December 3 – 2010

Caspari Center Media Review – December 3, 2010

During the week covered by this review, we received 11 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Christian tourism, interfaith dialogue, and Jewish-Christian relations. Of these:
2 dealt with Christian Zionism
2 dealt with Christian tourism
4 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
1 dealt with interfaith dialogue
2 dealt with the arts
This week’s Review focused on Jewish-Christian relations and the 3-millionth tourist to reach Israel.
Christian Zionism
Makor Rishon, November 26, 2010

Mina Fenton, a long-time former Jerusalem councilwoman, responded to last week’s article about “Biblicists,” claiming that “it did not do justice either to the Israeli readers or the Christian volunteers” because it “did not expose the real essence of their [the volunteers’] religious motives or those of ‘HaYovel.’ Let me clarify in brief. We are not talking here about Biblicists but about Christians who believe that Yeshu is the Messiah and believe in the BIBLE [Hebrew original]. Israelis think that the translation of ‘bible’ is the Tanakh, but this is a mistake. The meaning of the term [Bible] is ‘Holy Scripture’ – the New Testament and the Old Testament, according to their faith, symbolize the Tanakh.” Fenton then proceeded to quote Tommy Waller speaking about “sharing the gospel,” misunderstanding the word “sharing” to mean “bringing Jews into partnership with Jesus.” Her principal point appeared to be the fact that the article failed to mention that, according to her, the Waller family are close friends of David Ortiz family in Ariel, attending the meetings there. In her view, Christian Zionists such as these are therefore tarred with the brush of Messianic Judaism – the latter being “the operative arm [of the mission], engaging in ‘outreach’ and in effect in proselytism.”
In very different mode, Shmuely Boteach came out in support of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in the face of a recent rabbinic campaign in Israel to discredit the organization and forbid Jewish groups from benefiting from its funds (Jerusalem Post, November 23): “In our religion, the worst of all character traits is to be an ingrate. Denying the goodness that others perform on your behalf leads to a closing of the human heart … Over the past two decades, evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most reliable friends. Pastors like John Hagee, my friend Pat Robertson and countless others have galvanized colossal Christian support for Israel. Even in the worst bombings of the second intifada, when tourism to Israel fell off a cliff, Christians still came in their millions. The same is true of stalwart Christian political support … I am well aware of our differences with the Christian evangelical community, and would venture to say that I have conducted more debates with leading Christian scholars and missionaries – like my friend Dr. Michael Brown – on the messiahship of Jesus and the evangelical insistence that only Christians go to heaven than any other American rabbi over the past decade. Jesus was a devout and observant Jew for every day of his life. He ate kosher, honored the Sabbath, donned tefillin and insisted on the indivisible unity of God. It would behoove our Christian brothers and sisters to conclude that they have much to learn about the historical Jesus from Jews … But whatever our theological differences, nothing negates the unparalleled kindness and friendship these Christians show Jews and the Jewish community. To say they do this merely to convert us, or because gathering Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse, is to perpetrate sacrilegious character assassination. I was disheartened, in a recent visit to a mega-church in North Carolina, to hear even a renowned Christian scholar tell me the only reason American evangelicals send money to Israel is because they mistakenly believe that the funds are used to proselytize Jews. Bullocks. I meet these evangelicals all the time. I have travelled with great men like Glen Megill of Rock of Africa on Christian relief missions to Zimbabwe, the poorest country on earth, and have listened as they told me their first commandment as Christians is to love and protect the Jewish people – for no other reason than that God commanded it. Israel is a nation that dwells alone, with few friends and many enemies. Rather than rabbis and lay leaders attacking Christians for having nefarious motives for their charity, we should offer thanks and gratitude to all the hardworking Americans of faith who believe, as the Bible says, that through Israel all the Earth is blessed.”
Christian Tourism
Haaretz, November 23; Yediot Ahronot, November 23, 2010
Perhaps very fittingly, the three-millionth tourist to arrive in Israel – to great feting and festivities – was Jomber Araujo Vladislav, a pastor leading a group of 120 evangelical pilgrims from Brazil. “‘I love Israel. It’s different from anywhere else in the world … This visit fills our hearts and souls. Israel is a blessing to all the nations of the world, and it’s a great honor to be here and to have this experience,’” he said on his arrival in the country.
