Caspari Center Media Review – October 5, 2011
During the week covered by this review, we received 8 articles on the following subjects:
This week’s review revolves around the Bible – the commemoration of the four hundredth anniversary of the King James version, the Christian Zionist biblical worldview, and the history of the Sabbatarian movement.
Ma’ariv, September 28; Jerusalem Post, September 27, October 2, 3, 2011
Under the headline “Christians worldwide to pray for Jerusalem,” the Jerusalem Post (October 2) noted that “Millions of Christians in 175 countries will join together on Sunday to pray for the well-being of Jerusalem, in what organizers say is ‘the largest Israel-focused prayer event in history.’ Known as the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, the annual event is the brainchild of Rev. Robert Stearns of New York, who launched it in 2002. Co-chaired by prominent Christian leader Dr. Jack Hayford of California, it has steadily grown in size and now includes more than 300,000 participating churches on five continents. At its heart is a gathering on Sunday afternoon at the Haas Promenade overlooking the capital’s Old City, where those in attendance will pray for ‘true peace to come to Jerusalem and to all of Israel.’ The event will be broadcast live on G-d TV, an international Christian television station.” It is being held “in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality, the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, and the Foreign and Tourism ministries. Local Christian organizations, such as Bridges for Peace, the International Christian Embassy- Jerusalem and Christian Friends of Israel, are also taking part.” The same paper (October 3) printed a photo of a Christian “gestur[ing] yesterday during the annual mass prayer for Jerusalem at the Haas Promenade in Armon Hanatziv overlooking the Old City. The event was televised to millions of Christians around the world.” Reporting on the same event, Ma’ariv (September 28) indicated that “Against the backdrop of Abu Mazen’s call for the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State, and in the wake of Israel’s shaky status in the international arena, the largest rally in support and prayer for the city since its liberation in 1967 will be held on Sunday. The organizer is the organization ‘Eagles’ Wings,’ established by American evangelical Christian friends of Israel.”
The Jerusalem Post (September 27) also reported that “the head of the most prominent Evangelical Christian organization in Israel has pledged to help cover some of the costs of the immigration” of the more than 7,200 remaining members of an Indian community who claim descent from one of the lost tribes of Israel. “‘We are absolutely dedicated to supporting this initiative and helping the government of Israel in this venture,’ said Juergen Buehler, executive director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. ‘Many people in our constituents around the world will be very excited to help out with this great initiative.’ The Evangelical leader said that their target is to be able to finance one flight of immigrants to Israel at the cost of a couple hundred thousand dollars. ‘We believe we will be able to make a very significant contribution to this endeavor,’ he said. The International Christian Embassy plans to begin soliciting funds for the immigration at its annual Feast of the Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem next month, assuming the final government approval is taken by then. The event, which is expected to attract more than 5,000 Evangelicals from around the world, is the single largest tourism event in Jerusalem each year. The Evangelical organization has a long record of assisting in Jewish immigration to Israel over the years in keeping with their fundamental belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land was foretold in the Scriptures and heralds the return of the Messiah.”
