March 13 – 2012

Caspari Center Media Review – March 13, 2012

During the week covered by this review, we received 18 articles on the following subjects:

Attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity
Anti-missionary activities
Christian Zionism
Christians in Israel
Christian sites
Jewish-Christian relations

This week’s review covers various aspects of Jewish-Christian relations.

Attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity 

Jerusalem Post, March 7, 9; Shopping Mekomi – Beit Shemesh, February 23, 2012

In an article entitled “The gospel according to Jewish scholars,” the Jerusalem Post (March 9) reviewed the work of Brandeis Professor of Biblical Studies Marc Zvi Brettler: “Brettler conceived of the tome – the first edition of the Christian Scriptures edited and annotated entirely by Jewish scholars – as a follow-up to his co-editorship of National Jewish Book Award-winning The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2004), which was intended to increase Bible literacy among Jews and to present gentiles with Jewish perspectives on the Hebrew Scriptures … Brettler assures us that The Jewish Annotated New Testament is neither part of a Jewish conspiracy to take over America, as one anti-Jewish blogger claims, nor part of an attempt to convince Jews to convert to Christianity, as an Amazon respondent warns. ‘Both perspectives are absurd, and I think reflect attitudes toward the book’s title rather than its contents,’ says co-editor Brettler, a visiting professor this year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He hopes that a Jewish-annotated New Testament ‘would encourage more Jews to read this important book, and more non-Jews to understand Jewish perspectives on it. Such engagement is crucial in the modern world.’ Brettler combined his expertise in the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible with that of his co-editor, Vanderbilt University professor Amy-Jill Levine, a scholar of the New Testament, Second Temple Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations. Approximately 50 contributors – all Jewish – added their ‘annotations and essays … of first- and second-century Judaism that enrich the understanding of the New Testament … highlight connections between the New Testament material and later Jewish [especially rabbinic] literature … and [address] problems that Jewish readers in particular may find in reading the New Testament, especially passages that have been used to perpetuate anti-Judaism,’ according to the editors’ preface. ‘This whole project would have been impossible a generation ago, when there were not enough Jewish scholars who had expertise in the New Testament and in the relevant languages – Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic,’ says Brettler. ‘Many Jewish scholars have become interested in this topic, and have studied it at the leading universities’ …  The volume contains several essays discussing Jewish attitudes toward Christianity over time and the break between Judaism and Christianity. ‘Of the approximately 8,000 verses in the New Testament, more than 250 quote the Tanakh [Jewish Scriptures], and perhaps twice as many directly allude to it,’ Brettler reveals in his own contribution. Other themes draw on Hellenistic Jewish literature … To cite just a handful of the contributors of note, the Hebrew University’s Lee I. Levine wrote the essay on ‘The Synagogue,’ Princeton’s Martha Himmelfarb wrote on ‘Afterlife and Resurrection,’ Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth explored ‘Jesus in Modern Jewish Thought,’ and Burton Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary contributed ‘Jesus in Rabbinic Tradition’ … In speaking publicly about how the project affected them, Levine and Brettler declare it enriching to their own Judaism. ‘I did become a better Jew by understanding more about the history of late Second Temple period and beyond – the period in which the New Testament was written – in part by people who considered themselves Jewish and were considered Jewish by others,’ Brettler says.’ ‘Also, by better understanding the differences between rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, I understood more about the directions that Judaism did not take, and thus understood Judaism better.’”

