Caspari Center Media Review – February 11, 2009
During the week covered by this review, we received 11 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, and Christian-Jewish relations. Of these:
1 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with anti-missionary activities
9 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
The focus of this week’s Review continued to be the rift in Jewish-Catholic relations following the reinstatement of Bishop Richard Williamson.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Makor Rishon, January 30, 2009
Ariel Shinbal was reintroduced to the concept of “conversion to Christianity” with a rude shock, according to his column in the religious weekly Makor Rishon last week (January 30). Having thought that the idea was merely a historical vestige, on a par, in the basement of his brain, with the Viking heritage and Atlantis, he had long assumed that “Today, no Jew has any interest in converting to Christianity unless he suddenly independently decides to change his religion due to some illumination, and even here we’re only talking about isolated cases, if at all.” In order to disabuse his readers of the notion that there is no missionary activity in Israel, however, he invited them to ride on their nearest bus or train “with a New Testament in your hand, and you will discover the long arm of the collective Jewish memory” – an apparent reference to the recent Jews for Jesus PR campaigns in the public media. Shinbal acknowledged that he himself had not intended to “get involved for no reason with the central book of the Christian religion.” It was only in the framework of his MA studies that he was faced – as numerous others have also been – with an assignment which required him to gain some knowledge of “several chapters of the New Testament.” “As someone who was educated in the state-religious system, naturally I had never taken up this book in my hand. I confess that when I held it for the first time, the feeling I had was different from all the other books I had ever handled up until then. A slight upset, something internal and embedded, which didn’t allow me to remain indifferent and unperturbed with respect to a book in whose name the crusades had been conducted. But after a few minutes, I got over this and began reading. As I said, I got over it. My surroundings really didn’t, though. The range of reactions to the fact that I was reading the NT shocked me. I’m not only talking about religious people. A completely secular air-conditioning technician who saw me with the book almost fell off his ladder from amazement and shock. Only after I explained why I was reading it and for what – just for my studies and that I really hadn’t come here to baptize him – did he calm down and go back to work. The expression on his face when he saw me with the book – as if I was Torquemada in all his glory and in person – took me completely unawares. On Shabbat, we were with relatives. Having experienced several days of shocked reactions to seeing the book, I knew that I should downplay the fact that I was actually reading it. I employed various methods, some of which came straight from detective novels. So here’s a tip: The method of hiding behind a newspaper doesn’t work. ‘Ariel, how long are you going to read “7 days”? Give the paper to someone else already.’ ‘Ah, finally. Ah, what’s that small green book? The New Testament! I don’t believe it! Do you know that in our family there’s a tradition of converting to Christianity?’” According to Shinbal, once that argument became emotional, the only way he could put an end to it was to produce a certificate from Bar-Ilan University (itself a religious institution) proving that he was required to read several chapters from the NT for a course – in order to end the speculation “that this was the first stage of a deterioration towards Christianity of an important link in the people of Israel, a deterioration which would ultimately lead, of course, to my crowning in the Vatican as Pope Arelius Shinbolus I.” The responses Shinbal encountered stimulated his curiosity regarding the fear they concealed – the “irrational horror of an history book, somewhat boring chapters in actual fact.” In the course of his investigation, he came across the reaction of a well-known religious-Zionist Rabbi, published on the internet in answer to a question. He was so struck by its tone that he proceeded to quote extensive excerpts from it: “‘How many thousands of Jews have been drowned, burned, suffocated, and raped because of this murderous religion!!!’ ‘How can you calmly read a book which is so steeped in blood!!!’ ‘A book which led the crusaders to drown whole communities of Jews with their women, children, and infants in rivers in the name of this despicable book under the shadow of the accursed cross.’ ‘This is an abominable book in my view and when I see it I light a match and burn it. I suggest that you do the same, simply burn it and turn it into a bonfire.’ ‘Do this in your home and bring your children to watch how you burn this abominable book so that they’ll learn and become wise and know what to do when it comes into their own hands.’” Shinbal’s own reaction to the Rabbi’s response was that “more than I felt disgust that I was holding in my hands a book steeped in blood was a feeling of shame that only at the age of 33 was I encountering for the first time the foundational book of an important and influential world religion. And more than I felt that I needed to burn this book in front of my children’s eyes, I felt that I should calm down somewhat, that I should be proud of our Judaism and stop being so afraid of those who are different and the Other – most of all when this Other is today in a completely different phase from that which it was in several centuries ago.
Mishpacha, January 29, 2009
In the run-up to elections a week away, Yad L’Achim published an advert in Mishpacha (January 29) calling on all the Orthodox and religious parties running for the Knesset to prevent a situation in which their voters will end being partners in a government which aids “apostates” – by announcing that they are making the passing of a new bill against missionary activity in Israel a precondition for joining any future coalition.
