During the week covered by this review, we received 20 articles on the following subjects:
Conversion to Judaism
The Early Church
The Jerusalem Post, December 6, 2013
The group of Anabaptist pilgrims visiting Israel (see December 3, 2013, Media Review) visited with Israel’s chief rabbi in Jerusalem. The leader of the group “thanked the chief rabbi for meeting with [them] and expressed hope that the meeting would help strengthen ties between the Jewish state and the Anabaptist community in the US and elsewhere.” The group also met with MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who later said that he was “deeply touched” by their visit. “During my time in the Knesset, I have learned that many groups in the Christian community not only support Israel but seek friendship and cooperation with us,” said Lipman.
Conversion to Judaism
Hadashot Hadera, December 6, 2013
This two-page article tells the story of Pinchas Buhler, a Swiss Christian who converted to Judaism sixteen years ago after he came to Israel to learn Hebrew. Buhler, whose father was the priest of the local church, always struggled with his Christian faith, but his struggle greatly intensified when he was sent to a boarding school run by the church. His father had remarried (after his mother’s death), and Buhler’s new step-mother insisted that the children be sent away. The monks at the boarding school were hard, and Buhler was often punished in cruel ways. When he turned 13, he began arguing with the monks about theological issues. “A storm was raging inside me,” says Buhler. But he could not find the answers to his questions in Christianity.
Buhler left the boarding school when he was fifteen and embarked on a spiritual journey that led him to Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, and even Islam. But it was in Judaism that he finally found the answers he was looking for. “Judaism is the truth,” says Buhler. “It’s that simple. There is no other way.”
After Buhler converted to Judaism, he married Osnat. They now live in Hadera with their seven children. Buhler has never returned to Switzerland, and doesn’t intend to. “I have nothing there,” he says. “My life is here in Israel.”
LaIsha, December 9, 2013
In anticipation of the Christmas season, Zvika Boreg compiles a list of places to visit in Nazareth, including Mount Precipice, “where the people of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus to his death but he escaped, and – according to the legend – jumped from there to Mount Tabor,” and the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches of the Annunciation. The rest of the article focuses on where to shop, eat, and sleep in “the city of lights.”
Makor Rishon, December 13, 2013
In this five-page article, Ariel Shenbal examines Israel’s relationship to Christian Zionists through the lens of the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF). The purpose of the IAF, which was established in 2004, is to harness support for Israel from high-ranking Christian politicians across the globe. There are now pro-Israel caucuses in 25 parliaments around the world.
Shenbal had the opportunity to attend a conference of Israel-loving parliamentarians in Washington, where he witnessed “from the inside” the “special and intense” interreligious relationship being formed between these political leaders and the state of Israel, demonstrating that “we are not alone.” The conference, which took place on Capitol Hill, addressed such issues as Iran and the nuclear crisis, where one Republican Congressman stated: “I am full of hope and believe that the hand of God is upon Israel, even though one never says things like that on Capitol Hill.” He added that it is their duty, as parliamentarians, to persuade their governments to stand by Israel and support her.
Shenbal gives a brief history of Christian Zionism, writing that it is usually associated with the evangelical faction of Christianity. Christian Zionism first emerged in Ireland in 1830, spearheaded by Reverend John Nelson Darby, who rejected the doctrine of replacement theology. Instead, evangelicals “gave birth to ‘dual covenant theology,’ which claims that the church is still the bearer of God’s word until the end of time – but the Jews continue to be the chosen people, and the church is even ordered to protect them.” There are many who are opposed to this dramatic theological shift, accusing the Christian Zionists of ulterior motives – their final goal being the conversion of all Jews to Christianity to hasten the second coming of Jesus.
The historical persecution of the Jews by the church makes it easy to be skeptical of the Christian Zionists, writes Shenbal. But Pastor Larry Huck, from Texas, explains the phenomenon in more detail: “Israel and the Jews are our roots. … The Jews don’t need us to explain themselves, but we as Christians need the Jews to explain where we came from. It doesn’t matter what our opinion of Jesus is – the facts are that he ate kosher, kept the laws of the Torah, lived and died as a total Jew, and did not found a new religion. How has Christianity ignored this till now? That’s a good question, and the answer is in the Torah. It says there that only in the End Times will the eyes of the people be opened to the truth. We are trying to bring this truth to people.” Huck insists that Christian Zionists are not interested in converting Jews: “There is no need for a Jew to stop being a Jew … our goal is to make the church more Jewish.” When pressed about converting the Jews, Huck firmly asserts that “there is no such vision. … Many Christians believe that if we don’t convert everyone, they will go to hell. This Christian hell is a lie. It was invented by man – by the Catholic Church.”
