December 22 -2009

Caspari Center Media Review – December 22, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 11 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, and the Pope. Of these:
6 dealt with Messianic Jews
1 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with the Pope
This week’s Review continues to focus on issues related to the restoration of Pnina Konforti’s kashrut license.


Messianic Jews
Makor Rishon, December 21; HaShavua BePetach Tikva, December 11; Yediot Ashdod, December 18; Yediot Ahronot, December 20; HaModia, December 15; Sha’ah Tova beChadashot, December 17, 2009

Although the Supreme Court ruling that the Ashdod rabbinate must restore Pnina Pie’s kashrut license was made almost half a year ago, Pnina Konforti is still lacking the necessary document. Last week, the city’s religious council held a special meeting in order to demonstrate its support for its chief rabbi. Rabbi Ovadia Dahan, its head, stated in his name and that of the whole council, that “‘We support and strengthen the words of the Rabbi, who stood firm on the principle and foundation of the halakhah when he revoked the kashrut license of Pnina Pie bakery which is owned by a missionary in the city.’” The chief rabbi himself noted that the halakhah in such a case demands a “double kashrut” – a “seal within a seal” – because a missionary is considered to be an apostate. Since the latter is suspected of deliberately transgressing the teachings of the halakhah, his or her products must be constantly supervised if they are to be allowed to be sold (Sha’ah Tova BeChadashot, December 17; HaModia, December 15). Yediot Ashdod (December 18) presented the story as practical proof of the Justice Minister’s recent remark that Israel is moving towards a halakhic State: “The city’s religious council is permitting itself to ignore the instructions of the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the laws of the ‘Shulchan Arukh’ are more binding on it than the laws of the State – even though, as is well known, it is the State which grants the religious council its mandate to rule in religious matters in the city.” It also reported that Konforti is refusing to accept this claim and has turned to the Supreme Court yet again, charging that the circumstances represent contempt of the Court. “In June of this year, at the end of a long legal battle which this paper reported at length (including threats and bans from extreme segments of the Orthodox public), the Supreme Court ruled that the religious council must grant Konforti’s bakery a kashrut license … without any special stipulations. Today, half a year following the Court’s decision, Konforti continues her struggle and her case will be discussed next month. ‘The religious council is taking the law into its own hands and doing what it wants,’ Konforti said this week. ‘I’m actually surprised. I thought that the law applies to everyone, Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, but apparently if there’s a law which doesn’t suit the religious then they don’t observe it.’ Konforti claims that she is receiving support from local residents, as well as from traditionalists who do not accept the arbitrary decision: ‘They thinks they’re doing something good when they ban me, but the opposite is true. The increase the gap between the religious and non-religious on the basis of these delusionary rules. If they don’t respect the laws made in Israel and if there isn’t one law which applies to everyone, the day isn’t far off when I’ll be required to wear a patch saying ‘Messianic Jew’ or that my children won’t be allowed to serve in the army – until finally we get the point where we won’t even be able to live in Israel anymore,’” she is quoted as saying.
The controversy has spread beyond the borders of Israel to Europe. According to a report in Makor Rishon (December 21), the Conference of European Rabbis has denounced the Supreme Court’s decision: “‘We are shocked by it; it would not have happened in Europe,’ said the Conference’s executive director, Rabbi Abba Dunner … ‘All the European Rabbis express their fear over the foreign intervention and stand by Ashdod chief rabbi Joseph Sheinin’s side as he represents the halakhic position. We strengthen his hands in keeping and defending the walls of the Jewish religion in Israel and expect the Supreme Court to revoke its ruling immediately and enable freedom of religion in Israel as well.’”
A lengthy article on refugees in the city of Arad also included a reference to Messianic Jews (Yediot Ahronot, December 12): “There are Darfurians under the protection of the UN and Sudanese under the sponsorship of the Petal hotel chain. There are anti-Darfurian groups and Orthodox demonstrations against ‘the mission’ – which is a group of Messianic Jews under the leadership of Rivka [Rebecca], a formerly Orthodox woman. All of them live side by side, but not always in harmony.”
HaShavua BePetach Tikva (December 11) ran last week’s story about the Messianic Jewish community in Israel printed in HaShavua BiYerushalayim.

