During the week covered by this review, we received 9 articles on the following subjects:
Pope and the Vatican
Conversion to Judaism
Christian Holidays (Valentine’s Day)
Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2013
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a letter to Pope Benedict thanking him for the efforts he made to improve Jewish-Christian relations during his eight-year tenure. “In the name of the people of Israel,” said Netanyahu, “I would like to thank you for everything you did in your capacity as pope in the name of strengthening ties between Christians and Jews and between the Holy See and the Jewish State . . . I thank you also for bravely defending the values of Judaism and Christianity during your papal term . . . Your historic visit to Israel in 2009 offered a rare opportunity to give expression to the new relations between our faiths.”
Both papers also turned their attention to the next stage of process of appointing a new pope, noting that one of the candidates to replace Pope Benedict has been accused of being anti-Semitic. According to Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga “has blamed the Jews for the scandal surrounding the sexual misconduct of priests towards young parishioners,” and “has argued that Jews got even with the Catholic Church for its anti-Israel positions by arranging for the media – which they, of course, control . . . – to give disproportionate attention to the Vatican sex scandal.” Though Cardinal Maradiaga later apologized for his comments, Dershowitz is unrelenting in his criticism: “The Vatican has rightly called anti-Semitism a sin, and yet an unrepentant sinner is on the short-list to become the leader of the Catholic Church.”
The Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2013
Ben Levitas begins this article by admitting that he was shocked to discover that “Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today.” Using the Open Doors website, Levitas lists the worst perpetrators of this persecution, including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen, Eritrea, Syria, Sudan and Nigeria. Most of these countries, notes Levitas, are of a majority Muslim population. In Saudi Arabia, for example, “there is no provision for religious freedom in the constitution, which stipulates that ‘all citizens must adhere to Islam and conversion to another religion is punishable by death.’” In many Muslim countries, those who convert to Christianity risk “imprisonment, lashing, deportation and torture,” or are the victims of honor killings or death by mob violence.
Focusing his attention on the Middle East, Levitas writes that between a half and two-thirds of the local Christian population has “emigrated or been killed over the past century. . . In the West Bank, which has been under the administration of the Palestinian Authority since 1995, there are about 50,000 Christians; less than 3% of the Palestinian population. Bethlehem’s 22,000 Christians makes up only a third of its residents, down from 75% a few decades ago.”
Quoting a review published by the Institute for the study of Civil Society, Levitas writes that “’Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers’ and ‘200 million Christians [10 percent of the global total] are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.’” Which brings him to the main point of his article, namely why Levitas, as a Jew, should care about the fate of Christians. “Firstly,” he writes, “having been victims for thousands of years it is our obligation to care and reach out to victims of discrimination, religious intolerance and extremism. Secondly, it is our responsibility to stand up for religious freedom and specially for those moderate and tolerant values promoted by most of these Christian minority groups.” But more than that, says Levita, Jews need to stand up for Christians because they are “strong supporters of Israel” and “see its rebirth as the actualization of the biblical prophesies and of their divine mission to assist with the return of Jews to their promised land.”
Conversion to Judaism
Maariv, February 22, 2013
This four-page article focuses on the Hirschfield family who run a Bed and Breakfast in old Dan buses in the village of Azuz and who recently converted from Messianic Judaism to Judaism. Avigail was born into a Christian South African family while Eyal was born into a secular Israeli family in Rehovot. The two met in Sinai after each had traveled around the world for several years. Together they traveled to South America, where they ended up living with a Messianic Jewish family for some time, eventually choosing to follow the same religious path. The couple returned to Israel several years later, but they struggled to connect with the Messianic community in the country. “We tried to live both as Jews and as Christians, but eventually realized this is not possible,” say the Hirschfields. “So we began to draw closer to Judaism.” Eyal explains that Christianity is based on the assumption that man is depraved and sinful. “This made us hold our children on a very short leash with very strict discipline, like a military framework. It didn’t work for us, and made us realize that we need to look for something else. We found the opposite attitude in Judaism, where evil is just another tool that can bring us to good.” They subsequently abandoned their Messianic Jewish faith in favor of a religious Jewish one.
Agenda Eilat, February 7, 2013
This reflection on Valentine’s Day gives a brief history of the origins of the holiday, mentioning that it comes from the feast day of Saint Valentine, which is marked by the Catholic Church. “The Catholic Church recognizes three saints by this name . . . but all the legends associated with someone named Valentine have no historical basis and these fables were made up many years after the death of the three ‘Valentines.’” Instead, the most common interpretation is that the holiday was invented by the Catholic Church in an effort to replace the Roman feast of love dedicated to the goddess Juno.
Yisrael HaYom, February 22, 2013
This article delves into the historical origins of the Purim tradition of dressing up, claiming that it came into Judaism from paganism and Christianity. When the Roman Empire became Christian, the Church adopted some of the pagan practices. This included a carnival-like feast to the god of agriculture, which later became the Feast of Fools in Medieval Christianity. The Jews took this feast and “converted” it to fit into their Purim celebrations.
The Jerusalem Post, February 17, 2013
The paper printed a picture of Evangelical singer Pat Boone with Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman, who met “to discuss issues of religious tolerance.”
Mabat Nahariya, February 14, 2013
A byzantine wine press has been uncovered at an archeological dig in Givat Ushiskin in Nahariya. The municipality plans to turn it into a tourist attraction as well as an educational site.