December 8 – 2011

Caspari Center Media Review – December 8 , 2011

During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the following subjects:

Messianic Jews

Attitudes towards Christianity

Anti-missionary activities

Christian tourism

Jewish-Christian relations

Interfaith activities


This week’s review notes the sentencing of the killer of Kristine Luken to multiple prison sentences.

Messianic Jews

Olam Katan, November 25, 2011

Although not included in the regular clippings we receive from the media press, we include here articles which appeared on-line reporting the conviction of the killer of Kristine Luken: “The Jerusalem District Court sentenced Kifah Ghneimat, one of the convicted murderers of American tourist Kristine Luken, to two life sentences and 60 years behind bars on Thursday. A second defendant, Ibrahim Ghneimat, received a life sentence and 16 additional years in prison for the murder of Neta Blatt-Sorek near Beit Shemesh. While touring mountains outside Jerusalem with her friend last December, Luken was brutally murdered by a Palestinian cell. Luken’s friend and tour guide, Kaye Susan Wilson, who was almost killed herself, applauded the ruling and joined by Luken’s parents shouted: ‘Am yisrael chai!’ In their sentencing the judges wrote of Kifah Ghneimat: ‘These words cannot express the wickedness and cruelty of this defendant, who did not come searching for livelihood and it’s doubtful he was seeking revenge, but was just evil for the sake of being evil, cruel and apathetic to his fellowman, as he stabbed two helpless women to death and slaughtered with a large knife, cutting other people and doing such things for months. The cries of the victims echo not only in our imagination but are also heard in the family members’ immense suffering’ (http:// articles/ 0,7340,L-4152643,00.html).

“The Jerusalem District Court handed down multiple life sentences on Thursday to two Palestinian terrorist cell members convicted of murdering American tourist Kristine Luken and Zichron Ya’acov resident Neta Sorek. Judges Jacob Zaban, Miriam Mizrahi and Raphael Carmel imposed two consecutive life sentences plus an additional 60 years in prison on Kifah Ghanimat, 34, considered the leader of the cell. Kifah was convicted under a plea bargain in which he admitted to murdering Luken in the Mata forest outside Jerusalem in December 2010, and of murdering Sorek near the Beit Jamal monastery near Beit Shemesh in February 2010. He was also convicted of unlawful entry into Israel, stealing weapons, weapons trading and four counts of attempted murder and rape. The court also handed down a life sentence plus an additional 16 years in prison to Ibrahim Ghanimat, 33, another member of the terrorist cell, who was convicted under a plea bargain of murdering Sorek and on other charges including car theft and unlawful entry into Israel. In sentencing Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat, the judges spoke of the ‘harsh and cruel acts’ they had committed … on December 18, 2010, Kifah and another cell member, Aiad Fatfata, decided to enter Israel again specifically to murder Jews, the indictment said. Again, they chose the area around Beit Shemesh, and came across Kristine Luken and Kay Wilson walking in the woods. Luken was stabbed to death, but Wilson managed to escape the same fate by playing dead and later fleeing despite serious stab wounds. Kifah Ghanimat was also convicted of one count of aggravated rape. According to the indictment, the victim, a Beit Shemesh resident, knew Kifah for several years before he attacked her in July 2009 … The plea bargains signed by Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat did not include any deal over punishment, and as is usual in Israeli murder trials, those affected by the crime – including the families of both murder victims – gave impact statements to the court during the sentencing phase. ‘We don’t just hear the cries of the victims in our imaginations, but also in the enormous pain felt by their families,’ said the judges … Luken’s father, Larry, who came to Israel from San Antonio, Texas to give an impact statement to the court, described how he had received his daughter’s shirt with 12 holes from the 12 stab wounds she received, and spoke of the gaping hole Luken’s death left in his family. In moving testimony to the court during the trial, Luken’s friend Wilson described how she survived the terrifying attack by playing dead. She recalled how two men attacked her and Luken, binding their hands behind their backs with shoelaces, gagging them with parts of a fleece jacket and stabbing them multiple times with a 30 cm.-long serrated knife. Wilson was stabbed 12 times and suffered several broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken sternum. Wilson’s testimony to police led to the terrorist cell’s discovery and arrest. ‘If Kay Wilson had not pretended to be dead and had not survived, [Kifah Ghanimat] would have continued to harm innocent victims,” the judges said on Thursday. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post by telephone after the sentencing on Thursday, Wilson said she was ‘relatively pleased’ by the harsh sentences imposed on Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat. ‘But even the death penalty would not be enough for the crimes they committed,’ Wilson added. Wilson praised the Israeli legal system, the police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for doing what she said was an ‘amazing job’ in bringing Kifah and Ibrahim Ghanimat to justice. But looking to the future, Wilson said that she would never get over the attack. ‘It will stay with me for the rest of my life,” she said. ‘It’s not just the loss of a friend. It’s my loss of innocence too.’ Wilson described her life after the attack as ‘every moment is a miracle, every moment is in agony’” (for the Hebrew sites, see:  http:// articles/ 0,7340,L-4152544,00.htmlhttp:// ?w=/ 10/1879721; news-law/legal/Article-5881c42c594d331017.htm).

