December 14 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – December 14, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 13 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activities, Christian Zionism, holy sites, and the Bible. Of these:
2 dealt with Messianic Jews
5 dealt with anti-missionary activity
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with holy sites
1 dealt with the Bible
This week’s Review focuses on responses to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the restoration of Pnina Konforti’s kashrut license.

Messianic Jews
Shofar, December 4; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, December 10, 2009

According to an article printed in Shofar (December 4), “The true face of Stuart Ganolin, a prominent Christian and top-ranking missionary who works for a variety of dubious organizations, was unmasked this week before the astonished eyes of the residents of Sederot. Dressed as an Orthodox Jew, with a long white beard, a yarmulke and tzitzis, Ganolin runs a network of aid to the needy in Sderot, he has been exposed as a missionary whose goal is to convert innocent Jews through deception. The peak of his humanitarian activities came in recent weeks when local residents received personal invitations to a ‘Surprise Day,’ during which food products were distributed. The missionary organizations behind this event used false, innocuous names such as ‘Hope for Sderot’ and ‘The Committee for Kassam Victims,’ and the ‘Ruth Organization’ to disguise their true intentions. Yad L’Achim has revealed the shocking truth, however. According to an investigation it conducted, Stuart Ganolin, who made aliyah about two years ago, has since then been working extensively, establishing close contacts with local synagogues and many residents. Only once he felt that the time was ripe did he decide to invite residents to the ‘Surprise Day,’ during which every resident was asked to fill in a contact form. Yad L’Achim points to a series of internal missionary documents which include numerous references to Ganolin, together with pictures of him dressed in Orthodox attire, showing him to be a member of the missionary Joshua Fund and detailing his activities. In one of the documents – a personal letter from Ganolin to one of the donors to the missionary organization – he says that he has gained great popularity amongst the residents of Sederot. He appeals to the donors to deposit money into a certain account for his activities and ‘for the sake of the true goal, which is important to us all.’ Another internal missionary document contain a photo of Ganolin with the head of the missionary organization for which he works – this time, how surprising, without the yarmulke and tzitzit he wears around Sederot. Other missionary organizations note that Ganolin is their faithful and active representative in Israel. A Sederot city spokeswoman said in response that the local welfare department had no idea that missionaries were behind these voluntary activities and that she would look into the matter with the help of the findings presented by Yad L’Achim.