Yediot Ahronot, January 27, 28 (x 2); Haaretz, January 26, 28, 30; Jerusalem Post, January 27, pp. 7, 13; Ma’ariv, January 30, 2009
The headline of an article in Haaretz (January 26) noted that “Pope’s Israel visit still on despite anger over readmission of Holocaust-denying bishop.” While a Yad Vashem spokesperson said that, “‘We believe that the question of excommunicating or not excommunicating a member of the Roman Catholic church is an internal matter for the church, nevertheless we find it scandalous that a member of the church at this high level of bishop has views of denying the Holocaust,’” a Foreign Ministry spokesman indicated that “the pontiff’s planned visit to Israel in May was not in doubt. “‘This has nothing to do with relations between states.’”
The Jerusalem Post (January 27, p. 7) noted that that the Jewish Agency also considered the act scandalous: “‘I think it’s a scandal,’ said Amos Hermon, head of the Task Force against Anti-Semitism at the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency. ‘It is something we cannot understand’ … Richardson’s [sic] rehabilitation insulted Israel and more than 200,000 Holocaust survivors who live here.”
The same paper published an editorial on the same day (January 27, p. 13) under the title “Iudicium perversum,” in which the author suggested that “the pope simply made a strategic decision: Enticing Catholic ultra-conservatives back to the fold was more important than the Church’s relationship with its ‘dearly beloved older brothers.’ That is how we understand the intention to reinstate a Holocaust-denying bishop, along with earlier decisions to identify Pius XII as a saint … plus Benedict’s July 2007 policy of making it easier for ultra-conservatives to celebrate the Easter Tridentine Latin Mass.” In his eyes, “The pope wants it both ways: to support Vatican II and – by patching up relations with ultra-conservative[s] … have its most vehement opponents back in the fold … Benedict’s decision is injudicious and perverse. What to do? Interfaith dialogue remains an overall Jewish interest not because it prevents the Church from ever doing wrong things, but because having a relationship affords the community a channel for trying to get the Church to do the right thing. We appreciate that the pope has compelling reasons to want to heal the rift within the Church. Yet Benedict’s decision to include Williamson in the reinstatement is an extraordinary sign of moral indifference. Jewish dignity calls for a measured response. This newspaper calls for an immediate three-month moratorium on substantive contacts between the organized Jewish community and the Vatican. During this period, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See should be recalled to Jerusalem for consultations.”
Haaretz (January 28) reprinted an article from the Herald Tribune in which the author suggested that while some people regard the pontiff’s recent decisions as being made without any consultation or regard for their ramifications and implications in the wider world, others perceive the Holy See as devoting too much attention to intellectual matters at the expense of dealing with the everyday lives of Catholics.
According to a report in Yediot Ahronot (January 28), the German Jewish community has announced that it is freezing relations with the Catholic Church in response to the German Pope’s decision. Williamson himself claimed a victory, proclaiming on his personal web site that, “‘Those who believe in dialogue with the Jews no longer enjoy the support of the pope.’” A second article on the same page noted that while the German Jewish community’s decision to boycott the ceremony marking International Holocaust Memorial Day in the Bundestag was unprecedented, it was an entirely necessary step, which should in fact have been taken much earlier. “For how long can a person claim that it’s raining when in fact someone’s spitting in your face?”
Two articles, one in Ma’ariv (January 30 ) and the second in Haaretz (January 30) noted the fact that an Italian priest of Jewish descent has come to Williamson’s defense. Floriano Abrahamowicz, “who heads the society [of St. Pius X] in northeast Italy, said in [an] interview [with a local newspaper, La Tribuna di Treviso] he did not doubt that 6 million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust, but added that the figure may have been exaggerated. He compared the Holocaust to the Allied bombing of German cities in World War II and the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. Abrahamowicz also referred to the Jews as being the people of God who then became the God-killing people” according to Haaretz. Ma’ariv noted that the district court of Regensburg, Germany – where Williamson was first interviewed – is intending to open an investigation into the bishop on suspicion that he denies the Holocaust, an illegal act in Germany, while the Bishop of the city has forbidden Williamson access to any Catholic-owned property in the district. German Catholic officials also attacked Benedict XVI for his reinstatement of the excommunicated bishop.
In noting the commemoration of International Holocaust Day in light of the pope’s action, Yediot Ahronot (January 27) reported on a mass demonstration held in South Africa in protest against Israel, during which a call was issued for a boycott of all Jewish and Israeli goods and the breaking off of ties with Jerusalem. Held under the title “The slaughter in Gaza and the apartheid policy of Israel in the territories,” the Deputy Foreign Minister, Fatima Hajaig, gave a speech in which she declared that “‘Their control of America, just like the control of most western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money, no matter which party comes into power, whether Republican or Democratic.’ Other speeches at the rally called for the expulsion from the state of anyone demonstrating sympathy towards Israel.”