During the week covered by this review we received 104 articles on the following subjects:
The Pope and the Vatican
Jewish Attitudes Concerning Christians
Status of Holy Places
Christians in Israel
The Pope and the Vatican
Pope Francis arrived in Israel on Sunday, May 25, for a whirlwind visit of approximately 32 hours. He arrived in Bethlehem on Sunday morning on a Jordanian Air Force helicopter (the first pope to fly directly to the city), and left on an El Al flight to Italy on Monday, May 26, after a farewell ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport. Cardinal a-Rai from Lebanon; Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminar; Imam Omar Aboud, former head of the Islamic Center in Buenos Aires; and 31 clerics from Arab countries were part of his entourage. Pope Francis visited both Israeli and Palestinian sites, and spoke in both Israeli and Palestinian venues.
Pope Francis’ rigorous and carefully choreographed itinerary after arriving from Bethlehem began with a state ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport. He then proceeded by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he was received by Mayor Nir Barkat. He met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, as an underscoring of the historic meeting between their predecessors 50 years ago (which ended 900 years of church strife), and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in his company. On Monday, May 26, Pope Francis visited the Temple Mount and met with Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, mufti of Jerusalem. He then visited the Western Wall. He proceeded to Mount Herzl, where he laid a wreath on Theodor Herzl’s grave (the first pope to do so), paid an impromptu visit at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s invitation to the memorial to terror victims at Mount Herzl, and visited and spoke at Yad VaShem, where he also met with Holocaust survivors. He met with the chief rabbis at the Heichal Shlomo synagogue, attended a reception at the president’s residence, met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and conducted a mass at the Cenacle on Mount Zion. He left for Italy on Monday night.
The analysis articles received during the week covered by this review are divided on two main points: Catholic-Jewish relations both past and present, and whether or not Pope Francis was in fact politically even-handed in his visit’s itinerary. The whole spectrum of opinion was represented.
The treatment of Catholic-Jewish relations spanned the centuries from the Middle Ages to the present. The positive part of the spectrum, represented mostly by the secular newspapers, focused on Pope Francis’ charismatic personality, reputation for humility and warmth, his emphasis on the importance of peace and interfaith dialogue in almost every speech, and his friendship with Rabbi Skorka. The negative part of the spectrum, represented mostly by the religious newspapers, while perhaps being willing to give Pope Francis his personal due, repeatedly mentioned the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.
The treatment of Pope Francis’ itinerary dealt mostly with specific incidents such as the pontiff’s stop for prayer at the separation fence during his time in Bethlehem; his laying a wreath on Herzl’s grave; his speech at Yad Vashem; and his speech at the meeting with the chief rabbis. The positive part of the spectrum, represented mostly by the secular newspapers, was generally convinced that the stop for prayer was a sincere wish that the wall would come down because it will not be necessary, and that the location (next to graffiti comparing Bethlehem to the Warsaw ghetto) was coincidental; that the wreath laid on Herzl’s grave was a sincere tribute to the father of Zionism; and that the speech at Heichal Shlomo expressed a sincere warmth of feeling and desire for closer relations. The positive side also emphasized the pope’s own declaration that the visit was to be a pilgrimage. The negative part of the spectrum was convinced that the stop at the separation fence and its location was completely premeditated, and viewed as ominous the fact that the pope’s Yad VaShem speech did not refer to the Holocaust as a Jewish tragedy, as well as the absence of any apology in both that speech and his speech to the chief rabbis.
It is interesting to note, however, that the neutral part of the spectrum, while also mentioning Pope Francis’ personality and reputation, praised his emphasis on the importance of peace and interfaith dialogue and his invitation to both President Peres and President Abbas to come to the Vatican to pray for peace; saw the visit as even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians; and said that the pope navigated the complicated visit successfully and successfully fulfilled his aimed-for role as a mediator.
Jewish Attitudes Concerning Christians
Yediot Haifa, May 23, 2014
Monks at the Carmelite monastery outside Haifa are angry after their flour mill was set ablaze on Friday, May 23. The mill, originally built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, was leased some years ago from the monastery by Kishon, a local water company. Wadi Abu-Nasser, the order’s spokesperson, called the arson “another case of intolerable vandalism,” and Haim Hami, Kishon’s CEO, said that this “would not stop him” from continuing to turn the mill into a museum of river restoration. The mill hosts thousands every year for creative projects run by Kishon.
Shvi’i, May 23, 2014
Planned summer camps, to be run by the Ministry of Education and partly financed by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, have caused a storm of controversy in the religious community. Supporters of the program say one must respect the givers without alienating them, while those in opposition say that behind the contributions is the desire to influence and convert. Rabbis are also divided in their opinions, and some parents of the children in question have begun a campaign called “Christianity: Not In Our Schools.”