Haaretz, September 28, 2011
This lengthy article, which looks at the Sabbatarian movement in Transylvania – focusing on the village of Bozodujfalu, flooded a week before Ceaucescu was executed in December 1989 – encapsulates the history of Jewish-Christian relations: “It is not only the streets and homes of Bozodujfalu that were covered by the waters of the artificial lake; the heritage and memory of the last Sabbatarian community of Transylvania also drowned here. It was a community with a distinctive centuries-long tradition which survived despite strictures and prohibitions, was rejected and assimilated by religions and branches of religions and was almost decimated in the Second World War, before disappearing into oblivion when the village was flooded … The Sabbatarian movement in Transylvania was founded at the end of the 16th century amid the jolt delivered to Christendom by the Reformation. According to most historians, Transylvania’s location as an independent buffer zone, a no-man’s-land straddling the Ottoman, Polish and Austrian empires, gave rise to religious diversity and tolerance unknown anywhere else in Europe at the time. This was fertile ground for the emergence of a broad variety of ideas, movements and religious sects … This was probably the only environment in which the unique accident of history that engendered the Sabbatarian movement could have occurred. Its founder is generally thought to be Andras Eossy, an educated nobleman and landowner from the Szekely nation, an ancient people whose origins are the subject of dispute … According to Szekely tradition, Andras Eossy lost his wife a few years after adopting Unitarianism and his three sons died of illness. He fell into a deep depression and sought solace in the holy writings of the Jews. The Jewish Scriptures were regularly read at the time by the clergy and the educated class, who also learned Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages in order to be able to interpret the writings with the greatest possible fidelity to their original meaning. Eossy’s research into the early sacred texts, combined with his Unitarian approach, led him into the depths of the Jewish religion. At first he adopted the Ten Commandments, with an emphasis on the fourth commandment: to observe the Sabbath. Afterward, he adopted more of the Old Testament commandments and late in life he rejected the New Testament outright … The movement’s major growth occurred in the period of his successor, Simon Pechi, who was his adopted son and close adviser … As a young man, he was sent by his patron on long journeys to the Middle East and North Africa in search of ancient holy manuscripts. He visited Jerusalem, Constantinople and Cairo and met members of Jewish communities. After returning to Transylvania, he translated the movement’s first prayer books from Hebrew to Hungarian and distributed them via envoys to dozens of congregations and villages … He became a renowned scholar of Jewish holy writings, took up kabbalah and studied the secrets of numerology and was an expert in the writings of Shlomo Ibn Gvirol, the poet and philosopher, and Maimonides’ ‘Guide for the Perplexed.’ In some of his works he maintained that there are common lines of destiny in the history of the Jewish and Hungarian peoples … The Szekely Sabbatarians of the early 17th century can by no means be described as Jews. They did not make use of ritual purification baths and did not practice circumcision. However, they cannot be considered Christians, either. They did not baptize their children and did not believe in the New Testament. They fused the two religions and practiced religious rituals that were unique to them … Immediately after the imposition of the 1639 decrees, most of the Sabbatarians converted back to one of the conventional streams of Christianity, but only outwardly. Secretly, they continued to uphold their faith and use Pechi’s prayer books. To satisfy the authorities, they preferred to be accepted into one of the Protestant churches, if possible one that sanctified Shabbat. They joined Catholic congregations only if there was no other choice, and in church tried to keep their heads bowed and not look at the crucifixes. In general, they avoided taking part in masses and other prayer events, though they always sent one representative from the family so as not to arouse the clerics’ suspicions. In short, they behaved like the Marranos – or ‘secret Jews’ – during the Spanish Inquisition. They buried their dead according to Jewish religious law far from the village and outwardly staged a Christian burial, the coffin filled with stones. They celebrated Jewish holidays in caves or other distant places to avoid provoking the neighbors’ suspicions. They tried to have their children work in Jewish homes, sometimes without a salary, so that they could learn about the Judaic precepts and their observance. They married other Sabbatarians. In a few cases, they agreed to have their daughters marry Jews, but only on condition that the groom’s family observed the Jewish precepts piously. In this way they were sometimes integrated into the greatest rabbinic dynasties of Transylvania. This fact remains a huge secret in some ultra-Orthodox families down to our time, but is open information on birth certificates and marriage licenses that are deposited in various archives in Hungary … The authorities and leaders of the various churches did not relent in their persecution of the Sabbatarians. Not without reason were they known as the ‘Inquisitors of Transylvania.’ Local tradition is replete with stories about tests to which the clergy put those whom they suspected of heresy. They were said to invite them to Christian homes and offer them pork to eat, or they would forcibly remove them from their homes on Shabbat and make them work in the fields. Those who refused sometimes paid with their lives. In other cases, monks were sent to live in suspects’ homes for a few days in order to see whether they were secretly violating the precepts of Christianity. This unforgiving attitude was even more blatant when compared with the tolerant attitude from which the Jews of Transylvania benefited in this period. Although Jews faced discrimination in employment, taxation and places of residence, the practice of Judaism was not considered a crime and its adherents were never forced to convert … The Sabbatarians, in contrast, were perceived as heretics, Christians who had committed the unpardonable sin of taking on themselves the precepts of the Jews. To the local residents, that was far worse than abandoning Christianity … Many Hebrew-language and Hungarian newspapers carried similar descriptions of the revival of the Sabbatarian movement following the emancipation of the Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. All of them were amazed at the sudden appearance of Shabbat-keepers in a number of villages in Transylvania and demanded that their rights be upheld … The Jewish world was mostly embarrassed by the revival of the Sabbatarian movement. The Jewish leadership was loath to identify itself with the Shabbat-keepers. After all, as the talmudic saying goes, ‘Converts are as hard for Israel as a scab.’ Some studies about the Jewish community of Budapest cite a comment that was widespread at the time about the Sabbatarians: ‘They are indefinable. They are neither Christians nor Jews, neither bird nor rat. Maybe they are a type of bat.’ A few rabbis went to Transylvania to acquaint themselves with the movement’s character. They too found it difficult to decide on the proper attitude to be taken toward it and its adherents. Rabbi Samuel Kohn, from Budapest, was a leading advocate of forging closer relations with the movement. His 1889 book, ‘The Shabbat-keepers: History, Belief and Writings,’ is still considered one of the most important and comprehensive works about the Sabbatarians. The movement’s origins, he wrote, lie in ‘the diligent study of the Holy Scriptures. And in the heart of those who dwell on those Books, a feeling of most sublime respect for the Torah of Moses was born and slowly took root’ … Finally, in order to resolve the legal conundrum, the Hungarian minister for religious affairs, Baron Joseph Eotvos, allowed the Sabbatarians of Bozodujfalu to convert to Judaism … The community’s records also note that five families, totaling 17 souls – including a judge and his older brother – refused to convert as they could find no reason to change the name of God and the ancient prayer books … As far as is known, this was the first collective conversion to Judaism conducted since the Second Temple period … The mass conversion had the effect of creating two communities in the village: one Jewish and known thereafter as ‘Community of converts, Yeshurun congregation, Bozodujfalu’; and the other Sabbatarian. The two groups worshipped in the same synagogue, availed themselves of the services of the same ritual slaughterer and celebrated the same sacred festivals, with minor differences. The other Sabbatarians had to wait two more years to be recognized and granted freedom of worship. They persisted in their refusal to convert and established independent houses of prayer in towns and villages across Hungary, continuing to use the prayer books translated by Pechi and meticulously observing the Sabbath and the Jewish religious precepts, in some cases more so than the Jews themselves. An example of this was noted in September 1902, in an article published in the Jerusalem newspaper Havatzelet. According to the article, a soldier from the Sabbatarian sect refused to bear arms on Shabbat, ‘because in the sect’s opinion there is no greater Sabbath desecration than this.’ The article adds that the soldier insisted ‘courageously’ in clinging to his faith, ‘and all the warnings of the army’s officials and all the torments were to no avail.’ In the meantime, the ‘local Jews are waiting eagerly’ to see what happens; they want very much to know ‘whether the army can also force Christians to violate their religion, or only Jews’ … In its first years, the young community of converts in Bozodujfalu also needed economic and spiritual support. Its members were mostly poor and its institutions were not organized. With the aid of donations that were sent from the Reform Judaism community in Budapest in 1874, a mikvah was built, along with a synagogue with 67 seats for men and, in the Orthodox custom, a woman’s section with 40 seats … The Jewish communities in Hungary continued to support the converts of Bozodujfalu until the beginning of the 20th century. They sent them rabbis and ritual slaughterers, helped renovate community buildings and assisted them in the purchase of sacred books in Hebrew. The community flourished from year to year. Its young generation married Jews from villages in the region and, after a visit, one Hungarian writer noted, ‘Bozodujfalu is the Jerusalem of the Szekely Jews, with one difference: it was not destroyed’ … At the end of August 1940, Transylvania was annexed to Hungary from Romania. The annexation gladdened the Szekely people, who were always loyal to their Hungarian homeland, language and culture; but the convert community of Bozodujfalu worried that they would be subjected to the same racial laws as the Jews … ‘Confusion in Hungary,’ the Tel Aviv-based Davar reported in a front-page story in August 1941. ‘The Hungarian government is having difficulty in finding a solution to the legal status of the 1,200 non-Jewish Shabbat-keepers who live in Transylvania,’ the report said. ‘The members of this sect are of Aryan origin but observe Shabbat and the Jewish dietary laws. As a result, the prohibition on kosher slaughter affects them, too. They are neither Jews nor Christians, and not even the Nuremberg Laws contain any measures for solving this problem.’ Finally, on October 3, 1941, the Hungarian justice minister signed an order exempting the descendants of the Sabbatarians in Hungary, including the community of converts in Bozodujfalu, from the anti-Jewish decrees … The order drew a distinction between Jews according to religion and Jews according to birth. The date of the conversion was also of importance in this connection … the Szekely Sabbatarians did more than save themselves: they could not remain indifferent to the persecution of the Jews. Many survivor testimonies from Romania and Hungary mention them as offering food and shelter to Jews on the run. Some testimonies now deposited in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, describe how they sometimes identified themselves to Jews as Shabbat-keepers and tried to strengthen their spirit by declaring that God would not abandon his chosen people … Another example of the Sabbatarians’ sensitivity toward Jews was reported by Davar in December 1942. ‘All the Romanian newspapers that were received here in the past few days relate that in a Romanian village near Timisoara, 120 peasant families converted to Judaism and accepted the Jewish religion as a mark of protest against the oppression of the Jews in Romania. These Romanian peasants previously belonged to the Sabbatarian sect and have now announced that it is better for them to share in the fate of the persecuted Jews than to stand aside as the blood of the Jewish population is shed. The government of Romania immediately took revenge against these peasants by issuing an order to expel them all from the village and confiscate their fields and all their property. The order was instantly executed. The village’s leaders were sent to a concentration camp and the peasants themselves were expelled to Transnistria’ … The archive of the Hungarian army documents dozens of cases in which Sabbatarians refused to serve in the army or take part in anti-Jewish actions. Many of them were sent to labor camps as punishment. As the war drew to a close, the few who survived the brutal conditions there were force-marched to Dachau and Buchenwald. Apparently, only one of them survived, in Mauthausen concentration camp … There is no mention of the Bozodujfalu community in Beit Hatfutsot − the Museum of the Jewish People − in Tel Aviv, or in the Safed-based museum devoted to the heritage of Hungarian-speaking Jewry. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, has no information or testimonies about the community’s fate in the Holocaust, apart from a few lines in its book devoted to the Jewish communities of Romania. It states that some of them did not want to accept the exemption certificates that were obtained for them by the community’s leaders and that they were sent to Auschwitz together with the rest of the Jews. Most of the works of history and research that mention the Sabbatarians maintain that no more than 100 of them perished. However, the historian Yitzhak Peri said that the number was far higher … In the view of Prof. Peri, the disparity between the statistics is due to the fact that ‘Jewish Orthodoxy has a serious problem with this phenomenon. For hundreds of years, the Sabbatarians intermixed with them, and this is not a fact they like to talk about. On the other hand, Reform Judaism in Hungary also has a problem with this community in the context of the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of them survived after declaring that they were Christians. The result is that in the Jewish world, it is convenient to dismiss the phenomenon and treat it as marginal’ … According to estimates, there are a few thousand Israelis who are direct descendants of the Sabbatarians. Most of them are unaware of their roots. Those who know preferred not to be interviewed for this article. Some of them told me that they are Haredi Jews and are fearful that the exposure of their origins might affect their children’s prospects to find a good match in the ultra-Orthodox community.”
