The Torah speaks quite clearly about driving idolatry out of the Land of Israel. With Israel physically restored, many pious Jews believe it is now time to enact spiritual restoration by opposing and removing anything that violates that commandment.
For these Jews, Christianity is chief among the offenders.
In their eyes, Christianity portrays Jesus as a kind of co-deity with God the Father, or a separate god altogether. That and the Christian propensity for making statues (graven images) of Jesus, even if they aren’t actually praying to the statue, makes them blatant idolaters.
Given this perception, and the way the Lord speaks against allowing idolatry in the land if Israel wants to prosper, it is little wonder that many religious Jews are so hostile toward Christians and Christian symbols.
Father Matteo Munari gets this, and that’s why he’s not angry over the vandalism of a Jesus statue by an American-Jewish tourist at the Church of the Flagellation (one of the stations on the Via Dolorosa) earlier this year.
Father Munari recounted in an interview with Channel 12 News how he had confronted the Orthodox Jewish visitor, and how he had tried to justify his actions to police when they arrived.
“He shouted in English ‘Exodus, chapter 20,’ this is the chapter of the Ten Commandments, because it says there that it is forbidden to make statues and images of God,” recalled the priest. “I tried to convince him that we don’t bow down to statues, we don’t worship idols, but he wasn’t ready to listen. He simply said that all idols in Jerusalem must be destroyed, because Jerusalem is a holy city.”
A man was arrested after vandalising a statue of Jesus Christ at a church in occupied East Jerusalem.
The suspect is a Jewish extremist, according to one of the church guards who claims to have seen him before, whereas the Israeli police claim he is an American tourist pic.twitter.com/1KeV8aQiA5
— TRT World (@trtworld) February 2, 2023
Father Munari said that while someone should pay for the restoration of the statue, he does not harbor anger or thoughts of revenge against the perpetrator. On the contrary, he expressed understanding for the Jewish man’s actions.
“They (religious Jews) have a problem with the Holy Trinity, and our belief that God became flesh (the incarnation). This is something that cannot be accepted according to Judaism,” he explained. “He (the perpetrator) didn’t want to do anything bad. He was really convinced that what he did was right in God’s eyes. This is simply someone who may have been told that the problem of Jerusalem is the Christians with all these statues and idols.”
When news of the vandalism broke, other Church officials in Jerusalem did try to exploit it for political purposes, and blamed the incident on the “Christian-hating” right-wing religious government of Benjamin Netanyahu. As we pointed out at the time, these Church officials love to jump on every act of Jewish hostility toward Christians, but rarely open their mouths in response to the far more numerous acts of Muslim hostility.
Father Munari clearly does not fall into that category. While lamenting the routine smaller acts of hostility by Orthodox Jews who pass his church, he accepts it as a painful expression of religion and not a political attack.
Nor does he attribute it primarily to the Christianity’s historical hostility toward the Jews, which no doubt plays some role. For Father Munari, the issue in Jerusalem’s Old City is entirely a spiritual one. “We know that Christians have done many bad things to Jews throughout history. But here I think it is not a matter of history, but a religious matter of impurity,” he stressed. “Because in their minds we represent idolatry.”
Personal clarification by the author
All of the above occurred in the Old City of Jerusalem, a small confined space where the most outwardly-religious Jews, the most outwardly-religious Christians and the most-outwardly religious Muslims live in the closest possible proximity to one another, making it a natural flashpoint.
What happens there between these factions is hardly representative of the country as a whole.
I am a Gentile Christian, as are my wife and seven children.
In the small town outside of Jerusalem in which we live, everyone from our next-door neighbors to our children’s friends at school knows that we are Gentile Christians. And we have suffered exactly zero instances of discrimination or religious hate as a result of that. In fact, everyone treats us just as they would any other Israeli family.
Father Munari also wasn’t trying to paint Israel in general as anti-Christian, though his interview will no doubt be used as fuel by those who do make that accusation. He acknowledged that in other parts of Jerusalem, among other groups of Israeli Jews, he is at best treated with respect and curiosity, and at worst he is ignored.
In short, Christians are not in danger in the Holy Land. And among many, if not most Israeli Jews, we are increasingly seen as natural allies. At least those of us who choose to ally ourselves with Israel (be grafted in) in accordance to scripture.
Israel Today Membership
Save 18% Per Month.
Six Months Membership
Save 9% Per Month.