November 20 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review – November 20, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 9 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, cults, Christians in Israel, Jewish-Christian relations, interfaith activity, the Pope and the Vatican, and conversion. Of these:

1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with cults
1 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
1 dealt with interfaith activities
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with conversion
This week’s Review focused on the Holocaust, with further Jewish responses to the proposed beatification of Pius XII, together with objections to continued Mormon “proselytizing” of Holocaust victims.

Anti-missionary Activities
Yom L’Yom, November 13, 2008

Yom L’Yom carried last week’s story of Yad L’Achim’s protest against the Morris Cerullo conference in Haifa (see previous Review).

Christians in Israel
Yediot Ahronot, November 14, 2008

In the wake of the feuding in the Holy Sepulcher, Yediot Ahronot printed a picture of the fight, with the caption: “Police: ‘Attempts to end the blows didn’t help. The monks continually turned the other cheek.’”

Jerusalem Post, November 11; Makor Rishon, November 12, 2008

The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors group has abandoned negotiations with the Mormon church because “‘We go round and round, and they refuse to change their position’” (Jerusalem Post, November 11). Although the Mormon church agreed to prevent the names of Jewish Holocaust victims being added to the list of those who had been posthumously baptized into its ranks in 1995, the Jewish organization claims that the church has failed to enforce this ruling and done nothing to reprimand “those who moved to restore thousands that had been removed from baptismal lists.” “‘The church’s actions show disrespect for us – they revise history, intentionally or not,’ said Michel [head of the AGJHS], who cited July correspondence with church leaders . . . in which elders stated that they would only remove the names of Jewish Holocaust victims upon request rather than conducting their own records search . . . According to Mormon teaching, posthumous baptism – done through a living proxy – does not automatically override a dead person’s Jewishness but merely opens the door for the soul to accept or reject Mormon teaching . . . ‘The effect of baptism by proxy or by any other ordinance for the dead is to make an offer, which the individual may choose to accept. If not accepted, the ordinance is of no effect,’ wrote Marlin Jensen, a church elder.” The church’s head of public affairs likened the problem of enforcing non-additions to speeding violations: since it is highly unlikely that people will comply with the ruling, the church is unwilling to guarantee that no Jewish names will appear on the Mormon membership list. He also explained that a specific request for removal must be made in order to ensure against the circumstance that “a legitimate baptism might be accidentally purged and [the person] thereby denied the right to reach heaven.” According to the report, an independent researcher has confirmed that the church has “failed to remove all 380,000 known Holocaust victims’ names . . . ‘The list problem is something the church could have cracked down on, should have cracked down on, and has not cracked down on,’ Radkey told the Post. She said the database could be easily compared against lists from Yad Vashem or other Holocaust clearinghouses.” According to Makor Rishon (November 12), Michel, whose own parents were amongst those who appeared on the Mormon list, added that, “‘our forefathers and relatives have already suffered too much, physically and mentally, and we cannot allow their souls to be reincarnated and ostensibly become Christians.’”

Jewish-Christian Relations
Yediot Haifa, November 14, 2008

The 2004 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, Aaron Ciechanover from the Technion in Haifa, was recently admitted to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Benedict XVI. The members of the Academy consist of scientists from across the globe who meet to discuss scientific and religious issues. According to Prof. Ciechanover, “the dialogue between the church and science is particularly important in relation to questions of ethics and morality to which science has insufficient answers . . . As a highly influential body, the Catholic Church can root out prejudices and employ science and its achievements as a bridge for peace and understanding.”

Interfaith Activities
HaModia, November 17, 2008

Following the burning of a synagogue in Lod, religious leaders in the city issued a “manifesto of peace” to all the residents in which they called on all the faith communities – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – to coexist: “All the residents know that wonderful coexistence between all the religious communities – Jewish, Muslim, and Christian – has existed in our city, Lod, for decades and that we all live in good and peaceable neighborly relations. Some days ago, a serious crime was committed in the city, the burning of a Jewish synagogue, which we all know is the place most sacred to Jews. Such an action can, God forbid, incite things outside the synagogue as well and damage the good coexistence which exists in our midst . . . This [the arson] is something against God’s wishes. We therefore appeal to all the residents to prevent such attacks against one another, either physically or to property, and certainly not to sacred places . . . May God preserve us and help us continue the coexistence between the different communities in the city of Lod.” The initiative behind the manifesto came from Lod’s chief rabbi, who appealed to other religious leaders in the city to join his appeal for calm among the city’s residents. Not long ago, he himself was invited to be the chief speaker at an interfaith event held in the city, “‘with the explanation that Judaism is the first religion in the world.’” The police suggest that the arson of the synagogue, which fortunately did not completely destroy it, was the work of nationalists.

