During the week covered by this review, we received 21 articles on the following subjects:
Attitudes towards Christianity
This week’s review focused on the sending of a full Bible to Knesset members – and the response the act generated.
Jerusalem Report, July 13, 2012
Revealing that “A Jewish newspaper pins its revival on finding Christian readers. AIPAC launches an outreach program to Christians who support Israel,” a lengthy piece in the Jerusalem Report (July 13) looked at the issue of “Choosing the right Christian”: “This has revived the question of with whom and how closely can the Jewish community associate itself with Christian groups? … should that include evangelical Christians? Kaylene Rudy, who launched Americans United with Israel and who is now business manager of the Atlantic Jewish Times [the paper under discussion], readily acknowledges that she learned some hard lessons when she was gathering sponsors and participants for a community rally to launch her new organization. She accepted sponsorship from a local messianic Jewish congregation, only to discover that the established Jewish community did not want to be associated with the self-described synagogue. Now she understands that she needs to be more sensitive to which groups are acceptable to include in her pro-Israel outreach, both for Americans United with Israel, and also for the expanding readership of the Atlanta Jewish Times. When controversial Colorado-based Christian president and founder of Simchat Torah Beit Midrash Ralph Messer anointed local New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Bishop Eddie Long as ‘king of the Jews,’ wrapping him in a Torah scroll, Rudy – as well as several national messianic Jewish organizations – condemned the desecration and quickly dissociated themselves from the videotaped ritual in which Messer called himself a representative of Israel … president emeritus of U[nited] R[eform] J[udaism] Rabbi Yoffie … acknowledges that the dividing lines are tricky. ‘This is not easy; the world is complicated. But there are some lines to draw. Messianic Judaism, for instance, is built on a lie and it approaches an anti-Semitic premise. We should not work with them in any way; I don’t care what their position on Israel is,’ he says … [R. Shlomo] Riskin is one of many Israelis who have endorsed the proposed Galilean Resort & Spa, a spiritual center designed to help Christians reconnect with their Jewish roots through Bible study and cultural programs. The founder and president of the resort is Anne Ayalon, the evangelical-born wife of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Among the endorsees are Pastor Hagee and Jay Sekulow, who is an advocate for Jews for Jesus and works for Christian Broadcasting Network founder and chairman Pat Roberston’s American Center for Law and Justice, which defends the rights of messianic Jews … Many US leaders are clearly worried about the breakdown of barriers between faiths as evangelicals strive for a theological unification between Judaism and Christianity, and a growing messianic Judaism movement confuses the line between Judaism and Christianity. In a northern suburb of Atlanta, Rabbi Fred Greene of Temple Beth Tikva – which is not far from a large messianic Jewish congregation – told The Report that he was compelled to write to the local newspaper when it included messianic congregations under a listing of Jewish congregations. ‘I told them that you can’t group them with our congregations,’ he said. As Jewish organizations and especially evangelical groups form closer relationships in support of Israel, Yoffie warns that the Jewish community should become more informed and show more sophisticated discernment.”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Makor Rishon, July 20; Haaretz, July 20 (x 2), 2012
Although this article from the religious paper Makor Rishon (July 20) would normally have been put under “Archaeology,” it has been added here because of the manner in which it reports on the opening of the Good Samaritan Museum: “A Jew, a Samaritan, and a Christian met at a hostel. This isn’t the beginning of a joke but of a sight-seeing trip … We’ve all heard of the ‘Good Samaritan’ rule which obligates giving help to a person in need on the way – primarily by virtue of the last episode of Seinfeld. But what is the source of this expression? It’s a parable in one of the books of the New Testament – the ‘Gospel according to Luke’ – which apparently deals with gourmet recipes for fishermen. The said parable reports on the first Christian gemach [charity organization]: an injured man lying on the side of the road who receives no help from a priest or levite passing by who ignored his plight (in observance of the commandment ‘and you shall ignore him’) finally bummed money for an inn from a good Samaritan who was a big enough sucker to believe him that he only needed a shekel to get the presidential suite at the [five-star] Meridian Hotel at the Dead Sea.”
Michael Handelzalts in his weekly Pen Ultimate column looking at “The age of doubt” recruited “doubting Thomas”: “All three monotheistic faiths take doubt seriously. Christianity gave Western culture the character of Doubting Thomas, one of Jesus’ apostles who did not believe at first in the resurrection, and insisted: ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’ (John 20:25, New International Version ). Eight days and two verses later he gets his wish, and is told by Jesus: ‘Stop doubting and believe.’”
