March 13 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – March 13, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 37 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activities, Christians in Israel, Jewish-Christian relations, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:

2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
9 dealt with anti-missionary activities
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
7 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
15 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 was a book review

This week’s Review is largely composed on the pope’s confirmation of his May visit to Israel, together with a story of how a group of settlers who received money from a Christian organization donated the sum straight to Yad L’Achim.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Israel HaYom, March 5; Makor Rishon, March 6, 2009

In a review of the history of Purim, celebrated this week, an article in Makor Rishon (March 3) noted that the term “Purim” is at times also used to describe a “personal” miracle experienced. Thus, for example, “the Jews of Algeria call the miracle of their deliverance ‘Purim Edom.’ The word ‘Edom’ denotes Christians and Christianity, the offspring of the biblical Edom. In 1541, it was feared that the Spanish would conquer Algiers (the capital of Algeria) and that many Jews would be taken captive. In the end, the Spanish army was defeated and didn’t enter the city. In order to demonstrate their gratitude for this miracle, the Jews decided that every year on 4 Cheshvan (the day of the miracle), thaksgiving prayer would be offered together with the recitation of poems composed especially for the occasion.”
In the briefest of comments, Israel YaHom (March 5) indicated that among the things included among “just so you know” should be the fact that “John the Baptist’s cave is an outstanding archaeological finding which has been discovered in the area [of Ein Karem]. Many people come here and are moved by the 1,600-year-old wall drawings and from the fact that the cave apparently served as a baptismal location and the seam between Jewish and Christian baptism.”
Anti-missionary Activities
BeKehila, March 5; Mishpacha, March 5; HaMachaneh HeCharedi, March 5; HaMevaser, March 6, 8; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, March 5; HaModia, March 4, 5, 6, 2009

The story of the week in the religious press concerned a group of settlers evacuated from Netzarim in Gush Katif. According to Yad L’Achim, some of the latter were recently approached by a “missionary organization” who sought to “adopt” them and help them reestablish their lives. In order to do so, they transferred a sum of money (apparently around $5000) to the former settlers’ bank account (all the reports included a photocopy of the actual check – 21,502 NIS). “When the Netzarim settlers discovered that a Christian missionary organization was responsible for giving the funds, they refused to touch them in order to gain any benefit from missionary money. On the specific instructions of their Rabbi, Ya’akov Lenzer, they decided to send the whole sum as a donation to the Yad L’Achim organization, at the forefront of the fight against the mission, so that the monies would aid in this struggle. Despite the permits they could have found for such cases and in spite of the difficult financial situation in the world and the drop in contributions, Yad L’Achim director Shalom Dov Lifshitz gave instructions that the money should not be used. He took advantage of the opportunity to call on every individual and public institution to learn from the heroism of the Netzarim settlers and not to accept money from the mission in any form, directly or indirectly, because doing so would lead, among other things, to the profanation of God’s name. He justified his decision to take the money but not to use it to fight the mission by citing the gemara [Talmud] in Bava Batra 10b, which denounces the person who accepts charity from a Gentile, about which it is written, ‘Righteousness exalts a nation; sin is a reproach to any people’ [Prov. 14:34]. Doing such a thing delays the redemption, he explained, elaborating that, ‘These things gain added significance when the people giving the money are simply missionaries seeking to convert Jews’” (BeKehila, March 5; Mishpacha, March 5; HaMachaneh HeCharedi, March 5; HaMevaser, March 8; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, March 5; HaModia, March 5; all these printed the same story verbatim).
Perhaps the fact that Yad L’Achim’s annual fund-raising campaign is just around the corner helped Shalom Dov Lifshitz in his decision not to use any “missionary money.” According to a report in HaModia (March 6) and HaMevaser (March 6), this year marks the fiftieth year of the organization’s existence and this year’s annual campaign is being conducted under the slogan of the raising all its activities to a peak. According to some Orthodox rabbis, Yad L’Achim’s anti-missionary activities are to be perceived as constituting a fulfillment of the commandment to “ransom captives.”
