March 26 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – March 26, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 28 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:

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

Jewish-Christian relations continue to constitute the focus of much the media, this week in relation to the pope’s upcoming visit, which coincides with Lag B’Omer.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Calcalist, March 22, 2009

The mobile Orthodox community in Israel has been provided with a new tool for its convience – a GPS device which contains such “attractions” as kosher restaurants and synagogues. What it doesn’t include, of course, are Christian sites: “Both devices have had removed from them points of interest which seemed irrelevant for the religious public to the programmers – such as sites sacred to Christianity and Islam, churches, mosques.”
Anti-missionary Activities
HaMachaneh HeCharedi, March 19; Yom L’Yom, March 19; HaModia, March 18, 20; HaMevaser, March 18, 2009

In the wake of the recent story of Netzarim settlers who refused to accept a donation from Christians, it was reported this week that a wealthy Venezuelan Jew has offered to make up the sum they “lost” by contributing the funds to Yad L’Achim and give them the money himself (HaMevaser, March 18; HaModia, March 20; HaMachaneh HeCharedi, March 19; Yom L’Yom, March 19).
According to HaModia (March 18), “The residents of Arad hold legal protests every day of the year against the missionary organizations in the city in order to reveal their true face and their devious intentions. The missionaries in Arad present themselves as Jews to all purposes by wearing Jewish dress and authentic Jewish symbols and the Orthodox Jewish community in Arad has been hurt by this. Over Purim, therefore, when we are commanded to destroy Amalek, the residents put greater stress than usual on their fight against the mission, which pursues innocent Jews and snares them in its net. On Shabbat Zekor, residents returning from synagogue and passing the mission building on Gila’ad St. stopped and protested the campaign of apostasy being carried on there. Some of the worshipers recited the usual Purim prayers which refer to wiping out the memory of Amalek. The principal demonstration was held on the actual day of Purim: a special horse parade  – ‘Mordechai’s procession’ – was held with posters saying, ‘The mission – the spiritual Haman of our generation’ and ‘We want an Arad free of missionaries’ … The group wore special T-shirts from the Yad L’Achim organization with the inscription, ‘Lost – a Jew. Last seen going around with the missionaries.’ The procession wound its way all through the town, expressing its identification with the local protest. Those involved stated that the protest went very smoothly, the public being exposed time and again to the mission’s true face and taking pains to keep its distance from it and its deceitful workers – in close cooperation with Yad L’Achim, which participates in the daily protests in the city throughout the year.”
Christians in Israel
Dakot 24, March 17; Haaretz, March 17; Mishpacha, March 19; HaModia, March 17; HaMevaser, March 17, 23; Makor Rishon, March 17; Yated Ne’eman, March 17; Globes, March 23, 2009

A guard and Orthodox Scout leader at a Yaffo church was arrested this week on suspicion of molesting several youths in the church where he works and on scout outings (Dakot 24, March 17). According to Haaretz (March 17), the 25-year-old man’s detention was extended for three days.
Several of the religious papers reported the decision taken by the Tel Aviv municipality to discuss Simon Duka’s request that he be permitted to open his used-clothing shop on shabbat. Duka is a Christian refugee from Sudan and wishes his day of rest to be Sunday rather than Saturday. A magistrate has already ordered the municipality to cancel the fines it imposed on Duka for opening on shabbat (Mishpacha, March 17; Makor Rishon, March 17; Yom L’Yom, March 17). HaModia (March 17) was of the opinion that Duka is “seeking to alter the order of Tel Aviv.” The present law allows the granting of licenses to open on shabbat only to shops in non-Jewish areas. The municipality’s committee has been ordered to convene within 60 days to duscuss the matter (HaMevaser, March 17).
According to a report in HaMevaser (March 23), “While police in Jerusalem were preventing the celebrations of ‘Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture’ planned by the PA in the Jewish capital, it transpires that no consensus exists in the matter within the Palestinian community itself. The head of the Latin church in Gaza stated that the Hammas government prevented a Christian school from holding an event within the same framework. The Hammas movement denied the claims.”
Globes (March 23), featured an article on the history of the “American Colony” in Tel Aviv-Yaffo: The “American Colony” was established in 1866 by “156 Protestants from the State of Maine, U.S. The purpose of the settlement was the restoration of the Jews to the Land of Israel, which would bring Yeshu’s return and the redemption. It contained only two roads: Beer Hoffman and Auerbach. The settlers only managed to hold on for two years, being torn apart by plagues and economic difficulties. In 1868, the settlement was barren. Within a few years, however, the houses had been purchased by the German Templars, who developed the settlement and created public institutions. In 1881, it already contained 26 residences – eight of wood and the rest of stone, being surrounded by stone walls. The German Kaiser Wilhem II stayed in the Park Hotel in the colony in 1898, his entourage staying at the nearby Jerusalem Hotel. In 1904, Emmanuel Church was completed, one of the colony’s most prominent features. The German Colony flourished until it was destroyed by the British during the Second World War and its residents expelled; the buildings were confiscated by the government. Most of the houses have been restored and preserved as a tourist attraction. Recently, well-known architects have also bought apartments and sites there”.
Jewish-Christian Relations
Haaretz, March 20; Yediot Yerushalayim, March 20; HaMevaser, March 18; BeKehilah, March 19; HaModia, March 23; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, March 19; Kol HaIr, March 18; BeSheva, March 19, 2009

