February 16 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – February 16, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 34 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christian-Jewish relations, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:

1 dealt with Messianic Jews
2 dealt with anti-missionary activity
3 dealt with Christian Zionism
26 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican

This week’s Review continues to focus on the tension in Jewish-Catholic relations following the reinstatement of Bishop Richard Williamson.
Messianic Jews
Gal-Gefen, January 22, 2009

Gal-Gefen (January 22) interviewed Danit Keren, director of the Israel Center for the Victims of Cults, who last year contributed to the article written by Techya Barak in Yediot Ahronot (August 2008). Keren was born into a religious family, but became secular in her teens. As part of her search for the truth, she came into contact with a Messianic congregation in Tel Aviv: “In the process, she also encountered Christian religious writings, something not obvious for someone who grew up in a religious environment. ‘I was was greatly attracted by the utopian ideas of Christianity, and from there I became familiar with the writings and teachings of “Messianic Judaism,” which primarily holds to the New Testament and the Tanakh and the coming of the Messiah in the figure of Yeshu.’ From the theoretical part of her search she moved to the practical part. ‘I discovered,’ she recalls, ‘that a large number of “Messianic Jewish” groups exist in the country. I even joined one of the larger ones, in Tel Aviv.’ Danit began to become acquainted with the congregation and its leaders. Gradually, she started to understand that there is a difference between the ideal descriptions about which she’d read and the less shiny reality to which she was exposed in the Christian congregation. ‘I came with a lot of knowledge of the Tanakh and the New Testament. I was 17 and very curious about the people behind this faith. Fortunately, I’m a rational person and I noticed contradictions, not only in their theology. There were things that grated on me. Dripping love and over-affection, in my opinion. These came across to me as hypocritical.’ As someone educated in the light of Judaism, the issue of preaching was foreign to her: ‘The intensive missionary preaching made me feel that their over-pleasantness towards me was merely for the purpose of making me convert.’ Danit understood that she was being deceived, and adds: ‘They insist on being called “Messianic Jews” while they are known and act as an evangelical Christian denomination.’”
The more disturbing aspect of the article came in Keren’s linking of her experience with the Messianic Jewish congregation and her work on behalf of the “victims of cults.” While neither the article’s author nor Keren herself directly called Messianic Judaism a cult, the immediate implication is that it belongs together with the other “destructive groups” – what Danit calls the “more accurate name for ‘cults’”: “Following these insights, she understood that this was not a matter of an innocent group and began to investigate the question of cults. ‘I began to understand that there are other groups in the country which use identical methods’” – manipulation, conformity, power-play, mind control, and financial, emotional, and sexual exploitation.
Anti-missionary Activity
HaModia, February 6; BeKehila, February 5, 2009

Both these papers carried the story of Yad L’Achim’s call to the religious parties in the run-up to the elections to make their participation in any coalition conditional on the passing of a comprehensive anti-missionary law (see previous Reviews).
Christian Zionism
Ma’ariv, February 4, 6; Jerusalem Post, February 5, 2009

Under the headline “Drilling with God’s help,” an article in Ma’ariv (February 4) reported that the “Zion Oil and Gas Company” intends to start drilling next month in the Sharon region, having raised 6.6 million dollars for the task. The company is managed by John Brown, who founded it following a “religious enlightenment” that God had entrusted him with the task of finding oil and gas in Israel so that it would no longer be dependent upon its neighbors.
According to an article in the Jerusalem Post (February 5), “American pastor James Ridgway was honored late last month for bringing some 300,000 tourists to Israel since 1974 through his non-profit organization, Educational Opportunities, which was also marking its 35th anniversary.” In Ridgway’s words, “‘It is my passion and my desire to make sure that every young clergy person, when they’re still young, [has the opportunity] to come here and experience Israel … It’s one thing to read about something. But to touch something, to smell it, to involve all the senses creates a new interest in the Bible. The sites become a living word, no longer just paper.’”
