January 20 – 2010

Caspari Center Media Review – January 20, 2010

During the week covered by this review, we received 6 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, Christians in Israel, and Christian sites. Of these:
1 dealt with Messianic Jews
1 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian sites
2 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
This week’s Review includes an article about Yuval Shlomovitz, the son of a Messianic family.

Messianic Jews
Yediot Ahronot, January 15, 2010

In an article looking at four youngsters involved in Israeli theater, one of them was identified as belonging to a Messianic family: “The life of Yuval Shlomovitz, 29, could be the launcher for a series or plot-twisting musical. His parents and sister belong to the Messianic Jewish group, after seven years of belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘My parents and sisters were baptized. I haven’t been. I was at the ceremony, and saw how good it was for them. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had,’ he said, visibly moved right then. ‘They have a congregation, places where they meet once or twice a week, pray, study a chapter from the Torah or New Testament together, and praise God’s name. Messianic Jews believe that Yeshua is actually the Messiah and the Son of God, and that the New Testament is a continuation of Moses’ Torah. With my parents it all started eight years ago, when two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the door and asked my mother if she believed in God. She was a traditionally-religious woman and was curious. Seven years in the sect was enough for them to understand that the Jehovah’s Witnesses isn’t the right way.’ ‘Are you intending to follow in their footsteps?’ ‘Not yet. I’m still checking it out. It’s making me come closer to God and religion, but I want to investigate it before I take this step. At this point, I’m just looking for the truth. I know that life is more than simply getting up in the morning, satisfying your lusts and desires, and going back to sleep. I’m sure it has long-term implications on the level of eternity – maybe not everlasting life on earth, but I don’t believe that we shut our eyes and just see black. In my opinion, death is just another screen.’”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Yediot Ahronot, January 17, 2010

In an article asking “What have you done for the State?,” Eitan Haber looked at the “attackers”: “What do they attack and why? People tell me that there are many soldiers – thousands – serving in the Israel Defense Forces today who have asked to be sworn in on the ‘New Testament,’ which is, how shall I put it, not exactly what the Jewish people and the State of Israel warmly adopt. There will be those who say that it’s completely unimportant and that a minute after they take the oath these soldiers of the ‘New Testament’ will attack the enemy just like the religious Zionist soldiers. There’ll also be those who say that the ‘New Testament’ soldiers are physically stronger, more professional, and that every commander will choose to attack with them. The undersigned does not hold the ‘New Testament’ soldiers in contempt, God forbid. On the contrary, the opposite is true. But he chooses to say, with the appropriate caution, that the other soldiers are more Jewish, more Israeli, and so while they perhaps attack like the others, they do so with more faith in the military task. Such soldiers, it seems to him, are better soldiers. It is important to note, however: both sets are our children, and we have no doubt whatsoever regarding their willingness to fulfill their mission with faith, integrity, and success – despite everything.”
Christians in Israel
Index HaEmek ve-ha-Galil, January 8, 2010

Many of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who come to Israel under the “law of return” are manifestly not Jewish. By the very fact of being recognized under that law, however, they become citizens – and by that token are “due every proper and fitting respect.” Despite the legal aspect, however, practically speaking such Christian citizens frequently find life – and in particular, death – very hard to deal with in Israel. Under the headline “Give them a priest – now,” the (unnamed) author lamented the fact that Christians who “return their souls to the Maker” are not accorded a “proper burial” but are buried in a three-and-a-half minute “Jewish” ceremony – “without a eulogy, without being laid out, like a stray cat.” His demand that Christians be buried in the presence of a priest – apparently a personal campaign – was met with a polite municipal and halakhic refusal alike. The former claimed that while a priest may certainly be invited, the municipality does not feel bound to pay for his services, while the Rabbi consulted responded that he has no objections, but that the Hevrat Kadisha, responsible for all Jewish burials in Israel, would not take any initiative in assuring that one was present for Christian burials.
Christian Sites
Haaretz, January 15, 2010

