During the week covered by this review, we received 20 articles on the following subjects:
Conversion to Judaism
Christians and the Holocaust
The Pope and the Vatican
The Jerusalem Post, October 4, 2013
This three-page article focuses on the Messianic community of Yad Hashmona, the village which was founded by Christians from Finland in commemoration of eight Finnish Jews who were handed over to the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Finns who established the communal village were all young people who had moved to Israel in the 1960s and ’70s to volunteer at a variety of kibbutzim. The people “had one goal in mind” that united them: “to show solidarity with Israel.” After they gained permission to build a communal settlement just outside Neve Ilan, they began constructing a village with wood imported from Finland.
“Today,” writes Aviva Bar-Am, Yad Hashmona is “a small but thriving community” that runs “a highly successful rustic guest house and offers sumptuous brunches and features a fascinating Biblical Village.” But even though Yad Hashmona operates along the same lines as most other communal settlements in Israel, its population “is unique.” Bar-Am explains: “Not only have new Finnish Christians replaced those who have left or died, but all the other members are Israeli Jews – Messianic Israeli Jews, who celebrate bar and bat mitzvas, as well as all the Jewish holidays. They believe in the prophets and in miracles. They believe Moses brought the Hebrews out of Egypt and turned them into a nation under God … and they accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah.”
Zuriel Bar-David, a Messianic Jew who was born and raised in Yad Hashmona, tells Bar-Am that up until the 20th century, there were hardly any Messianic Jews living in this country. Bar-David’s grandfather, Haim Haimov, was a Bulgarian Jew for whom the New Testament “made a lot of sense.” He married a Messianic Jew from Bulgaria, and together the two of them settled in Palestine in the 1920s, forming one of the first Messianic Jewish congregations in the land. His other grandfather survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel with his German wife (who had converted to Judaism) after the war. Two of their children married two of the Haimov children, and it was through these that many of the family members eventually moved to Yad Hashmona. Other Messianic Jews followed them there.
Bar-Am confesses that she was worried she might receive a missionary message while visiting Yad Hashmona, but Bar-David assured her that members of the village make it a point to avoid missionary activity. “Anyone is welcome to come here and learn about us,” he said, “or they can discover who we are at work, school, and the army. … I would never try to persuade anyone about my beliefs.” Bar-David adds that “people have a lot of questions” about the community at Yad Hashmona. “Christians, as well as Jews, find the subject of Messianic Judaism a bit strange. … It is generally Israelis who want to know more about it.”
The rest of the article offers a guided tour of the Biblical Village, which anyone can visit free of charge.
Yediot Ahronot, October 10, 2013
Workers at Israel’s customs authority were shocked when a young girl arrived at their offices and declared that she had smuggled in a new iPhone when entering the country a week earlier in order to avoid paying tax. One of the managers decided to cancel her debt because he was so moved by her honesty. The girl told the paper that she is a student, and needs every shekel. “But I am part of the Messianic Jewish congregation and I realized that it is God’s will [that I pay] – that’s why I decided to fix it.”
Haaretz, October 6, 7, 2013
Fifteen gravestones were desecrated in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem on Sunday evening. Police initially suspected four religious Jewish youth from the nearby yeshiva, but these were later released after their alibi proved plausible. “Among the damaged grave markers,” writes Nir Hasson, “were those of some of the city’s most prominent figures in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They include Johann Ludwig Schneller, a German missionary who founded an orphanage” as well as grave markers of members of the Vester family. The vandals “did especially severe damage to any crosses they found.”
Dr. Paul Wright, who is the director of the Jerusalem University College (which is the location of the cemetery), said that the attack is “a crime and an attack against every Jerusalemite.”
Gefen HaMoshava, September 25, 2013
Givat Ada is in uproar as work has begun to prepare a section of the Jewish graveyard for the burial of non-Jews. The community in question is Beit El, a group of Canadian Christians who moved to Israel to support the state through their business ventures. Those who are opposed to the move explain that, quite apart from the severe religious repercussions of burying Christians in a Jewish cemetery, the decision was made in an underhanded manner, without going through the usual bureaucratic channels. They intend to appeal the decision. On the other hand, those who support the move have spoken harshly against the seeming discrimination. Rafi Manat, of the municipality, told the paper that “the Beit El congregation, whose members are part of our community, serve in army and work on behalf of the country and this village. It is absolutely shameful to say to them: ‘you’re good as neighbors, and when you give to the country, but when you’re dead, take your bodies and throw them into the sea.’” Manat also points out that all the work being done in the cemetery is being sponsored by the Beit El congregation and is not coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets.