In an article entitled “Jesus, what a stink” (Ma’ariv, February 6), Aviv Lavi lamented the state of the Jordan when it is not being taken care of for the sake of Christian tourists. The contrast between the “Yardenit” baptismal site and the rest of the River Jordan is striking – and her only hope for the renewal of the rest of the river lies in “evangelists” such as the person responsible for environmental affairs in the American Foreign Ministry who, when shown the devestation, put his face in his hands and wept. As part of the contrast, Lavi described the experience of Christian pilgrims to the Yardenit: “Group after group of Christian believers, young and old, men and women, immerse themselves [are baptized] in the holy water up to their loins, or further, and come out with a purified soul and an elevated spirit,” having bought white garments for the occasion which they roll up and put in their suitcases to take back with them to eventually be buried in.

Jewish-Christian Relations
HaMevaser, February 1, 4; Yediot Ahronot, February 4, 5; Haaretz, February 4 (pp. 1, 7), 5, 6, 8, 9 (pp. 4, 13); Jerusalem Post, February 1, 6; Ma’ariv, February 1, 4, 5, 6, 8; HaModia, February 6 (pp. 3, 52); Israel HaYom, February 4, 5; Makor Rishon, February 4, 5 (x 2), 9, 2009

HaModia (February 6, p. 52) carried last week’s story which asked, How long does it take to realize we are being spat upon?

Likewise, HaMevaser (February 1) repeated the story of Fr. Floriano Abrahamowicz, noting in conclusion, “The pope, who represents the ultraconservative stream in Catholicism, is increasingly being revealed as a particularly ‘unwise’ man. He is bringing complications upon his institution via controversies with the whole world and embarrassing new issues every morning. But maybe it is better this way. After years in which the church has endeavored to make itself look good in the eyes of the world and to hide its anti-Semitism, maybe it’s good that someone has come and revealed the truth lying under the carpet.”
Not only Jewish but Catholic and other sources also voiced their objection to the pontiff’s decision to revoke Williamson’s excommunication. According to a report in Ma’ariv (February 4), Cardinal Walter Kaspar, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, denounced the move as an “administrative failure,” while Werner Thissen, Archbishop of Hamburg, said that “People have lost faith in the pope. Reconciliation with Holocaust-deniers is a mistake.” The German theologian Hermann Hering “was most vehement of all: ‘The pope must resign from his position, for the good of the church,’” he said. In its headline, the article also noted that “a daughter of his own country, Chancellor of Germany, is also asking for explanations.” According to Haaretz (February 4, p. 1), “Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor, said she did not usually comment on internal church matters. ‘But it is different if we are talking about fundamental questions. I think it is a fundamental question if – thanks to a decision by the Vatican – the impression arises that the Holocaust can be denied. This is about the pope and the Vatican making very clear that there can be no [Holocaust] denial and that there must be positive relations with Judaism,’ said Merkel” (cf. Makor Rishon, February 4). Yediot Ahronot (February 4) also reported Merkel’s statement that Benedict’s decision was “‘catastrophic for all the survivors of the Holocaust.” Mehanem Gantz and Eldad Beck, in the same paper on the following day (February 5), called Merkel’s outspokenness a “brave move for a leader of a party many of whose voters are Catholic,” while Israel HaYom (February 5) perceived her statement to be “unprecedented criticism” of the pope and the Vatican. Haaretz (February 4) stated that Fr. Eberhardt von Gemmingen declared, “‘There are failures in administration and communication in the Vatican. We cannot let such a failure as this occur again.’” It added in similar vein, “Experts in matters relating to the Catholic Church said that the Williamson affair teaches us that there are serious mistakes in the style of decision-making of the Holy See … ‘[which are] destroying his effectiveness as pope.’” A day later (February 5), the same paper reported that Cardinal Karl Lehman, a past president of the German Council of Catholic bishops, declared the pope’s decision to be “a disaster for all the survivors of the Holocaust” and called on Benedict XVI to apologize. At the same time, it noted that the pope’s brother, George Ratzinger, has spoken out against Angela Merkel, calling her “stupid, ignorant, and irrational.” It further stated that the pope has become embroiled in a further controversy by appointing another ultraconservative Austrian priest, Gerhard Maria Wagner, as bishop of Linz; Wagner recently drew attention to himself by calling Hurricane Katrina God’s vengeance on the sexual licentiousness of New Orleans. The Archbishop of Munich stated that “Denial of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism have no place in the Church” (Yediot Ahronot, February 4), while according to the Jerusalem Post (February 1), “In a letter dated Thursday, some 50 Catholic members of the US Congress wrote to Benedict to express their ‘deep concerns’ over the pope’s decision … ‘We fail to understand why the revocation was not accompanied by an emphatic public rejection of his denial of the Holocaust,’ the letter said.” Makor Rishon (February 5) reported that the Central Council of Jews in Germany had announced its intention of seeking a joint meeting with the pope and the Council of German Bishops in order to ask the pope to reconsider. Gebhard Fürst, Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, stated that the “cleansing [reinstatement] of the rebellious bishops is ‘a betrayal of trust, especially of our brothers and sisters the Jews in their relations with the church’” (Israel HaYom, February 4).
