January 12 – 2010

Caspari Center Media Review – January 12, 2010

During the week covered by this review, we received 6 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, Christian Zionism, and the Bible. Of these:
1 dealt with Messianic Jews
4 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with the Bible
This week’s Review deals with a variety of themes related to Christian Zionism.

Messianic Jews
Makor Rishon, January 10, 2010

This article interviewed Rabbi Joseph Sheinin, responsible for refusing to restore the original kashrut license given to “Pnina Pie” without a 24-hour overseer (see previous recent Reviews).
Christian Zionism
Jerusalem Post, January 7; Makor Rishon, January 10; Haaretz, January 8; HaModia, January 7, 2010

A lengthy article appeared in Haaretz (January 8) concerning Majed El Shafie, who might well be termed a “Christian Zionist,” although certainly not of the run-of-the-mill kind: “Egyptian-born Rev. Majed El Shafie is only 32 years old but what he has been through is enough for a long lifetime: conversion from Islam to Christianity, torture in a jail in Cairo, an escape from Egypt to Israel, incarceration in an Israeli prison and then life as a Christian rights activist based in Canada. The clergyman who heads One Free World International, a Christian human rights organization, visited Israel with Canadian members of parliament, in order to help increase awareness of the human-rights related difficulties Christians face in this region … El Shafie was raised in a family that belonged to Cairo’s elite. His father, as well as several uncles, were lawyers. While he himself was studying law at Alexandria University, he was introduced to Coptic Christianity by a student friend. He learned about the history of Christianity in Egypt, from its earliest days in the 1st century C.E., according to tradition, through the Muslim conquest in the seventh century, when most of the country’s residents accepted Islam … According to El Shafie, many Christian activists are languishing in Egyptian jails. However, he says, ‘No one around you, whether in the education system or the media, would say there is a problem. When I saw the persecutions, I was shocked. I saw, for example, efforts to force Christian girls to accept Islam. My decision to convert was a natural response to what I had seen.’ But it was also a decision that severed El Shafie’s ties to his family. ‘As far as they are concerned, I am as good as dead,” he says. “As a non-Muslim, I do not exist.’ He converted during the second year of his university studies, in 1998, after which he left school and established an underground group that strove to enhance the rights of Christians in Egypt … El Shafie lived for a year and a half in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev and worked for Christian organizations in East Jerusalem. His status as a refugee helped him obtain Canadian citizenship, and 18 months later he moved to Toronto. For several months he worked as a spokesman for the International Christian Embassy there, and then decided to establish an organization that would devote itself to Christian minorities worldwide. According to him, there are 200-300 million Christians who are being persecuted as a minority worldwide. Eighty percent are in Arab countries, with the remainder in China, North Korea, Cuba and India. A significant part of El Shafie’s activity consists of visits to spots of friction, where there is also an element of religious dispute … El Shafie claims that Christian minorities in the Middle East in general and especially in the West Bank and Gaza are not much better off [than Muslim converts]. Fifty years ago some 15 percent of the population in these areas was Christian, but according to current estimates they now account for only 1.5 percent. Among Gaza’s approximately 1.5 million residents, there are some 3,000 Christians, whose situation has only worsened since Hamas seized power: Indeed, United Nations’ reports note that the harassment of Christian Palestinians in Gaza has worsened during this period. In October 2007, the manager of the only Christian bookstore in the Gaza Strip, Rami Ayyad, was assassinated – apparently by activists of extremist Islamic groups. El Shafie attributes responsibility to Israel, too. ‘Except for a general reference to religious freedom in agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Christian minority was never taken into account,” he notes. “Why didn’t they discuss Bethlehem? It used to be a city with a Christian majority, but today [the Christians] account for less than 30 percent’ … El Shafie does not accept the arguments of Palestinian leaders and human rights organizations that Christians are fleeing the West Bank because of the separation fence or the heavy pressure applied by the Israel Defense Forces’ on Palestinian cities during the second intifada, pressure that to some extent continues to this day. He observes that the pressure of Muslim extremists in the territories has been more instrumental in pushing Christians there to emigrate … El Shafie is close to some of the Evangelical churches that are supportive of Israel’s settlement movement. As such, he is careful not to criticize Israel, and it is difficult to get him to comment on the country’s violations of human rights in the territories. He is critical of just one thing: Israel’s decision to end the controversial alliance that it had with Lebanese Maronite Christians starting in the 1970s, and continuing through the first Lebanon War, until 2000. ‘The nation that suffered during the Holocaust must be the first to support the Christian minority in the Middle East,” El Shafie says. ‘To my regret this does not always happen’” [see also the Review of December 30, 2009].
