September 18 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review – September 18, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 20 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, and interfaith activities. Of these:

7 dealt with anti-missionary activity
6 dealt with Christian Zionism
2 dealt with Christian tourism
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
2 dealt with interfaith activities
This week’s Review was a mixed bag of article relating to anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, and the Pope and Vatican.
Anti-missionary Activity
HaShavua BiYerushalayim, September 11; Kol HaIr – Bnei Brak, September 3; Yom L’Yom, September 4; BeKehila, September 11; HaModia, September 9, 11 (pp. 3, 4), 12, 2008
HaModia (September 11, p. 4) printed a brief report of Jewish objections to the “Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism Today” issued by the World Evangelical Alliance (see last week’s Review).
HaModia (September 9) and Yom L’Yom (September 3) repeated the piece run in Yom L’Yom (September 4) regarding the legal action taken by Yad L’Achim following the investigative report published in Yediot Ahronot concerning the Messianic community in Israel (see last week’s Review).
The same paper (HaModia, September 11, p. 3) noted the report in Ma’ariv (September 2) concerning Dula ben Yehuda’s burial (see last week’s Review). The author took objection to the fact that Dula had been chosen to carry one of the torches lit on Independence Day – “for the glory of the State of Israel.” The historian who discovered the facts concerning Dula’s burial stated that he took pains not to publish them widely in order to prevent further attacks on Eliezer ben Yehuda by the Orthodox. This religious paper correspondingly lamented the fact that both Herzl and ben Yehuda – neither of whose secular Zionist endeavors have endeared them to the Orthodox community – had “sacrificed their children to Christianity” because of their work. This was also true, he claimed, of many other Zionist leaders, who also failed to leave any Jewish offspring.
BeKehila (September 11), HaShavua BiYerushalayim (September 11), and HaModia (September 12) all carried a report concerning the attempt of a “missionary” to convert. The man, a “learned doctor, lecturer in international law … whose appearance broadcast complete seriousness … dressed in religious garb, including hat and suit, who displayed great Torah knowledge and expressed a convincing desire to take upon himself the yoke of the Torah and commandments, and not one item about him gave away the fact that was not kosher” was discovered by Yad L’Achim to be an “out and out missionary.” When his efforts to convert were consequently stymied in Geneva, the man attempted to make aliyah, making a “false declaration” to the Rabbinate about his true intentions. Here, too, he was turned away. “In characteristic missionary stubbornness, the missionary doctor [then] decided to turn to Rome … as refuge.” Here, too, however, “the long arm of Yad L’Achim reached,” and his request to convert was rejected in Italy as well. In consequence of this case, Yad L’Achim’s director, Shalom Dov Lipshitz, has apparently appealed to batei din (conversion courts) worldwide with a suggestion for a “detailed and specific declarative formula which all those seeking to convert would be asked to sign … clarifying that without any shadow of a doubt they have shaken off all traces of the Christian faith and everything connected to it – a declaration utterly forbidden to Christian adherents. ‘Even if this does not entail any absolute guarantee that there won’t be any cases of deception, it will form a wall against the missionaries who are seeking to use the fact that they have converted, and the Israeli citizenship they receive as a result, in order to get their missionary activity accepted,’ said Lipshitz.”
Christian Zionism
Haaretz, September 9, 12 Ma’ariv, September 15, pp. 17, 18, 2008
According to a report in Haaretz (September 12), a group of 450 “members of tribal peoples” are “currently visiting Israel for a conference at the Nof Ginosar hotel. They come from countries as varied as the United States, New Zealand, Finland, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Canada, and several African nations. Most of them belong to evangelical churches and have a high regard for Judaism. They are seeking to maintain their evangelical faith while also trying to preserve their native heritage and culture, which European colonizers largely destroyed.” As part of their visit – and apparently also their heritage – the group “held a special purification ceremony at Ginosar, in which they placed hot rocks inside a special cleansing tent and then entered the tent to purify their bodies through perspiration.”