Many of the Israeli papers covered the Vatican’s call for Williamson to recant – and Williamson’s failure to do so. Haaretz (February 5) noted that the Vatican has issued a statement saying that in order to “‘receive any Episcopal posts [Williamson] must disassociate himself publicly and utterly unambiguously from his views concerning the Holocaust,’” remarking that the Vatican employed the Hebrew term “Shoah.” The Central Council of German Jews welcomed the Vatican’s call to Williamson to recant as a “positive sign and a response to German Chancellor Merkel’s demand from the pope that he clarify Williamson’s return to the bosom of the Catholic Church.” According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (February 1), Williamson himself expressed regret to the pope over any “‘distress and problems’” he may have caused the Holy See by his “‘imprudent remarks’” – but made “no apology for the content of his remarks, that would ease that anger”: “‘Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as it is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems,’ Williamson wrote.” Regarding his actual views, he has stated that he intends to weigh them again, according to a report in Ma’ariv (February 8): “‘I would ask everyone to understand that I did not say these things out of nowhere. I based my words on research I conducted in the 1980s. I must weigh everything again and reexamine the evidence. If it turns out that I was wrong, I will apologize’” (cf. also Haaretz, February 8). Der Spiegel reported that “Williamson made clear he does not plan to comply immediately with the Vatican’s demand that he recant, and rejected a suggestion that he might visit the former Auschwitz death camp. Williamson said he would correct himself only if he is satisfied by the evidence, but insisted that examining it will take time, Der Spiegel reported” (Haaretz, February 9, p. 4; cf. Ma’ariv, February 6). Ma’ariv (February 1) stated that another of the four reinstated bishops had not only claimed that the twin towers had collapsed as part of an American governmental conspiracy, but also that the Jews had exploited the guilt feelings of the Germans.
Responses to the Vatican’s heeding of public protests were also abundant. Benedict was due to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and was expected to emphasize to them his commitment to the importance of studying the Holocaust and to caution against the dangers involved in Holocaust denial. The Vatican has likewise revealed that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is prepared to reestablish its contacts with the Vatican, Israeli representatives being expected to arrive in Rome to meet with Vatican officials (Ma’ariv, February 8). According to HaMevaser (February 4), the Israeli organization “Second Generation Survivors” has called on the government and other heads of state to cut off relations with the Vatican until the decision has been withdrawn. Many Israeli papers perceived the pope’s reaction as a capitulation to world pressure. Under the headline “Holy and ashamed,” Menahem Gantz and Eldad Beck wrote from Rome, “Even if we are not talking about a complete folding, this is an historic event: the Vatican has acknowledged its error. In an extremely rare step, the political department of the Holy See announced yesterday that the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson must recant his views if he wishes to return to the ranks of the Catholic Church. ‘In order that he may return to the bosom of the Church, Bishop Williamson must distance himself publicly and unambiguously from his views regarding the Holocaust. His views are completely unacceptable and are vigorously rejected by the Holy Father’ … The Vatican’s statement yesterday was exceptional primarily because the Holy Father, Yeshu’s representative on earth according to Catholic belief, generally only announces his decisions and is not obligated to give explanations to anyone. This time, he was compelled to explain his decision and thus acknowledged his failure” (Yediot Ahronot, February 5; cf. Ma’ariv, February 5). Likewise, Israel HaYom (February 5) published an article under the heading “Vatican bows to world criticism,” in which it also noted that criminal proceedings have been opened against Williamson in Germany. According to Haaretz (February 9, p. 4), “Chancellor Merkel and German-born Pope Benedict had a positive telephone conversation yesterday … Merkel initiated the constructive conversation and it was characterized by their common deep concern about the perpetual warning of the Shoah for humanity, according to a joint statement” (cf. Haaretz, February 9, p. 13).