Iton Savion, September 30, 2013
This two-page article focuses on the life-story of Rabbi David Brodman. Of interest is a short paragraph in which the rabbi talks about the importance of establishing good Jewish-Christian relations. “Two thousand years we fought,” he says, “and nothing came of it except for killing. Today we accept one another just as we are. When I meet with cardinals, we don’t discuss theology, and it works well. They respect Judaism and say that today they have learned that they understand the New Testament better because of the Bible (i.e. the Old Testament).”
The Jerusalem Post, October 11, 2013
Anav Silverman interviews Father Barry Bercier, a Catholic priest and professor at Assumption College in the United States. Father Bercier has been bringing groups of Christian students to Israel for many years, and knows the land well. “But,” writes Silverman, “what makes his approach to Israel unusual is his reverence and acknowledgement of the role of Judaism and the Jewish people.” Father Bercier explains that he was deeply affected by stories of the Holocaust when he was a child, and later on in life he was drawn to the study of Jewish thought and theology. The relationship of Judaism to Christianity is like that of an older brother – a brother that Bercier didn’t know, though he “knew me.” Bercier says that from that moment on, he knew that he must get to know this brother of his: “now it was my turn to pay more attention to Judaism’s role in the unfolding story of history.”
Bercier tells Silverman that it is also important to recognize the role of the land in Jewish history. “Israel as a Jewish state is of huge importance to the world,” says Bercier. “The land is the center of God’s revelation to the world, and what happens to the Jews matters – you can’t ignore 2,000 years of exile coming to a halt.”
Conversion to Judaism
Shvi’i, October 4, 2013
This four-page article tells the story of Pnina Taylor, who was born into an American secular Jewish family, converted to Christianity at the age of 16, and then re-converted to Orthodox Judaism 17 years later. Pnina and her family now live in Beit Shemesh, after making aliya together seven years ago.
Pnina’s childhood was unremarkable, in terms of her religious identity. Her parents were both Jewish, but neither one of them practiced their faith or even knew much about it. When she was young, Pnina was assaulted, and the experience left her desperate. She first turned to drugs and alcohol, but later found her salvation in evangelical Christianity. It wasn’t long before the change in Pnina’s life caused her mother and sister to convert as well. When she met Paul, a seminary student at her Bible school, and they decided to get married, Pnina reconnected with her father (who had not been part of her life for many years) and managed to convert him as well before she and Paul were married.
Paul and Pnina moved to England for Paul’s job, where they began to attend a Messianic Jewish congregation after Pnina felt the urge to begin observing some of the Jewish customs. Even so, Pnina was an ardent missionary, working hard to convert Jews to Christianity. But alongside her missionary activity, Pnina also began to delve more deeply into Jewish studies. As she and Paul read more about her Jewish heritage, Paul encouraged Pnina to broaden the scope of her observance of Jewish law. They began to eat kosher, and Pnina covered her head and dressed, for all intents and purpose, like any other Orthodox Jew.
It was only after they moved back to the States and settled into a Jewish community that the real change happened. Since Paul and Pnina couldn’t drive on the Sabbath, they couldn’t attend their Messianic Jewish meetings. Instead, they decided to attend the local synagogue, keeping their faith in Jesus secret. They eventually confided in their rabbi, who did not kick them out of the synagogue but insisted that they meet with a representative of Jews for Judaism. It was through this representative that Pnina eventually came to the conclusion that Christianity is a lie. She “re-converted” to Judaism, and Paul followed in her footsteps, officially becoming Jewish some four years later.
Pnina now works as a “missionary” for the “right side” – bringing Jews who have converted to Christianity back to Judaism. In 2007, the family moved to Israel.
