March 17 – 2011

Caspari Center Media Review – March 17, 2011

During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Jesus, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Jewish-Christian relations. Of these:

2 dealt with Messianic Jews

1 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity

1 dealt with Christian Zionism

4 dealt with Christians in Israel

8 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations

1 dealt with interfaith activity


This week’s Review continued to focus on responses to the Pope’s latest book, as well as the status of Christians in Israel.

Messianic Jews

HaShavua BeAshdod, March 11; Yediot Ashdod, March 11, 2011

These two papers printed a letter from Shmuel Dueck concerning the Ultra-Orthodox demonstration against the Messianic congregation in Ashdod held last week whose contents were included in an article in the previous Review: “They call the activity of the Messianics ‘soul hunting’ – but what is it that they themselves do? I want to note that I am a Jew who is proud of his Judaism and belonging to the Jewish people, and if someone were to knock on my door seeking to tell me about his faith, I would turn him away regardless of whether he was a Messianic or an Ultra-Orthodox Jew. I expect these Jews to give some credit to people and remember that we are all born in God’s image and that everyone has a right to his own beliefs, which are no one else’s business.”

Attitudes towards Jesus

Yediot Ayalon, March 11, 2011

Apparently in response to a previous article regarding a mural of Jesus in Ramallah which aroused “hysteria,” Yediot Ayalon printed a number of letters from readers: “‘Yeshu is an agent and not God Himself. His message is that anyone can be like him if they agree to see all men as equal and without difference in status. It appeals to all religious people who feel that they are above the people and everyone in high positions [Yonah Hashalom] … Why should God, His Son, any other agent on His behalf (everyone according to his belief) choose to reveal Himself on a wall mural? Or in any other blob of paint? As God, He can be revealed in much more impressive forms, no? [Ayal, Haifa] … Where on earth do you even know what Yeshu looked like? [a resident].’”

Christian Zionism

Israel HaYom, March 11, 2011

Mike Huckabee, a past – and likely future – US presidential candidate, was in Israel recently to attend the ground-breaking ceremony of a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem. While here, he was asked how, as a Christian visiting Jerusalem, he appeared quite moved but at the same time participated in ceremonies conducted by Jews: “‘Do you feel on this visit that Jews and Christians share common values?’ ‘As a Christian, I think that it’s very important that people understand that while Judaism can exist without Christianity, Christianity cannot exist without Judaism. There’s a natural link between Christianity and Judaism, one that’s even stronger than amongst Jews. Sometimes, I reprimand my Jewish friends, telling them that they should love Israel as I do. I frequently tell them that I don’t understand them. Sometimes it’s very embarrassing.’”

Christians in Israel

Jerusalem Post, March 4, 11; Haaretz, March 9; Kol Zichron, March 11, 2011

An article in the Jerusalem Post (March 11) looked at “Water conservation in an early monastic settlement” – namely, St. Euthymius, close to Jerusalem: “Western civilization enjoys patting itself on the back for its problem-solving abilities. So it is with no small amount of astonishment that we discover that early desert monasteries prevailed over some of the key environmental obstacles that challenge modernity … with extreme resourcefulness and a combined sense of purpose and faith, the holy men of this Byzantine monastery setting sustained themselves … with a bakery, a water cistern with a double opening and a garden located beside its church … It was first established with the purpose of remaining a small, secluded community. Euthymius’s biographer Cyril recorded that while it originally housed only 12 monks, the number eventually climbed to 50. These men lived in small cells. They lived isolated lives, coming together only on the weekend for common prayer … When Euthymius died, the monastery changed its format. It is unclear who actually initiated this philosophical and physical change, but the fact remains that in 482 (nine years after Euthymius died at 94), it was converted into a communal monastery and remained so until it was abandoned in 1250 … [It] apparently underwent two further periods of construction: in 659, as the result of heavy earthquake damage, extensive rebuilding occurred, and in 1150, the central church gained an overhead chapel and the complex as a whole garnered more rooms, a new refectory and a restored wall. Records of the monastery cease in 1185 with the account of the priest Neophytus. From then on the site’s history becomes speculative.”

