March 20 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – March 20, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 22 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activities, Jewish-Christian relations, the Pope and the Vatican, interfaith dialogue, and early Christianity. Of these:

4 dealt with anti-missionary activities
6 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
9 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with interfaith dialogue
2 dealt with early Christianity

This week’s Review continues to focus on the pope’s upcoming visit and his admission of “mistakes” regarding the reinstatement of Bishop Williamson.
Anti-missionary Activities
HaShavua BiYerushalayim, March 11; Makor Rishon, March 12; Yom L’Yom, March 12; HaMevaser, March 13, 2009

Several of the religious papers ran last week’s story of the Gush Chatif settlers who refused to accept “missionary money” (HaShavua BiYerushalayim, March 11; Makor Rishon, March 12; Yom L’Yom, March 12).
HaMevaser (March 13) reported that “R. Aaron Menahem Mendel Baal HaNes “called a limited meeting of the various circles of Judaism in Jerusalem on Tuesday in order to discuss a request for means of defense against the dissemination of the mission and its influence in Israel. The Admor conferred with heads of institutions, who promised that they would accept the children [at risk] under their protection. He contributed first aid of $50 as the beginning of a campaign to raise money for this purpose.”
Jewish-Christian Relations
Haaretz, March 10, 13; Makor Rishon, March 9; Jerusalem Post, March 12, 13; HaModia, March 10, 2009

Under the headline, “Pope sends letter to explain mistakes made in handling bishop’s case,” the Jerusalem Post (March 12) reported that, “The Rome daily Il Foglio said the pope acknowledges in the letter that the Vatican made ‘mistakes’ in the handling of the entire case … Il Foglio said, without citing sources, that the pope writes that the Vatican should have been aware of Williamson’s Holocaust-denying statements being carried on the Internet. The pontiff also reportedly faults the Vatican for not explaining its actions on Williamson in a ‘sufficiently clear’ way … Bowing to criticsm by Jewish groups, historians and others, the Vatican demanded on February 4 that Williamson ‘absolutely and unequivocally distance himself’ from his Holocaust denial.”
According to Haaretz (March 13), the letter was a “personal missive sent to bishops throughout the world in an additional attempt to calm the storm which had erupted …” The pope also acknowledged “mistakes” in “causing damage to Jewish-Catholic relations and promised that henceforward he would pay much greater attention to news published on the Internet: ‘I’ve been informed that a check on the Internet news would have enabled a much earlier understanding of the problem,’ wrote the pope … ‘I express my sincere regret … Even Catholics, who should understand such things better appeared hostile and prepared to attack me … I [am grateful] to my friends the Jews who hastened to make sure that the misunderstanding was cleared up and to restore an atmosphere of friendship and trust.’”
Similar views were expressed by the Vatican ambassador in Israel this week (Haaretz, March 10): “‘Whoever denies the Holocaust cannot be a Catholic,’ Antonio Franco said yesterday at a seminar of scholars at Yad Vashem gathered to examine Pope Pius XII’s behavior during the Holocaust.” According to this report, the seminar “was conceived in order to reduce the tension between Yad Vashem and the Vatican.” While it had been feared that the soured relationship would prevent Benedict XVI from visiting Yad Vashem in May, the latter event is still scheduled, although it appears that the pope will not visit the building in which the controversial caption relating to Pius XII is hung. It also noted that, “According to seminar participants, the gap between those who accuse Pius XII and those who defend him is not as large as had been assumed at first. In some case, the discrepancy rests on a different interpretation of the same facts.” [For the seminar, see previous Reviews.] Under the headline, “Crisis over, says Israeli rabbinic delegation after papal audience,” the Jerusalem Post (March 13) noted that the Chief Rabbinate’s relations with the Vatican have been largely restored to an even footing: “‘This was not just another meeting,’ commented Haifa Chief Rabbi She’ar Yashu Cohen, who headed the delegation. ‘This was a special experience, a turning point, the end of a crisis. We could not have expected a warmer reception’ … Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, confirmed that all members of the delegation had been convinced of the pope’s deep commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations. ‘Moreover,’ Rosen said, ‘the pope clarified that no member of the Lefebvrist Pius X Society can be reinstated … Other members of the delegation were Chief Rabbinate Secretary-General Oded Wiener, Kiryat Ono Chief Rabbi Rasson Arussi and Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Mordechai Lewy.”
On a different note, HaModia (March 10) reported that in response to the pope’s official announcement of his visit in May, “From an examination of the calendar, it appears according to the Jewish calendar that the visit falls in the middle of Ayar, including Lag B’Omer, the day on which tens of thousands go up to Merom in order to commemorate the holy Tanna Shimon bar Yochai. In the wake of this discovery, MK R. Ya’akov Litzman has turned to the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, with a request that the pope’s visit be coordinated in such a way as to fit in with the events on Mount Merom in order to prevent obstacles and to ensure that the two events don’t interfere with one another. ‘While we’re still at the initial planning stages of the papal visit, we must give it some thought and find a solution which will enable the papal visit to go ahead without interfering with the traditional events on Mount Merom,’ noted MK Litzman.”
In light of the pope’s visit, Menachem Gantz contributed a lengthy article to Yediot Ahronot (March 13) discussing Pius XII. In it, he quoted the Vatican archivist as stating that: “‘We’d like to open the archives tomorrow morning. They will clearly prove that Pope Pius XII worked to save many Jews during the Second World War. We have an interest in proving this by opening the archives, but we can’t do so because of a technical problem. We can’t hand over documents and present them without first cataloging them and making a digital copy. We’re working very slowly.’ Pagano claims that there are 15,430 files and around 2,500 folders, but because of budgetary and adminstrative restraints only seven employees are engaged upon the work. Nor are they necessarily concentrating on the war period. Although Jewish organizations have offered to raise the necessary funds, Pagano, who has worked in the archives for over thirty years and been its head since 1997, does not believe that this will significantly accelerate the process. The final decision lies in the hands of the pope. ‘The moment we tell the Holy See that the archive is prepared and ready, he will be the person to give instructions for it to be opened’ said Pagano.” In giving Menahem Gantz a tour of the archives, Pagano also informed him that the archives, established in 1610, had originally contained “the writings of Paul on which the Christian faith is founded”; unfortunately, “these didn’t survive the war, struggles, and the wear of time.’”
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, March 10, 11 (Hebrew and English editions); Jerusalem Post, March 10, 11, 13; Israel Post, March 9; Israel HaYom, March 11; Yediot HaGalil, March 13, 2009

