During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the following subjects:
The Pope and the Vatican
Conversion to Judaism
The Pope and the Vatican
Yated Ne’eman, January 24, 2014
The religious paper Yated Ne’eman printed an extensive four-page article about the imminent opening of the Vatican archives relating to documents from the Holocaust. The Vatican, writes Y. Friend, “that abominable and profane place that has an account to settle with the eternal nation,” has kept its archives under wraps for years. This is because, if documents in the Vatican archives were ever revealed, they would provide ample “bargaining ammunition” for the Vatican’s enemies. And yet, as a result of the efforts of Rabbi Skorka, a personal friend of Pope Francis, the Vatican might allow a glimpse into this vaulted region by releasing documents from the time of the Holocaust.
Friend is seething in his critique of the Vatican’s behavior during World War II. He writes that “the Holocaust and the church are burned into the history of our people, and both are like an open wound bleeding into our Jewish history.” The irony, says Friend, is that it is the Christians – those who are supposed to be compassionate and loving – who “didn’t lift a finger when the Nazi beast trampled Jewish communities across Eastern Europe with their nail-studded boots, sending them to the places from which no one returned. In Rome, they knew and were silent.” Pope Pius XII, says Friend, knew about the destruction of the Jews and didn’t do a thing to prevent it.
The article then surveys the few documents from the Vatican archives that have been released over the years, describing altercations between the Vatican and a variety of famous historical figures, such as Galileo and Michelangelo, and the Vatican’s involvement in historical events, such as the discovery of America by Columbus, or the American Civil War. But texts relating to the Holocaust have remained under lock and key, probably because of the way they incriminate Pope Pius XII in his relationship with the Nazis. Even though there are those who claim that opening the archives will have the opposite effect and will prove that Pope Pius “acted quietly behind the scenes” in order to save as many people as possible during the war, Friend remains unconvinced. The pope, he says, knew what was happening. And with that knowledge in hand, he chose to remain silent.
BaKehila, January 30, 2014
This six-page article focuses on the impending handover of King David’s Tomb to the jurisdiction of the Vatican. Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein gives a detailed history of the tomb, explaining how it has always been a point of contention between the Christians, Jews, and Muslims of the Old City. So much so, in fact, that when one religious order would take control of the tomb, it would usually ban the other religious orders from visiting the place. Thus the Jews were banned from the tomb for most of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem. Christians and Jews were allowed to return to the tomb after WWI, when it fell into the hands of the British. Today the tomb is maintained by Goldstein’s yeshiva. “We do not keep Muslims out,” says Goldstein. Christians are allowed to perform mass twice a year within the compound. Goldstein is afraid that if the government hands over jurisdiction of the place, the status quo will not be kept and there will be too many Christian pilgrims frequenting the site.
Yediot Yerushalayim, January 30, 2014
Moshe Heler reports that religious Jews have decided to take action and fight against the handover of King David’s Tomb to the Vatican. These activists are worried that Christians will perform “idol worship” in this most holy site if it is handed over to their jurisdiction. “King David’s Tomb will be desecrated,” writes Heler. The religious activists are planning a long string of protests, like the ones that took place in Sheikh Jarah.
The Jerusalem Post, January 27, 2014
Members of the Knesset have criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for allowing his son to date a non-Jewish Norwegian girl. MK Nissim Ze’ev said that “it’s a big problem,” adding that “as the prime minister of Israel and the Jewish people, he must display national responsibility via the values he presents inside his own household. I bet it pains him. Any Jew who wants to maintain his roots wants to see his son marry a Jewish girl. There is no shortage of beautiful, successful girls without sowing in the fields of others.”
MK Moshe Feiglin also called the situation “unfortunate,” while David Breakstone, who is the chairman of the World Zionist Organization, said that “he hopes that if the relationship becomes serious [the girl] would want to convert to Judaism.” The most severe criticism, however, came from the anti-assimilation group Lehava, who wrote, “Bibi’s son has found a gentile! His father is proud of him and gives legitimacy to the assimilation and destruction of the Jewish people.”
Conversion to Judaism
Maariv, January 30, 2014
In this six-page article, Eyal Levi interviews a group of former Christian Zionists who converted to Judaism and moved to Israel, making their home in the settlement of Susya on Mount Hebron. Kevin and Gail Brocket came from New Zealand; Ariel Zion came from Holland; and Ronelle and Joseph came from South Africa.