A second feature (March 4) focused on the Christian presence in Jerusalem’s Old City, inviting its readers on a tour: “Now cross the street to Christ Church, the first Protestant sanctuary in the Middle East. The church was built from 1842–1849 by the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity amongst the Jews, to draw Jews into the Christian fold; therefore it doesn’t have a single cross … Despite a typically Protestant lack of embellishment, Christ Church is a magnificent sanctuary and well worth a visit. The design combines a touch of English beauty (rich, dark, wooden ceilings and tables) with Middle Eastern stone walls and medieval vaulted arches. An unusual wooden screen covers most of the wall behind the communion table. Designed to remind onlookers of the Holy Ark, which in synagogues contains the Five Books of Moses, it is divided into four panels. The Ten Commandments (in Hebrew) are written in the two middle panels; on either side in Hebrew script are the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed. Other decorations include a stunning trio of stained-glass windows that face the entrance. Installed when the church was expanded in 1913, the middle window represents the Christian Trinity. The words are in Hebrew, and the dominant figure is a tree or vine that vaguely looks like a cross. Each side window includes a play of branches. Interestingly, on the other is a cross. A stunning olive wood communion table, decorated with a Star of David and the Christian Alpha and Omega, was designed by architect Conrad Schick.”

The same paper (Jerusalem Post, March 9) reported that “In December, the Tel Aviv-based Gisha [Legal Center for Freedom of Movement NGO] filed a petition to the Beersheba District Court, following the Defense Ministry’s refusal to allow seven Muslim women from the Gaza Strip to pray at the Aksa Mosque in honor of the prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The petition said that the Defense Ministry refuses to allow Muslim women from Gaza to enter east Jerusalem, but allows Christian residents of Gaza to pray at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, thus violating the Muslims’ right to freedom of worship. It noted that no security claims were made against the women … ‘Israel’s refusal to allow these women out of Gaza to pray at their holy sites, while allowing Christians to do so, raises the specter of discrimination based on religious belief. Israel’s control of sites holy to multiple religions imposes an obligation to allow worshipers to access them on an egalitarian basis, subject only to individual security checks,’ Gisha’s lawyer Nomi Heger said. The state wrote to the court that the petition should be dismissed out of hand, because it referred to a date that has already passed and therefore was no longer relevant. The response did, however, outline the reasons for allowing the Christian devout to cross over to Bethlehem, describing it as an ‘ad hoc’ approval and an exception to the general no-crossing policy. ‘Indeed, in the past three years the entrance of Christian residents of Gaza to Nazareth and Bethlehem was approved for the purpose of prayer in the holy sites during the major holidays, subject to specified quotas. This entrance was enabled in light of the defense minister’s decision to ease restrictions on this population,’ the state’s response. ‘The main grounds for this decision were for the most part diplomatic, touching on Israel’s foreign policy, strategic and humanitarian, in light of this population [Christians] being a persecuted group with little possibility of holding religious ceremonies in the Strip, as opposed to the Muslim population, who aside from the available options within the Strip, can exit the Strip for the purpose of prayer in Mecca, through Egypt.’ The state rejected the claim that the decision infringed on the women’s right to freedom of worship, arguing that the freedom was not guaranteed to citizens of enemy entities and that allowing some people to enter did not obligate Israel to allow all to enter. The first hearing on the petition will be held in Beersheba on Thursday.”

In a similar story, Haaretz (March 9) noted that: “The government-owned Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem is trying to evict a resident because he isn’t Jewish. The resident, an evangelical Christian, works with former minister Benny Elon on forging closer ties between Evangelical Christians and right-wing organizations in Israel … In September, Sokolovsky [the landlady] received a letter from Silvy Nizri, the company’s assets director, which stated: ‘The company has been informed that you are renting a property on 4 Gilad Street to a person who does not match the company’s population criteria and in complete contradiction to the character of the Jewish Quarter. It is well-known that the Jewish Quarter is a quiet neighborhood with a unique character, and needs to be kept this way by the residents, in accordance with the lease agreement between the company and yourself. You are requested to evacuate the property and ensure it is only populated by persons matching the company’s population criteria’ … Attorneys Shalhevet Rubin and Gabi Ganon wrote back on Sokolovsky’s behalf … They said their client’s tenant ‘is a fine person in many respects, a quiet and peaceful man, well-integrated into his environment and contributing considerably to the nation, society and the country.’ The director of the government company, Shlomo Atias, confirmed to Haaretz yesterday that the reason for the eviction request is that the tenant is not Jewish. ‘A Christian can live in the Christian Quarter,’ Atias said. He also said the move was prompted by neighbors’ complaints about the man’s religion, but another resident of the quarter told Haaretz neighbors had no issue with noise or unusual behavior on the part of the tenant. ‘This isn’t racism,’ Atias said. ‘I have no legal findings and we won’t take any legal steps, but the neighbors can go to court if they want to. We approached the landlady following complaints from neighbors that he does not match criteria for living in the quarter, which are having an Israeli ID and being Jewish, not a gentile.”
Yaron Savorai (Kol Zichron, March 11) travelled the trains in Israel to discover this “subculture” – and discovered, among other things, that “In contrast to the Scouts, this carriage is as quiet as a Roman catacomb. The men are serious, mostly wearing Birkenstock sandals, while the women are blond and wear a large wooden cross around their necks. They read the New Testament and glance out at the countryside passing by.”