The Israeli Foreign Ministry – although late and under-informed in the eyes of some sources – also reacted to the move to revoke Williamson’s excommunication. According to a report in Makor Rishon (February 5), the ministry issued a statement declaring, “‘The State of Israel perceives with sorrow and concern the Vatican’s decision to reinstate the British bishop. The acceptance of a Holocaust-denier into the bosom of the Church by the Holy See harms the sensitivities of every Jew in Israel and the world and mocks the memory of every Holocaust survivor. We urge the Holy See to vigorously disassociate itself from all Holocaust-deniers in general and from Bishop Williamson in particular. We see the latest utterances of the Holy See and Vatican officials’ denouncing the phenomenon of Holocaust-denial as the first step in the right direction and urge the making of further clear and unambiguous declarations and statements on this issue’” (cf. also Israel HaYom, February 5). According to Yitzhak Hildesheimer in Makor Rishon (February 5), if the Foreign Ministry had done its homework properly, it would have known that “all four of the bishops who were reinstated with Richard Williamson had made vehement statements against the Jewish people at the time of their excommunication twenty years ago. These bishops claimed that the Jewish people should not be forgiven because of their ‘crimes against the founders of Christianity,’ that there is no place with dialogue with the Jews, and that the very existence of contact with Jews is contradictory to the principles of Christianity.” Nadav Ayal in Ma’ariv (February 1) was of the opinion that “If official Israel was not so preoccupied with election campaigns, perhaps she would have devoted herself to dealing with relations with the Catholic establishment, which influences hundreds of millions of believers. The growing tolerance within Vatican circles towards radical attitudes towards the Jews is liable to cause huge damage to Israel – no less significant, and perhaps even more so, than the tunnels along the Philadelphia Corridor.” According to a report in Ma’ariv (February 1), “Ever since Benedict XVI was elected, he has sabotaged Jewish-Christian relations, which have stood at the center of a dialogue which has been going on for decades.” Similar sentiments appear in an article in Makor Rishon (February 9), which states that “ever since he was elected to the papal office, Benedict has been increasingly pulling on the strings of the Jewish people,” and that in “deliberately” reinstating Williamson, “he has chosen to draw back from the reforms of his predecessor, John Paul II, and to rekindle the ancient tension with the Jewish people.” With regard to the pope’s declaration that he was not aware of Williamson’s views, the author wrote, “Whoever is acquainted with the Church knows that this version must be doubted.”