Haaretz, Maariv, May 25, 2014
Anti-Christian graffiti was found at a church in Beer Sheva on Friday, May 23, and police were immediately notified by the church’s priest. Peretz Amar, head of the Negev police district, said that “the police regard this as very serious.” Rubik Danilovich, Beer Sheva’s mayor, has condemned the incident as well, and the municipality removed the graffiti quickly.
Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, May 28; Yediot Ahronot, May 30, 2014
A book of prayers and some wooden crosses were set ablaze in the Dormition Abbey Church (adjacent to the Cenacle) on Mount Zion on Monday, May 26. The monks were able to put out the fire themselves, but when firefighters arrived the items were already destroyed. The arson occurred immediately after Pope Francis left the area after conducting a mass, leading the monks to believe it was connected to the pope’s visit. A suspect was seen in the area and was described as having a “non-Jewish appearance.” However, the Yediot Ahronot article, in describing the yeshiva adjacent to the Cenacle as a place where itinerants may sleep, ponders the possibility that the arsonist was one of them.
Status of Holy Places
Olam Katan, May 16; The Jerusalem Post, May 23, 2014
Menachem Gantz is convinced that the Israeli government is determined to hand over ownership of the Cenacle (Last Supper Room) to the Vatican. Gantz protests this decision, and quotes both Jewish and Christian sources who oppose this decision as well. In the Jerusalem Post article, however, Peggy Cidor quotes Aryeh King (Bayit Yehudi), a Jerusalem city council member, who says that the government and other elements have intentionally misrepresented those opposing the handover by emphasizing the sovereignty issue. King says that the main thing the campaigners are concerned about is the proposed number of masses, which would be held every Sunday of the year and also Christian holidays. This, says King, would change the character of the site and “desecrate it for Jewish worship.”
The Jerusalem Post, May 25, 2014
The Church of Scotland published a report “highly critical of Israel” in 2013, in which it was said, among other things, that “promises about the Land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally.” The report proved highly controversial, drawing sharp condemnation especially from the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, who said that it “reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism” and that it is “an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for.” The church responded that “it is not now denying Israel’s right to exist … the report is against the injustices leveled at the Palestinian people,” and modified the report slightly.
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s recently installed chief rabbi, addressed the church’s general assembly on May 22, and said that he wanted to “see that the facts were clear.” He emphasized that interfaith dialogue is an “essential priority,” especially in view of the difficulties caused by last year’s report. Mirvis went on to describe the Jewish people’s “inextricable” link to the land of Israel, calling it “deep and eternal.” While stating that “there is no legitimate theological narrative or theological interpretation that can deny this fundamental link,” Mirvis ended his speech by calling on all concerned to work together “to advance the cause of peace.”
Maariv, May 26, 2014
“Whoever thinks that our whole problem with the Palestinians is a territorial conflict is apparently living in a sweet illusion,” says Amos Gilboa. Gilboa goes on to say that in fact the root of the problem is in anti-Semitism; the nationalistic-based anti-Semitism that is defined in the Anti-Defamation League’s Global Index is the surface level, but in fact one must look deeper. The Christian anti-Semitism imported into the Ottoman Empire by the Western powers awoke Muslim-based anti-Semitism. The origin of this is in the Koran story of the Arabian Jews refusing to be converted to Islam by Muhammad, and therefore being eternally doomed to humiliation by men and vengeance by Allah. This is the reasoning behind Muslim Holocaust denial and the mentality of organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda, according to which “Judaism should be opposed until it is completely annihilated.”
Haaretz, May 27; HaMevaser, May 28, 2014
The election of far-right elements, some of which have neo-Nazi roots, to the parliament of the European Union is causing concern for the European Jewish community, especially in the wake of the museum shooting in Brussels, and in France and Germany. These far-right elements oppose foreign immigration, and some have been quoted as making racist pronouncements. However, the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University says in its anti-Semitism report that in fact the number of anti-Semitic incidents has gone down since 2013, and that although the Anti-Defamation League’s recently published Global Index defines 24% of the European population as anti-Semitic, the numbers vary greatly from country to country. This has lead analysts to ponder if in fact the new strength of these far-right elements is due to xenophobia, opposition to immigration, and the recent economic crises on the continent, rather than ancient European Christian anti-Semitism, and whether the anti-Semitic incidents are due instead to extremist opinions among European Muslim communities.