Jewish-Christian Relations 

HaModia, March 11; Jerusalem Post, March 8, 10, 14; Israel HaYom, March 11; Yediot Ahronot, March 10; Haaretz, March 11, 13, 2011

Responses to Benedict XVI’s latest book continue to pour forth, many of them drawing comparisons with Nostre Aetate and Vatican II. On the positive side, Rabbi Eugene Korn, American Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat, wrote in Haaretz (March 13): “Not only is the reach [in Benedict’s book] greater [than in Nostre Aetate], but Benedict provides an extensive rationale and close biblical analysis of why Jews bear no blame for Jesus’ death. In his reading of the Gospels and Catholic theology, it is clear that no one should be blamed for Jesus’ death, since, as he argues, the crucifixion was necessary for God’s plan of universal redemption. In Benedict’s keen hermeneutic, even the hitherto toxic cry of the Jewish mob, ‘His blood be upon us and our children’ (Matthew 27:25), is a plea for purification and salvation because this is what Jesus’ blood signifies in Christian teachings. It is a cry for reconciliation, not of vengeance or admission of guilt … As a theological conservative, Benedict has written previously that the Jewish covenant at Sinai has been superseded. But his supersessionism has always been focused on the end of time, and he has maintained that Jewish unification with the church is ‘hardly possible, and perhaps not even desirable before the eschaton’ … Benedict’s expectation of the future acceptance of Christian faith by everyone takes the practical threat out of Christian supersessionism for Jews today … Benedict has chosen to stress these teachings not because of Jewish pressure nor to be politically correct. He wrote the book for Catholics around the world, not to win Jewish minds and hearts. Evidently Benedict understands that purging the New Testament and Catholic thinking of all traces of the Adversus Judaeos motifs so prevalent in early and medieval Christian theology is essential if he is to purify the faith of Christian believers. This makes the most recent installment of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ an all the more important and impressive work.”

Dina Porat, head of the Chaim Rosenberg School for Jewish Studies and the Stephen Roth Institute at Tel Aviv University, contributed a piece to Haaretz (March 11) in which she suggested that: “[Benedict’s] ruling that the Jews are not to be blamed for the crucifixion is bold and possessed of far-reaching implications … Even if it is clear that the Gospels were written several decades after Yeshu’s death and do not constitute historical sources but formulations produced as part of early Christianity’s struggle against the Judaism from which it emerged, it calls for courage to retract and come out against a deep-rooted belief … The decisive question at present is whether the biography the pope has written on the basis of erudite research into the life and death of Yeshu will become the foundation of the Vatican’s practical policy in the future in acting against anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, denial of the Holocaust, and annulling biases, prejudices, and accusations which should have been put to rest a long time ago.”

On a more negative note, Noach Klieger in Yediot Ahronot (March 10) suggested that, in light of Benedict’s prior history with regard to Jewish-Christian relations (Pius XII, Richard Williams, et al.), no reason exists to trust his judgment or words with respect to Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ death: “If this is the case, why is there so much rejoicing over the statements of the pope, who has not revealed himself as a bold fighter against the many occurrences of anti-Semitism, including from within the ranks of the Catholic officials at whose head he stands? … None of the claims against Pius XII, which are well based, have influenced the ‘one blessed from Rome’ and the then pope will be declared a ‘saint.’ If so, how can we believe the words of Benedict XVI regarding the responsibility or non-responsibility of the Jewish people for the crucifixion of Yeshu, which appear to have been written according as a form of ‘lip-service.’ And what are all these verbal gymnastics – the people as a whole are not guilty, just their leaders? As though a referendum was held then about whether to execute him on Golgotha in Jerusalem – if such a place even existed. If Benedict’s intentions are truly genuine, why did he not write simply, in a single sentence, without interpretations or analyses of this kind or another, that the Jews are not guilty and are not responsible for Yeshu’s death?”