Attitudes towards Christianity
Calcalist, December 20, 2009

The Calcalist (December 20) reviewed the various ways people can celebrate Christmas in Israel, opening with the statement that, “Christmas … is not merely Christmas trees, presents, and one big birthday party for Yeshu. In recent years, it has become the occasion, also in Israel, for a colorful cultural celebration in which many people wish to participate. According to estimates given by the Tourism Ministry, Israel is expecting around 70,000 pilgrims to visit the country, most of whom will visit Bethlehem, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, and the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. So if you have guests from abroad who want to experience the homely feeling minus the snow, or if you’re sufficiently curious not to be scared of the mass, the Calcalist offers you a guide to finding Santa Claus.”

Christian Zionism
Haaretz, December 20, 2009

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has offered NIS 32.5 million towards the new dental care program for children currently being promoted by the Health Ministry so that money will not have to be taken from the medication basket. “‘Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman’s decision to fund dental treatments for children is a positive one,’ Eckstein [IFCJ president] said. ‘It pained us that this project came at the expense of patients who depend on the medications basket. To prevent harm to them, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews will put up half the amount which was earmarked for subtraction from the medicine basket’ … Sources in the Health Ministry said the group’s offer could not be implemented because the medications basket and the dental care program cannot be replenished by one-time donations.”

Christians in Israel
Haaretz, December 18; Israel HaYom, December 18, 2009

Israel HaYom (December 18) published an article entitled “City of Refuge” which looked at the history of the building currently being used by “Shevet Achim” on Nevi’im St. in Jerusalem. Built by the Syrian Church as one of the earliest houses outside the Old City walls, it subsequently became a children’s hospital, with one of the first children’s operating rooms in the world. Although its present owners are seeking to make it profitable, both medical historians and practitioners and the Shevet staff are hoping to turn it into a living museum to attract visitors to Jerusalem, including medical personnel, where they would be able to see how operations were conducted during the nineteenth century and drink coffee in a “medical café” where lectures would be given on the history of medicine in the Middle East. In the meantime, Shevet Achim – a Christian organization devoted to bringing children to Israel for heart surgery – is continuing the medical tradition, using the building to house Iraqi and other children awaiting surgeries in various Israeli hospitals. Its director, Jonathan Miles, is quoted as stating that, “‘I saw the sign outside saying that this was the first children’s hospital and felt that God was involved here, and that He was showing me: this is the place … I indeed belong to the congregation of the Messiah, and I take these words from the New Testament … I follow the commandments of Jesus, who said, like other rabbis, that the heart of the Torah is based on love of God and love of your neighbor as yourself … Why here? Because our purpose is to give inspiration to the Jewish people to do good deeds that will bring the redemption closer. Moreover, I’ve found good sponsors and a very high quality of treatment.’”
While visitors crowd the upper parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a rather unholy war is being waged over part of its lower regions (Haaretz, December 18). For over thirteen years, the Coptic Church – which feels itself to hold an inferior position in relation to other Christian denominations in the city – has been fighting for the rights to a basement which they say belongs to the church and the owner of a Muslim shop in the Old City asserts belongs to his shop. The episode encapsulates the Israeli experience: following the political intrigue – Arafat is said to have offered the owner a huge sum of money in order to present the basement to the Egyptians – came the turn of legal wrangling, during which documents from the Middle Ages, Sharia law, old maps, and Turkish property records, as well as “scientific articles from 2008 and expert opinions from Israeli archaeologists, theologians, and history” were presented as proof of the parties’ claims. The issue turning on whether the space is “sacred,” it was discovered that according to British mandatory law (still in force), the body responsible for making such a decision was not the court but the religious affairs ministry. Since Netanyahu holds that portfolio, it will be up to him to determine the case. According to research carried out by the lawyer representing the shop owner, the basement itself dates back to the first Temple period, during which it served as a stone quarry. It continued this function into the Second Temple period, when part of it also served as a burial tunnel. During the Middle Ages, the crusaders erected a building in it which functioned as a clinic. Subsequently, a sesame mill erected on top of it unloaded its refuse into the basement. Even the shop owner admits today that its primary purpose is a trash dump. The Copts, for their part, argue that it has always been part of the Church property and thus necessarily constitutes a sacred site.

Haaretz, December 20, 2009

This brief report noted that “Pope Benedict yesterday advanced his wartime predecessor, Pope Pius XII, accused of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, on the road to sainthood. Jewish groups in particular wanted the process frozen until more World War II archives could be studied. A papal decree approved Pius’ ‘heroic virtues,’ giving him the title ‘venerable’ and putting Pius two steps away from sainthood – he must first be beatified and then canonized. Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, called the decision ‘profoundly insensitive and thoughtless.’”