Caspari Center Media Review – October 30, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 24 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Christian sites, Jewish-Christian relations, interfaith activities, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:
4 dealt with attitudes to Jesus and Christianity
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
5 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian sites
1 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
1 dealt with interfaith activities
10 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
This week’s Review focused largely on various attitudes towards Christianity, most particularly related to continuing debate over the beatification of Pope Pius XII.
Attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity
Haaretz, October 24, pp. 12, 16, 20; Kol HaZman, October 24, 2008
Roi Bet Levi went to live in Barcelona to study literature and found himself living in a house owned by a Spanish family with close ties to the Opus Dei organization, a Roman Catholic group which promotes the idea that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity (Haaretz, October 24, p. 20). Until Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” was shown on TV one day, Roi’s “fluent, Argentinean-accented Spanish” had led the family to “think that I was from South American. And my unusual name? ‘We thought it was an Indian name.’” When his Israeli, Jewish identity was disclosed, “A lengthy silence descended on the room … I was put under the microscope in the days that followed, too,” with all the family asking him all sorts of questions about Jewish customs, until – “‘What do you think about Jesus?’ the big question hung in the air during dessert. I didn’t know how to reply. What do I really think about Jesus? What sets me apart as a Jew? What is the right answer? The responsibility weighed heavily on my shoulders. ‘Let me consult with the Elders of Zion and I’ll get back to you,’ I muttered with a foolish grin on my face.” As so often happens in such cases, of course, Roi fell for the daughter. Even here, however, he could not escape the influence of Jesus: “On that last night, as my body was entwined with hers, and Dominica’s beseeching eyes asked only about the crucified Jesus, I thought about my Jewishness honestly and directly, in a way I’d never done, before I slipped into her disheveled bed. There, before the light of daybreak sketched strange shapes in the window, I was asked once again what I think about my religion, about my faith and identity, and I didn’t say a word. I’ve been trying to come up with an answer ever since.”
Prof. Joseph Dan, one of Israel’s most distinguished scholars and a students of Gershom Scholem, has embarked on a lengthy and prestigious project to write the history of Jewish mysticism (Haaretz, October 24, p. 16). “The overall title of the work reflects some of the very important decisions Dan had to make. Most tellingly, the Hebrew title refers to the history of “torah hasod” – literally ‘the doctrine of the secret,’ sometimes translated as ‘esoteric theology’ – rather than ‘mysticism.’ The reason: “In Judaism, as opposed to Christianity, mysticism is not an authentic element. Christianity is replete with mysticism, with reports by people of revelations and visions they had about the hidden worlds. In Judaism, the view of the hidden worlds generally derives from scholarship and great learning, not necessarily from an experience we call ‘mystical.’ So it is more accurate to talk about ‘esoteric theology.’ Of course, there is also mysticism, but it is relatively secondary and for the most part even those we would describe as mystics – those who have revelations – perceived themselves more as possessors of esoteric knowledge than as mystics in the conventional sense of the word. It is not by chance that Hebrew does not even have a word equivalent to ‘mysticism.’ On the other hand, in English there is no meaningful equivalent to “torat hasod.” Accordingly, the book’s English title contains the word ‘mysticism.’ Furthermore, both in Christianity, and particularly in Islam, there are groups that deal with the upper worlds, such as the Muslim Sufis, but there is little awareness of this aspect of Islam among the Muslim mainstream. It has been marginalized. In Judaism, however, even the greatest rationalists, the most vocal opponents of mysticism, could not ignore the potent presence of esotericism in Jewish thought.”