The Jerusalem Post (January 7) asked whether “good friends” are necessary “true friends” in noting the production of a “new documentary on evangelical Christians and Israel” which was due to hit US theaters this week: “Here’s a line you wouldn’t have heard during many church sermons in the last, say, 2,000 years: ‘Father, we thank you for the Jews.’ Or: ‘We thank you for the fact that they’re the Chosen People throughout history.’ Yet, as surprising as such sentiments would have been to earlier generations, they’ve become commonplace in recent decades among tens of millions of American evangelicals – Christians for whom support of Jews and Israel has become not just a question of politics and morality, but a religious obligation. The lines quoted above, for example, are spoken by the faithful in Waiting for Armageddon, a documentary opening Friday at the Cinema Village in New York’s East Village that follows evangelicals both to churches around the country and on a study tour of Israel. Articulate, informed and above all passionate, the film’s Christian subjects offer insight into their 50-million-member community, ranging from its beliefs about divine prophecy and Jewish history, to the role those views could have on peace efforts in the Middle East … For at least a subset of Israelis, the phenomenon is already familiar: Waiting for Armageddon notes that American evangelicals donate tens of millions of dollars to the country annually, and shows a clip of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert giving thanks via satellite to a large conference of Christians. Evangelicals, the film notes, have for years been among Israel’s most dependable visitors, propping up the country’s tourism industry during the second intifada, as well as in other periods of distress. At the same time, as some of the interviewees make clear, that support comes attached to a very specific set of political ideas – ideas that could limit Israel’s room for maneuver in foreign affairs, for example, and others that might strike many Jews as theologically problematic … many evangelicals believe, Jews will convert to Christianity or die – a development they expect to coincide with the beginning of Armageddon. The need to support Israel, in this view, derives less from a love of Jews on their own terms than from a belief that Jews must control the biblical land of Israel – all of it – for the Second Coming to occur. Perhaps most significantly, several of the influential evangelicals shown in the documentary – allies of figures like John McCain – would seek to constrain Israel’s autonomy in peace talks, believing that a final and cataclysmic war must break out for New Testament prophecies to be fulfilled. Rather than something to be prayed for, peace, in their view, represents a barrier to God’s will … Ultimately, [Franco] Sacchi [one of the movie’s directors and producers] concedes, moviegoers’ conclusions may be less important than those of Israelis, who must weigh the benefits of evangelical support against the various agendas that underlie it. ‘That’s a very difficult question,’ he says. ‘I don’t have an answer. One thing that I learned from my time in Israel is that it is an incredibly lively society, where you will find all kinds of positions … Certainly, we found Israelis who said that they are extremely grateful for this support. Others look at it in a very practical way, and others are much more cautious, [seeing it as] a recipe for disaster.’ Not faced with an abundance of outside assistance, Israelis, he acknowledges, are faced with a complicated decision. Nevertheless, he says, ‘it would be crazy to accept all kinds of help without looking at the deeper motives. I’m not saying not to accept help, but to pay attention and look at who it is who’s giving it.’”
Responses of the critical kind were expressed in two articles in Makor Rishon (January 10) and HaModia (January 7). The first, entitled “Yad L’Achim warns: ‘Foreign Minister promoting dangerous recognition of Evangelical Church,” related to last week’s story of the Foreign Ministry’s proposal to grant the Evangelical Church (whatever that might be) official status in Israel. The anti-missionary organization’s director, Shalom Dov Lipshitz, cautioned regarding the “supreme purpose which lies at the heart of the evangelical creed, namely that when all the Jews have been gathered together in Israel they will be presented with two choices: to convert collectively to Christianity or be destroyed. To this dark and disturbing end, the evangelicals are engaged in an intensive campaign of sending funds to support aliyah to Israel and for welfare projects in the country. In the past, the great Sages of Israel have ruled that no Jewish groups should accept money from them.” The article further noted that the danger lying in the proposal to bestow authority in the matter of personal status (marriage, divorce, etc.), apparently reflecting an Orthodox feeling that this might infringe on their own powers – together with State funds, which might indeed mean their share might decrease. “Yad L’Achim are convinced that behind the insistent demand of the evangelicals for these regulations stands the missionary desire to gain a significant and institutional foothold in Israel, with all the implications deriving from this, in order to bring about the widespread acceptance of Christianity.”