A lengthy article in HaShavua BiYerushalayim (December 10) entitled “To forget them is Your teaching” reviewed the phenomenon of Messianic Judaism in Israel. In a cut-out quote on the first page, its stated: “There are more than a hundred Messianic Jewish congregations working in Israel. Some of them conduct baptismal ceremonies into Christianity, despite the law forbidding missionary activity for the purpose of conversion. They insist on being called Jews and disguise their activity in contributions and aid to needy families.  In a well-planned campaign in the north of the country, members of Jews for Yeshu exploit all the media channels at their disposal: public posters, explanatory material, radio broadcasts, video clips, and even house to house visits  Even the President of the Supreme Court, Aaron Barak, claimed that ‘These elements leads to the conclusion that whoever believes in the messiahship of Yeshu and see in this faith the effectivity of his beliefs and makes souls and assembles for this purpose in congregations, he is a person who believes in another religion.’ Former Interior Minister Avraham Poraz states it even more bluntly: ‘The Law of Return is designated only for Jews. Whoever believes in Yeshu is not a Jew. What can we do if Judaism does not believe in Yeshu? Such belief is even called idolatry. Whoever believes in Yeshua – in my eyes is a Christian.’  So why are the Messianic Jews continuing their activities without disturbance?  The war on behalf of the pure jug of oil [a reference to Hanukka].”
Although the remainder of the article does indeed deal with Messianic Judaism/Jews, it opens with reference to a mass baptismal ceremony at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Hall one shabbat – an event which was almost certainly held by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. [Editor’s note] Under the subheading “A mixture of religions,” the report stated: “Messianic Jews claim that they are persecuted because of their beliefs. According to them, designations such as ‘Christians,’ ‘baptizers into Christianity,’ and ‘missionaries’ are intended to give them a negative label amongst the Israeli public, which is not familiar with their ‘beliefs and customs’ … Messianic Jews believe in Yeshu – or Yeshua as they call him (the true name he was given by his parents, according to them) – who, according to them, is the Messiah and Son of God, God have mercy on us. Most of their prayers do not come from a book or any Siddur [prayer book] but are said from the heart in any place and at any time, without any need for a minyan [a quorum of ten male Jews], because they believe that everyone had to develop a personal relationship with God and not too quickly to accept the opinion of the sect’s leaders but to search and study everything in depth for themselves [the exact opposite of the behavior normally characteristic of a sect or cult]. They make a salad of Judaism and Christianity in that their ‘holy’ book contains both the Jewish Tanakh and the New Testament. In contrast to Christianity, however, they believe that the latter is a continuation (God have mercy on us) of the Book of Books. The principal commandments of Messianic Jews is the dissemination of their foolish faith, by means of missionary activity. Messianic Jews view themselves as ‘believers’ rather than as ‘religious’ people and see no necessity to observe the commandments customarily performed by Jews. Each person is free to ‘choose’ for himself whether to keep shabbat, circumcision, etc. Members of the sect trace their lineage back to Yeshu’s first disciples, who accepted him as the Messiah. Many historians dispute this claim, however. In their opinion, around the second century, when Judaism and Christianity split, these Jewish believers assimilated into either Christianity or Judaism,a according to their personal preference … In Israel, the members of the sect number around 10,000 missionaries. The head of the central and legal sect is ‘Christian Witness for Israel,’ directed by Baruch Maoz. This sect is responsible for a hundred congregations of Messianic Jews and Messianic Arabs who believe in Yeshu. This central sect takes care of the organization of the activities for adults and youth and of the aid to Israeli society in order to carry out the Messianic ‘gospel’ in whose name they operate … Those missionaries who were born to a Jewish mother serve in the IDF and observe some of the Jewish commandments. Thereby, they gain public recognition in Israel for the purposes of receiving citizenship under the controversial Law of Return. The Messianic Jews in Israel are divided into three groups: completely Protestant Christians married to Messianic Jews active in Israel, some of whom are here illegally; Jewish apostates [mumarim] who born to a Jewish mother but consider themselves Christians, with all the ramifications from that; Jewish apostates who observe biblical and rabbinical commandments but completely distort them. Some of these do not belong to any Messianic sect and only go to synagogue. Most of the Messianic congregations in Israel number between thirty and thirty-five members, but the large congregations number more than a hundred members. They are accustomed to meet from time to time in different places and to announce to the rest the ‘spiritual enlightenment and experiences’ and other visions which they’ve had in recent days …”
In light of the coverage of the law suit currently being brought by Howard Bass against Yehuda Deri, it is also interesting to note how the present article presented the facts: “The story began ten years ago, when Rabbi Deri took up his new post. As Chief Rabbi of the city [of Beersheva], he instructed his community to demonstrate one shabbat against the activity of the Messianic Jews in the wake of receiving news that the Messianic Jews were planning a baptismal ceremony to convert [Jews] to Christianity. Recently, Mr. Howard Bass, head of the Messianic Jewish congregation ‘Nachalat Yeshua’ which operates in Beersheva, filed a suit against Deri. Bass is demanding 60,000 NIS for damage to property and slander, because, in his opinion, at the end of 2005 according to their count [i.e., the Christian calendar], Deri summoned hundreds of worshippers to the congregation’s building due to information which had reached his hands regarding a baptismal ceremony that was to take place there. Before the suit, these same worshippers pushed Bass into the baptismal pool as they shouted and cursed, also assaulting members of the sect and damaging property. Rabbi Deri entered the premises three hours after the Jewish residents of the city and, according to the suit, this late entrance in order to restore calm witnesses to the fact that the ‘disturbance’ was planned and that only after an hour did the police succeed in preventing the demonstrators from entering the premises and restoring peace to the place. For his part, Deri, who since his appointment to the post a decade ago has been trying to prevent the missionary activity of the Messianic Jews, claims that the prayer service which took place on the premises passed without any violence. ‘Whoever says otherwise is lying. People came, prayed, and sang. That’s it.’ The second occasion on which, according to Bass’s claim, Deri and local Jewish residents ‘disturbed’ the missionary activity was when members of Yad L’Achim passed on information to Deri concerning a baptismal ceremony due to take place in the congregational building. The neighborhood rabbis advised Deri to hold a morning prayer service on shabbat outside the building at the time the ceremony was due to be held because Deri wanted the Jews about to conduct it, God have mercy on us, to think twice before taking such a serious step. ‘I’m against violence. Every act of violence achieves the opposite purpose,’ he then said. Deri rejects Bass’s claims that he incited the incident and was responsible for the demonstrators’ disturbance of the missionaries and [claims that] what took place was done against his instructions and that every demonstrator who caused damage [the damage he claimed above not to have occurred] did so solely on his own authority and responsibility. Moreover, after he had succeeded in releasing the demonstrators from their arrest, he forbade them to take place in a second demonstration intended to preserve the Jewish tone of the Jewish city. The Beersheva court is due to decide the case in another couple of months, and we hope and pray that it will do so in favor of Deri. Whatever the case, Deri’s goal was achieved because the baptismal ceremony was cancelled.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Haaretz, December 10; Calcalist, December 14, 2009

