During the week covered by this review, we received 6 articles on the following subjects:
Christians in Israel
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, September 9, 2018
This was a piece that explored some of the non-Jewish minority communities in Israel (partly in response to the debate over ethnic identity in Israel and the “Jewish nation-state” law). The piece first introduced the Arameans, who had to fight a legal battle in order to be recognized as a distinct non-Arab minority in Israel. The Arameans are Christians who speak Aramaic. Some of them serve in the Israeli military and mostly live in the Galilee. The second group introduced is that of the Hebrew Catholics. Piotr Zelasko, a Polish priest in Be’er Sheva, conducts mass in Hebrew, and in perfect Hebrew said: “A Catholic praying in Hebrew is exotic; it sounds like it’s from another world. But we have an important job: To remind the church that Christianity is the younger sister of Judaism.” Most Catholics living in Israel are Arab, making Hebrew Catholics a minority within a minority. The group includes the children of Filipino and Russian immigrants, as well as “Catholic Jews.” Zelasko explained that once a Catholic Jew would not have been conceivable, but now one can be Jewish and a Buddhist, or Jewish and an Atheist. “You can also be Catholic.” Zelasko said the Hebrew Catholics are not trying to convert anyone. One of the final groups to be introduced is that of the Samaritans, who do not identify as either Jewish or Christian, but who celebrate Jewish holidays and the Sabbath, and whose history extends back to the days of Jesus. The Samaritans are known for their annual Passover sacrifice.
Haaretz, September 9, 2018; Haaretz, September 13, 2018
On the eve of Rosh Hashana, “Haaretz” conducted a survey in order to better understand the religious habits of Israeli Jews. Here are some of the results. 54% of Israeli Jews believe in God, with an additional 21% believing in some “higher power.” 45% keep kosher. 56% believe Jews are God’s chosen people. 74% of rightwing Israeli Jews believe the Jewish right to the land is the result of God’s promise, with only 8% of the left believing the same (indicating that “underneath the political debate lies a religious battle”). 25% observe the Sabbath, though that number changes drastically from region to region. In Jerusalem, for instance, 66% observe the Sabbath. 37% do not believe in evolution, while in Jerusalem that number goes up to 81%. One of the surprises of the survey was the trends towards religious conservativism amongst younger Israel Jews. So, for example, while 84% of Israeli Jews aged 65 and over want to keep supermarkets open on the Sabbath, that number drops to 51% amongst those between the ages of 18-24. Twice as many younger Israeli Jews as those from an older demographic attend synagogue and pray. This trend is the reverse of what is happening in Europe and the United States, and may be partially explained by the fact that religious Jews have more children. However, even amongst younger Israeli Jews, conservative views did not necessarily translate into observant lifestyles. Furthermore, on social issues, Israeli Jews were mostly still against religious enforcement. 67% wanted to break the monopoly Orthodox Jews have over marriage in Israel; 61% were in favor of recognizing gay marriage; and finally, 73% were in favor of women serving in military combat units.
In response to this article, a letter was sent into “Haaretz,” arguing that it is hard to believe that such a large number of Israeli Jews deny evolution, and that “even the Catholic Church has done its best to rid itself of superstitious views, and has accepted evolution.” The letter concluded that it is possible to believe and “also be sane.”
HaMevasser, September 7, 2018; Iton Shacharit, September 7, 2018; Kol Israel, August 31, 2018
The first article lamented how Jews used to be willing to accept death over conversion, but now “how sad that in the last generation, the missionaries are managing to tempt Jews with money in order to get them baptized.” It is stated that missionaries come from all over the world to the Holy Land in order to convert Jews. In response to the “sharpened fingernails” of missionaries, the organization “Or L’Achim” has sprung up in order to help retrieve Jews who have started to fall away. For example, a young man named Tzachi had consented to be baptized, but Or L’Achim stepped in and managed to convince him against it. The article ends with a number to call in order to donate to Or L’Achim.
The second article reported that Yad L’Achim has warned the public that there could be increased missionary activity around Rosh Hashanah. Last year, missionaries from the “cult” of the Messianic Jews delivered fliers and set up stands with missionary material around HaOman Street in Jerusalem. This year, in order to prepare, Yeshiva students were trained and deployed to the area.
The third article gave some background to the organization Yad L’Achim, including about its founders, as well as the split which resulted in the founding of Lev L’Achim. Initially, most of the organization’s activity was with immigrant Jews, later focusing on spreading the Torah in smaller cities of industry. One of its main focuses, however, is in battling missionary activity. According to Yad L’Achim, there are 100 communities in Israel that are defined as “missionaries” or “cults.” Their budgets are in the millions of Dollars per year, and their target audiences are families in spiritual and material need. Yad L’Achim has dozens of workers and hundreds of volunteers, some of whom are people who were previously caught up in the aforementioned cults or communities. Of late the main battle has been against Messianic Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Scientology. Yad L’Achim conducts “preventative activities” in response to these groups, especially amongst immigrants from Russia.