August 5 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review………….August 5, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 13 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, and Christian Zionism. Of these:

4 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
3 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with interfaith activities
1 dealt with the Bible
1 dealt with archaeology
Various attitudes towards Christianity were reflected in this week’s Review, which also included a lengthy article on evangelical funding.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Calcalist, August 4; Israel HaYom, July 31; Haaretz, July 29, 31, 2008
Bemoaning the disgraces which befell the Israeli media this past week, Eli Sahar in Israel HaYom (July 31), remarked that one of its low points was the publication of Obama’s note tucked into the Western Wall: “For a long time now we’ve ceased respecting Jews here in the Holy Land – but since when have we begun denigrating Christians?”
One of Israel’s top high-tech executives has recently come out against the industry, accusing it of being powered by greed, pure and simple (Haaretz, July 31). In reviewing the causes and symptoms of the malady, Eylon Ganor researched the notion of “presentation” and discovered that “it’s a Christian holiday which begins in February, forty days after Yeshu’s birth, on the day he was redeemed [pidion ha-ben] – since he was born as a Jew. During the Second Temple period it was customary to present the infant boy before the high priest and to offer a sacrifice [cf. Luke 2:22-24]. Medieval paintings by Bellini depict the Holy Mary presenting her son to the high priest. The word ‘presentation’ thus possesses a religious element. My photo is a sort of take-off of this ceremony. The woman presents the baby to the God of money, who is represented by men in suits.” While Eylon Ganor is right about Jesus, the article is wrong about Paul: “Another photo is called ‘White Knight’ and this hero also give credit – this time to a famous painting of the Italian Caravaggio, which depicts Jesus’ twelfth disciple, the Apostle Paul, who experienced a revelation when he fell off his horse.”
Don Wildman is the director of a documentary series entitled “Cities – the Underground World” which is being shown on the history channel. The series looks at the “underground” parts of cities all over the world, including New York, Dublin, Moscow, and Naples. According to Haaretz (July 29), some of the broadcasts were filmed in Israel and contained, among other things, “a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Western Wall tunnels, David’s City, and Qumran.” Two episodes deal with Jerusalem, one with regard to prophecy and one with respect to eschatology. The former includes an examination of “Christian prophecy regarding the star which appeared in the skies of Bethlehem when Yeshu was born – which disturbed Herod and led him to mass murder. The director, who talks and breathes on the run, gets very excited and emits numerous ‘wows’ and ‘O my Gods’ – especially in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (‘this is the place in which the holiest lives in Christianity were created,’ [and] he points to the place).”
On a stranger note, the Calcalist (August 4) noted first in a list of the “March of Conspiracies” the “fact” that “Yeshu and Mary Magdalene had a child who became the head of the royal Merovingian dynasty. Tens of millions of people have bought the ‘Da Vinci Code’ in order to strengthen the premise that the church has lied to everyone for hundreds of years.” The column is topped with a picture of Jesus with his hand raised in blessing, with the caption: “Yeshu, the Son is also a F/father.”
Anti-missionary Activities
BeKehila, July 31, 2008
In an article denouncing the arrest of two Yad L’Achim workers by police in Rishon LeTzion last week, HaModia (July 31) reported that the men had been demonstrating against a “new group of missionaries who were due to arrive there from abroad, as assistance to the missionaries” belonging to the Jehovah’s Witness sect.