Most of these articles related to various aspects of the upcoming papal visit. Haaretz (March 10) noted that “Pope Benedict announced Sunday that he intends to visit Israel in May. Haaretz has learned that the Pope will land at Ben-Gurion International Airport at about 11 A.M. on May 11, on a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight from that country. Pope Benedict will be accompanied by an entourage of about 40, in addition to about 70 reporters. A state reception will be held at the airport. The Vatican is expecting about 5,000 Christian pilgrims to arrive in Israel for the visit. The Pope will leave Israel on May 15, on an El Al flight.”
According to the Israel Post (March 9), “It is hoped in the Vatican and Israel that the visit will bring to an end the tension which has erupted in recent months between the Catholic Church and Israel and the Jewish community worldwide.”
The Jerusalem Post (March 10) further noted that “At each stop, in his position as both head of the Catholic church and a head of state, he will meet with local leaders – notably King Abdullah of Jordan, President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. There will be major masses in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, the official said. Unlike pope John Paul II, who did visit the Temple Mount but did not go into al-Aksa, Benedict will enter that mosque, the official [a church official involved in the planning of the visit] said. The official said that while the dispute over Pius XII was ‘a serious and sensitive matter,’ it would be unthinkable for the pope to come to Israel without going to Yad Vashem. There were those within the Holy See who argued that Benedict could not come to a ’physical place where his predecessor is presented as a criminal,’ he said. But while this meant it was highly unlikely that the pope would enter the room where the Pius photograph and caption were on display, if the exhibit remained unchanged, it would not prevent the pontiff’s coming to Yad Vashem. Estee Ya’ari, Yad Vashem’s spokeswoman, said simply that Benedict’s visit would follow the same format and structure as that of John Paul II, with the focus being a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance … In the context of the visit to Israel, the official said, problems relating to the granting of visas for Catholic priests, and gripes concerning limitations on family reunification would also likely be discussed … the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, praised the visit as ‘timely’ and said it gave the pontiff an ‘opportunity not to be missed,’ in view of recent controversies … ‘This important visit will be warmly welcomed by Israel and the Jewish people,’ he said. ‘Pope Benedict’s visit to the memorial Yad Vashem will be very significant, in light of the controversy concerning Bishop Williamson and the Society of Pius X. We also note with appreciation that the Vatican is considering opening its archives in order to allow further research to be carried out on the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust … We hoped that the Vatican would join Canada, Italy and the United States and stay away from Durban II. Sadly, this forum is already shaping up as a repeat of the failed 2001 conference in Durban, which, instead of combating racism, singled out Israel alone for blame. The Vatican should not be a party to a forum that instead of fighting racism, would promote it.’”
According to a second report on the following day (March 11), “Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in May will be religious rather than political, the papal envoy in Jerusalem said on Tuesday. ‘I can expect that the holy father will also say a word that will have political implications, but the visit is not political. The visit is religious … And the holy father comes as the head of the Catholic Church. He does not come as the head of the Vatican state to make a political visit.’ The pope, he noted, was coming to the region as a person of faith making pilgrimage to holy places in the area. The pope’s intention is to express his solidarity and closeness to the people of Israel, Palestine and, through them, ‘all the peoples of the Middle East,’ he said … He will also meet with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and visit the former headquarters of the Chief Rabbinate, he said. ‘You will be wrong if you read this pilgrimage with political glasses’ … While the Vatican has had full cooperation from the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority ‘we have had no pressure for political bias … or to give some strictly political message,’ he said. ‘There has been great collaboration and great