In a feature article in the magazine section, Yuval Saar reported on the mission to create a new set of icons to represent basic daily actions set to four Israeli design studios: “We challenged several designers to envision a new system of images and icons to symbolize some basic actions that we do on a daily basis: opening a file or folder, saving a file, sending email, playing music files and answering the phone. Their suggestions range from minimalist icons that employ nothing but letters, to icons inspired by the screens of smartphones and tablets, which have generated a new language of touch … Roni Levit, 33, is a graduate of the visual communication department of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem; an independent studio owner; an expert in info-graphics and visual representation of data and information; and a lecturer in the visual communication departments at Bezalel, Shenkar and the Minshar School of Art, Tel Aviv … ‘the imagery that is important to a devout Christian could influence the icons of the operating system he uses. In this case, the “save” action would be represented by an image of Jesus; sending email would be represented by an image of prayer − an allusion to something much more ancient than a letter − and opening a file would be represented by an image of enlightenment, of the discovery of something new.’”
Jerusalem Post, July 17, 19; Yediot Ahronot, July 18; Makor Rishon, July 20; Haaretz, July 20; Zman Tel Aviv, July 20; Mishpacha, July 17; HaShavua BePetach Tikva, July 20; Yom L’Yom, July 19, 2012
According to Yediot Ahronot (July 18), “A very unusual ‘ceremony’ took place in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, the day before yesterday: MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Unity) tore to pieces the scripture sacred to Christians – the New Testament – in front of cameras … While most MKs chose to ignore the Bibles in their mail boxes or return it to the sender, Ben-Ari chose to create a furore.”
The Jerusalem Post (July 17) reported the background to the event: “Many MKs opened their mailboxes on Monday morning and were appalled to find a New Testament inside, sent to them by a messianic organization. The Bible Society in Israel, a messianic Judaism institution for research, publication and dissemination of holy books, sent a ‘Book of Testaments,’ which combines the Tanach and New Testament in one, leather-bound volume, published with references in Hebrew for the first time. While the sect incorporates elements of religious Jewish practice, it holds that Jesus is the Messiah. MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) sent a letter of complaint to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, writing that ‘it cannot be that missionary materials can be distributed in the Knesset.’ ‘Texts that were used to persecute and harass [Jews] cannot be distributed through the front door of the State of Israel,’ Hotovely fumed. Christian Allies Caucus chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) said the mailing is ‘not missionary work, but an act of foolishness.’ Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev did not receive a package, but said the society had crossed the line between free speech and proselytizing. ‘These are people who believe that all the Jews in Israel must be converted to Christianity. They get donations from all over the world towards that cause. How can we give them freedom?’ Ze’ev, one of the few Shas MKs who is an ordained rabbi, asked. Ze’ev called for more government- sponsored activities and television programming to teach youth Jewish values ‘so Christians don’t fill the vacuum.’ In addition, the Shas MK said the existing law against missionaries should be stricter. The 1977 law, passed one year after the New Testament was published in modern Hebrew for the first time, prohibits anyone from granting material benefits as an inducement to conversion or to convert anyone under 18 unless one parent is a member of that religion. The Knesset staff does not intervene in the handling of MKs’ mail, and as such the Knesset Spokesman’s Office had no comment. The book was accompanied by a letter from Bible Society head Victor Kalisher, stating that he is proud to present the new publication featuring 90,000 annotations, which resulted from cooperation between researchers in Israel and abroad ‘that love the holy texts.’
‘Through these annotations, you can see the close connection between the words of the Torah and those of the New Testament,’ Kalisher wrote. ‘Many of the Torah’s prophecies come true in the New Testament.’ Kalisher told The Jerusalem Post that some MKs already received books, and he plans to eventually send them to all 120 legislators, including ministers and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. When asked if he would send New Testaments to haredi politicians, Kalisher said: ‘Every enlightened man expects others to respect the Torah, and should show respect for other religions.’ At the same time, the Bible Society head said he did not mean to offend anyone by sending the books. ‘This is a tool to promote communication and understanding for the People of the Book,’ Kalisher stated. When asked why the People of the Book need a different religion’s book as a tool, Kalisher responded that it is ‘arguable if it is a [Jewish] book or not, because the New Testament is written by Jews. Every Jew should learn it to understand Judaism better.’ ‘We are an organization that researches holy books,” he said. ‘We are not missionaries. We are promoting holy books as an illuminating tool. Most people in the world who support [Israel] do so because of this background [the New Testament], and this will help MKs communicate with them.’ However, despite stating that he is not a missionary, Kalisher said his intention in sending the copies of the New Testament is ‘to spread the word of God.’