Christian Zionism
Jerusalem Post, August 1, 2008
The Jerusalem Post (August 1) devoted a lengthy article to the question of “whether it is kosher to accept money from messianic Christians.” Interviewing Yechiel Eckstein of the IFCJ, the director of the foundation answered firstly the question why such contribution are necessary in the first place: “‘What should we do when we see a man who cannot afford a meal? Should we send him to the government, or should we, as I believe, provide him with the best we can and support him? Of course it is our duty to help and support, and this exactly what evangelical Christians who support Israel think, too.’” Recounting how he entered the “business,” Eckstein recalled that “‘in 1980 I launched Operation Independence, an extensive program of Christian tourism and support to Israel. The main aim was to expose them to the Jewish roots of their faith, and it worked.’” With the beginning of the post-Soviet immigration wave, he “‘thought that supporting them [Russian Jews] was just the kind of involvement that would fit their [evangelical Christians’] dedication to the people of Israel.’” The program was basic: “‘We worked to change what we called the four As: awareness, acknowledgment, appreciation, and attitude.’” With regard to the “holier than thou” attitude of the article’s title, Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva head Rabbi Shlomo Aviner “didn’t issue a halahkic decree against Eckstein’s foundation; rather he joined an appeal to forbid contact with organizations connected with missionary activity.” While the Jerusalem municipality no longer “officially accepts money from the IFCJ, its Welfare Department accepts funding directly from Eckstein.” The director of the Meir Panim soup kitchen considers Eckstein “a holy Jew and a personal friend” and is outraged at the way anti-missionary campaigners have forced him to stop accepting donations from the IFCJ. Likewise, Prof. Eliezer Jaffe, founder of the Hebrew University School of Social Work and the Israel Free Loan Association, considers that, “‘as long as there’s a serious investigation of what stands behind it and we are sure that the money and the commitment are for welfare issues, I don’t see any problem at all.’”
From the evangelical side, Lance Dillenschneider (56), is quoted as a “typical IFCJ donor”: “‘I am a Bible-believing Christian. My church has a strong commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. It is the church’s strong commitment to the Bible and its commitment to Israel and the Jewish people that drew me to that church, which offers, among other things, ongoing teaching related to the Jewish roots of Christianity. I believe that God put in my heart to love Israel and the Jewish people … Another very important reason why I got involved is that I feel that, as a Christian, Jewish people are like brothers and sisters to me. My giving is a very tangible expression of my love for the Jewish people. Also, supporting the fellowship [IFCJ] allows me to “give from the heart.” What I mean by that is that I am giving to a cause where I will get nothing in return other than the knowledge that I am making a meaningful difference in someone’s life.’”
In addition to the IFCJ, the article also surveyed John Hagee and the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, July 31 (Hebrew and English editions) (x 3), 2008
Once again, we have included here two articles which do not strictly belong in this category but are worthy of mention. Avi Issacharoff devoted a lengthy piece to an interview with Masab Yousef – now known as Joseph – the son of West Bank Hamas leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, “the most popular figure in that extremist Islamic organization in the West Bank.” Although brought up in his father’s household, the young Masab initially knew very little of his father’s activities: “‘As a child I grew up in a very religious family, on the principle of hatred of Israelis. The first time I encountered them was at about the age of 10, when soldiers entered our home and arrested my father. Until then I had never been separated from him. We didn’t know anything about the circumstances of his arrest. His membership in Hamas was a secret matter, and we certainly didn’t think he was one of its founders. I didn’t understand anything about politics or religion. I only knew that the Israeli army had arrested my father repeatedly, and for me he was everything: a good, loving man who would do anything for me. He took care of us, bought us gifts, gave of himself, whereas the soldiers entered our house and took him away from me.’” Despite his assertion that he himself never officially belonged to Hamas, Masab became his father’s right hand, serving sixteen months in an Israeli prison on the grounds of having headed the Islamic Society in his high school. It was while in jail that Masab claims that began to realize the true nature of Hamas: “‘Until then I knew Hamas through my father, who lived a very modest and loving life. At first I really admired the organization, mainly because I admired my father so much. But during the 16 months I spent in prison I was exposed to the true face of Hamas. It’s a negative organization. As simple as that. A fundamentally bad organization. I sat in Megiddo Prison and suddenly I understood who the real Hamas was. Their leaders in prison received better conditions, such as the best food, as well as more family visits and towels for the shower. These people have no morals, they have no integrity. But they aren’t as stupid as Fatah, which steals in broad daylight in front of everyone and is immediately suspected of corruption. [Hamas people] receive money in dishonest ways, invest it in secret places, and outwardly maintain a simple lifestyle. Sooner or later they will use this money and screw the people.’”