The Pope and the Vatican
HaZofeh, November 14; Haaretz, November 14, 2008

Following Yitzhak Meir’s article in the same paper last week, HaZofeh (November 14) printed a second opinion piece relating to Pius XII’s potential beatification. Entitled “Pius’s order” (or “A reconciliatory command” – a play on words, the name Pius signifying “reconciliation” in Hebrew and the phrase as a whole designating the movement towards tolerance and coexistence in Israel society), this was a lengthy contribution by Shaul Meizelish, who met with Pope John Paul II in Rome several years ago. Meizelish combined reports concerning Pius XII and chief rabbi Herzog with comments about Benedict XVI, relating that the latter was obviously uncomfortable speaking about his predecessor’s attitude towards the Jews: “I understood that for him, as someone who had himself saved Jewish lives and shown favor to the Jews and to the State of Israel, this was a difficult and abrasive subject for him.” According to Meizelish, Vatican policy during the Holocaust was dictated by an “exaggerated need for neutrality which in actuality demonstrated indifference to the fate of the Jews and a lack of concern for their planned destruction.” Herzog, on the other hand, was “perhaps the only one of the leaders of the Yishuv [early Jewish settlement] in the Land who raised a voice of protest against the ‘genocide’ being executed against his brethren in Europe.” Meizelish indicated that Herzog “intimated to the leaders of the Yishuv in the Land that the pope knew precisely what was happing to the Jews, their expulsion and slaughter.” In reference to Herzog’s need to cleanse himself following his meeting with Pius XII, given that the pope had refused his request to order the return of Jewish children hidden by Catholics during the war, Meizelish concluded his piece with the statement, “We cannot allow this act to remain isolated but must continue today the public call denouncing Pius XII and the behavior of the church.”

Sergio Minerbi, former Israeli ambassador and currently visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of Haifa, contributed an opinion piece to Haaretz (November 14) which also contained harsh words towards Pius XII and the Catholic Church: “The Catholic Church’s decisions regarding the beatification of its saints should not concern the Jews. One exception to this rule is the case of Pope Pius XII, who headed the Church while the Holocaust was ravaging World War II Europe. What is at stake here is the Catholic perception of the Shoah – the worst nightmare in Jewish history, during which six million of our people were murdered. For Catholics, according to Pius XII (who reigned 1939-1958), it was a period during which the Church was a victim of Nazism. In a blatant effort to Christianize the Holocaust, Pope John Paul II used the symbol of the ‘six million’ to represent the number of Polish people allegedly killed during the war. Edith Stein, although killed in Auschwitz as a Jew, was canonized by the Church as one of its martyrs. Auschwitz was defined by the same pope as ‘the Golgotha of the modern world,’ yet another expression of the Church’s appropriation of the Shoah [Holocaust]. Golgotha, of course, is the hill in Jerusalem where a Jew was crucified, giving birth to Christianity. Did Auschwitz, to the Pope’s mind, represent the sacrifice of the Jews for a renewed strengthening of Christianity? The beatification of Pius XII follows such a line of thought, and may well be the last testament of John Paul II, who wanted to transform the Jewish Holocaust into a Polish Catholic event.”

Yediot Ahronot, November 14, 2008

This piece gave statistics concerning the numbers of conversions between the various religious communities in Israel. It reported a decline in the number of conversions from Christianity to Judaism – a fact which the author intimated would have been pleasing to the members of the Inquisition. While 437 Christians converted to Judaism in 2003, 884 in 2004, 733 in 2005, 457 in 2006, and 273 in 2007, only 119 did so in the “past year.” The report suggested that one of the reasons for the drop lay in the fact that many new immigrants are non-Jews “who feel more secure in their previous faith [i.e., Christianity] and prefer not to convert.” The number of Jews who converted to Islam also dropped this year. Whereas in previous years the number had stood at 40, it declined to 19 this year. “Overall, more than 200 Israeli Jews have converted to Islam since the beginning of the decade.” Most of these are women who have married Muslim partners. While the number of men converting is much lower, it is also increasing. The report claimed that the Israeli (Jewish) authorities have in the past made it very difficult to convert to Islam. With respect to Muslim conversion to Judaism, this “remains, as usual, very low. This year, five Muslims converted to Judaism.”