Gil Troy (Jerusalem Post, March 7) – Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman “Engaging Israel Research Fellow” – called on Jews to use Purim as an occasion to “reach out” to Christians: “Our first year in Jerusalem, I heard that neighborhood kids were ringing the doorbell of the local church, then cursing into the intercom. I was appalled. We did not establish a Jewish state to do to ‘them’ what ‘they’ did to us – but to model different behavior. That Purim, my family and I delivered mishloach manot – Purim treats – in costume – to our neighborhood nuns. We were, I admit, a tad uncomfortable when we rang the bell outside their imposing door. We were unsure what the reaction would be. Greeting us in German-accented Hebrew, the nuns welcomed us warmly. It seemed as if they never interacted with their neighbors. They knew the Purim ritual but had never received Hamantaschen. That Easter, we received painted eggs and chocolate. That Rosh Hashanah, we delivered apples and honey. That Christmas, we received little Santas and more chocolate. We now have a ritualized gift exchange four times a year. I think of our little family ‘tikun,’ our minor attempt to repair a breach, whenever I hear stories about this disgusting phenomenon of some – note the word some – ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at priests and Seminary students in the Old City. While it is hard to know how widespread a phenomenon it is, we must have zero tolerance for such appalling behavior. It violates a central commandment from the Torah, Vayikra or Leviticus 19, to ‘treat the stranger who sojourns among you as the native.’ But objecting is not enough. Israelis must demand that the perpetrators be caught, prosecuted aggressively and jailed for assault. We must determine which communities are teaching such anti-humanistic, anti-Jewish and anti-Christian ideas and pressure their leadership to follow the true Torah teaching. Moreover, each of us should make our own ‘tikun,’ reaching out to Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere, welcoming them somehow, reassuring them that this pathological minority of hooligans does not represent Israelis or Jews. Here, our guiding principles should be how we want to be treated outside Israel. What do we expect from Christians when a synagogue is defaced, a kippah is knocked off a head, an anti-Semite barks out a hurtful curse like ‘Dirty Jew’? … Israelis need a ‘nahafochu’ [let’s reverse things] with our Christian neighbors, actively protecting and reassuring them. Jews needs a ‘nahafochu’ with our Christian friends, emphasizing our common values and interdependence, especially with American Christians.”

In light of the growing Orthodox influence in Beit Shemesh, Shopping Mekomi – Beit Shemesh (February 23) looked at “The Woman and autonomy,” commenting along the way that “There is a huge confusion amongst many good people. The religious – not just the Orthodox – person thinks that the words of the Rabbis are ‘the words of the living God.’ All too frequently, the Rabbi, turns into a figure like Yeshu the Nazarene – intermediating between man and God and himself the source.”

Anti-missionary Activities

Jerusalem Post, March 6; HaMekomon Ramat Gan/Givatayim, March 8, 2012

According to these two reports, “A few dozen Ramat Gan postal workers stopped working on Monday after they were asked to deliver copies of the New Testament and what they said were Christian missionary material to residents on their mail route.” When they turned to MK Orlev, he asked Communications Minister Moshe Kahalon to investigate the matter, requesting him “to focus in particular regarding how the postal workers could be asked to deliver material that he said seeks to convert Israelis to Christianity … MK [Orlev] said that next week he will present the Knesset with a proposal for a bill that would call for stiff penalties for distributing missionary materials in Israel … The Israeli Postal Company issued a response to the dispute on Monday, saying that it is a government service ‘that works according to the Postal Law, under which it is our responsibility to deliver all mail that comes into our hands for distribution. We don’t have the right to decide what to deliver or not to deliver’” (Jerusalem Post).

Christian Zionism

Yediot Tel Aviv, March 9; Yediot Netanya, March 9; Yediot Petach Tikva, March 9; Yediot HaSharon, March 9, 2012

Yediot Tel Aviv (March 9) interviewed Moses Alwadi, a Kenyan Christian Zionist who, while never having visited Israel, has named his two sons after Arik Sharon and Yehuda Avner.

Well-known veteran Israeli music producer Dov Zeira has recently begun releasing “albums intended for Christian supporters of Israel. ‘I like working with them. It’s mostly the evangelical community, who love Israel. They believe that they are the true Jews and that we must remain in the Land and preserve it until Yeshu comes. I’m not completely convinced, because I’m an atheist, but I like working with them. They don’t know what it means to ‘download’ music. In their view, the Torah says ‘Don’t steal’ – and that applies to this field as well’” (Yediot Petach Tivka, March 9; Yediot HaSharon, March 89; Yediot Netanya, March 9).

