Caspari Center Media Review – December 2, 2009
During the week covered by this review, we received 3 articles on the subject of Messianic Jews. Of these:
3 dealt with Messianic Jews
This week’s Review continues last week’s focus on Messianic Jews.
HaModia, November 25; Yom L’Yom, November 26; Ma’ariv, November 27, 2009
Yom L’Yom (November 26) and HaModia (November 25) both carried last week’s report of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Ashdod rabbinate restore Pnina Pie’s kashrut license.
An article published in Ma’ariv (November 27) featured the congregation in Beersheva (Nachalat Yeshua) as its law suit against Yehuda Deri, the city’s chief Rabbi, was finally heard. Entitled “Encountered a determined Jew,” its subtitle read: “Howard Bass and the Messianic Jews in Beersheva organized a baptismal ceremony. Rabbi Yehuda Deri heard about the planned event, arrived at the premises with his people, and started a riot. They broke Bass’s glasses, threw him into the pool, and destroyed property. This week Deri gave witness in court. ‘I acted as a Rabbi is supposed to,’ he explained. ‘I deserve a medal.’” The pastor of the local congregation, Howard Bass, “waited a whole year” before deciding to bring the case against Deri. “‘It’s not easy to bring charges against the chief Rabbi of a city,’ he said. ‘We’re talking about the highest spiritual authority in the town. We wanted to do this with care, but we also wanted people to understand that they can’t take the law into their own hands.” Bass is suing Deri for 60,000NIS [@ $16,000] for the damage to property, the breaking of his glasses, and slander.
According to the charge, Deri waited outside the premises while his followers ran amok, only entering three hours later and attempting to calm down the ruckus. Bass claims that the consequences witness to the fact that the demonstration was orchestrated rather than spontaneous. “At present, Bass and Deri face off against one another, each one fortified by his faith and convinced that he did the right thing for his community. Each views the events from the point where he stood when the event occurred: Bass was inside the congregational compound, whereas Deri entered only towards the end of the incident. Whatever the outcome of the trial, the rashomon they represent [i.e., their individual subjective perception] will never be reconciled.” Although Deri insisted that the prayers held outside the building included no violence – “‘Anyone who says otherwise is lying,’ he declared; ‘people came, prayed, sang – nothing else’” – “media reports concerning the demonstration describe disturbances which calmed down only with the intervention of the police. Deri himself, in an interview with ‘Erev Chadash’ [on TV], replied in response to a question concerning why the demonstrators had thrown stones, that the phenomenon of Messianic Jews is a modern twentieth-century form of the Inquisition. ‘We shall not rest or cease,’ he then said.” In defending his decision to call people to pray outside the congregational building, Deri asserted that he wanted the community to “‘think twice about what they were doing, when they saw Jews praying nearby.’” “‘When Jews take on Christian customs,’ he wrote, ‘the chief Rabbi has the right to conduct prayers whose purpose is to get that same public to consider their actions. Freedom of religion works both ways.’ At the same time, he was certain that the event would not deteriorate into violence. According to his statement, he emphasized that prayer must be conducted without any disturbance. ‘I’m against violence; any act of violence will gain the opposite effect.’”
Bass, on the other hand, claims that this is a “‘false plea of innocence’ … The dozens of demonstrators who broke into the compound were indeed determined to act, and did so within the framework of an illegal demonstration.” Deri himself claims that he witnessed no violence, maintaining that he cannot be held responsible for people who acted on their own judgment, that he did not call for anyone to demonstrate nor expect people to show up earlier, and that what was done was performed contrary to his call. ‘From the time I arrived, there was no violence,’ he stated in court. ‘I cannot be held responsible for the actions of the demonstrators. The rumor of a baptismal ceremony of Jews reached the ears of others apart from me and the Rabbis with whom I consulted, and they decided to trespass and act provocatively. I never expected that anything would be done to desecrate shabbat; it’s unthinkable that I would incite anyone to desecrate shabbat.’” Bass, on the other hand, claims that Deri could have entered the compound much earlier than he did (and thus ended the disturbance much more quickly), and that if there was no violence what need was there for seventy policemen to arrive? His demand for 50,000NIS for slander is based on the fact that the following day Deri stated in a radio interview that the congregation was engaged in converting Jews: “‘This is one of the most serious accusation a Jew can make, and no one with Jewish blood in his veins can tolerate listening to such a reproach.’” In response, Deri argued that he was innocently doing his job of making people aware of what was happening.
The court’s ruling will be handed down in a couple of months’ time. “Deri is convinced that it will exonerate him. ‘The person who brought order to the situation was me,’ he said. ‘The person who prevented violence and ordered the people to return to their homes was Yehuda Deri, the chief Rabbi of the city. Everything happened before the time scheduled for the prayer assembly. I didn’t hear about any violence. The claims are false … I was the only calming influence there … I acted as a Rabbi should.’ ‘A Rabbi is supposed to bring hundreds of demonstrators to a Messianic congregational service?’ ‘Baptism is a very serious matter. When I receive a report about the baptism of children I must call a prayer assembly. It would be unimaginable for me not do so. I did my duty. A Rabbi cannot be responsible for this or that disturbance. In this matter, I deserve a medal.’”