respect for his holy father, who comes as a spiritual leader, that he can address in the way that he wants and in any situation and circumstance,’ he said. At the same time, however, the pope would be very happy if his visit had some kind of effect on the peace process, said Archbishop Paul Sayah, the Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land. ‘We all understand how the issue of peace in this land is important to the pope,’ he added … Travel restrictions will also be eased for Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza who wish to participate in parts of the pope’s visit. For example, the Vatican has requested from Israel that a delegation from Gaza be allowed to attend the mass in Bethlehem and that at least two buses be allowed to transport the pilgrims from the coastal strip. The request had been granted, said Sayah. The pope will pray in the Cenacle, where Jesus is believed to have had the Last Supper, on his first day in Jerusalem and at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on the last of his trip before returning to Italy.”
With respect to the Cenacle, Israel HaYom (March 11) noted that this site, “the fourth most important Christian site in Israel,” has been the subject of an ongoing controversy between government agencies and members of “the three religions in Jerusalem.” With the upcoming papal visit, the possibility now exists that the question of Catholic control over the site will be discussed: it has been intimated that PM Ehud Olmert has indicated his willingness to hand over the site to the Church, the fact that the pope has made room in his busy schedule to visit the Cenacle being seen to indicate the importance which he attaches to the place and issue. The office currently responsible for the site is the Ministry of Religious Affairs. “The Room of the Last Supper is located on Mount Zion, close to the Old City walls. According to Christian tradition, this is the room in which Jesus celebrated the last supper, the next day being arrested and eventually crucified … The Christians were thrown out in 1552 and a mosque was erected on the site when it was given into the hands of the Arab dynasty of the Dajani family. The latter had control of the site up until 1948. The pope’s itinerary will include visits to the sacred sites of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in the Old City: Al-Aksa mosque, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He will also visit Bethlehem and Nazareth … According to plans, he will spend forty minutes [at Yad Vashem] and will take part in a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance and make a speech.”
According to Haaretz (March 11, Hebrew and English editions), “Some 40,000 people are expected to attend the mass the pope will lead on his scheduled visit to Israel … the highlights of the visit will be three masses in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, and the Pope will also visit the mosques on the Temple Mount. Catholic church leaders noted yesterday that this will be a pilgrimage, rather than a state visit. The Vatican’s ambassador to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco, said the controversy surrounding a caption under the portrait of Pope Pius XII, who served during World War Two, in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial remains unresolved, but added that the Vatican can distinguish between a specific disagreement and profound respect for victims of the Holocaust.”
Nazareth and Upper Nazareth are both making preparations for the papal visit (Yediot HaGalil, March 13): “The pope will land by helicopter at the Green Basketball Stadium in Upper Nazareth and, among other places, will visit the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Nazareth is one of the most sacred places in Christian tradition not only in Israel but in the whole world. It is the home of the Holy Virgin and Joseph, Jesus’ parents and the place where Jesus spent most of his childhood, and where he later preached in the synagogue. Above all, however, according to the New Testament it is the place in which the angel Gabriel appeared to Miriam, Joseph’s wife, and announced to her that she would conceive of the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God – an evangelistic event known as the ‘annunciation’ [in Hebrew, the same word also signifies the “Gospel”]. It is hoped that tens of thousands of Christians from all over the world will flock to the Holy Land in the pope’s wake and help local hotels and businesses to recuperate following the financial crisis … The Upper Nazareth municipality said this week that it is hoping that the festival of the pope won’t pass over the city.”