Christians in Israel

Jerusalem Post, March 8, 9; Israel HaYom, March 9, 2012

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (March 9), “Several Christian groups have expressed opposition to the Christ at the Checkpoint conference that has been taking place in Bethlehem during the past week, accusing it of promoting doctrines that have inspired anti-Semitism. Bethlehem Bible College, an institute associated with the Evangelical Christian movement, organized the five-day conference. Dr. Jürgen Bühler, executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), said in a statement ahead of the event that the conference’s theological stance ‘can easily lend itself to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda, as some of the Checkpoint speakers have proven in the past.’ The ICEJ, which is also an Evangelical organization, accused the conference of promoting a ‘cloaked’ version of Replacement Theology, which says the Christian Church became the ‘new Israel’ and all of God’s promises to the people of Israel were transferred to Christianity. Bühler also criticized the neglect of ‘Christian friends of Israel… [for] our Arab brothers in the Holy Land and beyond,’ arguing that being pro-Israel ‘does not mean being anti-Arab.’ Several Catholic leaders in Ireland also denounced the conference, claiming that it seeks to advance Replacement Theology … Additionally, a group of four Messianic Jewish groups issued a statement before the conference began, protesting the ‘supersessionist theology that underlies their conference agenda, and which has been a source of anti-Semitism and even anti-Jewish violence for centuries.’ Dr. Bishara Awad, founder and president of Bethlehem Bible College, denied that the conference espouses Replacement Theology or that there was any political agenda. ‘This is a Biblical conference, to study what the Bible says about the land,’ Awad told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. ‘Nothing at all has been mentioned about Replacement Theology or the destruction of Israel. These are unfounded claims.’ The aim of the conference is ‘to show Christians how they can bring peace to this part of the world and how Christians around the world can promote ways through which the two peoples can live together in peace and tranquility,’ Awad said. According to a conference program, the assembly seeks to ‘expose the injustices of occupation and create awareness of the obstacles to reconciliation and peace,’ and ‘present a coherent Biblical challenge to Christian Zionism and offer an alternative perspective.’ Awad said: ‘Many Christians support Israel whether it is right or wrong, but don’t look into the issues of peace and justice. If that’s being political then fine, but unfortunately, some people, instead of coming and listening and participating, just attack us. We want to have serious engagement with Zionist groups, and have open forum for ongoing dialogue. We may disagree but that doesn’t mean we are enemies and hate each other. As Christians, we love and we are called by Jesus to love even enemies.’

The same paper (March 8) also noted that “The Palestinian Authority has an inventory list of 20 historical, religious, cultural and natural sites over the pre-1967 line that it wants the UN to register. These range from the old town of Nablus to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. No sites in Jerusalem are on the PA’s list at present. As an initial step, the PA has asked the committee to consider the Church of the Nativity as a historical site when it convenes in St. Petersburg at the end of June. Palestine is not an accepted member state of the UN. But it is possible for the PA to register sites under the name of Palestine after the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization accepted it as the 195th member of its organization on October 31. This move opened the door for Palestine’s admission to all UNESCO bodies. Only on Thursday, however, will its signature to the UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage be ratified. Palestine will also be a member of three other conventions: Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage; Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage; and the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The World Heritage Committee had already received the PA’s registration application for the Church of the Nativity, but could only formally accept it on Thursday … [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal] Palmor added that the PA could have tried to register a non-religious site or even a Muslim one. ‘But they chose a Christian site at the same time that they are legislating laws inspired by Shari’a which barely tolerate Christians let alone Jews.’ [Omar] Awadallah [who heads the UN department in the PA Foreign Ministry] countered that Christian history was an important part of Palestine. ‘Jesus is the Palestinian prince of hope and peace and Bethlehem is his birthplace,’ he said. He added that eventually the Palestinians want to register Bethlehem’s entire old city, it simply started with the church. ‘I think that Christians all over the world want that church to be a World Heritage site.’”