Responses were not slow in coming. According a further report in the same paper (July 19) two days later, “On Tuesday, Ben-Ari tore up a copy of the Book of Testaments, combining the Bible and New Testament in one volume, sent to all 120 MKs by The Bible Society in Israel, a messianic Judaism institution for research, publication and dissemination of holy books … Ben-Ari said he has no doubt his reaction was appropriate and called for all other MKs to throw the New Testament in the trash … Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein should press incitement charges against MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) for tearing a New Testament and throwing it in the trash, the Knesset’s sole Christian MK, Hanna Sweid, said. ‘This is hooliganism, bullying and an apocalyptic act of hatred that was baseless and unnecessary,’ Sweid told The Jerusalem Post after Ben-Ari destroyed the book, which was mailed to all 120 MKs by a messianic Jewish organization. ‘This reflects the culture of a man who is dangerous to nations and religions of the world’ … At the same time, Sweid thanked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin for his ‘noble and brave’ condemnation of Ben-Ari in the plenum on Wednesday. ‘I condemn any disrespect of holy texts of any religion, including ripping the New Testament by an MK yesterday,’ Rivlin said. ‘Every holy book is important to its believers.’ According to the Knesset speaker, if a parliamentarian from another country would burn a Torah and call it a provocation, the world would condemn him or her … Rivlin rejected Ben-Ari’s request to respond in the plenum on Wednesday, telling him to ‘stop giving the Knesset a bad name’ … After Rivlin’s condemnation in the Knesset, several MKs reacted for and against Ben-Ari in the plenum. MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said the copies of the New Testament sent to the Knesset were written by ‘heretics’ – meaning messianic Jews – and as such must be burned. He added that a Torah written by a female Reform Rabbi should also be incinerated. Ze’ev condemned missionary activity, and called sending the books to MKs a ‘pointless provocation.’ Other MKs expressed their disgust with Ben-Ari. ‘I got a copy of the New Testament in the mail, too, but I never thought to rip it up or burn it,’ MK Masud Gnaim (United Arab List-Ta’al) said, calling Ben-Ari and Ze’ev racists. ‘As a Muslim, I respect all religions’ holy books.’ MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) broke a Knesset regulation Wednesday, bringing a photograph of Kahane on the plenum stage, saying he is to blame for Ben-Ari’s actions, and tearing it up. Dr. Jürgen Bühler, director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, said that Ben-Ari’s actions ‘have needlessly inflamed this situation and were an obvious stunt to gain publicity.’ ‘We recognize that he does not represent the Israeli mainstream, which rejects this sort of incendiary act and shows respect for the sacred books of other faiths,’ Beuhler added. Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, the Latin patriarchal vicar in Israel, strongly condemned the act. ‘I speak not only on behalf of the Catholic and Latin Church in Israel, but also on behalf of all Christian communities here. We express our strong protest and condemn the actions of Michael Ben-Ari. ‘All Christian communities are scandalized by this action, there is absolutely no justification for it whatsoever. This is a holy book and it is completely unethical to treat it in this way, and goes against religious values which demand mutual respect. We don’t ask others to adopt our religious values only that they show respect.’ Ben-Ari’s desecration also defies the values of democracy, the bishop said. ‘We have to respect the other, the minorities in the country and those with other religions. It is unbelievable that a member of Knesset, in the Knesset itself and in front of the media, can do such an unjustifiable action. It is a provocation to all Christian communities in Israel, the Middle East, and around the world.’”
Butros Mansour in Haaretz (July 20) – head of the Baptist School in Nazareth – picked up on some of the same themes, making the inevitable comparison with the burning of the Talmud, also noting that MKs would never think of treating other free literature distributed in their mailboxes in the same fashion and asking why, Israel having created ties with Germany following the Holocaust, “we should judge the New Testament just because those who acted against the Jews were identified as Christians? … Christians may have used the New Testament to justify their hatred towards the Jews but in reality there’s no connection whatsoever between them and the New Testament and the true spirit if Christianity. It was precisely the New Testament which motivated thousands of true Christians to risk their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust … Is it not time to make peace with the New Testament?”
A brief note in Zman Tel Aviv (July 20) commented that “Like many other MKs, Michael Ben-Ari received a New Testament as a gift from some (some particularly clever) organization and tore it up in the Knesset before the cameras. I understand that Ben-Ari doesn’t like the New Testament, but millions of Christians – including the President of America – do. Why bring such shame on us all the time? Can’t you do it only some of the time?”
