December 29 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review – December 29, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 24 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Christian and holy sites, Christian tourism, the Pope and the Vatican, and anti-Semitism. Of these:

1 dealt with Messianic Jews
3 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
6 dealt with anti-missionary activities
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
6 dealt with Christian and holy sites
3 dealt with Christian tourism
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with anti-Semitism
1 was a book review

This week’s Review primarily focused on events related to Christmas.
Messianic Judaism
Jerusalem Post, December 17, 2008

The Jerusalem Post (December 17) printed a letter from Howard Silverman of the UMJC in reponse to the paper’s coverage of the Cowens’ detention (see last week’s Review): “Sir, – The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations deplores the detention of Jamie and Stacy Cowen upon their arrival in Israel (‘Messianic Jews detained at Ben-Gurion Airport,’ December 15). As president of the UMJC, Cowen spearheaded humanitarian aid to Israel and participated in social causes for the betterment of the Jewish people. The UMJC continues to support these efforts and does not engage in any activity that is outside the bounds of Israeli law. In 2003, and most recently in the summer of 2008, the UMJC convened its annual conference in Israel, which The Jerusalem Post reported. We call upon the government of Israel to uphold the freedom of religion of all.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Kol HaIr, December 19; Makor Rishon, December 21; Yediot Ahronot, December 22, 2008

Under the title, “A Christmas legend,” Kol HaIr (December 19) ran a short column encouraging Israelis to partake of the Christmas festivities: “With all due respect to doughnuts, dreidels, and, of course, the wonderful lights of Hanukkah, we have to admit that Christmas represents no small attraction to Jews. Who amongst us did not grow up on dozens of series and American films in which the whole family decorates their Christmas tree with lights and colorful ornaments? Who was never jealous of the young kids, whose fathers or grandfathers crept into the living room through the chimney disguised as Santa Claus in a red-and-white suit and distributed longed-for presents wrapped in colorful, rustling paper? At midnight on December 24, the bells of churches all across the world will ring out, and festal and devout prayers will begin in Bethlehem and throughout Jerusalem. Even if you are a Jew who is settled in his religion, there’s no reason for you not to join in and come to watch the devout masses which celebrate the birth of Yeshu.” Interactive participation is recommended, in the form of a night tour conducted by the Reform-run Beit Shmuel on Christmas eve, which includes a walk on the roofs of the city and through the alleys of the Christian Quarter in the Old City.
The religious weekly Makor Rishon (December 21) also joined in the festive spirit, with the publication of an article entitled “Hannuchristmas.” Noting, once again, the films beloved of Christmas, Nahum Mokiach summed up the atmosphere in “Jew York”: “The two holidays, Hanukka and Christmas, mark the united and unifying gathering together of families. The Jews have ceremonies, the blessing over the lighting of the candles, and the eating of doughnuts and latkes (potato pancakes) together. The Christians have crowding together around the Christmas tree and the ceremony of opening the presents. This combination of the ceremonies of two parallel holidays shines a powerful ray of closeness and fellowship.”
Gili Sofer, reporting on Christmas eve in Nazareth, on the other hand, suggests that one could be forgiven for thinking oneself abroad on that night (Yediot Ahronot, December 22). At the same time, she also notes that “despite being a Christian holiday, Christmas is celebrated by Christians and Muslims alike” in Nazareth. Likewise, the Church of the Annunciation – the largest church in the Middle East – was built “symbolically” by an Israeli company (Solel Boneh) with the use of Muslim laborers and money from the Vatican.
Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity
HaIr-Tel Aviv, December 19; HaModia, December 21; BeKehila, December 18; Yom L’Yom, December 18; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, December 18; Mishpacha, December 18, 2008