Mishpaha, October 3, 2013
In this five-page article, Aharon Granot explores the growing phenomenon of Noahidism – the Gentile practice of Jewish law according to the seven laws of Noah. The most recent manifestation of Noahidism was started about 30 years ago by an American Baptist pastor, Wendell Jones, who came to the conclusion that Christianity “is false and a lie” and that “nothing in it is true.” Speaking to his church, Jones said that “the nation of Israel has remained the chosen people, the Torah of Israel is the only law.” He then told his congregation that he is no longer a Christian, but that instead he has taken upon himself the seven laws of Noah. “I call all of you to follow in my footsteps,” he added, “and do what God commands of all those who are not Jews.”
The movement has spread and grown over the years, and now includes people from all around the globe. Several of these “converts” are interviewed in the article, including a French woman who was born and raised Catholic, but realized that Christianity is nothing more than idol worship, and anti-Semitic to boot. She promptly re-dedicated herself as a daughter of Noah. Then there is a Christian man from Holland who also realized that Christianity is “a collection of lies that is based on Judaism.” He too decided to become a son of Noah when a local rabbi told him that conversion to Judaism is not necessary.
The article focuses on the remarkable growth of the movement, detailing how the whole thing “exploded” after Wendell Jones organized a conference on the subject 23 years ago. The conference was heavily guarded by the Texas police force since Jones received threats from “the organization of Jews for that man (may his name blotted out) who felt, justifiably, that their existence was being threatened.” The conference resonated with people all over the world who felt that Christianity is a lie and wanted to dedicate themselves to the true God of Israel. Since then, many Noahide congregations have sprung up all over the world.
The Jerusalem Post, October 9, 2013
Joshua Lipson expresses his ire at the latest “Disneylandification” of Jerusalem by the city’s municipality, focusing on the “Jerusalem Knights Festival” which is nothing less than a commemoration of “the depredations of European crusaders against the Jews and Muslims of Seljuk Palestine – all in the name of marketable Eurocentric fun.” He takes issue with the way Israelis perceive Arab Muslims as hostile, forgetting “that over the course of the second millennium, the lion’s share of persecutions and massacres have been committed in the name of the cross, rather than the crescent.”
Lipson then pits Christian persecution against Muslim benevolence, writing that “while grape-loving Jews were writing Hebrew wine songs in Moorish Cordoba and Granada, the Jews of Christendom hunkered down in dark pietism. While Hasdai ibn Shaprut and Maimonides served professional roles at the courts of Muslim kings, the first Ashkenazi Jews served as torch fodder for the Crusaders – who immolated and skewered their Jewish co-continentals the entire way to Jerusalem.”
Two stories of Christian persecution of Jews, taken from Jewish literature, follow these remarks. Lipson remarks that “for the ‘Judeo-Christian values’ types (what are these, exactly?) convinced that the Arab Muslim hatred of Jews is somehow more eternal, essential and unchangeable than its European Christian counterpart,” such stories “pose a serious problem.” He suggests that Israelis reconsider their “desire to identify with Europe and Christendom” rather than deny “all things Levantine and Arab about Israel’s heritage.”
Yediot Eilat, October 4, 2013
Thirteen hundred Israel-loving Christians from Columbia conducted a prayer vigil at Timna on Sunday. The prayer vigil marked the church’s 50th anniversary and was led by their pastor, Shimi Chamori. “An important part of this group’s Christian faith is the resettlement of the Jews in the Holy Land. These believers support Israel’s existence and are considered great lovers of Israel and good ambassadors in their countries.”
Yediot Ashkelon, October 4, 2013
The Christian Shield of David organization donated 50 armored backpacks to students in the Ashkelon area. The backpacks can also be used as bulletproof vests in times of need. The donors are “Christian evangelicals who love Israel.” A representative of the organization told the paper that “it is a great privilege to be in Israel. We are with you and are happy to give gifts to the people we love. … It’s sad to give these kinds of gifts, but we want to protect you.”
The Jerusalem Post, October 7, 2013
Ardie Geldman reflects on the differences between liberal Protestants and their evangelical co-religionists by comparing his experiences as a tour guide for both types of Christian pilgrims. The liberal Christians, he writes, are those who come to Israel to protest the occupation, identifying with the 2009 Kairos Palestine document that states: “We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice.”