Speaking to the founder of the IAF, former MK Benny Elon, Shenbal asks if it is really possible to put aside all the persecution of the Jews. Says Elon: “There is no need to put it aside. … But it is important to understand that the next Holocaust … won’t come from the Christian side, but from the Muslims.” Making a covenant with Israel-loving Christians is necessary for survival. However, Elon is adamant that the IAF does not work with any Christian organization that is engaged in missionary activity – “they do not work with Christian missionary cults, like the ‘Messianic Jews.’”
Concluding his article, Shenbal writes that in spite of the understandable skepticism, “something new is happening” in the relationship between Christians and Jews.
Shvi’i, December 6, 2013
The debate among religious Jewish groups as to whether or not it is right to receive financial aid from Israel-loving Christians who might be engaged in missionary activity was brought to the fore again this week when a lawsuit between Machon Meir and Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC) was finally settled after a two-year court case. CFOIC was suing Machon Meir for slander when the latter accused CFOIC of engaging in missionary activity. CFOIC maintains that it is not involved in missionary work, but is only interested in giving financial assistance to Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria. The court ruled in favor of CFOIC, ordering Machon Meir to issue an apology as well as donate 10,000 ILS to Yad Sarah in Ariel.
Religious leaders in Israel are not in agreement regarding monies coming in to the settlements from Israel-loving Christians. Even Yad L’Achim is divided on the issue – some welcoming these donations while others reject them and claim that it is not right to receive money from Christians. One rabbi tells Shvi’i: “The people of Israel naturally recoil from Christianity because of two thousand years of persecution. … That’s why [the Christians’] tendency is to gain our trust, and they do that through money. They have long-term goals. All these groups are in some way connected to the mission.” On the other end of the spectrum are those religious Jews who believe that building relationships between Jews and Israel-loving Christians is essential. They claim that those who are opposed “put all the Christians in one basket and don’t distinguish between missionaries and other Christians who have nothing to do with the mission.”
Maariv, December 10, 2013
This two-page article focuses on Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and the work he is doing among Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union. Of interest is a brief paragraph that states that much of the money being poured into these Jewish communities comes from Israel-loving Christians. “We have transferred 200 million dollars from Israel-loving Christians to help Jews in need in the former Soviet Union states,” says Eckstein, adding that he is “proud that Christians who care were the ones who chose to help them.”
The Early Church
A la Gosh, November 29, 2013
Eldad Kenan writes about the earliest followers of Jesus, who were mostly Galilean Jews no different from today’s Jews, apart from the fact that the accepted that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, there were two different kinds of early Christians – those who converted to Christianity from paganism, and those Jews who accepted the messiahship of Jesus. But the earliest followers of Jesus were undoubtedly Jews from the region of Galilee.
Kenan writes that it was Paul who preached to the Gentiles, while James, the brother of Jesus, oversaw the Jewish followers. James, he writes, was “opposed to the doings of Paul and rejected the non-Torah Christianity that Paul created.” The early church fathers followed in Paul’s footsteps – condemning those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah but continued to practice the Jewish law. There is hardly any archeological evidence remaining from this group of (rejected) Jewish believers in Jesus, also known as the Ebionites. Perhaps this is because they lived side by side with the other Jews and were an integral part of that community.
Maariv, December 13, 2013
This three-page article examines the relationship between John Lennon and Jesus, and the way Lennon not only drew much of his inspiration from Jesus but was also, in some ways, “a secular substitute for Jesus.”
Lennon predicted that Christianity wouldn’t last. “Jesus was OK,” said Lennon in an interview in 1966, but his disciples distorted and destroyed everything. Two years later, Lennon came to believe that he himself was a modern reincarnation of Jesus. Lennon caused an uproar when he said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus; he was forced to apologize for this statement, even though “it was true.” Eyal Regev writes that it was at this point that the war between modern culture (headed by the Beatles) and conservative Christianity began. Rock and roll was the new religion, and Lennon was the new Jesus – one who would be “crucified” 11 years later.