Speaking from his “home” in California (he was in face “homeless,” although well-looked after by people, at the time of the interview), Masab/Joseph responded to questions concerning his religious experience: “‘It began about eight years ago. I was in Jerusalem and I received an invitation to come and hear about Christianity. Out of curiosity I went. I was very enthusiastic about what I heard. I began to read the Bible every day and I continued with religion lessons. I did it in secret, of course. I used to travel to the Ramallah hills, to places like the Al Tira neighborhood, and to sit there quietly with the amazing landscape and read the Bible. A verse like “Love thine enemy” had a great influence on me. At this stage I was still a Muslim and I thought that I would remain one. But every day I saw the terrible things done in the name of religion by those who considered themselves “great believers.” I studied Islam more thoroughly and found no answers there. I reexamined the Koran and the principals of the faith and found how it is mistaken and misleading. The Muslims borrowed rituals and traditions from all the surrounding religions … I feel that Christianity has several aspects. It’s not only a religion but a faith. I now see God through Jesus and can tell about him for days on end, whereas the Muslims won’t be able to say anything about God. I consider Islam a big lie. The people who supposedly represent the religion admired Mohammed more than God, killed innocent people in the name of Islam, beat their wives and don’t have any idea what God is. I have no doubt that they’ll go to Hell. I have a message for them: There is only one way to Paradise – the way of Jesus who sacrificed himself on the cross for all of us.’”
Masab decided to convert four years ago. “He says that nobody in his family knew about it. ‘Only those Christians with whom I met and spent time knew about my decision. For years I helped my father, the Hamas leader, and he didn’t know that I had converted, only that I had Christian friends.’” Asked why he left Ramallah – “after all, there are Christians in Ramallah” – he responded: “‘I left behind a great deal of property in Ramallah in order to achieve true freedom. I wanted to get to quiet surroundings that would help me to open the eyes of the Muslims and reveal the truth to them about their religion and about Christianity, to take them out of the darkness and the prison of Islam. In that way they’ll have an opportunity to correct their mistakes, to become better people and to bring a chance for peace in the Middle East. I don’t give Islam a chance to survive for more than 25 years. In the past they scared people and in that way they prevented anti-religious publicity, but today, in the modern age, they won’t be able to hide the truth any longer. Many people will hate me for this interview, but I’m telling them that I love all of them, even those who hate me. I invite all the people, including the terrorists among them, to open their hearts and believe. Now I’m trying to establish an international organization for young people that will teach about Christianity, love and peace in the territories, too. I would like to teach the young people how to love and forgive, because that’s the only way the two nations can overcome the mistakes of the past and live in peace.’”
As Issacharoff notes, “The younger Yousef is well aware of the implications of this interview, and how it will likely offend his family, as well as of the slim chance that he will be able to return to Ramallah one day. But apparently he is on a crusade of his own. ‘I know that I’m endangering my life and am even liable to lose my father, but I hope that he’ll understand this and that God will give him and my family the patience and willingness to open their eyes to Jesus and to Christianity. Maybe one day I’ll be able to return to Palestine and to Ramallah together with Jesus, in the Kingdom of God.’”
Interfaith Activities
Jerusalem Post, July 30, August 3, 2008
Isi Leibler contributed an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post (July 30) regarding the interfaith conference recently held in Madrid sponsored by King Abdullah (see previous Reviews). Entitled “Don’t confuse interfaith dialogue with groveling,” it addressed what Leibler considered to be shameful behavior on the part of some of the Jewish participants. Leibler was not as sanguine as David Rosen, who attended the conference and “exuberantly described it as ‘an historic event’ and a prelude ‘to the opening up of Saudi society.’” He was forthrightly critical of other Jewish participants – such as Rabbi Brad Hirscheld, chairman of the National Center for Learning and Leadership, who, “stressing that he was not naïve, claimed that immediately after he had blessed King Abdullah ‘with whom God shares divine glory,’ he saw the king’s eyes fill with tears.” Likewise, he quoted Rabbi Michael Lerner, “head of the radical Tikkun group,” as misguidedly asserting “‘for those of us who despair about Christianity and Judaism having gone astray … the notion that Islam might be the spark that generates a new religious revival based on mutual respect and spiritual intensity could dramatically expand our understanding of the endless potential for God to surprise us.’” Leibler evident thinks such statements to be, at best, ill-advised: “No Israeli rabbis were invited … In fact, aside from a brief exchange, Israel was kept off the agenda. More importantly, whereas King Abdullah extolled the virtues of peace and condemned terrorism, participants were informed that only at a subsequent conference would ‘terrorism’ be defined.”