In a report concerning bring more Chasidic groups to live in Haifa, HaModia (March 4) noted that religious groups in the city are “fighting with all their strength against a dangerous missionary sect which is endeavoring to operate via municipal bodies.”
Christians in Israel
Makor Rishon, March 4; HaModia, March 4, 2009

These two pieces related to the return of property in the heart of Jerusalem to the Russian government. The Society for the Protection of Nature, whose premises are located on the grounds to be returned, held a conference this week during which speakers noted that the extent of the Russian church’s estate holdings in Jerusalem is “six times the size of the Old City – or 10% of pre-1967 Jerusalem.” The SPN is fighting to preserve the ecological and environmental aspects of its location even after it moves, hoping that the property will remain open to the public as an important cultural center for the city’s residents. A Russian spokesman indicated that his government intends to cooperate with the SPN, the municipality, and other bodies in order to “improve the city’s face and preserve its special spirit” (HaMevaser, March 5). According to HaModia (March 5), “Dr. Amnon Ramon reviewed the historical development which enabled to the churches to become central property-owners in the Jerusalem region from the 1860’s onwards, as well as the changes which they underwent during the mandatory period and following the establishment of the State. He revealed that the various Christian institutions had frequently served as intermediaries who bought the land from the Arab peasants … He emphasized that the property constituted one of the largest sources of church income for their work in the fields of education and health and welfare, in many cases provided in place of the State.”
Jewish-Christian Relations
Haaretz, March 4 (Hebrew and English editions), 6, 9; Makor Rishon, March 9; Jerusalem Post, March 5, 9, 2009

In a continuation of the responses to Lior Shlein’s TV spoof, Michael Handelzalts in his regular column “Pen Ultimate” in Haaretz (March 6) contributed his opinion regarding the issue: “It seems the international interfaith incident involving Israeli comedian Lior Shlein, Jesus, Mary, the Vatican, Channel 10, Ehud Olmert, Bishop Richard Williamson (who is still in trouble until he recants), and the Holocaust has been steered into quiet waters. Everyone accused of being offensive, and even some who were not even in the vicinity, have issued abject apologies. The problematic TV skit is no longer on YouTube, and the Pope is coming to the Holy Land. Hallelujah! … The Christian community in Israel, and later world Church authorities, protested the fact that in his skit, TV host Shlein seemed to cast doubt on the very existence of Jesus and Mary, questioning things people have been taught to believe for centuries. But the comedian very clearly stated that he was merely retaliating: Bishop Williamson had previously said, during an interview on Swedish TV, that he doubted that millions of Jews were gassed during the Holocaust (agreeing to some 300,000 Jewish victims, at most, and not by gas). The Pope was tardy in issuing a rebuke, so Shlein merely gave what he thought to be “a measured response,” along the lines of: You don’t believe in Holocaust, so I don’t believe in the things Christians say about Mary and Jesus. Come to think of it, there is another word for ‘measured response’: ratings. One problem with Shlein’s response – and I do not intend to discuss the merit of his skit – is that he did not heed the words of Jesus: ‘Whoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also’ (Matthew 5:39). But then, why should he turn that cheek if he is not a Christian? Even assuming that he is not a religious Jew, Shlein certainly should have remembered from his school days the quote (Exodus 21:24): ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,’ making that ‘disbelief for disbelief.’ But the real issue here is that Shlein’s response was anything but measured: Contrary to comments by Iranian President Ahmadinejad and the claims of various “scholars,” the Holocaust was one huge, albeit not recent, “fact” … On the other hand (or cheek), Jesus and Mary may well have existed, in ancient times, and the things written about them in the Gospel subsequently may or may not be true. But even the most ardent and devout Christian will accept that this is based on faith: Jesus and Mary are holy for those who choose to believe in them. As is the God of the Old Testament for religious Jews, and the prophet Mohammed for Muslims … If you believe in something, that belief should be immune to my laughter, unless (and this is the main point) it is not as steadfast as you believe it to be. Maybe all this has to do with the fact that in the Bible, the foundation and fount of Jewish and Christian belief, the word “laughter” is most often coupled with “scorn.” Indeed, biblical laughter does not imply fun; it usually connotes derision. The characters in the Bible usually laugh “at” someone – and God is usually the loudest laugher of all. The butt of his merriment is usually the human being, his very own creation.”