The ICFJ was in the news once again this week, again controversially. According to a piece in Ma’ariv (September 15), the fact that a youth film project is being funded by the ICFJ may explain why one of the films, about the trials and tribulations of a young boy growing up in Ramleh, was constructed “as a Christian ethical classic: if you suffer, redemption will come.” A further report in Ma’ariv (September 15) alleged that while the organization has been accused of seeking to deepen its ties with “Christian missionary activity in Israel,” “proof” of such support has now been provided “for the first time.” The tax report which the IFCJ recently delivered to the IRS indicates that the organization donated $10,000 to “a Christian missionary organization by the name of “King of Kings,” located in Jerusalem, which works to draw Jews to it in order to reveal Yeshu’s teaching [torah] to them.” The second missionary organization which received funds from the IFCJ was the “controversial American Christian sect ‘Yeshu’s Congregation’ [kehilat Yeshu]” located in New Orleans. This group has been accused in the past of mental/emotional abuse of its members. According to Yechiel Eckstein, the IFCJ director, the connection with King of Kings was made solely in order to channel funds to a church in Bethlehem which had requested assistance to buy food and other basic necessities in the run-up to Christmas.
Likewise, an article examining how charitable organizations formulate principles according to which they accept or reject contributions included the IFCJ as a possible example of a case in which “red lights are lit” regarding the potential of “massive conversion to Christianity on the Day of Judgment.” Despite such misgivings, the organization has “become an influential and sizable factor” in its charitable scope.
Christian Tourism
Haaretz, September 9 (Hebrew and English editions), 2008
The three million tourists expected to visit Israel next year will have access to a new “Pilgrim’s Route” leading from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. “Along the way, they will be able to visit the site where the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan took place, the Qumran caves, and the site where, according to the New Testament, John the Baptist baptized Jesus … The Good Samaritan site is just off the highway leading from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. During the Byzantine era, a church was built at that spot … Archaeologists recently reconstructed the entire mosaic floor of the church. The baptismal site [Qasr al-Yehud], located near Jericho, is considered the third most important site for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, and is especially popular at Christmas and Easter. The site also has significance in Jewish tradition. It is thought to be the place where the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan …”
Christians in Israel
Calcalist, September 15; Ma’ariv, September 12, 2008
An article in the Calcalist (September 15), a paper devoted to economics, examined the flight of Christians from the country – a phenomenon to which Pope Paul VI already drew attention during his visit in 1964. At the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Christian communities constituted 13% of the local residents. This percentage now lies at 1.5% of the Palestinian population in the territories (including East Jerusalem). The current Christian flight is due to the present plight of the community. While Muslims suffer some of the same difficulties, Christians appear to find it easier to migrate since “every family, without exception, has relatives abroad, and many also have passports belonging to foreign states. They speak foreign languages and work in sought-after professions.” The major reason for their flight given by those leaving is the sense of a lack of freedom: “If in the past the Christians in the country and rest of the region were Arab nationalist pioneers, today, when nationalism is fading and being replaced by Muslim religious fanaticism, they feel unwanted.” Unlike Muslim emigrants, many of whom return once they have made some money, most of the Christians who leave do not return. Nor do they retain close ties with those left behind.
