During the week covered by this review, we received 9 articles on the following subjects:
Christians in Israel
Conversion to Judaism
Christians in Israel
Yisrael HaYom, August 9, 2013
In this five-page article, Emily Amrosi writes a detailed account of the Maronite Christians living in northern Israel who are trying to preserve their Aramean culture and heritage in spite of the fact that the State of Israel does not recognize then as an official ethnic group. There are about 10,000 Maronites living in Israel today, the majority of them in the northern village of Gush Halav. Though the Arameans have their own distinct history and culture that goes back 3000 years, the Ministry of Interior does not recognize them as a distinct ethnic group and has them listed simply as “Arab.” The community has been trying to gain official recognition from the State since 1948, but so far all their requests have been rejected.
One Aramean tells Amrosi: “Your forefathers and mine were Aramean. We come from the same roots . . . Rachel and Leah, the mothers of the Jewish people, were the daughters of Laban the Aramean . . . Abraham came from an Aramean tribe in Aram Naharaim . . . and later, that very same tribe accepted the Christianity that was introduced to them by Jesus’ disciples . . . Jesus himself spoke Aramaic.”
Though the Arameans have never had their own empire, they have had a very extensive influence on the different empires and people groups of the ancient Middle East. The Hebrew alphabet, for example, originates from Aramaic, and parts of the Hebrew Bible as well as the Talmud were written in Aramaic. Aramaic was actually the lingua franca up until the Arab takeover in the 7th century, when it was replaced by Arabic. Today there are still about half a million people across the Middle East who speak Aramaic, and this includes the Maronite community in Israel.
The Maronites in Israel are keen to distinguish themselves from the Israeli and Palestinian Arab communities living here, but are also afraid to be too closely associated with the State. The recent crisis in the Christian Arab community regarding being drafted into the IDF has had an impact on the Maronites as well. In Gush Halav, where 40% of the population is Muslim, it is a matter of course for the home of a Maronite Christian serving in the army to be fire bombed.
And yet, even though the Maronites have been supporters of the State, even helping the Jewish Zionist factions in their fight for independence in the run up to 1948, Israel refuses to recognize their unique ethnicity. “We didn’t fight against the IDF in 1948,” one Maronite tells Amrosi, “but we helped the Jews. They are our brothers and not our enemies. Don’t link us to the Palestinian struggle. We are friends of Israel in the same way the Druze people are.” This is why the Aramean community living in Israel can’t understand why the State consistently refuses to recognize their ethnicity. “It infuriates me that I am listed as an Arab,” says another, “because I am not Arab.” He adds: “We identify with the State and most of us are drafted into the IDF or national service of our own free will. This is because we are loyal citizens who love Israel and want to be part of it because we don’t have another country that protects us and lets us live freely and with dignity within its borders.”
The Jerusalem Post, August 6, 2013
Steps to normalize the Catholic presence in Israel will be taken later this week when Israel and the Church sign a “long overdue” agreement that will “settle outstanding taxation issues” between them. According to Father Pizzaballa, “the idea is to give a juridical frame and to say that Catholics are not foreigners here – they are an integral part of the life of Israel.” An Israeli official explained that the taxation difficulties arise from the way one defines land belonging to the church: “It is understood that a church, like a synagogue or mosque, does not pay taxes, but it is not clear what can be considered church property for the purpose of tax exemptions . . . For example, is a field exempted? Is a school exempted? Is a vineyard exempted?”
The rest of the article reported on the meeting that took place in July between representatives of the various Christian denominations in Israel and international journalists to discuss the current status of Christians living in the land (see fourth Media Review for July).
Conversion to Judaism
Olam Katan, July 26, 2013
This five-page article describes the unlikely story of the Abuyadaya tribe from Uganda that has been practicing Judaism for nearly one hundred years. Their founder was Semei Kakungulu, who was converted to Christianity in the late 19th century by English missionaries, but after reading the Old and New Testaments (some 30 years later), decided that Christianity got it wrong: even Jesus was a Jew and practiced Jewish law according to custom, so why are the Christians now exempt? Following this discovery, Kakungulu was circumcised (together with all the other males in his tribe). But when the other tribes challenged his decision, Kakungulu decided to become a Jew according to the Old Testament, rejecting the New Testament altogether. The tribe has been practicing “kosher” Judaism ever since. There is no further mention of Christianity in the article.
Yated Ne’eman, August 9, 2013
This three-page article, printed in a religious weekly, is a scathing critique of Reform Judaism. Of interest is the way the article portrays the Reform movement as a form of “Christianity without the Christianity,” or a Jewish mock version of middle-class Protestant Christianity. MK Reuven Rivlin describes his visit to a Reform synagogue, saying: “I felt that I was in a church.” According to Rabbi Daniel Nassi, “Reform Judaism is the Jew’s first step towards Christianity.” In fact, says Rabbi Nassi, “the Christian religion is closer to Judaism than Reform Judaism” because “Reform Judaism bears no relation to Judaism: not religiously, not nationally, and not ethnically.”
Towards the end of the article, Rabbi Nassi says that “it is important that the public understand that [Reform Jews] are just like Messianic Jews . . . We can’t define the Reform Jews as a Jewish faction, or a Jewish movement; rather, they are a cult.”
Haaretz, August 9, 2013
“The Jehoash Tablet,” writes Nir Hasson, “is a stone bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew describing the renovation of the first Temple by Jehoash, King of Judea. If it is authentic, it is one of the most important archeological discoveries of the last century. But for many years, in one of the most complex cases ever to come before the Israeli courts, the state has claimed that it was a fake.” A recent court ruling has determined that the State can’t prove the tablet is a fake. The question, for Hasson, is why the State is insisting on taking possession of the tablet while at the same time remaining adamantly opposed to recognizing it as an authentic artifact? The rest of the article details the long court battle involving the tablet and several other artifacts.
Makor Rishon, August 5, 2013
A Jewish village from the Second Temple period has been uncovered near the Zippori archeological site in the Galilee. The village is thought to be Shikhin, first mentioned in the writings of Josephus in relation to its pottery production.
Nachon LeHaYom, August 5, 2013
A crusader hospital from over 1000 years ago has been unveiled in Jerusalem and will soon be opened to the public. The hospital, which served Crusader knights, is situated in the heart of the Old City.
Tmura, July 25, 2013, BaKehila, August 1, 2013
Tmura reported on the recent announcement that excavations have just been completed at the archeological site of one of king David’s palaces, while BaKehila ran a longer story detailing how the palace was discovered, and what methods they used to date it to King David’s time (see third Media Review for July).