Although we could have put the following piece under “Music,” it also pertains directly to Jewish attitudes towards Christianity. An anonymous author in Haaretz (October 24) took issue with the fact that “Several hundred Jerusalemites, nearly of them secular Jews, most of them no longer young, went on a pilgrimage this week to the church in Abu Ghosh to hear Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Saint Matthew Passion.’” According to the critic, the libretto, written by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander) “tells a story that for more than 1,500 years nourished the hatred of Jews: They [the Jews?] concoct a diabolical plot [what?] to bring about the death of Jesus, and also humiliate and torture him – in bass, alto, soprano and tenor voices, in chorales and recitatives. The Roman governor asks them to have mercy on his life [he does?], but they demand that he be crucified, crucified, crucified, as the kibbutzniks sang loudly and from the bottom of their hearts, in German.” (Are they not thereby repeating the original crime, in the language of the Holocaust?) Despite his acknowledgement that “the Passion uplifts the soul,” the critic still claimed that “the music cannot be separated from its Christian contents, and Christianity – how can this be put gently – does not love Jews.” His conclusion was consequently clear: “… reading the words of the Passion on a day when one of the heads of the Vatican was demanding the removal of a caption on the wall at Yad Vashem about Pope Pius XII’s failure to save victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust, leaves no room for doubt: As long as the Jews have not acknowledged the truth of Christianity, they are irredeemable. This was also the reason Pius XII did not do everything he could have done to save more Jews, and also the reason the present pontiff, Benedict XVI, wants to make him a saint. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world are liable to learn from his canonization that Pius acted correctly when he preferred the political and economic interests of his empire to saving Jews … And if the pope says that Pius XII is a saint, one can say to him what Jesus replied to the high priest, who asked him if he was the Messiah (Matthew 26:63): ‘Thou hast said.’” [Editor’s note: in addition to the inaccuracies noted above in the text, Henrici’s text adds no specific references to the Jews or their treatment of Jesus. In fact, he inserts a section in which he attributes esteem of Jesus to the “Jews”: “He has done good to us all. To the blind he gave sight, he made the lame walk; he told to us his Father’s word, he drove out demons; the downcast he lifted up; sinners he takes in and accepts—other than this, my Jesus has done nothing.” The source of the alleged “anti-Semitism” is the New Testament texts which form the basis of the libretto.]
For other issues relating to Pius XII, see under the “Pope and the Vatican.”
In what might have been an archaeological piece on the history of “Talitha Kumi,” which stands outside the main department store in the center of Jerusalem, but which in fact turned out to be a history of its function as a place for trysts, Kol HaZman (October 24) recalled that the arch has been memorialized by several Israeli authors, including Natan Zach, who “reworked the story of the miracle from the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament according to which Yeshu succeeded in bringing the synagogue official’s daughter back to life, in his well known poem, “Talitha kumi [little girl, arise], you are an intelligent person.”
Yediot HaGalil, October 24, 2008
“Yeshu, or at least his disciples, are walking around the streets of the cities of the Valley areas,” reported a piece in Yediot HaGalil (October 24). According to the article, a campaign is underway in Upper Nazareth in the framework of which books entitled “Son of David” which tell the story of “Yeshu, ‘the Gospel According to Matthew’” are being distributed to the chagrin of the residents. The pamphlets are being disseminated by “Congregation Jerusalem – Beit Geula, which defines itself on the website [printed on the pamphlet] as Jews and Gentiles ‘united in faith in God in light of what is written in Scripture and the New Testament. We worship together the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and believe that the Messiah promised in the Tanakh is Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of God.” According to the article, the website contains “questions and answers of a missionary nature” as well as a “statement of faith”: “Among other things, the God of truth is described as One ‘in whose unity are combined three entities: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and the three entities are equal to one another in their power, and have defined roles which complement one another in everything connected to the working out of redemption. Salvation, according to the members of the congregation, is a divine initiative ‘which is made possible through the meditation of the house [sic] of God; salvation isn’t given to us on the basis of our works and depends exclusively on our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. It isn’t given to those who do not truly and sincerely repent.’ Likewise, the declaration states that ‘the congregation of Yeshua the Messiah is a body distinct from Israel and does not constitute a substitute for the people of Israel.’” [Editor’s note: The quotes appear to be taken verbatim from Beit Geula’s website – apart from the “house of God” which in the original says “Son of God.” This may merely be a typographical error rather than a deliberate distortion of the text.]