The most vocal and vociferous voice came from Yitzhak Matityahu Tannenboim in the religious paper HaModia (February 6, p. 3), whose fundamental contention was that at least now we now where we stand: “The Creator of the world has been merciful towards us in that He has not left us nor will He ever. With the election of Benedict XVI as the latest Roman pope, the Jews in Israel and the world have breathed easy. Surely it is a good thing that the new pope who sits in the Holy See in Rome is of German origin and knew the Holocaust and its horrors against the Jewish nation, because we should be able to assume that he will not do anything against this nation. This week, the head of the Christian church, an offspring of Nazi Germany, put forth his anti-Semitic hooves … The pope’s anti-Semitic step has been understood by many – as might have been expected – as the return of the Christian Church to the bosom of German anti-Semitism. The Creator of the world has been merciful towards us … in that the eyes of the Jews have not been blinded by the ‘goodness of his heart’ and ‘his great mercy’ of the Christian pope, who has now proved once again who precisely the Roman Vatican is … Mercy, therefore, God has shown towards us in His love towards us in showing us the true face of the Christian pope. Benedict’s smiling towards the Jews and the State of Israel has created an atmosphere of fellowship towards the Christian nation – as we have said, without at all dismissing a less stringent political position towards the State of Israel. As important as the exchange of opinions between the Jewish sages and the heads of churches is, it does not obligate a pathetic search for displays of affection towards the Jewish people. The election of a Holocaust-denying bishop to a high position in the Vatican shows mercy to the Jewish people. It properly represents the Christian Church, whose anti-Semitic arm initiated many waves of crusades and apostasy and the Nazi destruction of the Jewish people in Europe.” Likewise, Asaf Golan in Makor Rishon (February 9) answered the question, “Should his anti-Jewish steps be ignored?” by saying: “He has apparently decided that the unity of the church is more important at the moment than close relations with us or with displaying a positive attitude towards the people of Israel. Benedict has apparently deliberately chosen the path of church unity, even if this is at the expense of the new friendliness of his predecessor towards us, out of the conviction that relations with the Jews can be fixed afterwards. He certainly knew that some of the bishops whom he reinstated were Holocaust-deniers, but he hoped that their restoration would pass by without too many problems. They didn’t make his life easy, however, and expressed themselves in public with utterances which raised an outburst. By the way, it is surprising to see the Vatican, which is known for its administrative sophistication, failing in such a way in its foreign relations. It is surprising that Benedict was not more aware of the criticism that would be expressed in the wake of his latest steps. There is no doubt that they were surprised in Rome as well by the force of the reaction in the world.”
Samuel Freeman wrote in rather a different vein in the Jerusalem Post (February 6): “I never had anyone chase me home from school for killing Christ. I never knew any Jews of my age who had that experience. Vatican II – and the revelation of the Shoah, and the construction of the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’ in America during World War II – remade the terms of the Jewish-Catholic encounter in the United States … So it was at once offensive and irrelevant that Pope Benedict recently welcomed back into the church four renegade bishops from the Society of St. Pius X … Pope Benedict’s actions are offensive for the fairly obvious reason that they stir up terrible history – the deicide theology, the Vatican’s timid response to the Nazi genocide and, yes, Joseph Ratzinger’s youthful service in the German army  … At the same time, I am struck at how meaningless the rehabilitation of Bishop Williamson is – stupid and hurtful, yes, but meaningless as a blow against the lived reality of Jewish-Catholic relations in the United States … I don’t think the pope set out to poison Jewish-Catholic relations … but it speaks volumes that Pope Benedict seems not to recognize or not to care about how embracing a Holocaust-denier might play with the Jews. Maybe it took a Pole like Karol Wojtyla, who had seen the Catholics and Jews alike in his country ravaged by the Nazis, to operate from a soul-deep sense of brotherhood.”