Evangelical Christian Zionists, on the other hand, are keenly aware of the Jewish backdrop of the Bible, that “not only Jesus but virtually all the figures in the Christian Bible, except for the Romans, are Jews. And the entire account of Jesus’s activities is told against the background of Jewish life in the Galilee and Judea, which is the Land of Israel.” What disturbs Geldman is that “many liberal Protestant denominations minimize, if not deny, the connection between the Hebrew Bible and their Testament. They subscribe to a ‘replacement theology’ that posits that the Christian church has replaced national Israel …” Christian Zionists, on the other hand, “are far more fluid and interested in the text of the Hebrew Bible.” Indeed, writes Geldman, many evangelicals today “are theologically committed to the lasting authority of God’s covenant with the seed of Abraham. And this covenant, they are certain, descends through Isaac and his offspring, not through Ishmael as Muslims contend.”
Geldman concludes his comparison by saying that though he doesn’t doubt “the religious sincerity of liberal Protestants … they fail to recognize the irony … of their continuing struggle with Israel’s unique covenantal relationship with God when at the same time their more conservative Christian brethren have succeeded in weaving this relationship into their eschatological system. … These praise the one God who blesses Israel.”
The Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2013
Moshe Aumann responds to Ardie Geldman’s article in the “Letters” section of the paper. He takes issue with Geldman’s accusation that liberal Protestants subscribe to replacement theology, writing that “while this is an accurate depiction of doctrine and dogma over the centuries, it does not take account of some quite remarkable changes that took place in the closing decades of the 20th century, when several major mainline Protestant churches publicly renounced replacement theology. Similar reforms have been promulgated by the Lutherans, Methodists and others.”
Zman Ma’ale, September 24, 2013
In the “Letters” section of the paper, Nissim Dvash “salutes” Israel-loving Christians, those who support the nation better than some of its own citizens. Dvash then launches into a list of political issues where he believes Israelis are turning against their own state.
Zman Ma’ale, September 24, 2013
This article reported on the conference organized by the Israel Allies Foundation, which took place in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles (see October 4, 2013, Media Review).
Christians and the Holocaust
The Jerusalem Post, October 2, 2013[Editor’s note: this event was sponsored by the Danish Israel Mission, though no mention of this is made in the article.]
The Danish ambassador to Israel, Jesper Vahr, honored his fellow countrymen in a ceremony on Monday that marked the 70th anniversary of Denmark’s remarkable feat in saving nearly all of its 7,500 Jews from the hands of the Nazis during WWII. The ambassador was accompanied by 100 Danish Jews.
“This anniversary means a lot to both Danes and to Israel,” said Vahr, adding that “what is unique about this story is that it was not the act of one or two or three people – it was an act by all the people of Denmark who came together to rescue the Jewish community because Jews were an integral part of their society.”
On October 1, 1943, after word got out that the Nazis were about to round up all the Jews in Denmark, thousands of Danes “risked their own lives by hiding Jewish men, women and children” in a spontaneous act. They then utilized “row boats and other modest vessels to transport the vast majority to politically neutral Sweden.”
According to Vahr, “it was his countrymen’s fundamental moral values and ‘strong sense of humanism to fight the terror of racism’ that led many to risk their own lives to save a Jewish minority many had never met.”
The Pope and the Vatican
The Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2013
The paper features a photograph of the pope with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who visited the Vatican on Wednesday. The pope responded to Edelstein’s invitation to visit the Holy Land by saying that he intends to come. “Edelstein also thanked Francis for fighting anti-Semitism and hatred, and asked him to use his position to continue working to eradicate anti-Semitism not only among Catholics but among all people.”
Haaretz, October 11, 2013
Two archeologists from the Hebrew University have cast doubt on the assumption that the sarcophagus found at the Herodian in 2007 is actually King Herod’s. The two claim, among other things, that the location and the design are too modest for someone with a reputation like Herod’s.
The Jerusalem Post, October 9, 2013
In the “Letters” section of the paper, Jock L. Falkson takes issue with European Christians who are anti-circumcision. He writes that “the second coming will necessitate European Christians to face up to the fact that Jesus himself was circumcised when he was eight days old.” Falk also writes that Jesus would be “upset upon learning that Christians had changed God’s decreed weekly day of rest from Saturday to Sunday. Because God was indeed serious, he ordained the penalty of death to those who worked on his nominated day of rest.” He concludes that “Jesus may well have no alternative but to turn his back on Europe’s Christians.”