Jewish-Christian Relations
Jerusalem Post, November 23, 28; Yated Ne’eman, November 23; Haaretz, November 23, 2010
According to the Jerusalem Post (November 28), “Light of the World – the Pope, the Church and Signs of the Times was launched this week in eight languages as ‘the first personal and direct interview’ with a pope ever. In a Platonic format of questions and answers, the conversation, deftly guided by German journalist and author Peter Seewald, was recorded last summer at the pontiff’s summer residence near Rome. It provides a lively guide to Pope Benedict XVI’s thoughts on all the major dilemmas of his papacy and times. Seewald leaves no holes in the story, presenting his illustrious interviewee (and readers) with an accurate portrait of public opinion. Joseph Ratzinger, the man and the Pope, replies without reticence, revealing the reflective and unpretentious traits of his personality and an unusual capacity to listen respectfully … Interspersed throughout the book … Benedict XVI speaks extensively on issues related to Israel and the Jewish world, confirming his unwavering personal commitment to both. He also explains the reasons for his conviction that Pius XII was ‘one of the great righteous men,’ but without advocating further moves toward proclaiming him a saint. Ratzinger holds true to his belief in the ‘intrinsic unity of the Old and the New Covenant, the two parts of the Holy Scripture,’ an awareness he says he acquired ‘since the very first day’ of his early theological studies. He first made his theological views on Judaism public in 1990, when as the cardinal in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was interviewed in ‘Jews and Judaism in the Universal Catechism,’ a piece published simultaneously in Studi Cattolici (in Italian) and Midstream (in English). These affirmations implicitly contradict and override the statements made by individual Middle East Bishops at the recent Vatican Synod regarding Christ’s having ‘annulled’ the Abrahamic covenant. Turning to a personal and historic perspective, he says, ‘As Germans, we were of course shaken by what had happened in the Third Reich, which gave us a special reason to look with humility and shame and with love, upon the People of Israel.’ He explains why he no longer calls Jews ‘our elder brothers’ but rather ‘fathers in the faith,’ stating that ‘the phrase “elder brothers,” which had already been used by John XXIII, is not so welcome to Jews. The reason is that, in the Jewish tradition, the “elder brother” – Esau – is also the brother who gets rejected.’ Regarding the controversy over Benedict XVI’s decision to facilitate diffusion of the pre- Vatican II Latin mass and his rewrite of its prayer for the conversion of the Jews, Ratzinger says the mass represented ‘internal reconciliation with our own past.’ But the original Good Friday prayer, he explains, ‘really was offensive to Jews’ while ‘the new formulation … shifts the focus from a direct petition for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense to a plea that the Lord might bring about the hour of history when we may all be united.’ Regarding the controversy over Benedict XVI’s decision to facilitate diffusion of the pre-Vatican II Latin mass and his rewrite of its prayer for the conversion of the Jews, Ratzinger says the mass represented ‘internal reconciliation with our own past.’ But the original Good Friday prayer, he explains, ‘really was offensive to Jews’ while ‘the new formulation … shifts the focus from a direct petition for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense to a plea that the Lord might bring about the hour of history when we may all be united.’ ‘So the polemical arguments with which a whole series of theologians assailed me,’ he concludes, ‘are ill-considered, they do not accurately reflect the reality of the situation.’ On another issue, asked whether he would have signed the decree lifting the excommunication from the four Lefebvrian Bishops if he had known Bishop Williamson denied the existence of the Nazi gas chambers, Pope Benedict replied, ‘No. If I had known, the first step would have been to separate the Williamson case from the others. Unfortunately, though, none of us went on the Internet to find out what sort of person we were dealing with … On our side, it was a mistake not to have studied and prepared the case more carefully.’ Ratzinger notes, ‘The dialogue can easily be damaged and is fragile. In the worldwide Jewish community … many people … immediately vouched for me … These people know me. In that sense, a breakdown of the dialogue was out of the question. The greatest danger of such a breakdown was in Germany.’ In comparison, he felt much less tension during his trip to Israel, where ‘there was always a certain mutual trust. A knowledge that the Vatican stands by Israel, by the Jewish Community around the world, that we acknowledge the Jews as our fathers and brothers’ … ‘On the whole I was met with great hospitality [in Israel], continues the pope. ‘I would say the security measures to protect me were almost excessive. In any case, the extent of the protection I was afforded was enormous.’ He recalls having done ‘something that had not been possible with John Paul II’ – celebrating two major liturgies – ‘a very beautiful one in Jerusalem’ and a ‘very moving’ one in Nazareth, which was ‘a great, visible manifestation of Christian faith in the State of Israel.’ Further on in the book, Ratzinger strongly defends the image of Pius XII who, he says, ‘saved thousands of Jewish lives … by ordering the convents and cloisters of Rome to open their doors – something only the Pope himself can do – and declaring them extraterritorial.’ Had Pius XII ‘protested publicly, the Germans would have ceased to respect extraterritoriality and the thousands who had found a safe haven in the monasteries of Rome would surely have been deported,’ he says. ‘It just recently came to light,’ Ratzinger adds, ‘that Pacelli, already as Secretary of State, had written to all the bishops of the world in 1938, instructing them to take pains to ensure that visas were generously granted to Jews emigrating from Germany.’ Ratzinger holds that Pius XII did not ‘protest more clearly’ because ‘he saw what consequences would follow from an open protest. We know that personally he suffered greatly because of it. He knew he actually ought to speak out, and yet the situation made that impossible for him.’ Although he never mentions the beatification process, Pope Benedict XVI’s final statement on Pius XII is one of strong personal appreciation. He says, ‘I believe that he was one of the great righteous men and that he saved more Jews than anyone else.’”
