December 2 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review – December 2, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, and film. Of these:

4 dealt with Messianic Judaism
2 dealt with anti-missionary activity
4 dealt with Christians in Israel
5 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
2 dealt with film
A varied Review this week contained articles on Messianic Judaism, the Sobotnik group, the Pope’s scheduled visit to Israel next year, and Christmas films.
Messianic Judaism
Haaretz, November 25; Ma’ariv, November 28; Jerusalem Post, November 26, 27, 2008

In light of the fact that Messianic Jews have been discovered to have participated in the Birthright (Taglit) program which brings potential young immigrants to visit Israel, the organization has instituted a screening process (Jerusalem Post, November 26). “Under a category entitled ‘eligibility rules,’ applicants are asked to declare that they are Jewish. They are also asked to declare that ‘I do not subscribe to any beliefs or follow any practices which may be in any way associated with Messianic Judaism, Jews for Jesus or Hebrew Christians.’” Anyone revealed to have provided false answers to these questions “will be immediately dismissed from the program and lose a $250 deposit.” They may also be required to foot the full bill for the trip ($2,500-$3,000), usually paid for by Birthright. In justifying the move, the organization stated that, “‘Contemporary Jewish life has many diverse criteria for being Jewish and Taglit-Birthright Israel has followed the broadest guidelines used by the contemporary community. There is unanimity in Jewish life that individuals who may be from Jewish lineage or family and who choose the Messiah path (and in so doing accept the Christian belief in Jesus) have chosen a path that separates them from the accepted parameters of Jewishness in contemporary Jewish society. Such a choice is regarded as analogous to freely converting out of normative Jewish belief systems. This is not a denial of their origins, nor is it about the quality of their beliefs. It is simply an agreed upon formula that certain acts categorically separate individuals from what are agreed-upon parameters of Jewishness in this age.’”
According to the Post, “Messianic Jews are often Jewish by lineage and/or identify themselves with the Jewish people, but believe that Jesus is the messiah. Most celebrate the Jewish holidays and study Jewish texts in addition to the New Testament.” The article quoted Calev Myers’ response to the screening practice as being “‘blatant, ridiculous discrimination’ and ‘a shame … Instead of drawing children of Messianic Jewish families closer to their Jewish roots, they are excluding them from participating.’” Likewise, a father whose son had been “kicked off” a trip several years ago when it was discovered that he (the boy) was a believer, was interviewed – anonymously, “fearing that his son would be prevented from immigrating to Israel”: “‘The truth is I feel sorry for them [Birthright-Taglit]. They are closed-eyed and closed-minded. If my son had told them that he was a Buddhist, an atheist or a homosexual they would have no problem. Belief that Yeshua [Jesus] is the savior is the dividing line. Birthright assumes there is an overarching parameter for defining who is a Jew. But I think a lot of Israelis would feel more comfortable with me than with a haredi [Orthodox Jew] from Mea She’arim. I don’t understand their fear. Isn’t it still a wonderful thing to bring a Jew closer to the land of Israel? Are we boogeymen? Are they afraid we are going to come and steal their children away or something?’” [Editor’s note: the translation of Jesus is in the original text.] In response to this article, Reuven Hammer wrote to the Post (November 27) supporting Birthright’s decision: “Birthright is intended for Jews alone and just as Christians – no matter how supportive of Israel –  do not meet the criteria for participation, so too do these Christian groups that disguise themselves as Jews. This deliberate deception that they are really Jews and not Christians has succeeded all too long … It is time we called a Christian a Christian and stopped permitting them [Messianic Jews] to put on these disguises. Perhaps they are fooling themselves, but they should not be permitted to fool us.”
Haaretz’s “Accessibility” column this week was devoted to Yad HaShemona, a moshav “founded in 1971 by Christian supporters of Israel who came from distant, cold Finland” (November 25).
Last week’s Torah portion (Toledot) includes the verse “Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 26:23). Shalom Rosenberg in his commentary on the portion (Ma’ariv, November 28) noted the fact that, over time Esau was associated with Edom, which became the symbol of Rome and thus Christianity, and remarked in that regard: “Edom in its new version today sends missionaries to us survivors of the Holocaust, a brand plucked from the fire which erupted in the land of Edom. We plead with you, Edom, leave your elderly mother in peace, who has had her pleasure. Jews for Jesus? I ask these Jews to listen to Yeshu’s last words when he was crucified by the Romans (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34): ‘And he cried out with a loud voice, “ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?”’ According to their description, those standing by thought that he was asking Elijah for help, and mocked him. They didn’t know that his words were an Aramaic translation of Psalm 22:1: ‘My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?’ “In his Gospel, Luke ignores this cry, putting different words in [Jesus’] mouth. John, in the fourth Gospel, deletes it completely. Luke and John were perplexed by the desperate cry, which was not at all appropriate to a messiah who was about to rise from the dead. The first version is reliable, the cry authentic. Yeshu expected a miracle which never occurred. His greatness is embedded in the fact that at the last moment he understood that he had deceived himself – something which Shabbtai Tzvi [a false messiah of the seventeenth century, who eventually converted to Islam] was incapable of doing and instead betrayed his people and his faith. ‘The messiah is coming,’ and in the meantime, Satan is winning, still Satan is winning and leading mankind astray. But why continue? Why seek to resurrect old arguments? Edom! You shall not pass through us [Num. 20:18].”
Anti-missionary Activities
HaModia, November 27; HaZofeh, November 28, 2008

