During the week covered by this review, we received 14 articles on the following subjects:
The Pope and the Vatican
Christian and Jewish Holidays
Christians and the Holocaust
Haaretz, December 20, 2019
This was a piece about the history of Jewish-Christian relations and an examination of the Synoptic Gospels. It began by noting that Hanukkah is known as the holiday that marks the Jewish rejection of Hellenic influence. However, the events of Hanukkah also marked the beginning of a battle over the identity of Judaism, which includes the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and eventually, the Christians. A rivalry was born between the two religions; Jews saw in Christianity a false messianism, and Christians saw Jews as the murderers of Christ. Christians also embraced Hellenism in a variety of ways. Four events contributed to a positive shift in Jewish-Christian relations since its early rivalry: first, the emancipation of Jews in 19th-century Europe; second, the establishment of the State of Israel and the Vatican’s recognition of it; third, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which launched a new era of Christian scholarship into its Jewish roots; and finally, the declarations of the Second Vatican Council, and in particular, Nostra Aetate of 1965, which shifted the Catholic Church’s position towards Judaism. Jews were no longer to be blamed for the death of Jesus. The author goes on to question whether the intentions of Nostra Aetate could be kept in light of the New Testament’s own attitude towards Jews, who in the Synoptic Gospels are portrayed as willingly accepting their guilt in the death of Jesus.
Haaretz, December 20, 2019
This was a piece about old Christian maps of the Holy Land. The article made the point that prior to the modern era, maps were drawn for theological, rather than geographical, reasons. Maps conveyed narratives that were meant to strengthen faith in God, or to highlight certain points, such as the triumph of Christianity over Judaism. So, for example, early maps of Jerusalem put the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the center, while eliminating the Temple Mount altogether.
Pope and the Vatican
Yedioth Ahronoth, December 22, 2019; The Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2020
The first article reported that Pope Francis is planning to visit Israel towards the end of 2020. The Pope met with the mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salem, in his private residence at the Vatican. The mayor told the Pope that a major road in Nazareth was to be named after him, and asked if he would come visit. Pope Francis agreed. The mayor further asked the Pope to support peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as to encourage Christian pilgrims to visit Nazareth. Pope Francis’s first visit to Israel was in 2014.
The second article was about Pope Saint John XXIII, also known as “The Good Pope”. John XXIII will have a monument erected in his honor by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) for inspiring the Houses of Life educational program. The Houses of Life are titles given either to institutions or individuals who gave shelter to those persecuted during the Second World War. Plaques are put on these houses in order to raise awareness for those who rescued Jews during the war. John XXIII assisted thousands of Jewish refugees by facilitating their escape to Palestine. The pope was also influential in shifting Catholic attitudes towards Jews after the war.
The Jerusalem Post, February 1, 2020
The Bible Archeology Report released its list of the most important biblical archaeological discoveries of 2019. Topping the list was a 2,600-year-old seal bearing the inscription “[belonging] to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King”, which was found in the City of David excavation. The name on the seal appears in II Kings 23:11, referencing a man who was an official in King Josiah’s court. Second on the list was a horn discovered in the excavation of the ancient city of Shiloh. The horn is said to be one of the four corners of an ancient altar. According to the biblical account, Shiloh once housed the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.
Christian and Jewish Holidays
The town of Shfaram in the north of Israel, home to 10,000 Christians, became a tourist destination during the Christmas holiday. The town was decorated, and an interfaith candle lighting ceremony took place in the city, initiated by the town’s Christians and Muslims. The event included the lighting of a hanukkiah in a synagogue that has long been abandoned. Dozens of Israelis arrived for the event. They also visited churches and sang songs.
The second article was about the festivities in Nazareth, where the author of the article took her daughters and grandchildren for a visit. There she told them what she thought really took place 2,000 years ago. According to the author, Jesus was made the Son of God in order to protect Mary’s indiscretion. To prevent God from being tarnished through contact with a woman, Christians invented the Holy Spirit, who supposedly helped Mary conceive. Jesus, in his youth a sensitive loner, grew up to be a prophet, and preached socialism and peace. According to this writer, Jesus would have been disappointed with what has been done to his ideology, which has since his time been used to justify zealotry, hatred, and division. Nevertheless, the author said, one can still enjoy the traditions of others without fighting about their gods.
The third article was about the Russian-Israeli holiday of Novy God, which is a civil celebration imported from the former USSR, and which incorporates many of the same decorations as Christmas. In the last few years, the city of Be’er Sheva has seen an increase in Novy God celebrations and commerce, with trees and Santa Clauses and other decorations being sold in stores. Once the holiday was looked on suspiciously as a Christian holiday, but since then, people have come to understand that Novy God is a secular Russian holiday marking the transition to a new year.
The next three articles were again, as in weeks prior, about the Herzliya school of Yad Giora, which has been accused of attempting to brainwash children by putting up Christmas stands during Hanukkah. A member of the Herzliya Municipality visited the school and took photos of the event (without permission). He was “appalled” to find that Santa Clause and Christmas trees were brought into the school, and said that mixing traditions in this way erases Jewish identity. In response, the school said that only 4 of 15 stands were devoted to Christmas (the rest to Hanukkah), and that they were proud to expose their students to the traditions of other religions. One of the articles cited again the “Hanu-Christmas” event that took place in a school in Be’er Yaakov as another example of the problematic mixing of traditions.
Matzav Ruach, December 27, 2019
A sewage pipe coming out of the Old City of Jerusalem is dumping contaminated water onto an ancient burial outside of the city walls. The article reported that the pipe is from a Christian church in the area, which the author said was the reason nothing had been done about the situation yet. The Jerusalem Municipality said it is working on resolving the issue.
Christians and the Holocaust
Gefen, December 27, 2019
A group of 150 Israel-loving tourists from around the world met with 550 Holocaust survivors in Tiberias for Hanukkah. The event included lunch, singing, and dancing. The event was organized by Yad L’Ezra, which said that there have been a series of such events throughout December. The article noted that in Israel, today, 150,000 Holocaust survivors live below the poverty line.
The Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2019
This was a piece about the dilemma shared by certain Evangelicals and Jews regarding President Donald Trump. As the author put it: “Do you support someone who strongly supports causes dear to you, or is that support somehow tainted – or perhaps not even worth it – because of its source?” This question was sparked by an editorial in the magazine Christianity Today, in which editor-in-chief, Mark Galli, came out in support of Trump’s impeachment. Galli wrote: “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.” This same argument is shared by many Jews, who may be in support of Trump’s Middle Eastern policies, but will not agree to support the man himself. 71% of Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in 2017, while 81% of Evangelicals voted for Trump. The author wrote that while this would seem to indicate two very different political outlooks between the two faith groups, there is evidence of Jewish support for Trump, and of Evangelical opposition. This issue matters because if there are cracks in Evangelical support for Trump, asked the author, “does that also mean there are cracks in their support for Israel?” The author noted that already, Millennials are less committed to supporting Israel.