December 18 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review – December 18, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 15 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Christian tourism, Jewish-Christian relations, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:

2 dealt with Messianic Jews
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
4 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with Christian tourism
1 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
3 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican

The most significant story in this week’s Review related to the detention of Jamie and Stacy Cowen on a visit to Israel.
Messianic Judaism
Makor Rishon, December 15; Jerusalem Post, December 15, 2008

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (December 15), “A director of the US Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and his wife were detained at Ben-Gurion Airport by Interior Ministry officials amid allegations that he is involved in illegal Christian missionary activity … After over eight hours of detention, Jamie Cowen, a former president of the Union, and his wife, Stacy, were permitted to enter Israel only after they agreed to sign a document that they would not engage in missionary activities during their stay … The Cowens and their daughters all identify as Jews but believe that Jesus is the messiah.” The Cowens were visiting their two daughters, one of whom has already made aliyah and the other is in the process, having been part of the group who recently won their case against the State in the Supreme Court. Himself a US immigration lawyer, Cowen was quoted as saying that, “‘This type of religious discrimination would be expected of Iran, not Israel. In the US we imprison individuals suspected of terrorism. Here apparently one can be jailed for his religious convictions. This is a case of blatant discrimination against basic rights. It is a story of bureaucracy run amok. Someone has to crack down and bring in people of integrity … I’ve brought $100,000 in humanitarian aid. This is unbelievable.’” A statement from the Interior Ministry asserted that, “‘The Immigration and Population Authority has reliable information that the Cowens were involved in missionary activity prohibited by Israeli criminal law during their last visit to Israel. This is the reason they were detained. As soon as they agreed to refrain from any missionary activity, they were allowed in.’” Unfortunately, Cowen confirmed earlier reports that the detention facilities at Ben-Gurion are not well kept: “‘As an immigration lawyer I have visited many detention facilities for illegal immigrants. This one was particularly dirty, smelly and overcrowded,’” he is quoted as stating. While Yad L’Achim acknowledged that its anti-missionary organization regularly provides the Interior Ministry with information concerning Messianic Jews, it claimed that “they were not involved in the Cowens’ case.”
A second report, in Makor Rishon (December 15), added that “Jennifer, their daughter, appealed to Yaron Dekel, presenter of the program ‘It’s all talk’ on Channel Two of the ‘Voice of Israel’ radio network, and asserted that her parents had been refused entry to the country ‘in order to visit my sister and myself.’ Another person who phoned the radio at her request claimed that the Interior Ministry was basing its decision on ‘not serious information received from ‘Yad L’Achim’ and Chabad members wandering around the airport.” While Jennifer acknowledged that her parents belong to the Messianic Jewish movement (her father being Jewish, her mother not), “she claimed that they had no connection with missionary activity.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Ma’ariv, December 12, 2008

Shalom Rosenberg continued to relate to Christianity and Islam in his commentary on this week’s Torah Portion – Vayishlach (see previous Reviews). In endeavoring to schematically outline the relations between Israel, Ishmael, and Edom, Rosenberg hoped to “help us understand the reality in which we live”: “We can distinguish between two primary dimensions. The first is expressed in Scripture. Although Christianity annulled the commandments, it did so in the process of constructing its own Scriptures – the New Testament – as the second storey [erected] upon the Jewish Scriptures – the Old Testament. While the Torah was annulled, it was still preserved as a ‘primitive’ but divine revelation documented in a Jewish book. This abolishment retained a relationship with the Bible and thus also preserved some form of comprehension of Judaism, even if this was too often distorted. This was not the case with Islam. Its huge borrowing from the sources of Judaism, biblical and rabbinic alike, is self-evident. The most prominent example is the case of ‘binding of Ishmael’ – the basis for the Feast of Sacrifice [Eid-Ul-Adha]. Despite this, the Quran presents itself as a completely independent book. The link with the Jewish source has been severed, denied, and ignored. Moreover, in the wake of the inter-faith polemic, the books we have in our hands are perceived to be falsified, sometimes with the person responsible – Ezra – being identified. There are political ramifications to this distinction between Edom [Christainity] and Ishmael [Islam]. While the Christian fundamentalist movement, which identifies itself with Zionism, is a virtually necessary outcome [of this history] and does indeed exist, no similar phenomenon exists in Islam. This lies behind its capability of claiming that a Jewish Temple never existed at all on the Temple Mount. – as well as the lack of any capacity to understand Jewish history, not to speak of the Jewish relationship to the Land of Israel. The second dimension is theological and relates to the central views concerning the divine image. Here, Judaism is far closer to Islam than to Christianity. The doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation – that God became flesh – create chasms of distance. The distinction between Edom and Ishmael finds most prominent expression in art in the representations of the Godhead, which are widespread in Christianity and few and far between in Islam. This allows Jewish dialogue with Muslim philosophers. In the philosophical channels of dialogue with Christianity, however, when the subject turns to the mysteries of religious theology, a ‘block’ arises. Naturally, the point of crisis in our historical relationship with Christianity has been created in the figure/image of the messiah and his death, which was intended to atone for all humanity but turned into a crime against Israel throughout the generations. Although the philosophical affinities between Judaism and Islam were not complete, the most significant difference was embodied in the two dimensions of liberty: human freedom and divine freedom.”
In an article reviewing a recently published, Vatican-approved document relating to the Catholic position on bio-ethics (Haaretz, December 14), Ofri Ilani also compared Jewish and Christian views on the subject in general, noting that “in some areas of research, Judaism is less innovative than Christianity – as, for example, with respect to embryonic stem cells. According to the Christian perspective, the embryo is considered to be a person with the full right to exist from the moment of its conception. On this basis, damage to a cell created merely hours ago is regarded as murder. Jewish halakhah [law] takes a different position. While it opposes abortions, it asserts that a person’s status is acquired gradually, during the development of the embryo. In consequence, for medical purposes which fall under the category of ‘pikuach nephesh’ [the saving of life], most Deciders [poskim] allow the use of test-tube embryos prior to their implantation in the womb.”
Christian Zionism
HaModia, December 11, 2008