On the other hand, the religious paper Makor Rishon (July 20) remarked: “MK Ben-Ari tears pages from the New Testament. Admit it: the guy’s enlightened.”
Yad L’Achim recently called for the cancellation of an event celebrating the end of a year-long study of the Mishna scheduled to take place in Yad Eliahu because the stadium was also due to host a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ conference (Mishpacha, July 17).
Yom L’Yom (July 17) and HaShavua (July 20) both ran the story of Yad L’Achim’s further attempt to put a stop to the youth outreach conducted by “missionaries attempting to take [Ethiopian] youth under their aegis to convert them from Judaism under the guise of ‘Messianic Jews’ – in addition to other minorities and immigrants from other countries whom they are seducing by offering them money and other gifts.” Following complaints from the Ethiopian community, the anti-missionary organization is intended to train leaders to deal with the threat.
Jerusalem Post, July 18, 2012
At a Christians United for Israel Washington Summit last week, John Hagee declared that “Christians are ‘on the front line of defense for Israel in the United States of America’’ (Jerusalem Post, July 18).
Eastern Mediterranean Travel, June 30, 2012
This article noted that “The Israeli Ministry of Tourism is mounting an advertising campaign directed at North American Christians this summer, as part of its ongoing effort to increase the number of visitors to Israel. The $1.5 million campaign includes print, radio and Internet messages in a variety of media that target specific niche markets, including Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics … The advertising messages will underscore the Ministry of Tourism’s campaign theme: ‘Visit Israel. You’ll never be the same.’ The Ministry estimates that some 40 percent of American tourists visiting Israel are Christian travelers touring the Holy Land … Gordon Active is marketing a variety of guaranteed-departure active touring choices. These include a full-day Judean Hills Bike & Wine Tour, a ‘Bike the Jesus Trail’ option and desert mountain bike rides … Elvis Presley fans from North America are expected to descend on Israel next year for the first-ever Elvis Presley Holy Land Tour … The 10-day tour … includes the standard stopping points for a Christian-oriented visit based on the life of Jesus – Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, a cruise on the Sea of Galilee and the option of being baptized in the Jordan River. Joe Moscheo and Terry Blackwood of the Elvis Imperials, and Bill Blaize, all of whom recorded and toured with Presley as gospel backup singers in the 1960s and ’70s, are slated to the join the tour … About seven years after the Israel Antiquities Association [sic] (IAA) recommended that Megiddo Prison be relocated due to the discovery of what may be the earliest Christian prayer house or church in the world, and almost certainly in the entire Middle East, an international tender is being published to locate an entrepreneur to develop and maintain what would be a new site for Christian pilgrims and tourists interested in ancient Christian archeology … Megiddo is the Hebrew name for Armageddon, which plays an important role in much ‘end-of-days’ Christian theology.”
Jerusalem Post, July 17; Israel HaYom, July 17; HaModia, July 19, 2012
Perhaps in view of the recent USPC debate over divestment from Israel, the Jerusalem Post (July 17) reprinted an article from the New York Times by Ross Douthat on the question of whether “liberal Christianity can be saved” – by which he primarily meant American Episcopalianism.
In the wake of the US Presbyterian church’s recent vote in favor of divestment, Yitzhak Santis looked at how Christian funding is being given to “anti-Semitic propaganda,” implicating the WCC, the Swedish Kirk in Actie and the Finnish FinnChurchAid, the Holy Land Trust, and Development and Peace.
An article in Makor Rishon (July 19) noted Yad Vashem’s “softening” of the description given of Pius XII.
Makor Rishon, July 18; Tszafon 1, July 20; Teva HaDvarim, July 15, 2012
Makor Rishon (July 18) and Tszafon 1 (July 20) noted the discovery of a 2,300-year-old port in Acre – the largest and most important found in Israel from the hellenistic period – during a seawall conservation project. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the findings included large mooring stones incorporated into the quay and used to secure sailing vessels.
Teva HaDvarim (July 15) included a lengthy review of the this century’s archaeological findings, including the Kathisma church near Mar Elias, the monasteries and chapels north of the Damascus Gate, the monastery at Abu Dis, the monastery on the Jerusalem-Jericho road, and the tomb of the Virgin Mary next to Gethsemane. “Jerusalem is the focus of Christian interest in many periods. It is their interest in the city which has attracted Christians to build some of the most magnificent edifices that have been constructed in the city. It has fallen to our lot to have the privilege of rediscovering these monuments and thus to enrich our archaeological and historical knowledge of this chapter in the city’s history.”