Jerusalem Post, October 2, 2011
According to this report, “The controversy surrounding a German Holocaust foundation’s use of public funds to finance anti-Semitic, anti-Israel school literature has prompted the head of the European Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to urge the foundation to return to its core mission of Shoah education. The German Remembrance, Responsibility, Future (EVZ) Foundation is financed by public and private funds and dolled out 21,590 euros in 2010-2011 to support a exchange program between the Gerhart-Hauptmann high school and an exclusive Israeli-Arab high school in Nazareth. Students and educators from the two schools wrote a brochure equating Israel with the defunct East German Stalinist state, and including crude drawings of Orthodox Jewish students. The document depicted Israel as a violent state with an education system that excludes and oppresses Arab pupils. Critics in Israel and Germany say the brochure seeks to delegitimize Israel’s existence and stokes modern anti-Semitism … In a statement to the Post on Monday, Dr. Martin Salm, the head of EVZ, wrote that ‘the foundation EVZ will in no way allow criticism of societal conditions to serve the delegitimization of the State of Israel.’ He said the EVZ will use the ‘misunderstandings’ associated with the school project to examine its ‘subsidy practice.’ Salm has issued contradictory statements since the affair surfaced. He first defended the school exchange program, rejecting allegations of anti-Semitism and blaming media reports for misrepresenting the partnership between the foundation and the schools, as well as with the anti-Israel NGO HEAR, which supported the exchange program. HEAR is an acronym for Humans, Education and Awareness of their Rights. After the Post contacted Salm last week, he withdrew his defense of the anti-Israel school program and said EVZ would sever contact with the Gerhart- Hauptmann school and anti- Semitic educational activities. Asked by the Post repeatedly to explain his conflicting statements, Salm declined to issue a specific comment. It is unclear whether Salm plans to step down … Karin Maag, a Bundestag deputy who is on EVZ’s Board of Trustees, wrote the Post on Tuesday that she ‘regrets that the impression has been formed that an anti-Semitic or anti-Israel attitude’ exists, and intends to take ‘concrete steps’ at the next EVZ board meeting to address the incident … A spokesman for the German government told the Post on Wednesday that representatives from the Finance Ministry who sit on the Board of Trustees ‘do not have the possibility’ to ‘control the implementation of projects from partner organizations’ … According to the EVZ statement on Monday, Constanza Röthing, a teacher at the Gerhart-Hauptmann school, who spoke in the name of the students, expressed ‘outrage’ that such allegations are being lodged against participants. ‘We have had only positive impressions and experiences from the State of Israel and therefore strictly reject any anti-Semitic intention,’ she said.”
Globes, September 27, 2011
In a lengthy article reflecting on the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the KJV, Yoav Karny looked at the origins and influence of the English Bible, noting that “Five billion copies have been sold since 1611, when the English King James laid the foundations of the modern world in which we now live: the translation of the Bible into English. From American independence to the Anglo-Saxon church’s embrace of Israel, [this is] the translation which transformed the face of history.” According to Karny, these feats were made possible because “this translation was much more than a translation. It democratized the Scriptures – and in so doing enabled the democratization of the individual and of the State. It became an invitation to education and self-study. Over the generations, it because the only book the majority of people in England possessed. It also influenced the spoken and written language … We tend sometimes to forget whom we have to thank for the fact that the Bible has become a universal text: it is not because of the spread of the Hebrew language, or Chabad’s mobile tefillin units, or the Foreign Ministry’s polished diplomats. The Hebrew Bible is a Protestant document which missionaries – primarily English speaking – carried to the four corners of the earth. Hebrew names adorn American towns, biblical names are given to children in Zambia and Nigeria, biblical images (sometimes congenial, sometimes not) enrich the vernacular in dozens of countries. To whom belongs the Torah, to whom the blessing? To James – Jacobus rex – who erected the ladder four hundred years ago. Maybe we should name a street after him?” While lauding the KJV for its achievements, however, Karny also cautions against equating the “Bible” with the “Tanakh”: “How do you say ‘Tanakh’ in English or French – or, for that matter, in virtually any other language? We use the local form ‘bible’ [sic] in English … and usually assume that the converse is also true – namely, that ‘Tanakh’ is the proper translation of ‘Bible’ … But this is not accurate – is, in fact, completely inaccurate. The Bible also contains the Christian Scriptures, first and foremost the Gospels – i.e., the four principal books of the New Testament, which describe the life of Yeshu. The Christian translation of the Tanakh was primarily intended to disseminate the gospel of Yeshu. Although the Jewish Tanakh is indeed the Bible, the Christian Bible is not the Tanakh. The use of the term ‘Christian Bible’ is in fact rather silly, unless we remove the apostrophe between the nun and the kaf [in Hebrew, the term is an acronym, literally spelt Tan”akh] and pretend that ‘Tanakh’ is a different word.’”
Yediot Yerushalayim, September 28, 2011
According to this source, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority are collaborating on a project to create an extensive archaeological site ten meters below the current plaza at the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem in order to allow the public access to the recent findings discovered in the location – including a 70-meter aqueduct, a Byzantine bath house, and part of the early wall from the twelfth century C.E. The planned attraction will include a walking trail under the walls, a restored aqueduct, and a commercial area – all accessed by an elevator/stairs.