A brief notice in HaIr-Tel Aviv (December 19) reported the distribution of a comic book in the streets of Tel Aviv last week depicting the apocalypse. The tract opens with the hero surviving a car accident, an event which is explained in terms of salvation through Yeshua since in him “God’s wrath won’t come upon us.” “Thus, one after the other, all the central tenets of the Christian faith are presented (‘Yeshua comes from heaven and sheds his blood in order to cleanse us from our sins’), accompanied by quotations from the sources.” According to the article – entitled “Batman returns: Yeshua also returns (in up-to-date comics) and wipes the smile off the faces of all the jokers” – “the double-sided tract, which was disseminated on Tuesday (16.12) on Rothschild Ave., in fact charges the ‘Edomites’ (‘the nation of Christians’) with responsibility for the financial crisis and the approaching apocalypse.”
The remainder of the articles all related to Yad L’Achim’s “Million-name petition,” an initiative recently inaugurated by the anti-missionary organization deesigned to effect changes in the current “missionary law.” The petition “calls on the religious parties [in the Knesset] to exploit the momentum which has been created on the eve of the Knesset elections and include in the platform of each party a clear and unambiguous clause according to which the parties will act to insist that the missionary law be amended so as to halt all missionary preaching of whatever sort by any member of any religion towards any member of any other religion. The law will put a stop to missionary activity, which ironically and outrageously is presently permitted by Israeli law unless directed towards minors or in exchange for material benefits.” The petition further calls on the relevant parties to make the adoption of this clause an unconditional prerequisite for their participation in any future coalition.
Christian Zionism
Yediot Netanya, December 19, 2008

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) has donated 250 shekels to 1,750 elderly people in Netanya for the purpose of helping them heat their homes this winter.
Christian and Holy Sites
Ma’ariv, December 19; Haaretz, December 18 (x 2), 22; Yediot Ahronot, December 21, 22, 2008

Ma’ariv (December 19) recommended a visit to the church which, according to Christian tradition, commemorates the house of Anna and Jehoiakin, “Yeshua’s (Yeshu’s) grandmother and grandfather.” “Here, it transpires, Miriam, Yeshu’s mother, was born to barren parents.” The Byzantine church, which is almost completely preserved, is located close to Tzippori (Sepphoris) in central Galilee. “The courtyard and beautiful church are one of the points of the walking tour in the footsteps of the life of Yeshu, the project known as the ‘Jesus trail’ – a walking tour of around 60 km and 3-5 days’ walk beginning in Nazareth and ending at the Mount of Beatitudes.
In a “column” dedicated to “sites,” Yediot Ahronot focused on “Christian Nazareth” this week (December 21, 22). The first note indicated that around 60,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the city this week between Christmas and the civil New Year. It pictured Sister Sylvia of the Rosary Monastery, which will provide accommodation for several of the pilgrims. Sister Sylvia was born in Nazareth, served most of her “working” life dedicated to “the Christian savior” in monasteries in Jerusalem, and only returned to Nazareth six years ago. The second featured “Kiriakos, the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox community in the North, the second most important church figure following that of the Patriarch, who resides in Jerusalem. “‘When I need to be, I’m a cook, when I need to be I’m the archbishop,’ says Kiriakos as he fried fish in the Greek style.”
In a review of how the danger levels of the Sea of Galilee are determined, Eli Ashkenazi looked into the history of the discussion and noted that when the electicity company first began utilizing the lake, it encountered opposition from the “monks from the Italian and German monasteries” who protested against the “intervention in nature” as a “‘desecration/profanation of waters of the Sea of Galilee sacred to all the Christians in the world’” (Haaretz, December 22).
According to a report in the same paper (Haaretz December 18, Hebrew and English editions), the Israeli government is “mulling [a] proposal to repair Muslim holy sites for [the] first time since [the] establishment of [the] state.” “After the 1948 war the Israeli government took possession of much of the property left belonging [sic] to the Arab population, which either fled or was expelled from their [sic] homes during the war and in its immediate aftermath. Unlike Muslim sites, sites holy to Christianity remained in the hands of the churches after the 1948 war and were not seized by the state due to international pressure.” Now, mosques as well as synagogues and churches may be renovated by the government across the country.
Christian Tourism
Haaretz, December 17, 18; Jerusalem Post, December 16, 2008