Jerusalem Post, October 16; Ma’ariv, October 16; Yediot Yerushalayim, October 24, Makor Rishon, October 16, pp. 8, 24, 2008
Under the headline, “35,000 make pilgrimage to Jerusalem March,” the Jerusalem Post (October 16) noted the part played in the event by Christian supporters of Israel. “Citing different verses of scripture shared by Jews and Christians alike, organizers pointed out that Succot is the time when the nations of the world are supposed to come to Jerusalem and celebrate with the Jewish people. In that vein, biblical prophecy came alive on Wednesday, as the flags of countries from Norway to Kenya were seen blowing in the wind above the marchers. While the prophecy is supposed to be fulfilled in the Messianic era when the various nations will bring sacrifices to a rebuilt Temple, many of the participants said they felt blessed to be in Jerusalem in any case, and to have the ability to take part in such a powerful showing of camaraderie.” This year, however, the march was also presented as a “‘solidarity march to show that we stand with Israel, through thick and thin, against the Iranian threat.’” Amongst the Christian participants were ostensibly also many who claimed to be part of the lost tribes. A sidebar entitled, “The Holy Land in your living room” further provided information on a website which allows people to see the festivities even if they are unable to actually visit the country. “IPrayTV, an Internet Christian broadcast services company, launched its new Web site www.IPrayTV.com last week, offering live simultaneous video streaming of Holy Land sites … viewers can see the sites simultaneously, bringing Israel live to their living room across the globe.” According to Mike Peros, the site’s founder and CEO, “‘The constant availability of live footage of places so dear to us will be a valuable tool for pastors and ministries around the world, and for anyone seeking to strengthen their connection with the Holy Land.’”
The March was also covered with a picture and short caption in Makor Rishon (October 16, p. 24), under the headline “Rejoice, Jerusalem.”
While in Jerusalem for a conference, the “Community of worldwide Christian leaders” took the opportunity to bestow an honorary award on Ron Nahman, Mayor of Ariel, for his leadership and activities in the city, Samaria, and the State as a whole (Makor Rishon, October 16, p. 8).
According to a piece in Ma’ariv (October 16), some settlers in West Bank are “falsely” promoting the view that that the political situation in the territories is in fact a religious struggle – with the “encouragement of Jewish and Christian groups from abroad.”
Yediot Yerushalayim (October 24) devoted a lengthy article to the work of the “Temple Institute,” which is dedicated to preparing the instruments, garments, and methods which will allow the rebuilt Temple to function properly. In stark contrast to those Orthodox (and others) who refuse to accept money from Christians for charitable purposes, the Temple Institute welcomes gentile contributions with open arms: “The Institute enables everyone who wishes to take part in the building [of the Temple], even those who aren’t Jewish. Glick [its director], who is in contact with interested parties across the globe, is not at all perturbed that the building is largely being supported by Gentiles. He flips through the Tanakh and cites verses which prove, according to him, that this is the proper way [for it to happen]. The paradoxical situation is thus created whereby members of other religions are working together on the basis of a common interest without being in agreement on the implications of their respective beliefs. Evangelical Christians, who believe that the strengthening of Israel will lead to the renewed birth [sic] of Yeshu and to the conversion of the Jews, also visit the Institute in great numbers.”
Christians in Israel
Yediot Ahronot, October 16, 2008
Christians in Haifa continue to benefit from cooperation and coexistence with their neighbors in the city. In the market in Wadi Nisnas, “people are going for tri-existence. Christians, Muslims, and Jews enjoy a joint successful commercial business together, and there’s no greater fun than strolling through the booths in the market on Shabbat morning.”