According to this report, in 2003, “rising waters caused considerable damage to the comprehensive plan for upgrading and expanding the site [of Qasr al-Yahud], located east of the town of Jericho, where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus. The project, which was originally approved in advance of the millennium celebrations – and was delayed because of the intifada and, later, by the 2003 floods – is now in its final phases. When it is completed, hopefully before Passover, it will be possible for pilgrims to visit the third-most-important Christian site in Israel at their convenience: any day of the week, without advance coordination and without a military escort, as were necessary in the past. Qasr al-Yahud, or ‘the Jews’ fortress’ (a corruption of the Arabic meaning, ‘the Jews’ break’), is traditionally the place where the Israelites crossed over (that is, ‘broke’) the Jordan River and where Elijah the Prophet ascended to heaven, as well as where Jesus was baptized … According to the Gospel of Mark (1:10), Jesus rose from the baptismal waters and ‘saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.’ The dove and its relatives are perhaps the only creatures that have been able to enjoy freedom of movement at the site in recent decades. Political justifications for limitation of access came and went, but in their wake land mines, which do not understand politics, were laid in the vicinity and made visits to the place difficult. Adjacent to the baptism site is ‘the land of monasteries,’ an area in which there are scores of abandoned churches and monasteries, whose construction was undertaken in Byzantine times by different Christian sects. Prior to and under Jordanian rule, monks lived there, and thousands of pilgrims from this region and abroad would flock there every year to conduct various religious rites. Israel captured the area during the Six-Day War, and in period that followed, the land of the monasteries served as a passage through which Palestinian refugees infiltrated, and as a hiding place for a number of terrorists on their way to attacks in Israel … After the papal visit, Israel realized the potential inherent in the place and decided to open it, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and the Civil Administration. Among other things, a stone pavilion, stairs down to the river, bleachers for seating, a wooden pier and railings leading into the water were built at the site. In recent months construction work has been under way on a parking lot and changing rooms, where pilgrims will be able to shower after the baptism … Yariv Avraham, director of the Ein Gedi Field School, to the south, says the new setup will make things much easier for group tours in the area, whereas Izak, from the Megillot regional council, is thinking mainly about the pilgrims: ‘Most of them are poor people from Eastern Europe and Africa, and therefore I am full of admiration for the bodies that have fought to rehabilitate the place. It is they who will make it possible tomorrow for the poorer tourist, for whom this is perhaps the first and last time he will leave his own country, to receive baptism at the place where he believes the Savior was baptized, without fear that the gate of the security fence will close.’”

Jewish-Christian Relations
Haaretz, January 17, 18, 2010

In light of the events surrounding Pius XII’s beatitude and Benedict XVI’s visit to the Rome synagogue, Jewish-Christian relations have been in the news. According to a report in Haaretz (January 17) entitled “Rabbi calls Israel’s treatment of Vatican ‘outrageous’,” David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish committee, recently stated that, “Israel’s behavior toward the Vatican over the past 15 years has been ‘outrageous,’ one of the figures behind the 1994 establishment of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Vatican City told Haaretz last week. ‘Any [other] country would have threatened to withdraw its ambassador long ago over Israel’s failure to honor agreements,’ Rabbi David Rosen said … the Vatican agreed to diplomatic relations with Israel after Jerusalem pledged to recognize the legal status of Catholic institutions in Israel and exempt Vatican property in Israel from taxes. The process was to take two years, he said. ‘Fifteen years later, the state has not ratified an agreement recognizing the church’s legal status,’ Rosen said. He said the Vatican wants its internal hierarchy recognized by Israeli law, which at present treats each Catholic church as a separate nonprofit organization. Israeli bureaucrats wore down the Vatican by negotiating every tax clause separately instead of granting a general concession, as expected by the Vatican, Rosen said. He called claims that the Vatican wants Israel to cede territory to it ‘falsehoods’ propagated by ‘xenophobes.’” At the same time, he also noted that, “‘Most people don’t know that almost every current problem in Vatican-Jewish relations began not with Pope Benedict, but with his predecessor Pope John Paul II, who is now seen as a saint by Jews.’”

Under the headline, “Pius casts shadow over pope’s visit to Rome synagogue,” a second report (Haaretz, January 18) noted that, “Italian Jewish leader told Pope Benedict XVI yesterday that his wartime predecessor Pius XII should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust to show solidarity with Jews being led to the ‘ovens of Auschwitz.’ The comments, from the president of Rome’s Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, were made during the pope’s first visit to Rome’s main synagogue and were some of the bluntest ever spoken by a Jewish leader in public to a pope … The visit, Benedict’s third trip to a Jewish synagogue since becoming pope in 2005, has deeply split Italy’s Jewish community following his decision last month to advance Pius XII on the path towards sainthood. Many Jews say Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, did not do enough to help Jews facing persecution by Nazi Germany … The pope, speaking after Pacifici, stuck to this stance [of Pius’ assistance], although he did denounce the Holocaust as ‘the most extreme point on the path of hatred’ and acknowledged that ‘unfortunately, many remained indifferent. The Apostolic See [the Vatican] itself provided assistance, often in a hidden and discreet way,’ Benedict said … Italian Holocaust survivors gave the pope a letter saying ‘the silence of someone who could have done something has marked our lives … We are here, but we have never left Auschwitz.’”