June 21 – 2011

Caspari Center Media Review – June 21, 2011

During the week covered by this review, we received 7 articles on the following subjects:

Messianic Jews
Attitudes towards Christianity
Anti-missionary activities
Christians in Israel
Book review

This week’s review included a conversation with three festival-evangelists in Haifa.

Messianic Jews

Yediot Haifa, June 17, 2011

Under the title “Missionaries or preachers of love and mercy,” a piece in Yediot Haifa (June 17) printed a conversion with Phil, Jenny, and Ivan: “They wander around during festivals and disseminate the teaching of Yeshu. They give out hard rock CDs with texts about YEshu. They also hand out books which are ostensibly philosophical but contain a Messianic message. Phil, Jenny, and Ivan are missionaries who distribute missionary literature at festivals, football games, parties, and other events. They told ‘Yediot Haifa’: We aren’t missionaries and don’t try to convert people. We simply want to spread a message of love and fellowship.” Phil and Jenny present Jesus as the first “hippie” and themselves as his followers. Their “fascinating story” includes Jesus’ revelation to Phil as he was about to join the statistics of over-dosed heroin addicts and explained to him that he was on the wrong path. “Their only drug today is Yeshu,” and they come to Israel several times a year to distribute literature and music at the various festivals. Ivan married a Jewish wife and made aliyah, remaining in the country after their divorce and becoming part of the Messianic community, “which believes in Yeshu as the Messiah.” “‘We don’t resemble Satan and we don’t convert minors. We just hand out cultural-information material and above all, call on people to love one another, their neighbors, their enemies, and most of all Yeshua.’” The conclusion remains the same, however: “So if at the next nature festival or party you see a couple accompanied by a single guy wandering around, know that that these are missionaries ploughing the festivals in our country.”

Attitudes towards Christianity

Haaretz, June 14 (Hebrew and English editions), June 14, 2011

In an interview with Gideon Sa’ar, the current Education Minister was asked about the teaching of the Tanakh in Israeli schools: “The study of Bible as a school subject has been an abject failure, and you are promoting a new curriculum in Jewish studies. Have you given up on the Bible? … ‘The Bible curriculum indeed puts an exaggerated emphasis on textual analysis and academic research. This is a mistake, and I’m trying to correct it. This year, I introduced a new curriculum that puts the stories at the center, and starts every lesson with reading from the Bible … In recent years, more and more Israelis are seeking to study Jewish culture in all its varieties. The Culture of Israel curriculum tries to meet that need and provide children with the knowledge that was withheld from their parents’ … Do you believe that a school that wants to teach about Christianity in the framework of Jewish studies is deviating from a reasonable framework? ‘Absolutely. It’s a matter of priorities. Let’s teach our children our own works and only afterward let’s think about maybe teaching them Christianity. Judaism has influenced other cultures and religions, but was also influenced by them. You can’t understand many things about Judaism without some knowledge of Christianity … I don’t care if they study Aristotle to understand Maimonides, but not the New Testament.’”

Anti-missionary Activities

HaMevaser, June 17, 2011

According to a report in HaMevaser (June 17), “A prominently placed ad in Haaretz last week, warning that ‘Messianic Jews are Pulling the Wool Over Our Eyes,’ has prompted an outpouring of calls to Yad L’Achim, the ad’s sponsor. The calls, and willingness to enlist in the campaign to toughen legislation against missionary activity, is coming from Haaretz’ largely left-wing, secular readership. The succinctly worded ad features four leading figures who state unequivocally that Messianic ‘Jews’ are not Jews, as they claim. Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who championed democratic values – often at the expense of Jewish ones – is quoted in a ruling as saying, ‘Messianic Jews’ belong to a different religion.

Former Supreme Court Justice Zvi Berenson is quoted as saying that Judaism has repelled ‘Messianic Jews.’ Former Justice Minister Tommy Lapid, who was clearly antagonistic toward the religious community, wrote: ‘I categorically oppose the activities of the missionaries and believe that after they have, over the generations, forced millions of Jews to convert to Christianity, they should leave the Jews alone in their own country.’ Finally, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Eli Wiesel is quoted as saying, ‘Messianic Jews’ are spreading a net of deceit and lies. The ad concludes with a call for action: ‘The time has come to legislate a law that will put the brakes on the missionaries’ destructive activities!’ The response to the ad was electric, as Yad L’Achim’s headquarters was inundated with calls from Haaretz readers, many of whom had been unaware that those calling themselves ‘Messianic Jews’ are frauds. Many of the callers gladly added their names to a petition being circulated by Yad L’Achim calling on the Knesset to amend the anti-missionary law so that it forbids all missionary activity (and not just that among minors or involving financial inducement to convert). The ad also prompted a strong reaction among the missionaries themselves, who, in their internal publications, hysterically proclaimed that ‘Yad L’Achim has stepped up its battle.’ One publication wrote: ‘We will organize a campaign to block the renewed activities to amend the anti-missionary law.’ It lists a series of activities that they plan to undertake in order to block the majority they fear will be enlisted in the Knesset for the amendment. Yad L’Achim chairman Harav Shalom Dov Lifschitz said this week, ‘there is no doubt that this advertisement is succeeding in enlightening the masses as to the dangers, and we plan to place similar ads in places that will reach the wider public. Baruch Hashem they are having an effect.’ Relating to the panicky reaction of the missionaries, Rav Lifschitz said: ‘This just shows us how vital it is to amend the law, and that further delays can have devastating effects.’” [Editor’s note: this translation is taken from the Yad L’Achim website.]