HaRav Eliakim Levanon, head of the yeshiva and community in Elon Shvut, writing in Makor Rishon, expressed a similar opinion, arguing that “their hidden intention is to create influence and dependence on the Christian establishment and to gain the capacity to dictate policy to the State of Israel.” In asserting that the issue must be approached “from the perspective of the Torah,” he reviewed Maimonides’ codification of the laws regulating Jewish acceptance of charity from Gentiles – forbidden in public but permitted if a Jew cannot find sufficient support from within the Jewish community itself, although charity given “with an agenda” is strongly prohibited. “As we have stated, this ruling is sufficient to conclusively determine that acceptance of monies from Christian supporters of Israel is absolute forbidden.” On the other hand, HaRav Israel Rozen, the head of Tzomet Institute, which seeks to promote a modern religious Jewish lifestyle in Israel, is of the opinion that “not accepting donations from Christian friends of Israel – who are no worse than any other Gentiles – is in fact over-piety and is not absolutely necessary. But there must be one essential condition: not for sacred purposes.” In his view, the detriment lies not in being influenced by the donors’ ideas but in the “halahkhic-educational flaw of recognizing the good or a sense of ‘preciousness and greatness’ in a false religion.” Thus he is perfectly willing to accept contributions for children and ambulances, for example, but not for a religious library in a school “and naturally not for synagogues, yeshivas, or the rebuilding of the Temple” – citing “numerous biblical prooftexts” such as Ezra 4:3: “But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them [the enemies of Judah and Benjamin], ‘You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God.’” As a Jewish State, Israel has no need to be worried about “Christian influence” or conversion, even if financial contributions are given. Likewise, HaRav Eitan Eiseman, head of the educational networks “Tzvia” and “Noam,” gave his opinion as being that “On the assumption that the Gentiles today are not idolaters, we can accept donations from them on the clear condition that no missionary activity is attached to such contributions” – even for religious purposes, given that it may even be possible to “purify” such monies.
Haaretz, January 8, 2010

In an article entitled, “Deciphered etching sheds new light on Bible’s origin,” this note reported: “Did the writing of the Bible begin as far back as the 10th century B.C.E., during the time of King David? That is four centuries earlier than Biblical scholars currently believe – but an inscription recently deciphered by a scholar at Haifa University indicates that for at least some books of the Bible, the answer may be yes. The inscription, written in ink on clay, is the earliest yet found in Hebrew. It was discovered about 18 months ago in a dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, near Emek Ha’ela. While it was quickly dated, its language remained uncertain until Prof. Gershon Galil was able to demonstrate that it was an early form of Hebrew – containing roots commonly found in Hebrew, but which are very rare in other Semitic languages. The content, Galil said, ‘which relates to slaves, widows and orphans,’ is typical of the Biblical text, but reflects ideas virtually unheard of in the surrounding cultures. Galil said this discovery disproves the current theory, which holds that the Bible could not have been written before the 6th century B.C.E., because Hebrew writing did not exist until then. Moreover, he added, the inscription was found in what was then a minor, outlying community – so if scribes existed even there, Hebrew writing was probably sufficiently well developed to handle a complex text like the Bible.”