Leibler made his reasons for attacking the conference quite clear: “How could Jewish leaders participate in such an event without even relating to the obscene, state-sanctioned religious anti-Semitic incitement openly promoted by the country sponsoring the event? … To remain silent on these issues enabled the Saudis to exploit interfaith dialogue as a vehicle to obtain respectability and cover up their extremism.” He also regarded the call for “‘international organizations to work to issue a document stating respect of faiths and religious symbols and criminalizing those insulting them’” as a cover up in the attempt to “legally sanction Islamic bullying against all who criticize or question Islamic beliefs …” His “bottom line”: “Dialogue with the Catholic Church only succeeded because of openness and a will to proceed by both parties. Reputable Jewish organizations must recognize that dialogue with Muslims becomes counterproductive when they fail to present the Jewish case for fear of offending the other party or demean themselves by groveling to appease or curry favor with their hosts.”
More auspiciously, the same paper (August 3) reported that the British Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, recently became the “first rabbi to address major Anglican bishops’ conference.” According to the article, “The 670 bishops greeted the first speech by a rabbi in the 149-year history of the Lambeth Conference, the decennial gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world, with two standing ovations, marking a rapprochement between the two faiths that in recent years had been hurt by calls for divestment from Israel from the Church of England.” Sacks asserted that, while Christians and Jews do “‘not share a faith, we surely share a fate. Whatever our faith or lack of faith, hunger still hurts, disease still strikes, poverty still disfigures, and hate still kills.’”
Yediot Ahronot, August 1, 2008
Israel Knohl, Yehezkel Kaufmann Professor of Biblical Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and known for his book The Messiah Before Jesus (2000), has now published another tome, this time on the Hebrew Bible. Knohl has gone all out in this volume, questioning all the fundamentals of Jewish – and Christian – understandings of Scripture: Israel did not descend from Abraham, Abraham was a refugee, the Jews were originally migrants to Egypt from Canaan and other places, Moses was an Egyptian forced laborer, the son of migrants, Pharaoh invented monotheism – etc., etc. At the end of a lengthy article examining Knohl’s views on the Bible, the focus moved to his views of Jesus: “‘People have asked me: Are you an anti-Christian? They think that I have an agenda to diminish Christianity. I said: I’m not conducting a campaign against Christians. There’s an inscription, I decoded words, and this is what came out. As Christians, you need to find a way to accept this within your religion. Likewise with respect to my views concerning the Bible. It’s true, I am a religious person, but I’m also a scholar and a free-thinker. Religion must be constructed on top of the historical and archaeological evidence.’”
Haaretz, August 1, 2008
A recent discovery at Ramat Rachel, near Jerusalem, has revealed a store of coins minted during the period of the destruction of the Second Temple, hidden underneath an underground columbarium (dovecote). The fifteen large silver coins were deposited in a first-century cooking pot buried under the floor. According to Dr. Oded Lipshitz, the excavation’s director, “‘It’s very special to find such a treasure as this and it arouses great excitement. We identified the treasure by means of a camera eye and then we went down into the pit and found the small cooking pot and this inside.’” Lipshitz also suggested that the coins appear to have been hidden hastily: “‘We all know that such coins were brought to the Temple. Perhaps after the destruction there was no longer any place to bring them. Since the columbarium was also no longer in use, they hid them there.’” The excavations have also revealed a larger treasure from the Byzantine period, 380 coins, with a further seventy scattered around, discovered on the stone floor of a structure above a water bore. Part of the archaeologists’ task will be to identify the purpose of this building; Lipshitz disputes the traditional claim that the site is the location of a palace used by the kings of Judah.