusalem. Prayer sessions, with men on the right and women on the left, consist of beautiful hymn chanting. In the center of the church is a square structure, the makdas (sanctuary), with inscriptions in Amharic, Arabic, French and Italian about the construction of the church.”
Being a Christian in Israel is at times even more difficult dead than alive. The long-standing controversy over the burial of non-Jews in the country was the focus of an article in Haaretz this week (July 18). Although a resident of Tiberias, Alex Marוschenko’s mother was buried in Afula, because only there could they find someone willing to bury her in a section of the cemetery given over to those who “dubiously Jewish.”  In order to visit her grave, Alex has to take two buses and a taxi from the central bus station to the cemetery. Up until now, such persons have been buried in the cemetery of the Scottish Church in Tiberias, the graveyard being outside the town. The church has now cancelled this arrangement. While new cemeteries are required to contain a plot for “non-religious” burials, older ones are confined to religious – i.e., Jewish – burials alone. Likewise, although the law orders the availability of non-religious sections in existing cemeteries, these exist only in Beer Sheva and Kiryat Tiv’on, the remainder being “private” plots paid for with “tens of thousands of shekels.”
Although not strictly from Christian “life” in Israel, we have included here two pieces relating to Christian “fauna.” The first, in Yediot Ahronot (July 20) related to an olive tree blessed by the pope on his 2000 visit. According to this report, this tree is the only one to have produced fruit from all those planted together with it in a forest in the Galilee. “‘This is an inexplicable phenomenon,’ said Keren Kayemet L’Israel … ‘Over the past years all the trees grew on the same soil, received the same amount of water, and the same care,’ said [Yossi] Karni at the weekend. ‘I tried to understand why this particular tree should have flourished and only after an investigation did I realize that this was the one that the pope had blessed. True, we can’t prove that there’s any connection between the two events, but this is certainly a wonder,’ said forester Karni.”
A tribute to another tree appeared in Ma’ariv (July 18), this time in the Negev, where an ancient plum tree at Ma’alei Akravim. “The wild plum tree is green all year round. Its Latin name is ‘Messiah’s Thorns’ and Christian faith says that a ‘wreath of thorns’ from its branches was placed on Yeshua’s (Yeshu’s) head on his way to the crucifixion.”
Jerusalem Post, July 11, 2008
In the wake of the recent GAFCON conference held in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Post (July 11) interviewed one of the participants, Bishop David Anderson, at length about the conference and the situation which precipitated it. The questions included the number of North American Anglican churches which have left the Episcopal Church (between 200 and 300), GAFCON’s attitude towards homosexuality (“‘Certainly there is a factor of human sexuality among the issues that are before the Anglican Communion. But they are not primary. They are secondary at best’”), GAFCON’s potentially divisive nature (“‘Unity is useful only when there is agreement to begin with … the idea that unity trumps truth is foolishness’”), and the issue of multiculturalism – “‘Committed Muslims don’t want to have their faith put into a big blender and somehow made into a multicultural soup. Neither do Orthodox Jews. Neither do practicing Hindus. And neither do Orthodox Christians.’” Several questions also related to Shari’a law, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remark that the adoption of some of which seems “‘unavoidable’”: “‘If Rowan Williams thinks that Shari’a law is inevitable, perhaps he needs to go and live under it without the safeguards of his archbishop’s robes, to live as a common man under Shari’a law and then ask himself how he likes that and whether that’s something he could really recommend for someone else … The archbishop says that Shari’a law is inevitable and yet, in a sense he had blessed homosexual issues by failing to take reasonable action that would be in accord with his office.’” The final question: “Why did GAFCON choose to come to Jerusalem?” And the answer: “[‘]At the First Christian Council of Jerusalem, recorded in the Book of Acts, the Apostles took council together, and from there Paul went out and began his missionary journeys. That council was a very important first step in authenticating the work that was being done. I think Jerusalem is a very apt place for Anglicanism to come back to, to take counsel together. From here we will go home, go back out into the world, having had the refreshment, the teaching and the redirection that this time in Jerusalem has afforded us.[’]”
Interfaith Activity
Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2008
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (July 17), Saudi King Abdullah recently initiated and opened an interfaith conference in Madrid. “‘While no Israelis were invited, making it ‘a very partial overture, they didn’t invite any Palestinians either,’ said veteran interfaith activist Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, who, though Israeli, is listed in conference literature as an American representative.” Participants who were invited and attended indicated their realization that the Saudis are new to the dialogue game: “‘It’s clear from the organization that they’ve never done this sort of thing before,’ said Rosen, adding that the Saudis did not seem to know who would be appropriate to invite and who not. For example, said Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and the World Jewish Congress, the Saudi government invited Natorei Karta’s Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, a persona non grata in much of the Jewish world after his attendance of a Holocaust denial conference in Teheran in 2006.” Bigotry was added to ignorance, however, when Weiss was subsequently “disinvited because American Muslim leader Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North protested to the Saudi ambassador in Washington and threatened to withdraw from the event himself if Weiss remained on the invitation list.” Further, according to the article, “Observers say the conference was being held in Spain partly because it would be politically unpalatable for Abdullah to allow Jewish and Christian leaders on Saudi soil.”
Book Review
Makor Rishon, July 11, 2008
Tzvi Mark reviewed Dahlia Cohen-Knohl’s book The Lepers (Or Am, 2007) in Makor Rishon (July 11). The novel takes place in Venice in 1666, “the year of the peak and the crisis alike of the messianic Sabbataian movement [of Shabtai Tzvi].” Marks opens his review with a note regarding the role of lepers in the announcement of redemption: “Lepers have a long romance with redemption and the Messiah. In the book of Kings, four lepers sitting at the gates of the city are the heralds of redemption; Isaiah describes the Messiah himself as ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hid their face … yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53); and even Yeshu – in contrast – is described in the New Testament as giving particular heed to lepers, miraculously healing them from their leprosy.” Despite this, Cohen-Knohl’s conclusion is that while lepers are most in need of the long-awaited deliverance, they are “ultimately the ones who announce that the Messiah is not coming, nor is he going to.”