In one of the worst traffic accidents in Israeli history, 24 Russian tour operators were killed and another 25 injured almost immediately following their arrival in Eilat (Haaretz, December 18). Among those in hospital was Vladislaw Gomglev. In stable condition, he remarked to reporters that he still hadn’t seen the Church of the Sepulchre and would therefore need to return to Israel again to do so.
Tourism is on the increase, both for pilgrims and holidaymakers, according to a report in Haaretz (December 17). The Italian government has approved regular Eurofly flights between Milan and Israel. El Al is also renewing its regular flights to and from St. Petersburg, while Arkia will begin flights to and from Azerbaijan, Kiev, and Bakku, and Sun Dor will bring Portuguese pilgrims from Lisbon. “Arkia and Sun Dor are building on religious tourism – Jews who will fly to Kiev and Christians who will arrive from Portugal.”
Bethlehem is also benefiting from the pick up in the tourist trade. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (December 16), “After eight bleak years, Jesus’ birthplace finally has a Christmas season to cheer about … With calm gradually returning to the West Bank, Bethlehem has again become a magnet for Christian pilgrims … Palestinian officials say 1.3 million tourists have visited the West Bank this year, nearly double last year’s level. The total for 2008 could rise to 1.6 million. The tourism boom has created 12,000 new jobs, said Palestinian information Minister Riad Malki … Officials say 40 percent of the city’s 32,000 residents are Christian, down from 90 percent in the 1950s. The rest are Muslims. Christmas decorations are being put up, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a major player in the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Manger Square … Bethlehem is being turned into a showcase for Palestinian security forces, who have been gradually expanding areas under their control. Some 1,500 Palestinian police officers will be deployed in Bethlehem during the holiday … Israeli security officials say they are working with their Palestinian counterparts to ensure easy access to Bethlehem.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Yediot Ahronot, December 18; Jerusalem Post, December 18, 2008

In light of the upcoming papal visit in May, Bethlehem’s mayor, Victor Batarseh, has announced that he has been informed by Vatican officials that Benedict XVI “will visit his town in May (Jerusalem Post, December 18). According to a second report in Yediot Ahronot (December 18), the pontiff  will also visit the Western Wall and the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. Following an initial meeting with President Shimon Peres, the pope will meet with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders at Notre Dame. The following day, he will meet with the Chief Rabbis and then go to the Temple Mount. In Bethlehem, he will visit the Church of the Nativity and hold a mass “in a nearby square. He is also due to visit Yad Vashem and to take part in a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance.”
Makor Rishon, December 19, 2008

An article printed in Makor Rishon (December 19), examining anti-Semitism in Norway, was written by Manfred Gerstenfeld, author of a recently-published book on Scandinavia, Israel, and the Jews. Gerstenfeld opened with some of the “jokes” uttered by “comedian” Otto Jepersen, which were backed by the director of the TV channel on which they were aired: “I would also like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background.” Jepersen also ended one of his performances by extending Christmas wishes to the Jews – and then apologized for his rudeness, having ‘forgotten’ that the Jews had killed Jesus. Gerstenfeld attributed such phenomena to the rise in institutionalized Norwegian anti-Semitism, “hidden behind a front of criticism of Israel due to its policies in Judaea and Samaria.”
Book Review
HaZofeh, December 19, 2008

Baruch Kahane reviewed Shahar Peled’s book Formulators/Shredders of Identities (Pardes; Hebrew) in HaZofeh (December 19). Peled argues that the whole discipline of “Jewish Studies” was “created as part of the Christian Protestant fight against Judaism.” These “scientists” (in Hebrew, the discipline is known as “Jewish Sciences”) “have their own way of destroying – shredding, in Peled’s words – Judaism as a force capable of withstanding Christianity and presenting itself as an alternative to it. Their method is to turn Judaism into an ‘object of research’ and to examine each claim that it makes as though it were a scientific object like any other, such as a rare germ or sub-atomic particle. From the moment that this ‘objective’ method was introduced we cease relating to Judaism as a partner for dialogue, and in effect cease relating to it altogether … We have here an outward appearance of heeding and paying attention, even of deep study, but without any relation to the truth being expressed – not even in order to contradict what is being said. Judaism is simply not related to as having any significance. Moreover, Peled insists that this process forms “a decisive chapter in Christian efforts to usurp Jewish history for itself. From its inception, as is well known, Christianity saw itself as the ‘True Israel’ – the ‘Israel of the spirit.’ Protestantism gave birth to a new version of this attempt. Its thinkers aspired to uncover the primary sources of the Christian idea in order to overcome the distortions produced during the long period in which Christianity had been dominated by the Catholic pope. In their opinion, the distortions of Judaism would also be ‘uncovered.’” The “science of Judaism” created in the wake of the emergence of Protestantism provided Jews with the possibility of identifying with their Christian colleagues without abandoning their own identity – at least on a “scientific” level. This came at the expense, once again, however, of losing the ‘soul’ of Judaism: “Why should anyone be interested in studying the Bible if all it is is ancient literature and a collection of superstitions which may, perhaps, have impressed the people of antiquity?” Peled’s conclusion is that the only people who now truly understand Judaism form part of the religious community.