Yehonatan Gefen visited the Scottish church and hospice in Tiberias this week and reported on the place and his stay (Ma’ariv, September 12). The premises were established by Dr. David Watt Torrance, a “vigorous Scottish doctor full of Christian vision.” Despite the “serial opposition” he experienced from the Orthodox residents of the city, the good doctor stood his ground and remained with his cholera patients in 1902 when all the Orthodox fled the pestilence; he lost two wives and four children to such plagues. His only “missionary” activity was to show slides of holy places, although “in order to justify his Christian mission he sometimes gave brief sermons in the mornings; even these he kept short because the lines of patients outside the door were long.” Gefen ended his musings on the hospice with the note that, “Today, 2008 years after the birth of Yeshu our brother, the waters of the Sea of Galilee are so shallow that even I could walk on the water and be pronounced a holy man. I won’t do so because the last thing this view needs is a new religion. What we need is more love, and lots, lots more water.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, September 12, 14, 2008
During a meeting with representatives of French Jewry, Benedict XVI “slammed anti-Semitism as theologically unjustifiable and tantamount to being ‘anti-Christian’” according to a report in the Jerusalem Post (September 14). Benedict was quoted as saying: “‘The Church is opposed to every form of anti-Semitism, which can never be theologically justified … to be anti-Semitic also signifies being anti-Christian … I feel the duty to pay heartfelt recognition to those who have died unjustly, and to those that have dedicated themselves to assure [sic] that the names of these victims may always be remembered. God does not forget.’” The Pope also met with French cultural leaders and leaders of the French Muslim community. According to a report in the same paper (September 12), the visit “grew out of the pope’s desire to visit the Lourdes shrine.”
Interfaith Activities
Makor Rishon, September 12; Israel HaYom, September 10, 2008
In an unusual interview with two representatives from the International Council of Christians and Jews – one Jewish, one Christian – Elitzur Segal also examined the history of Jewish-Christian dialogue (Makor Rishon, September 12). “Jewish-Christian relations are unique and cannot be compared to any other relationship between ‘partner’ religions – not even to Islam, the other religion which grew out of Judaism. Christianity acknowledges the Hebrew Bible and the Oral Law as it has been handed down. On top of this recognition, however, it has also claimed for hundreds of years that since the appearance of the gospel of their messiah, Christianity has become the true Judaism – the ‘Israel in the Spirit’ – whereas Judaism itself is nothing but a ghost from the past, the ‘Israel of the flesh.’ This has formed Christianity’s strong impetus over generations to convince Jews of the truth of Christianity, because as long as Judaism exists, it is a thorn in the side of the Christian daughter, who seeks to inherit.” The “dialogues” of the Medieval Ages were forced conversations which ceased when the Jews no longer had to participate in them – i.e, when the State was established and Israel/Judaism became an independent, sovereign entity. The sea change occurred with Vatican II and the appointments of Paul VI and John XXIII, the latter being known for his positive role during the Holocaust. The ground-breaking Nostre Aetate document enabled “free dialogue between Jews and Christians because Christianity no longer saw Judaism as a target for conversion but as an equal partner with equal rights in the biblical (OT) covenant.” To the question whether the ICCJ contains “missionary elements,” its current President, Devora Weisman, replied: “‘The organization is open to everyone. It must be understood, however, that, overall, the institutional Christian churches have given up missionizing amongst the Jews. They generally acknowledge the special covenant which we have with God. The people who are actively involved in mission today and cause problems are such groups as Jews for Jesus, certain evangelical groups, and other peripheral sects, which are marginalized with Christianity itself.’” With regard to the possibility or need of including Muslims in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, Weisman responded: “‘It’s still not clear. It looks as though there’s still plenty of work to be done between Jews and Christians. Maybe in the area of Jewish-Muslim relations another organization needs to be created, and maybe an organization needs to be established to deal with dialogue between Christians, Jews, and Muslims.’” Asked whether Jews should be doing more to stop the flight of Christians from the region, Weisman suggested that the best thing to be done in this respect is to improve Israeli’s attitude towards minorities.
Religious cooperation towards the release of Gilead Shalit unfortunately failed to come to fruition (Israel HaYom, September 10). The attempts of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders to formulate a letter to be sent to the kidnapped soldier towards his birthday failed to overcome the barriers between the three religions. A former Foreign Ministry official initiated the endeavor, turning to the Christian Patriarchate in Europe, a well-known Muslim cleric, and the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Jonah Metzger. Their communications towards the composition of the joint letter were foiled by the cleric’s demand that a sentence be inserted calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners in jail in Israel. The purpose of the letter – which was designed to reach the hands of the head of the political division of Hammas – was “to exert pressure on Mashal and to demand that a Red Cross representative meet with Shalit.”