David Horovitz in the Jerusalem Post (March 13) compared this pope and his visit to John Paul II and his millennium visit, under the headline, “Another pope: Announcing a May pilgrimage devoted to ‘unity’ and ‘peace,’ Benedict has appealed for divine assistance. He’ll need it”: “For Israelis and Jews worldwide, I’d venture that there is really only one pope. It’s not the one, Benedict XVI, who this week formally confirmed that in May he would ‘make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to ask the Land – 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.’ It’s not the one, Paul VI, who deigned to enter our country for less than a day in January 1964 and managed never to mention ‘Israel’ by name … and it’s certainly not the one, Pius XII, whose World War II record of failure to save Jews from the Nazis is so hotly disputed by the Vatican. It is, rather, John Paul II, the last pontiff to visit our country, and the first to do so officially, having himself presided over the institution of full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel, and having made his millennium pilgrimage to the Holy Land the culmination of his papacy and everything it stood for … So dazzling is the memory of John Paul II, it sometimes threatens to obscure the fact that he – even he – was the focus of no little intermittent Jewish criticism … But any such criticisms were appropriately marginal in the context of John Paul II”s status as the peerless emblem of Christian-Jewish harmony. His soon-to-arrive successor has yet to achieve remotely comparable elevation … his energetic championing of Pius XII, his failure to include Israel as a nation targeted by terrorism on a list of other victim venues, his negligent rehabilitation of the Holocaust-denying Bishop Williamson and his revival of a mass which urges the conversion of Jews, all mean that he will come to Israel as a figure regarded with some wariness. A church official involved in the planning of May’s visit suggested to me this week, that it had taken awhile for the essential characteristics of the last pope to become evident, and that a clear sense of Benedict XVI’s ethos was only now starting to emerge, four years into his papacy. This official, furthermore, considered it an admirable sign of Benedict’s high purpose that he was choosing to visit at precisely so unpromising a historical juncture. In 2000, he recalled, ‘there were peace hopes, and it was the millennium year.’ Now, by contrast, ‘there is little optimism about peace, it’s an “ordinary” year, and there’s a global financial crisis. But we believe in miracles. We believe in goodwill. We believe in the power of prayer,’ he went on. ‘It’s a pilgrimage. He’s coming to pray – that maybe the Lord will give the gift of unity to the Middle East… He is coming to promote better understanding between all the monotheistic religions… He is coming with every good intention toward Christians and Jews.’ He is also visiting, the official said, ‘as a signal of hope for local Christians’ – whose number has been in relentless decline as a consequence of low birthrate and emigration fuelled by the desire for a better quality of life. ‘We have even lower fertility rates than secular Ashkenazim,” said the official sadly, estimating the average number of children per Holy Land Christian household at 2.1, as compared to 2.3 for secular Ashkenazim, 4-5 for Muslim families and 6-7 for ultra-Orthodox families. Still, he said, the figure of 120,000 Christians in Israel had been stable since the early 1990s. In east Jerusalem and the West Bank, by contrast, the Christian population was now only some 50,000, with a further 1,000 in Gaza – a collapse of a full third in the space of two decades. ‘There are more Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem in Chile and El Salvador today than in Bethlehem,’ he said. ‘It’s a tragedy.’ Like Pope John Paul II, the current pope will, of course, be venturing into a minefield of Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian sensitivities … ‘May God accompany me, support me and bless with his grace all those who I meet on my way,’ Benedict XVI pleaded at St. Peter’s on Sunday when confirming his visit. One can well understand the desire for such assistance.”