Ariel Zion, formerly a Protestant minister, says it is harder to be a Jew, “but when you are at peace with yourself, it becomes easier.” Zion grew up in Holland in a Christian family. By the age of 30 he had been ordained and was leading a congregation of about 70 people. However, the more he delved into Scripture, the more he began to ask himself some disturbing questions. “Seventy-five percent of the New Testament deals with how important the land of Israel is as well as the return of the Jews. But in the church, no one was talking about this,” says Zion. “I thought to myself that if I pray then God will direct me to the right path. … I started looking at things differently.” In time, Zion began to realize that Christians ought to be celebrating all the Jewish festivals – that the early church continued to celebrate them until 325 CE. Zion’s ideas continued to take shape, and before long, his congregants began deserting him. “Even Messianic Jews,” writes Levi, “who would invite Zion to speak to them, began to hesitate when he would speak so highly of Judaism and try to make them see the error of their ways.”
It wasn’t long before Zion began to adopt Jewish customs, including having his newborn son circumcised as well as being circumcised himself. During his trips to Israel he began to visit some of the settlements, where he made good connections with the Jews living there. After long conversations with these Jews, Zion decided he must convert to Judaism. It took him a year and a half to convince his wife to leave Christianity (since she was afraid that if he was wrong, they would go to hell). In 2006 Zion and his family moved to Israel, and Zion began to spread his story online in the hopes that it would cause other Christians to follow in his footsteps.
Ronelle, from South Africa, heard Zion’s story and did just that. Ronelle was a devout Christian, but felt that something was wrong. She tried to get closer to God in a variety of ways, but these failed to satisfy her soul (for example, she burned down her Christmas tree one year). In time, Ronelle and her husband Joseph decided to move to Israel, where they are now living while in the process of converting to Judaism. They had contact with Zion before their move, and he helped them make the decision to come.
In New Zealand, Gail and Kevin Brocket were also re-arranging their lives, having realized that “the way the church looks at Scripture didn’t suit us.” They stopped celebrating the Christian holidays and started celebrating the Jewish ones instead. Eventually the couple came to the conclusion that they must pick up their lives and move to Israel, where they could be surrounded by a Jewish community. They arrived in the land in 2010, after establishing contact with Ariel Zion via the internet.
The Jerusalem Post, January 30, 2014
Qantas Ahmed reflects on the state of Christians in the Muslim Middle East, where Christian persecution “goes unremarked upon” even though Christianity in this area of the world is today “imperiled to a degree formerly unseen in history.” Christians are leaving the Middle East in droves on account of “rabid political Islamism” which is relentlessly persecuting this minority community. “Visiting persecuted Christians in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,” Ahmed writes, “it’s the silence that strikes me the most. British nurses hide crucifixes from view; Filipino nurses furtively read banned Christmas catalogues; Christian physicians whisper their weekend plans, referring to church services as ‘gatherings’” – all of them living in “dire peril for expressing their religious observation.”
The situation is no better, and perhaps even worse, in places like Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. “Across the wider MENA region, religious intolerance is becoming a sentinel part of Muslim identity.” Ahmed asks Father Edward Joseph at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi, Pakistan, how he encourages his congregation “in such a hostile climate of persecution, where [they] could be charged with blasphemy at any time and face grave charges, incarceration, lynching or worse.” Father Joseph answers simply: “I tell them [that] just as Christ had his cross to bear, so too do we.”
Ahmed concludes her articles by asking, “Is this what we tolerate, Muslims? Is this who we are? It’s time we respond to the suffering of our fellow Christian and shelter him from persecution.”
Haaretz, January 27, 2014
A survey on Polish anti-Semitism was published on the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day, and the results are grim. According to the survey, 23% of Poles believe that Jews kidnapped Christian children in the past for their religious rituals, 22% believe that the Jews are responsible for Jesus’ death, and 63% believe in a variety of conspiracy theories relating to the Jews. Dr. Michael Bilvich, who conducted the survey, says he was “surprised” by the results, adding that anti-Semitism today has “less to do with Christian perspectives or the church.” The results of the survey were discussed in the Polish parliament two weeks ago.