The same author provided a further response in the paper’s Hebrew edition (March 4, Hebrew and English editions): “Judging from the public’s response, the Christian indignation (and the apology) were somewhat astonishing, as our perception of Christianity is of a western religion, steeped in culture (even if there are some blood-soaked chapters in its past). We are used to religious outrage from the Muslims (as happened after the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed), but the general perception of Islam anyway (without generalizations) is of a fundamentalist religion whose masses are out to destroy us …”
According to a report in Makor Rishon (March 9), “Even before Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his visit in Israel in May this year, a delegation from the Chief Rabbis is due to meet with him this week in the Vatican, thereby bringing to an official close the ‘suspension of relations’ between the Rabbinate and the Vatican following the recent reinstatement of a Holocaust-denying bishop.” The delegation will be headed by Haifa’s Chief Rabbi, Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen and will include R. David Rosen, President of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-Religious Consultations and an advisor to the Rabbinate on interfaith contacts. According to R. Sha’ar Yashuv Cohen, “‘There was great pressure from their side to renew the common meetings. A letter was also issued signed by two cardinals in which they stated that the four bishops’ reinstatement would be frozen until they recanted of their denial of the Holocaust. We weren’t satisfied with this and asked that the pope would do it personally, which he did.’ At this Thursday’s meeting, Cohen is expected to announce that it constitutes ‘an important watershed in the dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate and the Vatican’ and to thank the pope for his denunciation of Holocaust denial. It is also anticipated that Cohen will suggest that Holocaust studies be made an obligatory part of all Catholic educational instruction, including the pope’s role and teaching against anti-Semitism.”
The Jerusalem Post (March 9) and Haaretz (March 9) carried a Reuters story about a discussion of Pius XII held at Yad Vashem by Vatican historians: “Israeli and Vatican historians met for the first time to discuss the current state of research into Pope Pius XII and his Holocaust-era conduct. The gathering at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial signals a growing willingness on the part of both Israeli and Vatican officials to try to resolve one of their most sensitive disagreements – the pope’s action or inaction during the Nazi genocide … ‘The complex historical issues that will arise during the workshop touch on basic human values and questions of morality,’ said Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev. ‘Serious academic research, the goal of which is to uncover the truth, must rest on documentation,’ he added … Shalev said Sunday he was pleased to learn that Benedict had instructed the archive to speed up the process of cataloging the material and hoped it could now be completed in three to four years … The Vatican’s ambassador to Israeli, Monsignor Antonio Franco, said Sunday that the workshop marked a ‘new phase’ in relationships and a rebuilding of trust. ‘I think it can be clear that one cannot be a Catholic if he denies the Shoah,’ Franco said, using the Hebrew terms for the Holocaust.”