HaZofeh (November 27) carried the story of the publicity campaign conducted in the North (see previous Reviews).
Under the headline “Exposed – plot by missionary woman who disguised herself as a potential convert,” HaModia (November 27) reported the latest incident in the case of “B.”, an American who has several times attempted to convert and been refused on the grounds that she is a believer. In her latest effort to join the Jewish fold, B. approached the Karlitzer community. The suspicions of the Rabbi responsible for conversions was aroused by the “unusual” number of recommendations B. proferred, mostly from families who had hosted her over shabbat. On informing Yad L’Achim of his concerns, the latter organization immediately recognized B.’s name. When she was turned away yet again, B. decided that she would confront Yad L’Achim directly “in an apparent effort to prove her good intentions.” When she was asked to deny Jesus, however, she found every way to evade answering. Yad L’Achim also confronted her with a statement made by her father, in which he said, “‘My daughter believes that there is no contradiction between the Christian religion and faith in the Jewish religion.’”
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, November 27; Makor Rishon, November 27; Ma’ariv, November 28, 2008

These three articles appear to have been prompted by the recent appeal made by Lubov Gonchareva to make aliyah. According to the Jerusalem Post (November 27), Gonchereva is “a member of the ‘Subbotnik’ community in Vysoky, southwest Russia.” When her request to immigrate was denied by the Interior Ministry – despite her mother’s earlier immigration under the Law of Return – Gonchareva, “together with Shavei Israel, an organization that assists ‘lost Jews,’ petitioned the court” to allow her to immigrate like her mother. As the headline in Ma’ariv (November 28) indicates, the Russian Subbotniks are in many ways equivalent to the Ethiopian Falashmura: “… the Subbotniks, who see themselves as Jews and do not call themselves Subbotniks but rather Gerim (Hebrew for converts), apparently went further and embraced Jewish practice.” The Chief Sephardic Rabbi ruled last year that “it could not be determined whether the Subbotniks were Jews. Therefore, they must undergo conversion to be recognized as such. Nevertheless, they had a significant connection to the Jewish people and should be encouraged to come to Israel.” The Ministry of Interior, however, continues to refuse them citizenship when they “marry a non-Jew outside the community” – as is in fact the case where Gonchareva is concerned. Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, claimed that the Ministry’s response ignores the fact that Gonchareva’s mother has been recognized as Jewish. The lengthy article in Ma’ariv (November 28) was written by Eli Gradenstein, who visited Vysoky and recounted many of the stories told him by the inhabitants of the village – a 700 km twelve-hour train, three-and-a half bus, and final minibus journey from Moscow, the Russian equivalent of “the end of the world, turn left.” Gradenstein described the “falashmura of the Russians” as people who “keep Shabbat, are diligent to be circumcised, and refrain from eating pork. They have survived the oppression of the Czars, suffered from communist persecution, and were murdered by the Nazis … But none of this is sufficient for the State of Israel …” Apart from the confusion this attitude creates amongst the Subbotniks, their overall response is one of grave apprehension. If their children and grandchildren are prevented from immigrating to Israel, their complete assimilation cannot be averted. The decision to leave them to their fate in Russia means losing them from the Jewish fold.
According to a report in Haaretz (December 1), Bethlehem is currently enjoying a boom which it hopes will continue into next year. “‘Jingle Bells’ rang out over Manger Square yesterday as Bethlehem opened a Christmas market that the Palestinian city hopes will help cap a boom year for tourism with a profitable festive season … a decline in violence has tempted back tourists who no longer fear suicide bombers and gunbattles erupting in the streets … Bethlehem can be a confusing place – a mainly Muslim city where the call to prayer from the mosque on Manger Square drowned out the Christmas carols playing for the tourists and where palm trees and warm sunshine contrasted with the snow-capped Santa Claus figures on sale at the market.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, November 28 (x 2); Haaretz, November 27 (Hebrew and English editions), 2008