Although this item might have been included under “Anti-missionary activities,” its direct reference to Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews led us to insert here. In the wake of Eckstein’s assertion that, “the destiny of the Jewish people and of our national home today is largely dependent” upon the funds the IFCJ raises from evangelicals, Yad L’Achim’s director, Shalom Dov Lipshitz called the attention of HaModia readers to the fact that the “Great ones in Israel” – the foremost rabbinic authorities – have issued a prohibition against “enjoying [the fruits of] idolatry,” including accepting funds from evangelicals in general and the IFCJ in particular. In Lipshitz’s view, “Eckstein deliberately and consciously chose to ignore the false and wicked preaching of the evangelicals against the Jewish people at a time when all Jews are returning to Israel.” The article also noted that Yad L’Achim received numerous calls objecting to Eckstein’s statement.
Christians in Israel
Nekuda, November 30; Yediot Ahronot, December 11; Kav LeMoshav, December 11; Yom L’Yom, December 11, 2008

In a lengthy article in Nekuda (November 30), HaRav Sharon Shalom, a university lecturer and leader in the Israeli Ethiopian community, examined yet again the question of whether the Falashmura should form part of the Ethiopian community brought to Israel by the government. He recalled that the name “Falashmura” originally indicated “foreigners” and was given to Ethiopian Jews by the Christian society in which they lived. When many Jews “converted” in the wake of extensive Christian missionary work in the country, this designation was transferred to them. While this community was originally ruled to be Jewish in 1993, and those groups involved in bringing immigrants to the country ordered to include them under their purview, the fact that many of them have continued to practice Christian customs in Israel has led to a fierce debate concerning the legitimacy of their sponsored aliyah. At the same time, Shalom also noted that many Falashmura maintain that they converted in order to survive.
Two further articles discussed the similar plight of the Russian Subbotniks (see previous Reviews). Kav LeMoshav (December 12) noted their persecution not only at the hands of the State but also by the Russian Church, as well as their involvement in the early Zionist movement. The religious paper Yom L’Yom (December 11) reported that, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision taken last week, the Chief Rabbinate of Russia published the ruling of the former Chief Rabbi, according to which any Subbotnik wishing to be part of the Jewish people is required to convert.
According to a lengthy and moving report in Yediot Ahronot (December 11), an infant recently abandoned by his parents in the North of the country has been adopted by a Christian volunteer, who has become his whole family. When their son was born with a serious genetic disease which he was unlikely to survive long, his parents decided to give him up to the Christian organization “The Holy Heart” which operates an institution in Haifa for children suffering from disabilities. While at the beginning they remained in touch with the organization, and their son, when they were informed that his days were numbered, “they decided to distance themselves and to cut off the connection.” Following his transfer to Rambam Hospital, “despite the fact that the slimmest hopes of his survival had vanished, Carol (61) stands by his side day and night. Whenever she lets his finger go, his small body begins to cramp, he tenses up, and begins to scream and search worriedly for the finger that has held him for long hours. ‘Yesterday he had a very bad day,’ she says. ‘Twice I let go of his finger, just for a couple of minutes, and he wouldn’t stop crying. When he screamed, I started crying. I’m here 24 hours a day. I can’t go – I want him to know that someone’s always by his side … I want to hug him, to believe that he’ll get through this, despite everything. It’s hard for people to see him like this, when his tiny body is hooked up to innumerable tubes and machines. But as a mother of seven children and grandmother of fifteen, I have to help him survive through my little finger which holds him every hour of the day or by a caress of his forehead. Sometimes I sing to him, tell him a story. I talk to him a lot. I have so much love for him, a mother’s love. When he screams, I say to him, “You’re my warrior, you’ll get through this, you’ll overcome this” … I’ve asked the doctors if they’ll let me hold him if his condition deteriorates, so that he’ll know the embrace of a mother, so that he won’t feel that he’s completely alone in the world.’” The baby’s doctor was full of praise for Carol: “‘She doesn’t stop caressing and hugging him, and most of all praying that he’ll survive, despite his condition. She’s an amazing woman who is constantly involved – asking what else we can do to save his life. She does everything so that, in spite of everything, he’ll feel that someone’s there for him.’”
Christian Tourism
HaModia, December 12; Globes, December 12, 2008