Interfaith dialogue
Jerusalem Post, March 11, 2009

Rabbi Schneier, President of the NY- and Washington-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, contributed an opinion piece to the Jerusalem Post (March 11) in which he noted that since “the deserved uproar now fading over Pope Benedict’s lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop” means that  “the Vatican and the Jewish community are seemingly back in each other’s good graces” and “all is well between Jews and the Church simply because it was already in a good place as a result of our dialogue with the Vatican over the past 50 years”  – “We must now move beyond our myopic focus on Jewish-Christian relations and face the real challenge of the 21st century: Jewish-Muslim dialogue … American Jews may not recognize the seriousness of the situation, but they only need to look to Europe to see what’s at stake – the recent phenomenon of Muslim anti-Semitism … when faced with this new reality of partnership-making and bridge building, why are Jews uncomfortable? Why are we are hesitant, worried, anxious and unsure of how to go about the next step? It is true that expanding one’s thinking and comfort level is always difficult, yet what better impetus than to help our brothers and sisters around the world? A cadre of extremists has been trying to hijack Islam. So far, thankfully, they have failed in that effort because the majority of Muslim leaders and scholars are, in fact, fair-minded individuals who wish no harm against us. Indeed, many significant Muslim leaders, in America and globally, have extended the hand of friendship to us, an outreach we cannot afford to spurn … The battle will be uphill, the struggle difficult, the discomfort inevitable. But Muslim leaders have the opportunity to echo the historic declaration of the Vatican’s Nostra Aetate, and to decry ‘hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.’ We must then rise to the occasion by grasping the outstretched hands of Muslims and work with them to build ties of friendship and trust between our communities.

Early Christianity
Kol HaIr, March 13; Haaretz, March 12, 2009

In a note entitled “Back to the future,” Kol HaIr (March 13) advised people to visit the Second Temple Model in Jerusalem before it is updated yet again: “The model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period extends over an area of around four dunams and is a reconstruction of Jerusalem as it was in 66 C.E. In that year, the Great Revolt broke out against the Romans, which eventually led to the destruction of the city and the Temple. The model commemorates ancient Jerusalem at the height of its glory. During that period, the city reached its maximum size, spreading over an area of around 1,800 dunams, double the size of the Old City today. The model, on a scale of 50:1, was built mostly of the local limestone known as ‘Jerusalem stone,’ used for building in Jerusalem from early days until now. It was the initiative of the owner of the Holy Land Hotel, Hans Kroch, in memory of his son Ya’akov, who fell in the War of Independence. The site was dedicated and opened to the public in 1966. Its transferal to the Israel Museum was instigated by Prof. Michael Avi-Yonah from the Hebrew University, who based its reconstruction on three principal sources: ancient historical sources such as the Mishna, the Talmud, and the New Testament, and primarily the writings of the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus; the excavation of other ancient cities which formed part of the Roman Empire; and archaeological findings in Jerusalem itself. At the time of its construction, the archaeological knowledge in the hands of researchers was limited, the excavations which subsequently took place in the city contributing greatly to our knowledge of ancient Jerusalem. Thanks to this additional information, the model was revised and updated when it was transferred to its new home in the Israel Museum in 2006. Visitors to the model and the Shrine of the Book are now presented with the opportunity to peak into the Jerusalem within which Judaism and Christianity developed side by side.”
While Judaism and Christianity may have developed side by side, there are still controversies regarding the process whereby this took place. According to Haaretz (March 12), Prof. Norman Golb’s son was recently arrested “on suspicion of impersonating a rival scholar,” the father claiming that “his son understood his opponents were trying to silence him.” “Although researchers have condemned Raphael Golb’s alleged acts, some scholars in Israel accept Norman Golb’s contention that some of the most prominent Dead Sea Scrolls academics do silence their opponents. Most scholars in the field believe that the scrolls were written by the Essenes or the Qumran Sect – a small Jewish group that lived an ascetic life in the desert. Golb, however, contends the scrolls found in caves at the Dead Sea near Qumran were written in Jerusalem and smuggled to the Dead Sea area during the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans … Dr. Yaakov Tepler, head of the history department of Beit Berl Academic College and a student of Christianity scholar Prof. Joshua Efron, hews neither to Golb’s opinion nor to the mainstream. Rather, he believes some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by Christians and says they allude to Jesus. ‘I wrote a huge M.A. thesis that was to have become a doctorate about the Teacher of Righteousness – a central figure in the scrolls. I built 300 pages of reasons why I think the allusion was to Jesus. But today no place in Israel will allow me to publish it. It’s just impossible to get an article published, not to mention a book, that expresses an idea that deviates from orthodoxy.’ Tepler says he thinks the scholarly establishment is silencing a connection between the scrolls and Christianity. ‘At some point it was decided that the scrolls are part of Jewish history, as a basis for Zionism and anyone who undermines this is seen as undermining Israel,’ he said.”