Christians in Israel
Yediot Ahronot, May 26, 2014
Farid Jubran, A Christian Arab advocate and a citizen of Israel, opposes the popular idea that Christians’ situation in Israel is good. He quotes these examples: the many price-tag attacks and hate crimes against Christians; Christian clergy are generally restricted to a visa that “does not give them any social rights”; Christian schools do not receive the same budget allowance as state schools; and the government unilaterally supports the drafting of Christian Arabs into the army, rather than “encouraging public discussion of the issue.” Jubran hopes that Pope Francis’ visit will be a “spur” to dealing with “issues that are acute for Christians.”
The Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2014
Cardinal Beshara al-Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Christian community, is the first Lebanese religious leader to visit Israel since 1948. The patriarch accompanied Pope Francis on part of his trip, but stayed to visit Maronite communities all over Israel. The patriarch’s visit has drawn stiff opposition from Hezbollah, who say that his visit “will legitimize Israel,” but he has emphasized that the visit is “purely spiritual and is celebrating the roots of Christianity in the region.”
Haaretz, May 30, 2014
Leaders of the Anglican Church in Israel are “livid” over the fact that some 24 Middle Eastern delegates who recently arrived for a conference in Jerusalem were detained upon entry, and 5 of them – Iranian refugees holding British passports – were subsequently deported. “Things like this cause so much damage to Israel in the Christian community,” said Rev. David Pileggi of Christ Church in Jerusalem, which organized the conference. The Interior Ministry responded that the visa request for the delegates was submitted incorrectly. The detainees were held at Lod in what Dr. Elihu Richter of the Hebrew University–Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine described as “intolerable conditions” for 10 hours. The detainees filed a petition to remain in the country but were denied. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Manchester have filed a formal complaint with the Israeli embassy in the Britain, and Dr. Richter has written to Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar to demand a formal apology to the delegates as well as a trip to Israel “as the minister’s personal guests” as compensation.
The Jerusalem Post, May 23, 2014
Nineteenth-century frescoes were recently discovered at the St. Louis French hospital. The frescoes were painted by Comte Marie Paul Amedee de Piellat, who first visited Jerusalem in 1874 and saw himself as the last Crusader. Accordingly, the frescoes – “depicting the genealogy of the French warriors during the Crusader period” – show warring knights in armor and heraldic motifs. The count used a non-typical technique in his painting, which allowed a longer time period for additions and corrections. However, this technique is less durable than typical fresco, so the hospital, generally closed to the public, has decided to have the frescoes photographed in order to ensure their preservation. The frescoes were discovered after a burst water pipe necessitated the removal of the Turkish black paint that had previously covered them.
The Jerusalem Post, May 28, 2014
This article reviews the French TV film The Jewish Cardinal, which depicts the life of Cardinal Jean-Marie Aaron Lustiger from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Lustiger, born in the mid-1920s, became a Catholic in the late 1930s, and rose in the church to eventually become archbishop of France. The film focuses on Lustiger’s “dual religions” – for example the fact that he called himself Jewish despite practicing Catholicism – and the controversy of his roots to both Catholics and Jews. The article is of the opinion that while the film could have portrayed Lustiger’s life more effectively, it still provides “an interesting look at the human side of religion.”
Mechonot VeKelim, May 21, 2014
This three-page technical article deals with the techniques of metal-working technology and the training necessary for it. Of particular note is the fact that the training center featured is run at factories owned by the Bethel Group, which is in turn owned by the Bethel community of Zichron Yaakov, whose members are German Christian Zionists who have made Israel their home. The training center is open to high school students and soldiers who want technical training, as well as new immigrants who need jobs on their arrival.
Daroma, April 30, 2014
Akiva London tells the story of a recent visit he and his family received from a Christian family from New Zealand, who are members in the organization HIT (Hosting Israeli Travelers). London was extremely impressed by the visitors’ “interest, admiration, and identification” with the Shabbat customs, the sites they were taken to see, and their knowledge of the Bible and the rabbinic teachings. London closes by saying how encouraged he was to see lovers of Israel in the world, in spite of the recent wave of boycotts.
The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Makor Rishon, May 28, 2014
The Israel Antiquities Authority has recently authenticated a rare seal found over a year ago in the Monastery of St. Sabas in Jerusalem. The seal depicts a bearded saint holding a cross and a gospel, with the inscription “This is the seal of the Laura of the Holy Sabas.” It was found in a salvage dig in 2012, and has been dated to be approximately 800 years old; it is made of lead, and is the only seal of its kind to have been found in the area to date. The dig also revealed a Byzantine-era farm, which may have been sold to the monastery in the ensuing Crusader period.
St. Sabas was an important figure in the Christian monastic movement which developed in the Judean Desert in Byzantine times, and is known for having established the monastery named after him and called the Great Laura in Byzantine documents. The monastery’s importance increased in the Crusader era, and it had close ties to the royal family of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is the only monastery of the period to be inhabited today.