Under the headline “Mission target: Israeli woman in need,” Neta’el Bendel reported the “sad story” of a woman who “found herself in a Christian refuge house where she was forced to take part in Christian rituals.” A neglected child, “Anat” degenerated into crime, was caught, and sent to jail. Having made friends with an Arab prisoner, she went to live in an Arab village in the territories upon her release. There, she became pregnant and, having decided to keep the child, discovered “Lilach” – and thus a place to live. Although free at the beginning, “over the course of time she was forced to attend prayer in church and to bless Yeshu at grace. Eventually, she was forbidden to leave without permission, “brainwashed to convert,” and told that if she left before she gave birth she would lose all the support that had been promised her. Already suspicious, the Olam Katan staff set out to discover precisely what “Lilach” is. Googling the website revealed no connection with Christianity – but the fact that it is described as a “daughter organization” of Be’ad Chaim raised their hackles, since all the contact details for the two organizations are identical! Likewise, the director’s name – Sandy Shoshani – “relatively quickly produced a connection with the Messianic Jewish movement” as the wife of the pastor of King of Kings, Oded Shoshani. It also maintains, while the site claims that Lilach is a secular organization, Sandy herself raises money for it on specifically Christian grounds. According to the report, Sandy “repeatedly refused to comment.” As the piece was going to press, the paper received a letter from Sandy’s lawyer asking that all future contact be made through him and clarifying that Sandy is not connected in any way with “Lilach,” that her – or anyone else’s association with the Messianic Jewish movement “does not make them missionaries” and that Sandy is not seeking in any way, shape, or form to convert people, and that she would file a law suit if her name was defamed in any way or linked to missionary activity. The article concluded with an interview with “Moshe,” 27-year-old student at Ariel from the States and former Christian missionary, who explained the methods the mission uses.

Attitudes towards Christianity

Haaretz, December 2; Jerusalem Post, November 29, 2011

In light of the upcoming American elections, Shmuley Boteach in the Jerusalem Post (November 29) looked at the question of whether Mormonism should be considered a cult: “Aren’t the Mormons weird fanatics? Should we trust people with such strange beliefs with high office? This is an interesting question coming from my evangelical brothers and sisters whose belief that a man, born of a virgin, was the son of God, only to die on a cross, and then be resurrected. With all due respect, that’s not exactly the most rational belief, either. The criticisms are equally interesting coming from Orthodox Jews, like myself, who believe that the Red Sea split, a donkey talked to Balaam, and the sun stood still for Joshua … Now, do I believe that Joseph Smith found ancient tablets written in reformed Egyptian in upstate New York, that Jesus Christ appeared to the people of South America as recorded in the book of Mormon, or that when a Mormon dies he becomes a god and gets his own planet? No. Respectfully, I do not. Nor should it matter. It is what a person does, rather than what they believe, that counts … Misguided attacks on groups like the Mormons stem from a willful desire on the part of many to fraudulently identify people with a different faith system as fanatics. Therefore, a brief discussion of religious fundamentalism is in order. The most confusing story of the Bible involves God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. What was the God who would later declare that all human, and especially child sacrifice, to be an abomination, thinking? The most insightful commentary I have seen on this story comes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, who said that the key to the story is to see Isaac not as an individual but as a religion. Who was Isaac? He was Judaism. He was the person who would continue Abraham’s belief system. With his death, everything that Abraham had taught in terms of his rejection of paganism and the belief in one God would be lost. The test, therefore, was this: would Abraham follow God’s commandment to kill off his religion or would he put his religion before God’s will? What really mattered to Abraham? God, or Judaism? And if they were to be put in conflict, what would he choose? The religious fanatic is the man or woman who has ceased to serve God and instead worships his or her religion, turning their faith into yet another false idol. Religion is solely the means by which by we come to have a relationship with our Creator. But when it becomes a substitute for God it becomes soulless and fanatical, seeing as there is no loving deity to temper it. In this light we can understand why an Islamic fundamentalist is so deadly, prepared even to go against God’s express commandment not to murder. He is prepared to kill not in order to strike a blow for the glory of God, but of Islam. Hence, our concern need not be with a person’s faith in public office. It does not matter if they are Jewish, evangelical, Mormon, or Muslim. What does matter is whether their faith is focused on relating to God and, by extension, caring for God’s children … Those who worship religion evince the classic characteristic of cult members. Whereas a real faith system is empowering and makes one strong and capable of operating outside their own faith community, cult members can only identify with other members of their group and require the environment of the cult in order to function. They don’t have beliefs. Rather, they take orders.”