Previously, the Jerusalem Post (March 5) had reported that “Vatican radio said Wednesday that a 1943 document found in a Rome convent bolsters church contentions that Pope Pius XII tried to save Jews from the Nazis. The radio reported the discovery of a note, kept in a cloistered monastery near the Colosseum, which lists the names of 24 people who were taken in by the nuns ‘in accordance with Pius’s desire.’ The note carried a November 1943 date, it said.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, March 3 (Hebrew and English editions), 4, 8 (Hebrew and English editions), 9 (pp. 3, 7); Jerusalem Post, March 9; Israel HaYom, March 8, 9; Yediot Haifa, March 6; Yediot Ahronot, March 9; HaMevaser, March 3, 5; Ma’ariv, March 4, 2009

Several papers reported the pope’s official confirmation this week of his May Israel visit (cf. Haaretz, March 8; Israel HaYom, March 8). In a lengthy piece, the Jerusalem Post (March 9) quoted Benedict’s announcement: “‘From May 8th-15th I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to ask the Lord, visiting the places sanctified by his passage on the earth, for his precious blessing of unity and peace for the Middle East and for all of mankind. I am counting on the spiritual support of all of you, and may God accompany me, support me and bless with His Grace all those who I meet on my way.’” It also quoted President Peres’ response: “‘I am delighted that His Holiness Benedict XVI has responded positively and accepted my invitation to visit the Holy Land. The Pope will be a most honored guest, welcomed and respected by people from all walks of life. His visit will be a moving and important event, bringing the spirit of peace and hope. Welcome to Israel.’” According to the piece, “Benedict’s visit could improve relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people, which have recently become strained after he faced harsh reactions from Jewish groups and the German government for his decision to reverse the excommunication of Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson … Peres will act as Benedict’s ‘national host,’ while Minister-Without-Portfolio Haim Ramon has been appointed to oversee government preparations … The Prime Minister’s Office will be the highest governmental authority for the visit and will be responsible for all media communications. The Foreign Ministry will coordinate the pope’s schedule with Vatican officials and set up a national media center. The Chief Rabbinate has been asked to ‘deal with all religious issues that emanate from a visit by such a senior Christian figure … ‘Major planning is underway at the Israel Police’s national headquarters. It includes field plans for the areas the pope will visit, and briefings for commanders on the ground’ … The pope is expected to tour sites in Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, as well as the Center and North. Large numbers of police will be assigned to secure these areas. He will also visit sites in the Palestinian Authority.”
According to Haaretz (March 9, p. 3), “expectations are not running very high [regarding the papal visit] … because the ‘landmark’ papal visit was that of Pope John Paul II, in 2000; this visit will be focused more on the local Christian community. [Tourism Ministry director-general Shaul] Tzemach added this was another reason to promote the event to as many Christians as possible. The director of the Genesis Tours company, which brought 45,000 pilgrims to Israel in 2000, said he was unsure how many would accompany the pontiff this time. He pointed out that a particularly large pro-Israeli Catholic community, 20,000 of which members are expected to arrive, is yet to reply.” A sidebar entitled “The pontiff’s posse: millions of tourists” noted that “The last papal visit … boosted the number of tourists to Israel that year to 2.7 million … tens of thousands of pilgrims accompanied the pope, filling hotels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well as bed-and-breakfasts in the north. These included some 43,000 priests who came to attend the papal mass overlooking Lake Kinneret. In fact, there were not enough hotel rooms in the north to accommodate all the visitors, so some 7,000 priests wound up sleeping in tents by the lake shore.”
On a related note, under the headline “The pope’s coming, but the pilgrims are in doubt,” Yediot Ahronot (March 9) asserted that, “If anyone needs additional confirmation that the current pope is less popular than his predecessor, all he needs to do is observe the number of pilgrims expected to accompany Benedict XVI on his visit to the Holy Land … In contrast to his predecessor’s visit … this time it appears as though the Holy Father won’t be accompanied by tens of thousands of pilgrims. The Catholic Church administrative systems which enabled 100,000 believers to pray with the pope nine years ago on the Mount of Beatitudes have been temporarily suspended. The Holy See’s travel agency, Opera Romana, hasn’t received any direct or official instructions from the top ranks in the Vatican to prepare for a mass departure of believers for Israel. A party involved in the preparation for the visit said: ‘The Vatican organizers have only asked us to start organizing the departure of hundreds of students.’ It is possible that the low level of expectancy is due to the fact that the official announcement of the visit has come only two months prior, rather than half a year at least, which is normal when we’re talking about a papal visit.” Additional reasons may derive from the fact Pope John Paul II visited in the millennium year, while Benedict is also at odds with a Spanish stream of Catholicism which provided a large portion of the young pilgrims who arrived in 2000.