Megiddon, September 30, 2008
What was originally a Christian house of prayer, now enclosed within Megiddo Prison, is being restored under the joint auspices of the local Megiddo Council and the Commercial Company for the Development of Megiddo. When the site was first excavated in 2003, an inscription was uncovered which reads “Akaptos, lover of God who contributed the altar to the god Jesus Christos, as a memorial,” leading archaeologists to claim it as the earliest Christian structure in the world. In its decision to encourage development of the site as a tourist attraction, a group of MKS responsible for the development of the Negev and the Galilee determined that the site constitutes “‘a tourist attraction and a gateway for pilgrims to the Galilee.’”
HaZofeh, October 24, 2008
This report carried the story of Haifa Chief Rabbi’s address before the Bishop’s synod at the Vatican (see previous Reviews).
Yediot Tel Aviv, October 24, 2008
Under the headline, “A Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian study Greek music,” a piece in Yediot Tel Aviv (October 24) noted that this was not the opening line of a joke but a serious project being run by the Arab-Jewish Center in Jaffa. By being exposed to a “third” culture about which they are both learning, Arab and Jewish high-school students can also learn about one another through learning to play Greek musical instruments and music.
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, October 22, 26; Haaretz, October 23 (Hebrew and English editions), 24, pp. 1, 4, 12 (Hebrew and English editions), 17; Israel HaYom, October 23, 2008
Although many of the following articles could also have been inserted under “Israeli attitudes towards Christianity,” since we have previously dealt with the controversy under the current category, we decided to continue to relate to this issue here.
In a very insightful column in the Haaretz (October 224, p. 4), entitled “None of our business,” Anshel Pfeffer distinguished between three separate issues related to Pius XII’s beatification: “There are a number of arguments going on. One is between historians over facts and their interpretation and, not surprisingly, there are Jews on both sides of this argument. Another argument is between Catholics and Catholics on matters of faith and religious politics. There is a third argument between parts of the Vatican and some Jewish organizations, but this is just as much about style than [sic] about substance.” In answer to the question “Should Pope Pius XII be made a saint?,” Pfeffer declared that “it’s none of your business. The more theologically accurate answer is that … according to the rules of the Catholic Church, Pius XII is either a saint already or he isn’t and can never be.” Regarding the inner-Catholic debate, he suggested that “Pius’ Second World War record is not the major consideration within the Vatican over his canonization. Those who revere him do so for his image as the last century’s leading Catholic conservative. His adoration is a central tenet for those who believe in the most extreme version of papal infallibility.” With respect to the Yad Vashem dispute, Pfeffer concluded: “Yad Vashem should certainly not allow itself to be bullied into changing what its experts believe are the historical facts and the future of Israel-Vatican relations cannot be hostage to that. The threats of Jewish leaders of the harm that will be caused by the canonization are equally out of order. The diplomatic and inter-religious issues between Israel, Jewish organizations and the Vatican, and the historical debate over what the pope did in the Holocaust, should not be connected to the question of whether Eugenio Pacelli is to become St. Pius or not. That is quite simply a matter of Vatican political power games and Jews really have no business getting involved in them.”
Continuing the stand that Jews have no right to interfere in internal church affairs, an article in the Jerusalem Post (October 22) stated: “We claim no standing in telling Catholics whom to honor as a saint. For us, however, and for many Catholics as well, the undeniable legacy of Eugenio Pacelli is moral failure – his deafening silence as millions of Jews were persecuted, brutalized and finally murdered on an industrial scale. If the Church wants historians to reevaluate pope Pius XII’s wartime record, let it open the Vatican’s archives to outside historians.” It further noted that “In recent days, President Shimon Peres extended an invitation to Pope Benedict to visit the Holy Land. We respectfully urge him to make the journey and to continue the work of improving Catholic-Jewish relations.” Intimations that the latter may be on the cards comes from the fact, also indicated in the article, that “the Vatican has asked those supporting and opposing the beatification process to stop pressuring Pope Benedict XVI on the issue.”