The same paper (Jerusalem Post, November 23) also reported that “The Society of St. Pius X said it ordered Bishop Richard Williamson to fire the lawyer, who was to represent him in an appeal next week of a German incitement conviction for saying in a TV interview that he didn’t believe Jews were gassed during World War II. The interview aired the same day Pope Benedict XVI lifted Williamson’s excommunication, unleashing a torrent of criticism and threatening the Vatican’s relations with Jews. The Regensburg, Germany court where Williamson is appealing his conviction told the DAPD news agency that he would be represented by Wolfram Nahrath, who has defended neo-Nazis in the past. The Network Against Nazis group says Nahrath is a former leader of a German neo-Nazi group known as the Wiking-Jugend, or Viking Youth, and says he is currently active in another far-right extremist youth group … Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the ultraconservative Society of St. Pius X, has distanced the order from Williamson and ordered the British bishop to keep quiet. In a statement Monday, Fellay ordered Williamson to fire the lawyer and ‘not allow himself to become an instrument of political theses that are completely foreign to his mission as a Catholic bishop serving in the Society of St. Pius X.’ He warned that Williamson would be expelled from the society if he disobeyed the order. Williamson didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.”
Haaretz (November 23) and Yated Ne’eman (November 23) both reported that the American Jewish Committee and other Jewish organizations have come out in protest against Benedict XVI’s claim that Pius XII “saved more Jews than anyone else” during the Holocaust.
Interfaith Activities
Jerusalem Post, November 25, 2010
“Scholars at the oldest Islamic university in the world issued a proclamation on Tuesday that lifted an ancient ban on dialogue with Jews, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The statement drafted by Sheikh Fawzi al-Zifzaf, chairman of the permanent committee for dialogue at Al- Azhar University in Cairo, was read during a gathering of senior faith and political leaders at Parliament in London. ‘And the point of origin of this invitation is Islam itself [calling for] brotherhood and mutual understanding and the strengthening of bonds between Muslims and followers of the other religions, and the establishment of bridges of dialogue with scholarly institutions in Europe and America,’ Zifzaf wrote. The event was hosted by the Children of Abraham charity and Al-Azhar Institute for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions. The Egyptian Sunni institute, founded in 970 CE, has had open channels of communication with Catholics and Anglicans since the 1990s; however, until now, it has had no direct talks with Jewish scholars. While the proclamation did not mention Judaism by name, a spokesman for the grand mufti of the UK and alumnus of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Prof. Mohamed Elsharkawy, told the Post on Wednesday that its message was aimed at a Jewish audience. ‘You’ve got to understand there are extreme sensitivities,’ the spokesman said. ‘I’m not at liberty to say how hard it was to draft the document. In the process, the people who have taken the document forward have done so at great risk and danger, and so they’ve done that very carefully. There already exists a dialogue with Christians, so anyone with two brain cells can add up to what is being said here’ … ‘This is a landmark decision, and Al-Azhar deserves praise for it,’ Schneier [a vice president of the World Jewish Congress] said. ‘Coming from the leading center of Islamic thinking in the world, it will be enormously helpful for all moderate forces within Islam. This declaration rightly emphasizes the importance of interfaith relations. Leaders from both sides should now seize the opportunity and take Jewish-Muslim relations to the next level. Both communities have a lot more in common, and more to give to the other side, than many people think.’ The event at the House of Lords was held a week after it emerged that 40 Islamic schools in the UK used textbooks printed in Saudi Arabia that had anti-Semitic depictions of Jews. In his speech, Schneier raised the issue and asked Muslim leaders to take action preventing such incidents from occurring again … ‘The way that we’ve framed it, it’s a bit like dating,’ the [Muslim] spokesman said of the declaration. ‘We have texted the Jewish world, and we’re waiting for rabbis in Europe and the US to respond. Out of that response we are hoping that there might emerge regular, stable dialogue on the highest level.’”
Haaretz, November 29; Yediot Tel Aviv, November 26, 2010
These two articles reported on a new exhibition due to open next week at the Jaffa Museum entitled “Vanilla Sex,” which deals with passion and fetish. “The religious communities are protesting against the intention to present an exhibition of nude pictures and works, and particularly against the showing of Eldad Panini’s painting influenced by Leonardo de Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper,’ which shows naked women in sexual positions while above them hands a nude woman on a cross.” The protests have been sufficiently forceful to cause the curator to reassess the holding of the exhibition, or possibly changing its contents. The director of Jaffa’s cultural development association announced that “‘No exhibition impinging on the sensitivities of the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish public will be shown in our city. Old Jaffa is certainly not the place to display such works.’”