From the Israeli perspective, however, “The visit to Israel of Pope Benedict XVI in May may revive the languishing tourism industry and bring in up to $60 million in revenues … Some 40,000 pilgrims and tourists are expected during the week of the Pope’s visit … [which represents] a major breakthrough in Israel’s image and marketing, especially in light of the country’s current image around the world, said Avi Ela, president of the Israel Hotel Association. ‘The Pope can provide the impression that Israel is a recommended tourist destination,’ he added” (Haaretz, March 8, Hebrew and English editions).
Israel HaYom (March 9) added that the pope’s itinerary is scheduled to include Amman (he is due to arrive on a Royal Jordanian flight and depart on an El Al flight), Jerusalem (including Yad Vashem), Bethlehem, and Nazareth. During his three-day-stay in Jordan, Benedict is expected to visit the largest mosque in the kingdom. The PA chairman, Abu Mazzen, stated with respect to the anticipated papal visit that it would “‘bring an opening for love and good will that will disseminate peace.’”
Despite reports to the contrary, it appears that Benedict will celebrate his public mass in Nazareth rather than Haifa: “… the Vatican made the decision last weekend following a visit by a Vatican delegation that met here with representatives of the two cities. The Christian historical associations with Nazareth tipped the scales in its favor despite some Vatican preference for Haifa … Nazareth mayor Ramez Jeraisi confirmed the details regarding the Vatican’s decision on the venue of the mass, and  … indicated that Precipice Mountain will be the venue … ‘We are pleased that in the end the Vatican took the correct and proper decision from our point of view, because no one can deny the status of Nazareth, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that the visit and the mass will take place as they should, with the utmost success’ … The mass in Nazareth will take place on the 14th [of May]” (Haaretz, March 3, Hebrew and English editions). The obvious choice of Nazareth was emphasized again by Walid Hamis: “‘At no point in time was the possibility considered that he [the pope] might go to Haifa. It’s clear that the Christian world would choose Nazareth, the most holy city to Christianity’” (Yediot Haifa, March 6).
According to Haaretz (March 4), “Police are preparing for what they term ‘one of the biggest operations of the last decade’ – securing Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel this May. Benedict’s entourage will include more than 100 people … More than 10,000 policemen, border policemen and civil guard volunteers will help secure the visit, and police expect the operation to cost more than NIS 30 million.”
A similar report appeared in Ma’ariv (March 4), entitled “Operation White Robe” – the name which has been given, as is usual in such cases in Israel – to important tasks. Overall responsibility for security has been entrusted to the police force. Following his arrival at Ben Gurion, the pope will be flown to Jerusalem in an airforce helicopter, where he will visit Yad Vashem, the presidential residence, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Mount of Olives, and Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.” According to this report, he will also visit the Haifa bay area.
An anonymous writer in HaMevaser (March 5) contributed an opinion piece in which he suggested that, “Reports concerning the papal visit are being published in the press daily, and the media coverage is creating in the public at large an atmosphere of expectation of a historic and festal event. The Israeli press is suddenly demonstrating an impressive knowledge of Christian rites and sympathy towards Catholic religious leaders. It is also expressing a tolerant attitude towards the disturbances which the visit will cause. It may be said that such knowledge, sympathy, and tolerance are not displayed in relation to Jewish rites, leaders, or events … The pope’s visit to Israel has not only religious significance. He is not coming just to see at first hand the situation of his believers. His visit also carries political and international significance, and as such it must be given the appropriate weight by the Israeli leadership.” The main point of the piece, however, was to demonstrate that Haifa residents are in fact opposed to the pope visiting the city – either because it demonstrates a “capitalist” attitude inappropriate to “red Haifa” or because it will be offensive to the many Holocaust survivors resident in the city.