Sergio Minerbi in Haaretz (February 6) also examined the papal choice between seeking church unity and letting Jewish-Catholic relations slide: “Some Jews have a tendency to see Benedict XVI as the ‘bad guy,’ in comparison to his ‘good guy’ predecessor, John Paul II. I believe this is a superficial judgment that does not take into account either John Paul’s comparison of Auschwitz to Golgotha, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, or his establishment of a convent in Auschwitz, or his characterization of Edith Stein, after her conversion to Christianity, as ‘a faithful daughter of her people, the Jewish people.’ John Paul II’s tendency toward syncretism – i.e., the arbitrary conciliation of opposite doctrines – has been abandoned by Benedict XVI, and we should be glad for it … John Paul’s successor has taken a different stand on two main issues: Islamic fundamentalism and the Shoah. In 2006, at a lecture in Regensburg, he expressed his resistance to fundamentalist Islam, a significant issue for European Jews who feel threatened by the continent’s growing Muslim population. One may also expect that anyone who is conscious of the danger of Islamism, should recognize Israel’s important role in the Middle East. At Auschwitz, on May 28 of that same year – although he repeated John Paul II’s comment that, ‘six million Poles lost their lives during World War II: a fifth of the nation,’ back at the Vatican, the pope corrected himself three days later, saying: ‘Hitler had more than six million Jews exterminated in the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau and in other similar camps.’ Benedict XVI thus took a very important step away from his predecessor’s attempt to ‘Christianize’ the Holocaust by transforming it into a Polish Catholic event … Holocaust denial has been condemned by the Church – in its document ‘We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah’ (1998) – so it’s strange that it took so long for the Vatican to ask Williamson to retract his remarks. I can only suggest that the Pope lacks advisers of the same caliber he was when he served as an aide to John Paul II … When Benedict XVI visits Israel next May, it would be useful to offer him a comprehensive tour d’horizon on the politics of the Middle East, to make him understand that the only guarantee for the continued survival of the Christian communities in the Middle East is a strong Israel.”
The question of how this affair will affect the papal visit to Israel scheduled for May was also addressed in many papers. Menahem Gantz and Eldad Beck wrote in Yediot Ahronot (February 5) that, “In the meantime, Benedict XVI hopes to fulfill his wish to visit the Christian holy places in the Holy Land in May. In order to do so, however, it would appear that he will need to take some confidence-building steps.” According to Makor Rishon (February 5), Israeli officials are of the opinion that the visit will afford the pope “an opportunity to clarify his relationship with the Jewish people. Nadav Ayal in Ma’ariv (February 1) stated his opinion that “It is impossible to prevent the papal visit to Jerusalem in the spring, but it is possible to create difficulties. Perhaps we should suggest that he come on a private visit, as a simple pilgrim, and stay in a youth hostel in Ein Kerem. In that way, he can visit Vad Vashem every morning on his way to church.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Kol Bo – Haifa and Surrounding, February 6; Jerusalem Post, February 4, 2009

The pope’s visit to Israel in May still being scheduled as of present, the local Haifa paper Kol Bo (February 6) related to the possibility that this northern city might host the papal mass if security approval is not given for the event to be held in Nazareth. Funding for the security at the site in Nazareth still has to be approved, and Haifaites are hoping that their city might yet be given the venue. If it is, the mass will be held in one of the city’s ports, capable of seating 40-50,000 people. When John Paul II celebrated mass in Nazareth in 2000, those attending stood rather than sat.
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (February 4), “Amid the news reports about the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks around the world last week, this headline stood out: ‘Vatican and Israeli libraries publish detailed catalogue of Vatican’s Hebrew manuscripts.’” The “big deal” that this consitutes in the eyes of the author – a former deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington – derives from the fact that the collection appears to contain rare manuscripts dating from as early as the ninth century, including “about 100 Bibles and biblical commentaries; a similar number of works dealing with Jewish law, customs and liturgy; about 100 works of philosophy, including works by Jewish authors or translated into Hebrew; about 70 manuscripts dealing with astronomy, mathematics or medicine; 90 manuscripts dealing with Kabbala or Jewish mysticism; as well as works of literature and poetry” – works which survived not only the numerous church-ordered book burnings over the centuries but also the church’s “cultural crime” of confiscating such Jewish books “for use by Jewish apostates so that they could attack Jewish beliefs.” According to the article, “These historic manuscripts will keep Jewish scholars busy for years. The basic printed texts used today will be compared and in some cases may actually be revised. Much of the credit goes to the intractable and determined Manfred Lehmann, who would never see the fruits of his labor” – a reference to Dr. Manfred Lehmann, a historical scholar and rabbi who, as head of the Committee for the Recovery of Jewish Manuscripts, made it his life task to restore such treasures to their rightful place.