Noting the long history of Christian anti-Judaism – which even prevented its very chronicling – K. Binyamin in the religious HaModia (March 11) commented that “Only now is the present pope getting around in a new book to ‘acquitting’ the Jewish people of responsibility for the death of ‘that man’ via quotes from theological and other sources in order to explain why the claim that the Jewish people, as a collective, were to blame for his death … By the way, the Israeli Consulate in New York published a booklet to which are attached historical proofs to the effect that the Jews – or at least those alive today – are not guilty of the death of ‘that man.’ This booklet was published in 2006 and attached to it is a copy of Nostre Aetate, issued by the Vatican in 1965. This document symbolizes the turning point in the Catholic Church’s relations with the Jews, and in effect clears the Jewish collective of the guilt of killing ‘that man’ … In the preface to the booklet it is stated that ‘Over the course of the past forty years, no significant elucidation of this document has been made, and it is our purpose to bring its very existence to the attention of as many Christians as possible, and Catholics in particular.’ When it was published, the Israeli Consulate in New York adopted the document and conducted on its basis dozens of study days in cooperation with the heads of the Catholic communities in the region of New York.”

Lisa Palmieri-Billig, in the Jerusalem Post (March 10), noted several errors in Giulio Meotti’s attack on the Vatican’s “Zionist tsunami” (see last week’s Review), concluding with the opinion that: “Contemporary Vatican-Israel and Catholic-Jewish relations are complex but mainly positive. The past half century’s enormous advances were celebrated last week in Paris on the 40th anniversary of the ‘International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee.’ Leading Vatican officials, Jewish leaders and Israeli Foreign Ministry representatives participated in discussions, including intensely frank exchanges on Middle East issues without ever crossing lines of mutually respectful dialogue.”

In Italy for a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman “also met Monday in the Vatican with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state of the Holy See, and Archbishop Dominique Mambarti, secretary for relations with states, and asked them to thank Pope Benedict XVI for writing in a new book on Jesus that there was no basis to the claim that the Jewish people are responsible for Jesus’s death. Lieberman termed this a ‘statement of historical significance,’ and one that bears upon the relationship between Jews and Christians as well as on the ‘processes of reconciliation and peace throughout the world.’ A statement put out by the Foreign Ministry said Lieberman asked his interlocutors to transmit the thanks of ‘all Israelis and the entire Jewish people to the Pope for his rectification of the historical error for which the Jewish people have suffered for centuries’” (Jerusalem Post, March 8).

According to the Jerusalem Post (March 14), “A senior Roman Catholic Church delegation will be conducting a prayer ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday morning, marking the arrival of the remains of a saint whose brief presence in Israel and the Palestinian areas is hoped to inspire faith and goodwill, and ‘become a bridge to peace.’ Thérèse of Lisieux (1873 – 1897) was a French Carmelite nun who was canonized in 1925. In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, a honorary title bestowed upon those whose writings greatly contributed to Christianity … A Roman Catholic delegation from Brussels bearing her remains will be met by Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Franco, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal and approximately 25 other senior representatives of the local Roman Catholic community, who will then transport the remains to Apostolic Franco’s residence in Jerusalem. On Wednesday, a delegation will leave the residence and bring the remains to the Latin Patriarchate offices at Jaffa Gate. The relics will then circulate for nearly two months between various Christian communities in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip, becoming in effect ‘a bridge of peace,’ Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem William Shomali told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday … ‘Part of our faith is that saints have intercession – mediation between us and God,’ he explained … ‘Her intercession is very strong, and will help us in praying for peace’ … Director of the Christian Department at the Interior Ministry Cesare Marjieh called the event ‘nearly unprecedented,’ and compared its importance to that of a pontifical visit. ‘This is very important to the Vatican, and the relics will be in all the major Christian communities here,’ he told the Post. ‘We are happy to be able to support them and let them respect the relics.’”

Interfaith activities

Jerusalem Post, March 11, 2011

The Shalom Hartman Institute’s 24th annual International Theology Conference took place a few weeks ago in Jerusalem, “bringing some 50 scholars from 15 countries for four days of study, this year’s theme being ‘a good man.’ ‘This conference is about going to the next stage in interreligious relationships,’ said Rabbi Donniel Hartman, Shalom Hartman Institute president. ‘For many years, interreligious conferences were about how we relate to each other. What we do at this conference is interreligious studies. We know for sure that we have to live with each other, we take that for granted. We know for sure that we have to respect each other. What we want to do is to take that respect as a vehicle for asking how we can ask big, important questions of our religious traditions, and learn with each other and from each other what it means. And by that to have our religious lives as individuals enriched by hearing the testimony of someone who comes from another religious tradition. That’s why two-thirds of the conference is composed of hevruta [joint learning] sessions of Jews, Christians and Muslims learning together.’”