Haggai Hitron in Haaretz (December 2) looked at the history of the Abu Ghosh Music Festival, known for its liturgical works performed in a local Catholic church: “The annual vocal musical festival was launched in 1957 – a modest event under [Sigi] Stadermann’s directorship and baton, with the declared purpose of showcasing music not ordinarily heard in public in Israel: namely, works with texts based on the Christian liturgy, and whose titles contained words like ‘Mass’ or ‘Stabat Mater.’ Unlike the situation today, one should remember, a live concert in the monophonic era was far more pleasing to the ear than anything one could hear on a vinyl record. Every May, busloads of enthusiasts would arrive at the bottom of the hill on which the Catholic church stood … At the first concert in Abu Ghosh, Luigi Cherubini’s Requiem was performed before an audience of only a few dozen people. However, within a few short years, the annual festival became an attraction, perhaps because attendance gave people the feeling of belonging to highbrow culture: Indeed, the success in the early years was attributed to the program of ‘forbidden fruit’: the performances of vocal works featuring Christian liturgical texts, including well-known cantatas and the Passions by Johann Sebastian Bach … Up until 1970, festival concerts were held in the church, where the festival had been launched. But when the directorship of the adjoining monastery changed hands, it was not interested in having concerts there. All lobbying efforts aimed at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church were of no avail: The festival was forced to go into exile. Deprived of its traditional venue, it was held for the next two years in concert halls in Tel Aviv and on various kibbutzim. The result was diminished popularity – perhaps because what was now missing was the exotic setting of the church in Abu Ghosh. An additional blow to the festival was the High Court of Justice’s rejection of a petition filed by the festival directors requesting state support in 1971. Justice Yitzhak Kister wrote in his decision: ‘The state should not be expected to use taxpayers’ money to support the activities of a religious sect that are intended to promote its religion and the articles of its faith.’ Today, when Christian works of music are regularly performed around the country, Kister’s position may not seem very convincing. Nonetheless, the festival was forced to shut down … The idea of concerts of Christian liturgical music at the Abu Ghosh festival was not well received by everyone: Some religious Jews were outraged by the idea that the words of the New Testament were being sung before Jewish audiences in the Jewish state. In the recording of a concert at Binyanei Ha’uma in Jerusalem in the late 1960s, one can hear the shouting of people who came to disrupt the performance of Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion.’ At the time, it was reported that they were students at the nearby Merkaz Harav yeshiva … Criticism also came, however, not just from religious Jews. One of their leading spokespersons was Emanuel Amiran, who wrote many popular Israeli songs. In an article in Maariv in May 1966, Amiran, then the first national inspector of music studies in the school system, attacked the idea that one can separate a text from the music which it accompanies. Specifically, he was furious with local Jews who flocked to concerts featuring works with texts from the New Testament, that, in addition to accusing Jews of killing Christ, served what Amiran called the building blocks of anti-Semitism for centuries. ‘Art is a part of life,’ he wrote. ‘Nor can one separate the musical content of a piece from its textual content.’ In Amiran’s view, the success of the Abu Ghosh festival was a ‘disgrace’ that was symptomatic of ‘intellectual masochism,’ which in turn was evidence of a ‘deterioration in our spirit and a loss of our self-respect’ … Amiran added, when describing the ambience at the Abu Ghosh Festival: ‘On every hill and under every fresh tree, the picnickers are drinking in the bright light of the shining figure on the hill (that is, the statue of the Madonna).’ In summary, he declared that no explanation about the beauty of performing lofty music can drown out ‘the call of the people in Jerusalem who are shouting (as per the words of the Passion and those who champion it): “Crucify him”’ … Whenever Stadermann was asked about performances of the Passions, with their controversial texts accusing Jews of deicide, he would invariably speak about the need for religious tolerance. His approach and that of those who followed him was essentially that music and politics are two separate spheres, that art is art, and that prohibiting performances of liturgical works before Jewish audiences would constitute an act of religious coercion … from a historical perspective, Stadermann was the person who exposed thousands of Israelis to the vocal works of Bach, George Frideric Handel, Heinrich Schutz and others. In this context, one must mention that he paved the way for the annual Liturgica festival in Jerusalem that Gary Bertini subsequently founded with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra

Anti-missionary Activities

Zman Tel Aviv, December 2; Merkaz HaInyanim, November 28; HaShavua BePetah Tikva, December 2;  BeSha’a Tova, December 1; Yom L’Yom, December 1, 2011

Merkaz HaInyanim (November 28), BeSha’a Tova (December 1), and Yom L’Yom (December 1) both carried last week’s story of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ baptism across the country, while Zman Tel Aviv (December 2) noted that “A group of Haredim held a protest against a missionary convention of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on Saturday evening,” with HaShavua BePetah Tikva (December 2) noting that Jewish protests had prevented further baptisms scheduled

Christian Tourism 

Jerusalem Post, November 30; Kokhav HaTzafon, November 25; Haaretz, December 4, 5, 2011

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (November 30), “Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov inaugurated on Tuesday the new Gospel Trail pilgrimage route which has been created by the Ministry of Tourism along with the Jewish National Fund. The trail, which cost NIS 3 million to develop over three years, is designed to further increase the already large numbers of Christian tourists and pilgrims who visit Israel each year. The ministry will now embark on a marketing campaign to promote the new pilgrimage route. ‘We are creating a revolution in tourism to Israel,’ Misezhnikov said at the foot of Mount Arbel by the Kinneret. ‘In recent years we looked at which target audience we could work with, and we decided that first and foremost is the Christian world. So it is a real honor to invite the entire Christian world to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to walk in the same places where he walked’ … According to the Ministry of Tourism, 2010 was a record year for tourism, with nearly three-and-a-half million visitors arriving in the country. Of those, approximately 66 percent were Christians, and of the total number of tourists, 30%, or approximately 1 million, came explicitly for the purposes of a pilgrimage or spiritual journey. Misezhnikov said that he expects the Gospel Trail to attract an additional 200,000 tourists every year above the current figures … Those traveling the trail will be able to do so by car, bicycle and, more traditionally, on foot – despite the current lack of amenities and accommodation along the route. The ministry says it is working on a program to encourage entrepreneurs to develop tourist facilities to provide services for those walking the trail … The Tourism Ministry wants to increase the total number of visitors to the country to 5 million people by 2014, therefore the Christian world is, in Misezhnikov’s words, one of the ministry’s ‘main target audiences’ to achieve this goal. Among some of the countries with big potential for increased Christian tourism are Indonesia and India. According to ministry statistics, in 2010 more than 20,000 Christian tourists from Indonesia came to Israel – which has a total Christian population of approximately 23 million – despite the fact that the two countries do not enjoy formal diplomatic relations. There were also 40,000 tourists from India, 75% percent of whom were Christians, and the ministry sees the subcontinent as another potential tourism market, with its community of approximately 24 million Christians” (see also Haaretz, December 4, 5).

On a very different note, in light of the fact that the Israel Police force in the north is running sewage water into the Jordan Kokhav HaTzafon (November 25) lamented that “Yeshu would have been better to lie in peace in his grave than we should cause him to turn over in it. It’s likely to cost us dearly. After all, as a former Jew, he must surely have been familiar with the schemes and the ‘trust me’s’ of the Jewish people – and when he ascended on high it couldn’t have looked – or smelt – good … The Israel Police force needs to check to see whether its installations were built according to standard. Someone took some shortcuts and the poor Christians who come here from all over the world to be baptized in the pure and holy waters of Yeshu end up being baptized in sewage water. Sad, no?”