On the 50th anniversary of his first appeal to the Supreme Court to receive citizenship under the Law of Return, Yossi Beilin in Israel HaYom (March 9) recalled an interview he held with Brother Daniel Rufeisen in 1972. “The conversation was fascinating. I agreed with him that to be a Jew did not mean to perform Jewish ritual, but I couldn’t agree with him that a Christian priest or Muslim Imam could be considered Jewish. He tried to convince me, as though the Supreme Court was still discussing the matter, and as though I was one of the judges. I wanted to finish the interview already, since it was clear to both of us that we weren’t going to exhaust the subject. I told him that the verdict followed public logic, which would never view a person wearing a priest’s robes as a Jew – even if he was a Righteous Among the Nations. A Jew in my eyes in someone who belongs to the tribe of Judah and does not belong to another religion. And it’s not coincidental that that’s what the law determined. Rufeisen died in his monastery in 1998. Without meaning to, he made a significant contribution to the important distinction between our national and religious identification.”

Christian Sites 

BeEmek u-ve-Ramah, February 29; Chaim Acherim, March 1, 2012

An article in Chaim Acherim (March 1) examined the story of Mary in relation to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, quoting quite extensively from the New Testament. A second, in BeEmek u-ve-Ramah (February 29) noted that the Yardenit baptismal site is part of the area the Jordan Valley Local Council is planning to invest in order to boost the region’s tourist appeal.

Jewish-Christian Relations

Jerusalem Post, March 9; Haaretz, March 9, 2012

In an edition devoted to Purim, Haaretz (March 9) included a review of the relations between Ansaldo Ceba, an elderly Catholic poet from Genoa and Sara Copio Sullam, a young Jewish poet from Venice: “Ceba, the author, wanted to embody in Esther the allegorical figure of Reason who overcomes the primal urges, whereas Copio Sullam perceived her as an exemplary model who restored to Diaspora Jews the heroism of the biblical Hebrews, and she also saw her as an exemplary woman. Wanting to adopt for herself the resourcefulness of the poem’s subject, Copio Sullam wrote a letter to Ceba. The outcome was four years of an intensive correspondence courtship, a courtship that ranged between Ceba’s missionary zeal and Copio’s ambition. He wanted to achieve the conversion to Christianity and baptism of an intellectual Jewess of good family from Venice and she wanted to find a partner for theological subversion – and that at a time when the Inquisition was at its height.”