Following the uproar caused by remarks made by the current Justice Minister that Israel is moving in the direction of becoming a halakhic State, Gideon Levy commented in Haaretz (December 10) that, in his youth, “We wore yarmulkes when we studied Bible in school, and if a Bible fell on the floor, God forbid, we would kiss it in great reverence, supposed secularists that we were. And what did we have in school assembly? The daily Bible reading. We hadn’t heard about the New Testament; no one would have dared teach it in the educational system we are endeavoring to boast of. We were also scared of going into a church.”
As part of suggestions for activities anyone finding him or herself in New York this coming week, the Calcalist (December 14) recommended attendance at St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village, where, “if you’re fed up with Santa Claus and his cronies, and you’re looking for some slightly more traditional Christmas fare, you are invited to attend the famous event.” This includes a concert of Handel’s “Messiah” – the “celebrated work at whose center stands the life of the Messiah – who, according to Christianity, is Yeshu.”
Anti-missionary Activities
Haaretz, December 9; Israel Post, December 10; Mishpacha, December 10; Kol HaIr – Bnei Brak, December 9; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, December 10, 2009

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that the law of kashrut is a secular rather than a religious law, the rabbinic establishment is up in arms. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar wrote a letter on the Knesset this week objecting to the determination (Israel Post, December 10), and in session called on its members to introduce a bill that would “allow the chief rabbinate to avoid granting kashrut licenses to sects who convert Jews,” claiming that even the presence of kashrut supervisors would not help in the case of such persons – “‘who would always find a way to mislead and make people stumble.’” According to this report, numerous MKs – both religious and secular – expressed their support for such a law, amongst them Rabbi Amsalem, who suggested a “creative” way of dealing with the problem by encouraging people not to frequent “Pnina Pie” even if the bakery receives its kashrut license back, because while it might theoretically then be kosher, it would still “‘stink very badly’” (see also HaShavua BiYerushalayim, December 10). The author of the article was very skeptical, however, that this proposal was a practical one – “why and how? That’s a matter for a separate piece.” Likewise, Haaretz (December 9), again reporting on Ne’eman’s comments, noted that, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Yona Metzger, objected in the Knesset to the Supreme Court’s ruling, which disqualified the decision taken by the Chief Rabbi of Ashdod to remove a kashrut license from a business “due solely to the fact that the woman who runs it belongs to the Messianic Jews. Metzger objected that the case ‘infringed upon the authority of the rabbinate in Ashdod and the country as a whole’ and that the judges acted ‘against the law and against halakhah.’”
In another report (Mishpacha, December 10), the religious paper noted that, “The newspaper Haaretz is calling for Yad L’Achim to be banned, the organization, harassing ‘innocent’ citizens belonging to the ‘Messianic Jews’ in the editor’s opinion,” while in Ashdod, the Supreme Court has ordered Pnina Konforti’s kashrut license restored.
Christian Zionism
Haaretz, December 13 (Hebrew and English editions), 2009

