During the week covered by this review, we received 5 articles on the following subjects:
Haaretz, August 3, 2012
Haaretz conducted an interview with New York Times reporter Doreen Carvajal on the subject of her latest book, entitled The Forgetting River, which explores her family’s hidden past as Jews who converted to Christianity during the time of the Spanish Inquisition in Spain. Carvajal was not aware of her family’s history, and grew up in a secular Catholic home with “stories of her family’s distinguished heritage in Costa Rica.” Over the years, she began to encounter a growing number of clues that suggested “that she came from a converso family.” She eventually decided to move to Spain in order to investigate her own past as well as the hidden past of the small town to which she relocated. In the Jewish quarter of Arcos de la Frontera, many of the homes “still have tunnels that served as escape routes for crypto-Jews being hunted by the Inquisition,” while many of the churches are filled “with artwork that has been altered over the centuries to covey coded Jewish messages” – churches whose belfries “once rang out the rhythm of a march played for Jews being banished from the town for secretly practicing their faith.” As Carvajal settled into her new home, she began to correspond with family members spread across different countries in order to piece together her Jewish roots. “Her book is about her search, and about the strange mystical grip that the secretive Arco de la Frontera had on her, and growing sense of Jewish identity.”
When asked why her family kept silent about their Jewish roots for so long, she responds: “I would talk about a culture of amnesia – it’s part of the survival mode. One reason why I was interested in moving to Arcos was because I wanted to understand what it was about my own family that would make them keep the secret [of their Jewish heritage] until the 20th century. Why didn’t they talk about it? Who would be afraid about it by then? . . . I really do believe that people from different generations pass on these survival skills. And I think this reticence was handed down . . . Somehow generations pass on the knowledge of traumas from earlier generations, even hundreds of years earlier.” Asked where she stands now vis-à-vis Jewish identity and practice, she explains how “shifting religious identity is little like learning a new language . . . For a long time I was a secular Catholic. Letting go is a gradual journey . . . That return can take time.”
Makor Rishon, August 10, 2012
This article reviews the well-known and controversial book entitled The Trial and Death of Jesus, by Haim Cohen, first printed in 1968 and recently republished. “The first edition of the book . . . caused a cultural sensation in Israel in those days. A Supreme Court of Justice attorney reconstructing the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. And not long after the Holocaust, which was the most horrific of all manifestations of the Christians’ hate for Jews.” Tolerance levels were still low, and the atmosphere in 1968 was not very open to any preoccupation with the New Testament, the figure of Jesus, and the debate of whether or not the Jews were guilty of his crucifixion. “After all, Haim Cohen was an attorney in the Supreme Court of the State of Israel, a well known and highly respected figure. And still, his public interest in the life and trial of the Christian Jesus was not acceptable.” In the introduction to the newly published edition of the book, Cohen explains what caused him to write about something so controversial: “In 1948, not long after the Supreme Court had been established . . . I was called by Moshe Zmora, the first president, who showed me a number of files overflowing with petitions to the Supreme Court demanding a retrial for the Christian Jesus. The petitioners were Protestant priests from various countries who all claimed that now that a judicial system had been restored in a Jewish state, its first obligation was to fix the distortion caused by our immediate predecessor – the Sanhedrin – more than 1900 years ago (in the matter of Jesus) . . . I was asked to respond to the petitioners and explain to them that the Supreme Court does not consider itself qualified to discuss this issue.” However, as Cohen leafed through the petitions, he became obsessed with the idea of reconstructing the trial of Jesus, which is how the book was born.
“Cohen’s approach is a legal-historical one – ‘I didn’t want to deal with historiography . . . the question of whether or not Jesus is a historical or mystical figure,’ or if the crucifixion happened or not” was not Cohen’s aim. Instead, Cohen approached the subject from a legal standpoint: “’Not necessarily what did happen, but what might have happened and what could not have happened, considering’” the trial’s historical context (in Judea, which was under Roman rule).
“Cohen’s knowledge is extensive and impressive in its scope and diversity . . . It is impossible not to be impressed by the number of Jewish sources . . . that he analyzes in order to draw his conclusions. According to the judicial method he set for himself, he looks at each of the primary texts . . . as though they are testimonies being given in court . . . He marches forward methodically, one step at a time . . . and it is this methodology, together with his fluid, readable, and engaging writing style, that builds a legal-literary plot that is read with baited breath, like a suspense novel . . . It is only after a long and meticulous process of analyzing all the conflicting ‘testimonies’ and exposing the biased and opposing interests that lie behind each one that [Cohen] makes his final judgment.”
The article ends with two points “worth mentioning” in regards to Cohen’s book. First, it sheds light on a field of study that has long since been forgotten, especially the historical and cultural connection perceived by Christians (but not by Israelis) between Second Temple Israel and Israel of today. And secondly, the book reminds us of cultural conceptions that were once prevalent in Israeli society but are no longer – most notably, the way it was prohibited to read the New Testament, and the fear that was associated with this book and the persecution of Jews by Christians over the centuries – a fear, the writer claims, that is no longer part of Israeli culture because of the secularization of the West at large, and of Israel in particular.
Yediot Aharonot, August 8, 2012
This article tells the story of thirteen Christian Japanese students who recently traveled to Israel, each one, in some way, affected by the Tsunami in 2011. The trip was organized by Akiva Jindo, chairman of the Israel-Japan Association. Jindo explains how he himself arrived in Israel, nearly forty years ago, as a representative of the Makuya movement, which consists of tens of thousands of Israel-loving Japanese Christians. Jindo has brought dozens of groups to Israel from Japan, but this latest group was a unique one. “Thirteen students – three boys and ten girls – were brought to Israel from Miyagi, the disaster area that was hit by an earthquake and tsunami on the 11th of March, 2011.” Jindo explains: “It is important for us to bring students from the affected area and show them how Israelis built their country on a desolate land, how Tel Aviv turned from sand to a thriving city. It gives them the strength to dream that they can rebuild their homes that were destroyed by the forces of nature.” As part of the tour, the students visited Yad VaShem “to gain yet another perspective of Jewish willpower.” One of the students told the reporter that he is Christian, which is why Israel interests him. Another said that he studies in a Christian school and wants to visit the sites that are mentioned in the New Testament. The students have not had to pay for this trip – it has been subsidized by several different bodies in Israel and Japan.
Hadashot Haifa veHaTzafon, 1 August, 2012, Maariv, 8 August, 2012
These articles reported on the donation of four highly sophisticated hospital beds to the Bnei Zion hospital by Evangelical Christians (see last week’s review).