Under the headline “Priestly blessings,” the Jerusalem Post (March 9) reported on a joint Jewish-Christian “trip to the Holy Land to bridge gaps”: “Let’s face it. Jews and Christians haven’t exactly been the best of friends over the centuries, what with a long history of blood libels, inquisitions, crusades and the like – not to mention the small question of whether the Jews killed Jesus. Yet, during the past century there was a gradual shift toward improving Jewish-Christian relations, which culminated in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council. Commonly known as Vatican II, the council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world … Today, there are dozens of centers in the US for Jewish-Christian understanding and the Roman Catholic Church actively seeks ways to correctly present Jews and Judaism within its catechesis. Yet despite the fact that 45 percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, that region seems to have fallen behind its European and North American counterparts and is still plagued by rampant anti-Semitism that finds its roots in old biases against the alleged deicide at the hands of the Jews. But last week’s tour of Israel, attended by a group of Latin American Catholic priests and their Jewish peers, indicates that the winds are changing in that part of the world too. Three partnering organizations worked in tandem to turn this unprecedented initiative into a reality: The World Jewish Diplomatic Corps (WJDC), the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) and the Latin American Jewish Congress (LAJC). The organizers view the trip not as an end in itself, but rather as the beginning of a long-term and positive relationship between the Jewish and Christian communities of Latin America, communities that in the past have either been strangers – or worse, estranged – from one another. The eight priests who came on the week-long trip were selected by the local archbishops of São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Bogota – cities that all have Jewish communities – to ensure that the mission of continued dialogue in the future can also be realized … One vivacious priest, Father Pedro Pereira, speaks of the reaction of local Nazareth residents who witnessed the procession of clergymen visiting their town. ‘They saw us together – priests in full garb, collar and all – walking side by side with rabbis with big kippot on their heads. They couldn’t understand what on earth was going on!’ Pereira’s answer to how it felt visiting Israel’s Christian holy sites for the first time in his life is rather astonishing. ‘I’m not the kind of priest that is much into pilgrimages. What changed me personally was seeing the Jewish holy sites and feeling the heart of Israelis and the Jewish people’ … perhaps the most remarkable sentiment is the priests’ attitude towards the Jewish Temple. ‘As a Catholic, I can feel the presence of the Lord whenever I pray Mass – through the Eucharist,’ says Pereira, ‘I also felt the presence of the Lord by the [Western] Wall. Yet at the same time, something was missing. I actually missed the presence of the Temple. I put myself in your place and truly empathized – it hurt my heart and I felt sorry for you guys that you no longer have your Temple.’ Father Nicolas Garcon, who has 40,000 people in his parish in Bogota, Colombia, takes Pereira’s thought one step further. ‘I feel pain that the Temple is gone, but not just for the Jewish people – for me also. Just as Jesus cried for Jerusalem, the Jews cry for Jerusalem today.’ And referring to the immigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel, Garcon says, ‘I feel so good when I hear that Jews are returning to Jerusalem to rebuild it’ … what was the intended nature of the trip? Was it primarily to serve a spiritual function, or was it rather geared toward political or diplomatic ends? According to Jay Shultz, a Jewish Diplomat on behalf of the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps, the two issues should never be separated. ‘Yes, there are indeed deep-rooted spiritual implications from this trip. Seeing their Jewish roots firsthand, it became relevant for [the priests’] own spirituality, in order to elucidate their own faith. Being here has also allowed them to grasp the religious connection between Christianity and Judaism through the latter’s ongoing connection to the Land of Israel. For example, visiting the City of David as the place where King David composed psalms is amazing. But what makes it that much more tangible and relevant is actually seeing Jews living there today.’ As for Shultz’s own reasons for organizing the initiative, he says, ‘I do this all as a noble honor, without getting paid, because I believe that strategically working with the 1.3 billion person Catholic world will very clearly make Israel, and all Jews around the world, safer and stronger … I want to do my all to take care of my family’ … for Rabbi Gilberto Ventura, a teacher in a Jewish school in São Paulo, the initiative extends further than cultivating religious ties between clergymen of differing faiths. It is also about nurturing a culture of peace and showing that not all Jews are cut from the same cloth. ‘In Brazil,’ avers Ventura, ‘they look at the Jewish community as being disconnected from the population at large – perhaps because they think all Jews are rich … The trip’s itinerary included a two-day seminar at the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat, headed by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Three Orthodox rabbis and two Catholic theologians led panels on various issues within the Christian-Jewish dialogue. Rabbi Eugene Korn, the American director of the CJCUC, posits that thankfully today the relationship between Christians and Jews is steadily transitioning from being mere ‘dialogue’ toward real friendship.”


