January 27 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – January 27, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 12 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christian tourism, and Christian-Jewish relations. Of these:

1 dealt with Messianic Jews
1 dealt with anti-missionary activities
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with Christian tourism
8 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations

The focus of this week’s Review was the strain in Jewish-Catholic relations due to the reinstatement of Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius, who denies the Holocaust.
Messianic Jews
Jerusalem Post, January 20, 2009

In a lengthy article in the Jerusalem Post (January 20), Amir Mizroch investigated the “specter of an untold number of Christians and so-called Messianic Jews in northeast India” who consider themselves to form part of Bnei Menashe – “alleged descendants of the lost tribe of Manasseh, that was exiled along with nine other Israelite tribes from Samaria when it was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.” The concern is that “While wanting to keep their faith,” this “very large group of people very much aspires to immigrate” – despite the fact that “Bnei Menashe do not arrive in Israel under the Law of Return, but on tourist visas, and are not entitle to immigration benefits and cannot bring the contents of their households with them.” The Bnei Menashe originated in the Indian tribes of Kuki and Mizo, who converted to Christianity in the nineteenth century under the influence of Christian missionaries. The latter brought with them “the New Testament, with its descriptions of Jewish faith, rituals and history.” According to the report, the Kuki are “staunchly Christian – and they love Israel because they have been told that it was the birthplace of Jesus Christ. But as the practice of Judaism spreads among the Bnei Menashe Kuki, they are drawing others into the fold; they say they go from village to village spreading their message, just like the good evangelical traditions in which they were initially trained by missionaries … In addition to the Christian Bnei Menashe Messianic Council, there are at least 12 Messianic Jewish congregations in Manipur alone. There are many more in Mizoram and in Nagaland. They are now organizing themselves under one umbrella – the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations of Northeast India. Lienboi Gangte, the new umbrella’s general secretary, says his congregation ‘has the right to make aliya,’ even if they’re not currently planning on it. ‘Regarding aliya, it is not that we overtly want to immigrate; but it is our right, if I am not mistaken, to migrate to the land of our forefathers.’”

Anti-missionary Activity
Yom L’Yom, January 22, 2009

Yom L’Yom (January 22) carried last week’s story of Yad L’Achim’s support of Birthright’s decision to deny Messianic Jewish participants in their sponsored trips to Israel (see last week’s Review).
Christian Zionism
Yediot Ahronot, January 21, 2009

According to Yediot Ahronot (January 21), the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) has contributed 40 million shekels (around $10,000,000) to support Jews in the former Soviet Union.
Christian Tourism
Haaretz, January 21, 2009

Despite the current tension in Jewish-Catholic relations (see below), the head of the Vatican’s pilgrimage organization, the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, “last week called upon the faithful to visit the Holy Land and build bridges of dialogue and peace.” He made the call during the Josp fest, held for the first time and designed to encourage Catholics to “visit the three principal spiritual destinations of the Catholic religion, Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago De Compostela in Spain.” The fest saw the inauguration of a “new sightseeing route aimed at younger pilgrims – a bike trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem” which includes “visits to holy sites combined with the experience of a bike trip.” Senior Vatican and Roman officials made a point of visiting the Israeli pavilion, which included exhibitions by Israeli tourism organizations presenting programs and tours to “sites of special interest to Christian tourists – Nazareth, the area of the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem.”
Jewish-Christian Relations
Yediot Ahronot, January 25; Haaretz, January 25; HaMevaser, January 26; Ma’ariv, January 25; Kol HaIr – Bnei Brak, January 21; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, January 22; Makor Rishon, January 26; Yated Ne’eman, January 26, 2009

Benedict XVI’s decision to rescind the excommunication of Richard Williamson, a Bishop of the Society of St. Pius, a conservative Catholic order which opposed the Church’s decision to open dialogue with other religions, according to a report in Yediot Ahronot (January 25). Williamson is known as a Holocaust-denier: in an interview with Swedish television this week, he rejected the fact that Jews died by gas, also claiming that “only” 200-300,000, “at the most,” died in concentration camps. The Jewish response was prompt and vociferous. The Italian Jewish community and Jews across the globe immediately warned that the move would damage Jewish-Catholic dialogue and urged Benedict XVI to denounce all attempts to deny the Holocaust. Vatican officials responded by denying any connection between the lifting of the excommunication and Williamson’s private views, emphasizing that the reinstatement did not mean that the Vatican shared Williamson’s opinions. The move was apparently taken following an ackowledgement on the part of the four bishops concerned of their willingness to accept the authority of the Holy See and the Pontiff. According to a report in Ma’ariv (January 25), the Chief Rabbi of Rome stated that the decision will create an “‘incurable wound’” in Jewish-Catholic relations, adding that the four bishops also refuse to accept the Vatican’s declaration that the Catholic Church no longer holds the Jews responsible for Jesus’ death. Likewise, the Italian Jewish community has announced the cancellation of its participation in the annual event in honor of Judaism, on the grounds that the pontiff’s decision “wipes out fifty years of progress between the two religions” (HaShavua BiYerushalayim, January 22). According to a report in HaMevaser (January 26), “In the past, the Church decided to excommunicate [Williamson] following his anti-Semitic remarks,” adding that Italian Jewish officials have also stated that, rather than lifting the excommunication order, the pope ought rather to have stripped Williamson of all authority, thereby “‘broadcasting a message to the Jewish world of his rejection of all expressions of anti-Semitism.’” Similar claims were also made in Yated Ne’eman (January 26).