Regev explains that Lennon didn’t dismiss Christianity out of hand. “I believe that Jesus was right,” Lennon said some time later. “I believe in what he said, the basic things about love and kindness.” He took seriously the saying of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven is within you – “in other words, the key to truth and happiness is found within, in personal thought and behavior, and not in an unrealistic heavenly promise like Paradise or life after death.” Lennon asserted that there was a lot of good in Christianity, as well as in the Eastern religions. These good elements needed to be sifted out and then combined.
Lennon often referred to Jesus in his conversations and his songs, saying that he wanted to be like him. “If only I could do what Jesus did,” Lennon told his biographer, “to be who he was. That’s the true meaning of being a Christian. I try to live the way he lived.” In 1968, Lennon said that “we are all Jesus. We are all God. … He is inside of us. If we understood the potential that is inside of all of us, we could change. … Jesus wasn’t God come down from heaven. … He was just an excellent example of a good guy.”
Haaretz, December 13, 2013
The boycotting of Israeli goods made in the West Bank is steadily growing, Haaretz reports in this two-page article. Of interest is the mention of the United Church in Canada, which has also joined the list of organizations boycotting West Bank products.
Yisrael HaYom, December 13, 2013
Dror Idar, reflecting on the European boycott of Israel, blames Jesus for the way the West treats Israel. This is because what the Christian West saw before its eyes for 2,000 years was a “crucified Jew.” With the onset of Zionism, the Jew decided to “get down from the cross” and “re-enter history.” Only it didn’t work, says Idar. “Jesus got down from the cross, wrapped himself in a prayer shawl, and went back to being a Galilean Jew.” The establishment of the State of Israel distorted the Christian European myth of Jesus: “Not only did the Jewish Jesus get down from the cross, he even went back to his ancient homeland and held in his hand the weapons necessary to prevent a second crucifixion.” The fight against Israel is a fight against the return to the land – an attempt to re-crucify the Jew and get back to the “old order” of things.
Maariv, December 11, 2013
Christian pilgrims walking the Jesus Trail are sure to encounter mounds of trash at various points along the way, writes Yair Kraus. The 65-kilometer trail runs from Nazareth to Capernaum and passes through sites that are associated with the life of Jesus. But the lack of supervision has made it possible for people to use the trail as an illegal dumping ground. Says one tour guide: “Christians think we are a third world country.” The Minister for the Protection of the Environment has asked the local municipalities to form a joint council to deal with the issue.
HaHaim HaTovim, December 5, 2013
Dr. Adam Ackerman writes about the St. John in the Wilderness Monastery, located in the village of Ein Kerem on the outskirts of Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, John the Baptist lived in a cave that is now hidden within the monastery, where he “fed on honey, locusts, and plant roots, and drank from the waters of the spring.” The church was first built in the 6th century by Byzantine monks, but it was then abandoned until the Crusaders rebuilt it in the 11th century. The Franciscans bought the place in the middle of the 19th century, but they fled the monastery in 1948 during the War of Independence. They took over the church again in 2001. Ackerman describes one of the paintings of John the Baptist that currently hangs in the church, explaining that the verse written upon it is from the New Testament and refers to Jesus: “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The monastery is located within a pastoral setting, which raises the question of why it is called St. John of the Desert. The monks explain that the name is “spiritual and not geographical, a ‘desert’ in the sense of a place of solitude and detachment for spiritual elevation.” Ackerman goes on to describe how John the Baptist left this place when he was twenty years old and went to the Judean desert where he “joined the cult of the Essenes … and baptized Jesus.”
Sof HaShavua, December 13, 2013
Sof HaShavua recommends visiting the city of Ramle, including the Terra Santa monastery, which was built in honor of Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathea.
Kol Yokneam, December 6, 2013
This article reviews the Nazareth Illit Plaza hotel, mentioning that it is situated in Nazareth, “a city with a long history,” which includes “the enchanting story of Jesus.”
Maariv, Kol Ha’Ir, December 13, 2013
These two short snippets recommend the Bible exhibition currently on display at the Bible Lands Museum.
Yom LeYom, BaKehila, December 5; The Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2013
Two papers ran the same story on the missionary activity taking place at Beit HaHayal (lone soldiers’ hospice) in Jerusalem (see December 9, 2013, Media Review). The Jerusalem Post ran a picture of Yad L’Achim demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Defense.
Maariv, December 10, 2013
This article, reproduced from a British paper, tells the story of a young British man who was removed from a dart-throwing competition in England because he looked too much like Jesus, and organizers of the event were afraid it would distract the crowd from the competition.