Wizo Review, January 20, 2014
A group of Israel-loving Christians from Finland visited the Shaviv Day Care Center in Herzliya as part of a tour sponsored by WIZO Finland. The group, who are all part of the Karmel Society, “had no idea of the extent of WIZO’s work for the betterment of Israeli society,” and they were “impressed by the warm and generous hospitality” they received at the center. According to the article, “the Karmel Society, a Christian Zionist non-profit organization established in 1949 in Finland, enjoys close collaboration with WIZO Finland. With the motto ‘For the Bible and Israel,’ these devout Christians are ardent supporters of the Jewish state and hold regular ‘Milk and Honey’ Jewish culture evenings. … The proceeds of these evenings are donated to WIZO Finland.”
Mabat Mekomi, January 23, 2014
726 elderly people will be the recipients of a monetary gift from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The gift is meant to help the elderly get through the winter by paying their electricity bills or helping them purchase warm clothing and the like. In addition, the IFCJ will also distribute 5,000 blankets. The money comes from Israel-loving Christians abroad, and totals about 7.5 millions shekels.
Maariv, January 31, 2014
Admiel Kosman delves into early church history, focusing on Paul and the way he tried to undo the Jewish character of the early church – before it became its own religion. Paul walked this road alone, writes Kosman, and the first followers of Jesus, who were all Jewish, were strongly opposed to his taking the message to the Gentiles. They believed that those who wanted to become followers of Christ must adopt Jewish law and customs as well. This was Paul’s anit-Halacha campaign, explains Kosman, and as such it has probably shaped Western culture more than anything else in history. How so? Kosman asks. “Because it is Paul who founded Christianity, and not Jesus,” he writes. Jesus himself was a law-abiding Jew, and would have been very surprised by the way Paul interpreted his words had he lived longer. Furthermore, according to Kosman, Paul wasn’t very interested in Jesus, but only in the platform that Jesus provided for Paul’s own teachings.
According to historian Samuel Sandmal, all of Western culture is built on Paul’s own personal psychological frustrations – his inability to accept the Halacha. Paul was a perfectionist, and could not adopt a set of laws (like the Halacha) that allowed for an imperfect following (the Halacha only demanded that a person do his or her best, rather than be perfect). Paul’s theology fixes this problem, because he believed that the coming of Jesus changed the hearts of human beings and enabled them to be perfect.
BaMachane, January 23, 2014
Over 10,000 Greek Orthodox Christians gathered at the baptismal site on the Jordan River to celebrate Epiphany. The event ended without any major incidents, largely because the security forces took extra precautions to maintain order. An additional 2,000 Christians from other denominations held their own baptismal services on the same day.
Haaretz, January 26, 2014
A 4,000-year-old inscription etched on a small tablet has gone on display at the British Museum. The inscription, which comes from Mesopotamia, describes a story very similar to the biblical narrative of Noah’s Ark, revealing that the ark was supposed to be round, not ship-like as it has been described through the ages. Experts in ancient Mesopotamia claim that round ships were not uncommon at the time. This information might rattle people who believe that the biblical story is true, says the article. But according to some experts, the story was probably passed on to the Jews during their exile in Babylon.
HaMevaser, January 24, 2014
The tomb of the prophet Samuel, located in Jerusalem, is undergoing extensive renovations that will strengthen the tomb’s structure. About 300,000 tourists visit the site each year, so it is important to make sure the building is structurally sound.
Kan Darom, The Jerusalem Post, January 24, 2014
These articles reported on the discovery of a Byzantine church near the village of Aluma (see January 27, 2014, Media Review).
Haaretz, January 31, 2014
Yizhak Laor reviews the book The Spirit and the Bridegroom by Pau Pigares, a Christian believer who wrote his doctorate about early Christianity under the supervision of two Jewish scholars at Hebrew University. The book gives a detailed history the Jewish origins of Christianity. The book also explores the correlation between Jewish art and early Christian art, and delves into the early Christian doctrine of the land of Israel and specifically the way Jerusalem as a place came to have allegorical meaning in Christian faith.
Haaretz, January 31, 2014
This article reviews the book Jerusalem of Holiness and Madness by Witztum and Kalian (see the November 13 and 17, 2013, Media Reviews).