September 9 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – September 9, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 4 articles on the subject of anti-missionary activity and Christians in Israel.

2 dealt with anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 was a book review
This week’s Review contains an excellent review of David’s Flusser’s book Jesus, recently translated into Hebrew.
Anti-missionary activity
Sha’ah Tova BeChadashot, August 28; Mishpacha, September 3, 2009

According to these two reports, several years ago the “Messianic Jews purchased a plot of land in [the Jerusalem neighborhood of] Sha’arei Chesed, where they are looking to establish a center to serve for the dissemination of their ideas, God have mercy on us. Up until now, they have been unable to obtain the appropriate permits for their plan. They appealed to the court on the grounds that freedom of expression obligates the granting of the permits, but have not yet received a reply. At the moment, they are planning to appeal to [Jerusalem Mayor Nir] Barkat, following the latter’s recently confrontation with the religious and Orthodox populace in the city” (Sha’ah Tova BeChadashot, August 28). The latter article (Mishpacha, September 3) indicated that the court has in fact reached a decision, ruling in favor of the group – evidently a reference to Netivyah and its plans to add a further storey to its premises on Narkis St.: “The missionaries brought a suit against the Jerusalem municipality and the District Planning and Building Committee for refusing to grant permission to add an extra storey onto the building where they are already operating … The Committee ruled that the center could not be closed down but did refuse the request to add another storey … Likewise, they also filed a personal suit against three members of the Jerusalem Council who also sought to prevent the establishment of the center, without success … This week the disturbing story reached its climax, with the court ruling that the missionaries may establish their center in the middle of an Orthodox neighborhood, including the extra storey. The judge also ruled that the municipality and District Committee must pay the costs of the suit, to the tune of 10,000NIS each, but did not make the residents pay on the grounds of promoting peace.” The ruling may be appealed within 30 days, but the neighborhood’s residents must first raise 30,000NIS before the lawyer will undertake to file it.
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, September 4, 2009

A lengthy article in the Jerusalem Post (September 4) examined the history of the hostel at Ecce Homo in Jerusalem’s Old City: “One of the oldest Christian hostels in the Old City is Ecce Homo at 41 Via Dolorosa, which is jointly run by five Sisters of Sion and the Roman Catholic Community of Chemin Neuf. The latter, founded in 1973 in Lyon, France, is ecumenical in its outlook; its members actually represent more than a dozen Christian denominations … Chemin Neuf is dedicated to world peace through prayer and study, and in 2000 launched a worldwide Net for God prayer network which is constantly growing. The Congregation of the Sisters of Sion has been functioning in Jerusalem since 1856 and has welcomed pilgrims since 1860. The order was founded by Theodore Ratisbonne, who was born into an affluent Jewish family of bankers in Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine and converted to Catholicism. Theodore eventually became a priest as did his brother Alphonse, the youngest of the nine children in the family. Theodore, who never had much time for religion in his early years – not his own or anyone else’s – came to Catholicism through his studies of philosophy. Alphonse, who had shunned religion, was visiting Theodore in Rome in January 1842. While waiting for him in a church, he had a vision of Mary that completely changed his life, and he too converted and became a priest. In 1843, with the encouragement of his brother, Alphonse founded the congregation of Our Lady of Sion … The Sisters of Sion are extremely well disposed toward Jews and reach out to them not for proselyting purposes but to foster understanding. In fact, part of their calling is to give witness in the church and to the world to God’s love for the Jewish people. ‘Jesus was a Jew, lived as a Jew and died as a Jew. If we don’t have a good understanding of that, we’ll never understand the Scriptures,’ says Sister Rita. ‘It’s important that the covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked. Theodore and Alphonse were Jews who became Catholics and priests, but they never left Judaism,’ she notes. ‘You can’t understand the New Testament without understanding the Old Testament,’ she adds, quoting one of their precepts … During the Holocaust, many European convents of the Sisters of Sion provided havens for Jews, some of whom were subsequently baptized. After the Holocaust and Vatican II, a special study program was set up for young nuns in Jerusalem to enable them to learn about Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people … education is part of the calling of the Sisters of Sion, so in conjunction with the Hebrew University they set up an ulpan (language study) system whereby Arabs studied Hebrew and Israelis studied Arabic. The idea was that the two groups, which in those early postwar days were extremely suspicious of each other, would at least be able to understand each other. The Sisters of Zion were happy to be the facilitators … When Sister Rita is asked what happened to the Jewish progeny of the family and how many survived the Holocaust, she confesses that she doesn’t know; but she quickly adds that the Sisters have been looking for a new project, and tracing the fate of the Ratisbonnes might be a good one. Given that this is the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and the fact that understanding Jews and Judaism is ingrained in the very beings of the Sisters of Sion, it’s certainly a project worth considering.”

Book Review
Haaretz, September 4, 2009
Under the title “He’s one of us, he’s from here,” Yitzhak Laor provided an excellent review of David Flusser’s book Jesus, recently translated into Hebrew for the first time (from the English translation of 1997): “It is a riveting book, and not only because Flusser refrains from repeating what he had discussed in a plethora of articles he published beforehand. Although it falls squarely into the imaginary narrative that Zionism takes for granted – according to which Jesus was ‘one of us’ and, more important, from this land – the book also shows that one can both take part in shaping the national fantasy and also be interesting. It’s doubtful that a religious person, in this case a Christian, could accept the historical figure as portrayed by Flusser, mainly because the author elegantly bypasses everything the Christian faith accepts as part of Jesus’ revelation. At the same time, however, Flusser does accept the Gospels as very reliable texts, with the reservation that one must distinguish between what is original and later distortions … It is the story of a son of Galilean Jews who went to be baptized by John, disagreed with his theology, roamed the land, worked miracles, encountered the suspicion of the Pharisees, arrived in Jerusalem, angered the priests (the Sadducees), was reconciled to dying because he believed he would have a seat next to God his father, was crucified, and who became the greatest success story in human history, at least as a story … But all that is too straightforward, and it is certainly possible to see one or another of the movies about the life of Jesus, or to read Flusser’s theories in the old (and less responsible) Zionist or nationalist versions of Joseph Klausner, A.A. Kabak or Leo Baeck, or any of the other Hebrew attempts to bring Jesus back into Jewish history. After all, it is possible to see the link between Jewish nationalism and Zionism, on the one hand, and Christianity, on the other, in the attempt to appropriate Jesus into Jewish history, or to put it into less delicate language: The meaning of the history of Jewish nationalism is a yearning for Jesus and for Christianity … what was once seen as the acronym for the Hebrew ‘yimah shmo vazikhro’ (‘may his name and his memory be obliterated’), ‘Yeshu’ is described by Flusser as the Galilean version of the Hebrew name Yehoshua, Joshua. There’s an idea for a scholarly research project: The history of the depiction of Christianity in Jewish culture … what makes Flusser’s ‘Jesus’ particularly riveting is the way the Jerusalem scholar argues. The way he identifies what seems Greek to him, and therefore less authentic and later, and what he sees as Semitic, either Hebrew or Aramaic, is stunning … On the level of faith, Flusser tries first of all to understand Jesus from the New Testament and only afterward from a comparison to what can be called the Jewish faith of his time … Flusser states there is no other figure from the period of the Second Temple about whom we have so much historical information. This is the key to the Israeli craving for Jesus. This is not a craving for the gilded Byzantine portraits or medieval paintings, and not for the Divine Comedy, or for ‘St. Matthew’s Passion’ by Bach (although the average educated Israeli does crave to feel at home in the West). The national passion for Jesus is the Jewish passion for the Second Temple period, for the life ‘everyone knows about.’”