The current pope and his predecessor continue to remain in the news, with information reaching the press that Benedict took the opportunity to defend Pius XII yet again at a mass in the San Lorenzo basilica on Sunday, noting that the pontiff had rushed to the aid of residents of the neighborhood in which it is located when it was bombed by the Allies in 1943 (Haaretz, December 1). His own visit to the “Holy Land” – only the third visit by a pontiff – is set for the second week of May 2009, although his positive response to an invitation by President Shimon Peres has not yet been officially confirmed (Jerusalem Post, November 29; Haaretz, November 27).
In a related report, “Archbishop of Lublin, Josef Zycinski, said this week ahead of a visit to Israel that there was a ‘new era’ of Polish openness to Jews and defended controversial Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII as a ‘pragmatist’” (Jerusalem Post, November 28). In “free Poland,” “‘In the late 1970s it was impossible to have access to the parts of Auschwitz that showed the enormity of the Jewish Holocaust,’ said Zycinski … ‘Poles were out of touch with the long Jewish history in Poland. But today a younger, more open generation of Poles is growing up with a more nuanced understanding of Jewish reality.’” With respect to Pius XII, Zycinski noted that, “‘If he came out with a public announcement calling on Catholics to save Jews, and thus express in a clear way Christian principles, he would have risked his life and those of many others. Instead, he chose a different, more pragmatic way of showing solidarity with the Jews. He encouraged Catholic parishes to issue certificates of baptism to Jews.’”
Haaretz, November 28; Ma’ariv, November 28, 2008

Both these articles examined the distribution of Arnaud Desplechin’s new film, called “Un conte de Noel” in French and, in a literal translation, “A Christmas Tale” in its international version. Noting the Hebrew title – “A Festal Tale” –Doron Halutz in Haaretz (November 28) asked the question, “Why did Christmas turn into an ordinary (anonymous) holiday on the way from France to Israel”? In attempting to provide an answer, he indicated that this case is merely one example of many in which the Hebrew title drops any reference to Christian elements. Thus, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” has become “The Grinch,” while “Christmas with the Kranks” is known in Israel as “Where Are You for the Holidays?” “Does Christmas somehow deter film distributors in Israel?,” he asked. According to the company distributing “A Christmas Tale,” title considerations are based solely on what will draw people to the cinema. Its director categorically denied that the latter involved removing Christian signs, claiming that the movie is about a family sitting down together around a festive table, “‘it doesn’t matter which holiday.’”
Meir Schnitzer, in Ma’ariv (November 28) draws out many of the Christian associations and symbols in the film, together with its Jewish elements. The story is based on the parable of the Prodigal son: the son who was exiled to pay for his debts comes homes to save his mother’s life (to resurrect her) during the week between Christmas and the New Year. In New Testament terms, this is also the period between Yeshu’s birth and his circumcision. The son also arrives home with a new girlfriend, who is Jewish, while his mother most frequently refers to him as “my little Jew.”