Presumably occasioned by news of the impending second papal visit, HaModia (December 12) printed a brief article noting that the hype surrounding the 2000 visit – the millions of tourists and pilgrims who would be drawn to Israel by the event, together with the consideration shown to Christian sensitivities, a consideration which, the author implied, impinged directly on Jewish practices – had failed to materialize. Now, with another visit in sight, it expressed the hope that things would be different this time around, presumably in all respects.
Up until September of this year, the only Chinese tourists permitted to visit Israel were those of a professional or business nature. With the signing of the bilateral agreement, however, Israel has become one of the fifty or so countries granted status by China as a “recognized destination” (Globes, December 12). This means that it is now possible to market and publicize package deals to Israel in China – and we are potentially talking here in the hundreds of millions of tourists. Amongst these are Chinese Christians, although these are merely a minute minority: “The Chinese look in wonder and interest on the place of religion in Western societies. ‘They see that religion plays an important part in America, they see how Christianity has a firm grip in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. There are even many Christians in China itself. At the same time, Chinese Christianity is very different from Western Christianity. After many years of disassociation from Rome, it’s effectively become a type of Chinese religion. There’s a large salad of Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism – which in many people’s eyes is itself a form of Christianity.” Although the Chinese are fascinated by religion in the Holy Land, they have difficulty understanding it: “‘I’ve seen the picture of this wall on the news many times,’ says Wang of the Western Wall, ‘but when I stood there in silence and listened to the people praying, it did something to me, even though I’m not religious.’ ‘I feel something in my heart,’ added Pang. ‘I can’t define it exactly, but the atmosphere has an impact. Israel interests me because it’s very mysterious and unknown to us’ … It’s hard to know how many hidden Christians are in the group, because in the souvenir shops everyone buys the same things – crosses, madonnas and babies, and kiddush cups. ‘I have no religion,’ says one of them, in the middle of purchasing a wad of key chains of Mary and Jesus. ‘It’s just a nice gift, a nice present to give to people back home’ … ‘Are you Christians?’ I ask the wife, a prominent figure in tourism, whose husband has joined us for the tour. ‘No,’ she says, ‘we’re Buddhists.’ So why is your husband prostrating himself in front of a Christian statue, I ask. ‘He really wants to believe in something,’ she replies candidly.”
Jewish-Christian Relations
Makor Rishon, December 12, 2008

Makor Rishon (December 12) published a report of the Polish-Israel conference which took place recently in the framework of the “Polish year in Israel” (see previous Reviews). The opening of the article ran as follows: “‘We’re very good at identifying anti-Semitism,’ says Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, ‘but we’re very weak at identifying friends and allies. It is taking us far too long to understand that there’s a new reality in Poland’ … The new reality about which Shudrich is speaking stood at the center of a fascinating conference which took place last week at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, which sought to give an up-to-date picture of the relationship between the Polish Catholic Church and the Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel. In fact, it wasn’t quite a full picture, but the interesting and surprising part of it: the flourishing of an impressive philosemitism on the part both of individuals and groups, which is seeking to research the Jewish past of the country in which three and a half million Jews lived on the eve of the Holocaust, restoring Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, studying Judaism, and adopting a unique attitude towards Judaism and the State of Israel. Like most of the inhabitants of Poland, most of those interested in Judaism and the Jewish people are Catholics, sometimes it is Church leaders who are at the forefront of this phenomenon.” A collection of articles published in conjunction with the conference included one by Stajek Krajevsky, a Polish-born Jew who grew up with no relationship to Judaism but has now returned to his roots. In it, he commented: “It is easy to love dead Jews. But if we were to ask the Poles working today to restore Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, to recall the Jewish past of their city or town, whether they wanted the Jews to return I suppose that not all of them would answer in the affirmative. Despite this, however, interest in Judaism and Jews is growing and it is real and sincere. Because the absence of the presence of real Jews in today’s Poland is a given, the best thing that can be done today with the Jewish Polish heritage is to remember it, to research it, to delve into Jewish culture, and to renew awareness of the Jewish roots of Christianity.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Yediot Ahronot, December 11; Israel HaYom, December 11; HaModia, December 11, 2008

It’s official: Pope Benedict XVI will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories in May, 2009. Reporting the fact, Yediot Ahronot (December 11) noted that a “pioneering delegation” is already in Israel, making preparations for the event. Although the official Vatican announcement is only expected this week, the Pope is apparently set to stay four or five days, during which time he will hold mass in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth and visit the presidential residence. The fact of the visit was reported very briefly in Israel HaYom (December 11).
HaModia (December 11) indicated that Benedict XVI took the opportunity once again in a “Christian ceremony at Lorenzo“ to praise his predecessor, Pius XII.