Haaretz, March 9, 2012

According to a lengthy article in Haaretz (March 9), Israeli scholars are participating in a “unique international project that bears the scientific title Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. Work on the project began in 1999 and is expected to be completed in 2017. When it is complete, all of the ancient inscriptions discovered within the borders of the State of Israel will be gathered together in a single comprehensive scientific series. The seven-volume work aims to organise a sea of information that until now consisted of partial, truncated and widely-scattered items; to track down inscriptions that have never been published; and to offer the widest range of contemporary interpretations for those inscriptions that are already known to scholars … ‘This is a unique project, without any historical precedent,’ says [Hannah] Cotton-Paltiel [who holds the Shalom Horowitz Chair in classics at the Hebrew University]. Adds [Jonathan] Price [who chairs the parallel department at Tel Aviv University]: ‘The idea has been around for several generations, but it’s being realized only now. The final product will provide an invaluable resource for historical research, one which has been lacking until now.’ Through Sisyphean and meticulous efforts combined with elements of Indiana Jones-style detective work, the researchers have managed to locate within Israel some 12,000 texts written between the 4th century BCE and the 7th century CE. ‘From Alexander to Mohammed, from the Hellenistic period to the Muslim conquest,’ as the two scholars put it. Some of the texts are dozens of lines in length; others have only a single word. They are written in more than 10 languages, of which Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Phoenician and Aramaic are only a partial list. They run the gamut from letters and receipts inscribed on bits of pottery, through names of deceased individuals written on ossuaries, to historic inscriptions that commemorate important events, people and places. For the contributors, this is the project’s most important innovation. It breaks with earlier practice by documenting, side-by-side, multilingual inscriptions that belong to the various peoples that lived in Israel. ‘Georgians, Armenians, Romans, Greeks, Syrians – everyone who was here was documented,’ says Cotton-Paltiel, ‘not just the Jewish people’ … One part of the project involves collecting, documenting and cataloging all of the scholarly information that already exists about the known inscriptions. Another part is locating new inscriptions. In several cases, the researchers discovered pieces of the same inscription in different places, and assembled them like a jigsaw puzzle. ‘We did not find a personal letter written by Jesus, but from our standpoint,’ says Price, ‘any discovery made of a name we did not know before is an important addition. It is no exaggeration to say that we took people who were completely lost to history and restored them to the written record’ … So far two of the seven projected volumes in the series have been published: the first section of the first volume on Jerusalem inscriptions and the second covering Caesarea and the mid-coastal area. Later this month a second section of the volume on Jerusalem will appear, and it will be followed by, among others, volumes on Jaffa and the southern coast (between Tel Aviv and Rafah); the Negev (including Nabatean inscriptions and inscriptions in the language of desert tribes); Ein Gedi and Masada; the Jerusalem environs; and the Galilee … Once the entire series has been published and the issue of copyright has been settled, it will also be made available online. And what about inscriptions situated in sites within the Palestinian Authority? ‘At an early stage efforts were made to bring Palestinian scholars onto the team of editors for the project,’ responds Cotton-Paltiel. Despite the initial enthusiasm, for reasons not in control of either party, the cooperation ‘did not reach fruition.’ Hence, she acknowledges, ‘At the moment our project is limited to the State of Israel.’ In the future, she hopes, the project’s scholars or their successors will be able to complete the job also in the West Bank and Gaza Strip … The instincts that Price and Cotton-Paltiel have developed allow them to easily recognize and weed out attempted forgeries. For example, Cotton-Paltiel has learned from experience that ‘there is no such thing as a complete inscription on a stone that is broken on all sides.’ Other cases demand more careful scrutiny. ‘Occasionally you read in the paper about sensations such as inscriptions connected to the brother of Jesus, and so on,’ explains Cotton-Paltiel. ‘We will go check them out for ourselves. In many cases we found that in a place where other people found riches beyond the imagination, there were merely worthless stones.’”

Under the headline “All Greek to Jesus?” (Haaretz, March 11) reported on Simcha Jacobovici’s recent discovery of the “Patio Tomb” in Talpiot and James Tabor’s reading of the inscriptions, which includes several alternatives, with the meanings: “I, almighty YHVH, raise from the dead,” “I, almighty YHVH, raise up to heaven,” “Almighty YHVH, raise up Agabos (the name of the man buried in the ossuary; cf. Acts 11),” or “Almighty YHVH,  raise up, raise up.” “In all these cases, Tabor argues, we are at looking at an invocation of the resurrection of the deceased, one never before found on any Jewish ossuary, and in conjunction with the ‘Jonah drawing,’ a likely indication of the Christian faith of the buried man and his next of kin, who may have been contemporaries of Jesus … yet it is hard to accept any of Tabor’s readings of the fourth Greek word, and beyond that, it is not clear why early Christians in Jerusalem would have inscribed their ossuaries in Greek, which was the language of the upper and merchant classes, rather than in Hebrew, the language of Jewish prayer, and in Aramaic, the spoken language of most Jews and the one spoken by Jesus himself.”