Under the title “Soul hunters,” an article in Haaretz reviewed the “unholy battle” raging “for the hearts of the remaining Falashmura in Ethiopia. At the forefront: a large American Jewish organization and an evangelist [sic] group especially interested in Jews.” According to the report, the Displaced Jewish Development Association in Addas Ababa – which operates a clinic, vocational training center, and farm – is funded by “a messianic evangelical organization, Jewish Voice Ministries International. JVMI casts no doubt on the Judaism of the Falashmura. On the contrary. According to the organization’s Internet site, it is dedicated to ‘proclaiming the Gospel of Yeshua (Jesus) to the Jew first and also to the Nations throughout the world,’ in the best evangelical tradition: via television broadcasts, festivals and humanitarian and medical aid. Shortly after Yom Kippur, JVMI conducted a medical aid campaign on the outskirts of Gondar, a walking distance from the area where the Falashmura live. The delegation took over a hotel at the edge of the city, and long lines stretched outside its entrance. Order was maintained by local ushers alongside smiling Americans equipped with walkie-talkies, identification tags and glittering blue-and-white Star of David symbols. In the operations room, things were run by Cheryl Schang, JVMI’s vice president of global outreach. ‘We came here by chance, after we started working in Addis with Jews whom Israel doesn’t recognize as Jews,’ related Schang with tears in her eyes. ‘There was a big meeting and people stood up and spoke about the despair, hunger and sickness. They begged us to help them and said everyone had forgotten them. We are here to show them this isn’t true, God has not forgotten them. He is here with them.’”
Holy Sites
Ma’ariv, December 10, 2009

According to this report, the Vatican is demanding “exclusive use” of the Cenacle, the Upper Room which, “according to Christianity, is the place where Yeshu celebrated the last Passover before he was crucified, and under which, according to tradition, lies the tomb of King David.” “This is likely to become the beginning of a diplomatic crisis with the smallest but also the holiest State in the world.” The Vatican is making claim to receive the right to sole administration and oversight of the location, a stipulation due to be raised this week to an Israeli delegation visiting the Vatican in order to discuss the status of the holy sites. Although the economic agreement hoped to result is intended to regulate the legal and economic status of the activities and property of the Vatican in Israel, members of the delegation were not optimistic of the outcome, citing public sensitivities regarding David’s tomb as one of the primary causes behind Israeli hesitancy to allow the Vatican more than its current two-day use of the Cenacle. Since the Ottomans deprived the Franciscans of their authority over the site, the British and subsequently the State of Israel has permitted Christians to visit the Upper Room. According to the head of the delegation, Danny Ayalon, “‘Israel attributed great importance to this dialogue. The Vatican represents billions of Catholic believers whom we greatly respect.’”
Haaretz, December 14, 2009

According to this report, while “studies have shown that students in junior and senior high school have negative attitudes toward their Bible studies,” new research “is the first to examine the attitudes of children in grades 4-6. The study covered about 450 children in six public, secular Jewish schools. The data shows that the students have a ‘moderately positive attitude’ toward Bible studies. Most of them said the classes were not boring and that it developed their thinking, contributed to general knowledge and was important at a national level. The study also had the children express their opinion on the subject in an open question, where they had to give a reason for their opinion. Results were mixed. ‘This is a totally stupid subject. We don’t need it. Whoever made a subject out of this is a dummy,’ read one response. The study also shows that only a small number of children believe the language of the Bible is beautiful. ‘Bible stories, and not the rich language, are what attracts the students,’ Ben-Ayun explained. ‘Here is where the breakdown begins that appears in the higher grades, because the language of the Bible is a significant component in the subject, and one cannot deal with the opinions, ideas and stories without being in control of this language … You can’t achieve comprehension without knowing the language and you have to begin with this in the lower grades.’ However, when they were asked whether they liked the subject, almost 40 percent said no. Moreover, almost two-thirds of the children said their classmates did not like their Bible studies … Ben Ayun said … ‘If the subject is important, the children have to be given the tools to deal with it, as early as elementary school, for example by having a teacher designated for Bible only. Without these tools, there is no basis for the Education Ministry’s declaration that Bible is an important subject.’”