At the same time, while Yad Vashem has just received a list from the German government of 600,000 German Jews resident in the country between 1933-1945, including addresses, migration, arrests, deportations, and the place and manner of their death, it is refusing to accede to the Vatican’s demand to change the caption regarding Pius XII until the Vatican opens its archives (Israel HaYom, October 23).
According to several articles in Haaretz (October 23, 24), Cabinet minister Isaac Herzog, responsible for diaspora affairs, the fight against anti-Semitism, and ties with Christian communities, recently “publicly declared his opposition to the proposed beatification.” “‘The intent to turn Pius XII into a saint is unacceptable. Throughout the period of the Holocaust, the Vatican knew very well what was happening in Europe. Yet there is no evidence of any step being taken by the pope, as the stature of the Holy See should have mandated. The attempt to turn him into a saint is an exploitation of forgetfulness and lack of awareness. Instead of acting according to the biblical verse ‘thou shalt not stand against the blood of thy neighbor,’ the pope kept silent – and perhaps even worse” (October 23). Herzog’s remarks do not merely reflect his own personal sensibilities. His grandfather, Isaac Halevy Herzog, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the Holocaust, was aware of the events occurring in Europe and, together with his son, Rabbi Jacob Herzog, “tried to contact international religious leaders to determine how European Jewry could be aided.” According to first-hand testimony left by Isaac Herzog’s grandfather, while the latter was successful in persuading the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople to issue a “declaration to rescue Jews … in all the churches in the Balkans. A parallel approach by Herzog to the Vatican was unsuccessful. Likewise, when he appealed to the Vatican to protect Hungarian Jewry in 1943 he was told, ‘If Budapest were to discover that Rome is amenable to Jewish influence, the rescue efforts will only be hurt.’ A request by the chief rabbi for a secret meeting with the pope was also turned down, on the grounds that the many German journalists in Rome were liable to report the meeting to Berlin. Minister Isaac Herzog notes that his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s late president, wrote in his autobiography that the Pope was not ready to help and was actually hostile.” Finally, when Isaac Halevy Herzog managed to meet with Pius XII in February and June 1946 to discuss the return of Jewish children sheltered in convents and Christian orphanages during the war, Pius again refused to help – despite the common language the two men shared: “‘The two spoke Latin, English and French in their meeting,’ Herzog said this week … ‘Instead of atoning and promising to solve the problem of the children, the Pope was silent. Historians who described the audience noted that after leaving the Vatican, my grandfather went to a mikveh [ritual bath] in Rome to purify himself. Allow me not to try to guess why it was that precisely after that meeting he felt such a powerful need for purification’” (October 24, p. 12).
The Vatican was quick to respond to the criticism. Under the headline, “Vatican fumes at Herzog’s Pius XII remarks,” Haaretz (October 24, p. 1 and the Hebrew edition) reported that “Cardinal Andrea Lanza di Montezemolo told the Italian paper Corriere della Serra yesterday that ‘Israel’s interference in the matter of Pius XII must stop. We’ve had it with this interference. Outside opinions are liable to disrupt [the process], and they look like an attempt to force Pope Benedict XVI to make a decision.” Similarly, Father Paolo Molinari, a priest involved in the beatification process, declared that, “‘such statements contradict what others in the Jewish world have said, including [former Israeli prime ministers] Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir, who left no room for doubt about the positive part played by Pius XII during the Nazi era.’”
On a much more personal note, Jock Falkson wrote to the Jerusalem Post (October 26) asking the question, “Would Jesus have approved the silence of the pontiff while God’s chosen people were being exterminated by a godless Nazi regime? It beggars the imagination to believe that Jesus, himself a Jew, who uttered not a single sentiment in favor of killing even one innocent person, would have approved the pontiff’s obstinate neutral stance … If Jesus would not have passed over the pontiff’s silence, how can Benedict XVI?”