Christians in Israel

Haaretz, June 17, 2011

This week’s “Family Affair” in Haaretz (June 17) featured the Wanis – Adison, Suzi, Thomas, Lavina, and Hillary, refugees from Sudan living in Tel Aviv: “Adison’s bio: He was born in 1976 in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, to a Christian family from the Bari tribe. His father, who was a soldier in the government’s army, died in 2002. He spent his childhood in Khartoum, where he attend primary and high school, did four years of university studies and obtained a teaching certificate … Journey to Israel: They left Sudan in 2004, after Adison was suspected of collaborating with the southern rebels, was jailed in Geneina ‏(in western Sudan‏) and tortured for three months. When he was released he took the family and they traveled by boat on the Nile to Aswan, Egypt … In 2008, when the situation grew worse, he asked Suzi to decide between Sudan and Israel ‏(‘even though I had heard that people were killed on the border there’‏). Suzi said she was not going back to Sudan and the journey to Sinai began … Daily routine: Adison and Suzi get up at 6 A.M. Adison prays and makes tea; Suzi washes and prepares pita sandwiches ‏(with salami or chocolate‏) for the children to eat in school … Bedtime is 11, after they speak a little on Skype, but only with friends in Israel; they don’t dare contact friends in Sudan ‏(‘It is dangerous’) … Adison: ‘The Israelis are good people. If I compare it to Egypt, it is altogether different here.’ What drives him crazy is the uncertainty, he adds: ‘If I get Israeli citizenship I will send the children to the army, like all the Israelis’ … Dreams: ‘One day, when our country will be good, we will return to it,’Adison says, ‘and if not, I want to get a permit and stay here.’ Suzi: ‘All I want is for the government to let us stay. We do not know what will happen tomorrow’ … Happiness quotient ‏(scale of 1-10‏): Adison − 5; Suzi − 3.”


Jerusalem Post, June 14, 2011

This piece carried last week’s story of the discovery of a Byzantine church in Acre.

Book Review

Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2011

Eve Levavi Feinstein, a College Fellow in Harvard’s department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, contributed a piece to the Jewish Ideas Daily which was reprinted in the Jerusalem Post (June 20): “That Jesus lived and died as a Jew would hardly be regarded as news by most educated Jews and educated Christians today. Still, while the historical Jesus is ever-elusive, the figure of Jesus has become more accessible for Jews. The pronounced decline of Christian anti-Semitism in our day has allowed for more freedom to discuss not only the tortuous and changing relationship of Jews to the Church, but also to its founder and the central figure of its concern: Jesus. The newest entry in the field is a collection of essays edited by Zev Garber: The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation.While the collection is composed in part of papers presented at a 2009 symposium, the word ‘reclamation’ is a tip-off that the editor’s interest in the subject is not merely academic. The Church’s task, according to this volume, is to foster a more positive and respectful relationship with those who, as stated in the book’s dedication: ‘practice the faith of Jesus.’ For Jews, acknowledgment of Jesus’ Jewishness opens the door to a deeper and more constructive relationship with those who ‘believe by faith in Jesus.’ In short, reflection on the Jewishness of Jesus promises to serve as the basis for enhanced Jewish-Christian dialogue … The second section of the book, ‘Responding to the Jewish Jesus,’ provides a glimpse into the long history of Jewish attitudes toward Jesus and Christianity, and Christian attitudes toward Judaism. These attitudes are, needless to say, quite at odds with those Garber seeks to promote … Most directly pertinent to Garber’s program is the third section of the book, ‘Teaching, Dialogue, Reclamation: Contemporary Views on the Jewish Jesus.’ Most interesting, from a Jewish point of view, are the essays of Steven Leonard Jacobs and Shaul Magid on recent Jewish efforts to bridge the gap with Christianity by recognizing Jesus as a legitimate and important Jewish figure. As Magid points out, such efforts began in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when liberal Jews sought common ground with liberal Protestants by holding up Jesus as a paradigm of Judaism’s ethical tradition. Such an understanding made sense for Jewish reformers who identified with Jesus’ critique of the orthodoxy of his time, and it was well suited to an American landscape dominated by liberal Protestants – particularly Unitarians – who viewed Jesus above all as a teacher of ethics … Yitz Greenberg, for example, has proposed viewing Jesus as a ‘failed messiah’ – the term ‘failed’ being used here not in a pejorative sense, but as an indication that Jesus’ redemptive work remains incomplete … A similar perspective is offered by Byron Sherman, who identifies Jesus with messiah ben-Yoseph – ‘Joseph messiah,’ a leader who, according to one Jewish tradition, is to arrive before the final Redemption by a Messiah descended from King David. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Daniel Matt, taking a different approach, suggest that Jesus be viewed as a tzaddik (a righteous individual who, according to hasidic tradition, embodies the divine). Much as Greenberg and Sherman accept Jesus as a messiah but not The Messiah, Schachter-Shalomi and Matt accept the possibility that Jesus represented a type of divine incarnation without viewing his birth as the unique event of Christian doctrine. It might be argued that beliefs such as these are not beyond the pale of traditional rabbinic Judaism, yet it is difficult to imagine that they will be widely accepted within the Jewish community any time soon, making them a questionable basis for genuine inter-communal dialogue. Moreover, as none of the Jewish thinkers cited in these essays accepts the core Christian doctrines of the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, the gulf between mainstream Jewish and Christian views of Jesus remains quite wide.” Zev Garber is Professor Emeritus and Chair of Jewish Studies at Los Angeles Valley College and has published numerous books on teaching Jewish Studies.