HaModia (March 23) reported Pope Benedict’s apology for his handling of the Williamson affair (see previous Reviews).
Benedict’s scheduled visit to the Western Wall is creating additional severe strains on Jewish-Catholic relations. According to several reports (HaShavua BiYerushalayim, March 19; Kol HaIr, March 18; BeSheva, March 19; Yediot Yerushalayim, March 20; HaMevaser, March 18), the Security Service’s decision to close the plaza 15 hours before the pope’s arrival thus preventing worshippers from praying has aroused the ire of the Wall’s Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitz. “‘In my opinion, we cannot close the Wall and limit prayer there … the principle guiding me is to find security solutions which will simultaneously permit continuous entrance during the pope’s visit … There cannot be a situation in which prayer at the Western Wall stops even for one second. I intend to demand that entrance is permitted before the visit and during it in order to enable proper prayer services to continue as normal.’” Rabinovitz expressed similar views regarding the fact that the pope arrives on the eve of Lag B’Omer, a fact which may affect the celebrations on Mount Meron when he arrives in Nazareth, objecting that closing the roads would interfere with thousands of people making their way north for the celebrations. According to BeSheva (March 19), the original security plans called for the Wall to be closed from midnight. “In his statement he [Rabinovitz] said that the pope couldn’t be given priority over other worshipers, and in particular should not be allowed to infringe on those who prayed at the Wall regularly all during the year.” The same report also noted that Rabinovitz has requested that the pope refrain from wearing a cross at the Wall, having already succeeded in gaining the compliance of two other high-ranking Catholic figures from entering the site “wearing the symbol of their worship.” An organization called “Independence” is also protesting the pope’s visit to the Wall on the grounds that the “religious public must fiercely oppose the intention of the head of Catholic Christianity which hates Judaism to visit this sanctified place.” According to HaMevaser (March 18), serveral other Rabbis and Torah scholars have appealed to Rabinovitz against the closure of the Wall “from which the Shekhina [God’s presence] has never moved.” BeKehilah (March 19) further noted that the pope’s scheduled visit to Mount Zion is arousing fears that “as a gesture, the government might grant the Vatican authority over part of King David’s tomb, thereby impinging on the tomb and its worshipers.” It likewise reported that Benedict’s visit to Nazareth has been postponed in light of the Lag B’Omer celebrations.
Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland since 2004, contributed an opinion piece to Haaretz (March 20) entitled “What I learned from John Paul II”: “I recently returned from giving a lecture honoring the memory of Pope John Paul II, at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome … What a humbling, and particularly relevant experience … John Paul II profoundly explained: ‘The Jewish religion is not “extrinsic” to us, but in a certain way is “instrinsic” to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship we do not have with any other religion.’ Christianity’s unique relationship with Judaism creates special responsibilities – an essential lesson for Christians. But it’s a lesson for us Jews, too, who have learned from bitter historical experience to close our doors to the outside world. Pope John Paul II understood the Jewish concept of ‘the other.’ When one is well rooted in one’s own tradition, one only benefits by studying and experiencing other religious traditions … My synagogue in Warsaw announced a memorial prayer for him at the start of Shabbat [following his death]. As I approached the synagogue, I was shocked. The line of those waiting to get inside was huge. Over 1,000 people attended – a few hundred were local Polish Jews, but the rest were Polish Catholics. Just think about it – hundreds of Catholics accepting that it was normal to share a prayer for the Pope in a synagogue in Poland! At that moment, I saw before my very eyes how Pope John Paul II had changed the world. How so much of what he practiced during his own life had truly inspired others to act similarly. For me, this is the ultimate tribute to the teachings and life of Pope John Paul II.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Calcalist, March 23; Haaretz, March 23 (Hebrew and English editions); Jerusalem Post, March 17, 2009

A report printed in Haaretz (March 23, Hebrew and English editions) and the Calcalist (March 23) noted that “A special crew comprised of both Jews and Christians will serve Pope Benedict XVI and his entourage on their El Al flight home from Israel on May 15. According to El Al, the entourage will include 30 church officials and 70 journalists. The airline also plans to paint the Pope’s plane with the Vatican logo. Tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected to accompany the Pope on his visit here, and El Al is hoping for a piece of that action as well: It will inaugurate direct flights between Tel Aviv and Sao Paolo, Brazil on May 2, and is planning an aggressive advertising campaign in other South American countries too.”
According the Jerusalem Post (March 17), “After more than a decade of negotiations, Israel and the Vatican are nearing an agreement on a longstanding tax dispute over Church properties in the Holy Land … At the core of the tax dispute is hundreds of millions of shekels owed to the city by the Vatican … The total amount of unpaid property tax amounts to roughly NIS 300 million, with the Latin Patriarchate the biggest offender … Any agreement reached between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Vatican will be precedent-setting, since it will apply to all church properties in Jerusalem.” Despite the progress in talks, however, it is doubtful whether the issue will be resolved prior to the pope’s upcoming visit.
Book Review
Jerusalem Post, March 20, 2009

In light of the recent controversy over the community at Qumran, Rachel Elior, Professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, is proposing in a book to be published next month that, contrary to the scholarly consensus, the Essenes in fact never existed. “‘It’s very clear to any unbiased reader that these are texts of a distinctly priestly nature. Why go to the Essenes if the scrolls themselves say ‘the priests, sons of Zadok’ … For 50 years, scholarship has looked in the wrong direction.’” Elior also claims that “if there had really been a group like the Essenes, comprising thousands of Jewish observing law very different from mainstream Judaism, they would have merited a mention in Jewish texts of the time. Yet there is no such mention.” Pliny’s and Josephus’ accounts, from where most of our information regarding the Essenes derives, appear to be “largely mythical, and in some cases they borrowed from each other,” Elior contends.