Jewish-Christian Relations

Makor Rishon, December 2; Haaretz, December 4, 2011

In a “Letter from Warsaw” (Haaretz, December 4), Don Snyder examined Poland’s embrace of a “more permissive culture” – including the fact that, while recent studies “lend support” to the claim that there are a “growing number of people who are willing to challenge anti-Semitism,” there is “this concept quite popular on the right wing, that there has been for ages a Jewish plot against Poland because Poland is the bastion of Catholicism … The Polish Foreign Ministry, which is waging a campaign to promote tolerance and multiculturalism, has been a proactive force on such issues [as hate speech]. To this end, it spearheaded a ‘Poland for All’ day on October 14, encouraging Poles from all segments of society to focus on projects devoted to multiculturalism.”

In another favorable article towards Christians, Makor Rishon (December 2) noted that “A group of Dutch Christians have taken it upon themselves to restore Jewish cemeteries in Europe out of a desire to atone somewhat for the sins of Christians towards Jews. Thoroughly, devotedly, and modestly, they are hoping to become the ‘nailers of the bridge’ which may perhaps bring reconciliation one of these days.”

Interfaith Activities

Jerusalem Post, December 5, 2011

According to this report, “Coexistence organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to educate about the importance of promoting tolerance and understanding among Christians and Jews”: “The speakers at the symposium, held in [Daniel] Rossing’s memory at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) in Rehavia, depicted the difficult situation of the Christian communities represented in the capital … though none of the Christian speakers went so far as to say openly that relations between the sides were worsening, it was clear that things were not simple, especially regarding priests’ encounters with haredi Orthodox individuals in the streets of Jerusalem. A survey conducted in 2008 by the JCJCR and the JIIS revealed that many priests, particularly those living in the Old City, were subject to harassment – such as spitting – and varying levels of suspicion or anger. The main findings of the survey showed that a relative tolerance was to be found primarily among people who described themselves as secular (53 percent) and mostly of Ashkenazi background (28%). Another finding was that 68% of secular respondents felt it was necessary to teach Jewish pupils in local schools about Christianity. However, only 29% of secular people believed Israel should allow bodies to purchase properties in Jerusalem to build new churches.” Of the various religious respondents, “90% maintained that it was not necessary to teach the New Testament in Israeli schools, and 73% felt that it was not necessary to teach students about Christianity at all … Father David Neuhaus of the Latin Patriarchate’s Vicarate for Hebrew-Speaking Catholics – himself  a Jew who converted to Catholicism – reminded the audience of the sufferings of the Palestinian Christian populations, and not only in Jerusalem.” Rossing, the founder and director of the JIIS, died a year ago.


Jerusalem Post, December 5, 2011

According to this report, although the (Jewish) Belgian ambassador to the US “rejected claims that he ‘excused’ certain types of ant-Semitism, arguing during a gathering in Brussels that comments he made were misunderstood,” both Jewish organizations and the White House have protested the distinction they felt he drew between “traditional and new forms of anti-Semitism” – which, they claimed, “accepted bigotry against Jews that stemmed from the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Book Review

Haaretz, December 2, 2011

Shalom Goldman reviewed Aharon Appelfeld’s Until the Dawn’s Light (translated into English by Jeffrey Green; Schocken): “That meshummadim – apostates from Judaism who converted to Christianity – were familiar figures to Jewish readers of the early 20th century is abundantly clear from both fiction and memoir of the time. In one of the Shalom Aleichem’s novels, a character asserts that his friend ‘swore to the truth of his claim so passionately that we would have believed him – even if he was a meshummad.’ That is to say – as a rule, an apostate is not to be believed, but in the case of very passionate testimony, we might make an exception. Jews from all sectors of Jewish life in Christian Europe a century ago would have known of meshummadim from their own family or community histories, as well as from literature. According to scholarly estimates, the number of Jews baptized in the 19th century were [sic] in the tens of thousands. If these numbers seem improbably, a glance at the local and communal data on which the estimate is based will convince many a skeptic – for Christian churches and local governments, as well as Jewish communities, recorded these baptisms. For Jews, the numbers were a source of shame; for Christians, a source of pride … Thus, when we meet Blanca, the protagonist of Aharon Appelfeld’s novel ‘Until the Dawn’s Light,’ we should not be surprised by her sudden conversion to Christianity … here we encounter one of this novel’s central themes: Conversion to Christianity, despite the immediate social benefits it might confer, cannot undo what seems to be an essentialist hatred of Jews.”