Caspari Center Media Review………….August 25, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 9 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, attitudes to Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, and Christians in Israel. Of these:
4 dealt with Messianic Judaism
1 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
3 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
This week’s Review focused primarily on Messianic Judaism, with another investigative article appearing in Yated Ne’aman and several responses to the piece being published in Yediot Ahronot.
Yated Ne’eman, August 15 Ma’ariv, August 15; Yediot Ahronot, August 15; Yediot Bika’at Ono, August 1, 2008
In the wake of Techya Barak’s article in Yediot Ahronot last week, Yated Ne’eman (August 15) ran its own investigative story into Messianic Judaism. This time it was the “personal account” of a Lev L’Achim member, who went “underground” in a congregation in Yaffo. Shlomi Chason was looking for a specific person: a football player who immigrated from South America, became part of the Messianic community, and recently married a Gentile. From an Orthodox background, Chason presented himself as a truth-seeker in order to account for his knowledge. According to the report, apparently based on Chason’s account, “It must be understood that members of the sect do not identify themselves as Christians. To refer to them as Christians embarrasses them. They are simply Messianic Jews.” When Chason discovered the person whom he had been seeking, he stopped visiting the congregation for while. Robbie Cohen, the pastor and the person with whom he had made friends, rang to ask if there was a problem. When Chason asserted that his mother had found out about his visits and threatened to throw him out of the house, Cohen’s ostensible response was “‘What’s the problem? We’ll rent an apartment for you.’” “Fortunately” for Chason, he was able to record that conversation – proof that the sect was violating the law which prohibits the offering of benefits in order to persuade a person to convert. When he presented the recording as evidence to the police, however, “‘nothing came of it.’” On returning to the congregation, Chason was able to befriend the immigrant and convince him to leave the sect. While Chason was not willing to say that this person has become Orthodox, he has, according to the report, become far more observant than before. Chason further claimed that the congregation closed down shortly afterwards, with Robbie Cohen opening a shwarma [Israeli fast food] stand on the site!
Chason/the paper attributed the “success” with which Messianic Judaism attracts new members to the “spiritual hunger” of Jews who do not want to study Judaism and become Orthodox. In addition to the “benefits” it offers to potential converts, “Messianic Christianity” appeals to such Jews because it offers them a way to gain spirituality “without demanding a change in lifestyle but merely to go to church once or twice a year and to give charity every once in a while.” Having covered Benny Hin’s appearance in Israel, the article then discussed Moishe Rosen’s creation of an “unthreatening Christianity” to appeal to Jews, which employs outward Jewish symbols to attract people. It then continued with a review of Barak’s article, identifying Ya’akov Damkani as the “evangelist.”
Menahem Ben in Ma’ariv (August 15) protested the cheapening of the article in Yediot Ahronot represented by the pullouts of quotes “in the racist style of Yad L’Achim,” claiming that they did not correspond to the “sympathetic” attitude displayed by Techya Barak, “who described the humanity and spirituality of the Messianic Jews, their attentiveness to Holocaust survivors, the homeless, and youth in danger.” In his opinion, this cheapening was in effect “likely to encourage the sending of more explosive devices and more book burning.”
A “worried Jerusalemite” wrote to Yediot Ahronot (August 15) in protest against Messianic Judaism, claiming that it was time that their name was changed to “Messianic apostates.” In a very different vein, Tamar Dressler, from Hod HaSharon, wrote arguing that the article did a great disservice to Messianic Jews, who assist all sorts of people who find aid from no other source. In contrast to others, she “spent the last three years working with them across the country, sleeping in their accommodation, interviewing dozens of them for different articles. I received help in every case and never once was I asked to accept Yeshu as the Messiah. Nor was assistance ever made conditional on participation in prayer services or baptism.” Likewise, Tamar ben Arieh, from Pardes Hanna, wrote to say that “the article which was meant to expose the wicked acts of the Messianic Jews in fact merely demonstrates that here is a group of good, idealistic people who show mercy and compassion to the most far-flung and forgotten corners.” If they do what they do, it only reflects badly on other segments of Jewish society – particularly the Orthodox – who are failing to provide the necessary help.
Following the book-burning incident in Or Yehuda, in which copies of the New Testament were burned, the city’s acting Mayor, Uzi Aharon, who apparently instigated the incident, has now been appeased by the appointment of an Ethiopian rabbi for the Ethiopian community at risk, in his eyes, of converting to Christianity (Yediot Bika’at Ono, August 1). According to the article, “the Messianic Jewish community is identified as a Christian denomination and bodies involved in the affair stated at the time that there was a great fear of conversion since some of the Ethiopian families who had settled in Or Yehuda had belonged to the Messianic movement in Ethiopia” and were familiar with a “Christian lifestyle.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Ma’ariv, August 17, 2008
Two Israelis have apparently created a “documentary” series for Channel 8 – the “intellectual channel” – based on the seven cardinal sins of Christianity. In it, well-known and not so well-known figures from Israeli society confess to a particular sin.
Christians in Israel
Nekuda, August 1, 2008
Non-Jews serving in the IDF are eligible to take courses in Judaism designed to make them “better soldiers, know why they enlisted, and what they’re fighting for.” The course in “basic Judaism” continues after seven months with an option to convert. According this report, “many soldiers finishing their basic training ask to swear on the New Testament – not necessarily because of any admiration for Christianity but because they are much more familiar with this book than with the Hebrew Bible.”
HaModia, August 15; Zman HaDarom, August 1; HaZofeh, August 8, 2008
According to a report in HaModia (August 15), a rabbinic ruling was recently introduced whereby acceptance of funds from Christian sources “for holy purposes” is forbidden. The initiator, the head of the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem, was motivated in large part by the fact that, following the terror attack in which eight of his students were killed, a large Christian organization offered to contribute a substantial sum to the yeshiva. This was refused on the grounds that it would lead to the imposition of Christian values on the yeshiva as a condition of the donation.
The youthful residents of Sederot were not amongst those deprived of Christian assistance. A piece in Zman HaDarom (August 1) indicated that 50 youths from the beleaguered city visited Hungary recently on the strength of a contribution made by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
A lengthy article devoted to the career of MK Benny Elon in HaZofeh (August 8) noted his “intensive activity towards strengthening relations with the “Evangelicals – Christian friends of Israel.” Elon acknowledged that some of the criticism directed towards him is justified in this respect: “‘If it derives from a concern for the issue of Messianic Jews or the danger of the mission, the criticism is warranted.” Elon claimed that in every possible place and way he explicitly declares that he will not cooperate with those involved in the mission, either in Israel or abroad.”