The scheduled visit appears in fact to have already influenced Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks”: “For the first time since the outbreak of the second intifada, a group of 66 Israeli tourism figures and tour guides were given a tour of Bethlehem, at the initiative of the Palestinian tourism office and civil administration … The IDF approved their entry … as part of an effort to improve the PA’s financial situation. The purpose of the visit was to enable cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian tourist authorities in offering tourist packages to those abroad, primarily Christian pilgrims.”
Book Review
Haaretz, March 2009

Haaretz’s monthly book review section for March contained “A conversation with Susannah Heschel, “professor of religion at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire … [and] the only child of the late Jewish thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel.” Heschel recently published a second book, entitled The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton University Press). Her first book was on Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (1998): “‘I wrote on Geiger’s work and its reception in Christian circles, where it was discussed extensively, though usually not positively. One exception was Adolf Hausrath, a professor at the University of Heidelberg and [a] contemporary of Geiger’s, who was always praising Geiger’s scholarship and urging Christians to study it. Yet when Hausrath wrote a study of the Bible, he used denigrating stereotypes of Jews. For example, in discussing Abraham’s argument with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, Hausrath writes that this was a typical example of Jewish “haggling.” I’ve always thought this extraordinary passage about Abraham was one of the most inspiring things I [had] ever read, but he called it “haggling.” It showed how, during the 19th century, the Hebrew Bible was the basis around which Christians created Jewish stereotypes. Protestants were upset with Geiger’s arguments that Jesus had said nothing new or original. He said Jesus was a rabbinic Pharisee. They said they were interested in finding the historical Jesus, his faith and teachings. But what do you do if you’re looking for the historical Jesus, and he’s Jewish? If his faith was Judaism, what’s the basis of Christianity? This led to a crisis: How to differentiate Jesus from Judaism. Some turned to racial theory to find something unique about Jesus. Racial views were used to preserve his originality.’”
The latter subject constitutes the subject of Heschel’s second book: “‘It seems as though Hitler was initially concerned about winning the support of the churches. By 1934, though, he saw he had their enthusiastic support and that they wouldn’t be a source of moral opposition. In fact, many churchmen wanted to hobnob with top Nazi brass, and the brass wasn’t interested. It’s a bit like Kierkegaard writes, in “Diary of a Seducer”: Once a man wins over a woman, he’s not longer interested in her. Hitler wasn’t interested … Hitler didn’t want a rival in the form of a church leader. Yet there were no church leaders who were in hot and heavy opposition. If anything, Hitler saw the Aryan Jesus arguments as supporting his anti-Semitism … There was a widespread feeling in Germany [after the Holocaust] that the Jews had “won.” Everyone [in the world] was sorry for the Jews and mad at the Germans. So there was profound resentment. The crime itself was not called the “Holocaust” for a long time, so in much of what was written during the first 20 years – there were theologians who wrote their memoirs – they described it as a terrible era, using the passive voice. And many of the churchmen who had been in power during the Reich remained in power. They certainly weren’t going to confess … You know, I started going to Germany in the 1980s. I realized that some of the anti-Semitic arguments I heard in the ’80s came straight out of the Nazi period. And I realized that it’s because those teachers were educated by professors who themselves had come of age during the Reich, and who continued teaching after the war … the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique among religions. One religion takes over scriptures of another religion and denies its validity. It’s a form of theological colonialism. Christianity depends on Judaism for its central theological concepts. When Christians say “Jesus Christ,” they are affirming Jesus as the Messiah, a Jewish concept. So when the institute [the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life] tried to purge Christianity of everything Jewish, its struck me as a kind of “theological bulimia,” a repetitive effort to purge oneself of the mother religion even while depending on it for legitimacy.’”