Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute/RNS.

A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

One Hump or Two?

Illustration by Ken Davis

RESEARCHERS from Tel Aviv University recently announced a discovery that could shake the foundations of biblically based history currently taught in most states below the Mason-Dixon line (otherwise known as “Jesus Country,” unless Jesus comes back without a photo ID).

Granted, biblical controversies may not be the most important thing to you right now, when you’re coming up with this year’s excuse why your new beach body won’t be ready by Memorial Day. But we should never shirk from scholarship that could deepen our faith or, short of that, allow us to use the phrase “camel bones” for the first time in our lives.

To wit: Using carbon-dating techniques to determine the age of the world’s oldest-known camel bones, researchers have determined that camels could not have been the pack animals referred to in much of the Old Testament. At that time, camels had not yet been introduced to the region. It’s not clear if camel introductions were something that just wasn’t done in polite company or if the dearth of camels was only alleviated by Egyptian merchants establishing Mediterranean trade routes. But the latter would be my guess and is, in fact, the conclusion of the Tel Aviv researchers.

And it’s good we see eye-to-eye with the scientists on this particular issue, since their method is one I hold in contempt. I took it personally when carbon dating was used to disprove that the Shroud of Turin displayed the real image of Jesus Christ. I believed in the Shroud. When preachers would sermonize on faith the size of a mustard seed, I would smile condescendingly, because my faith was bolstered by something big enough to cover a good-sized twin bed! And with a picture of Jesus on it! (Much cooler than Justin Bieber or a Disney princess.)

I’ve never believed much in carbon dating since then. Speed dating, maybe. But not the other thing.

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Three Worlds Collide in 'Jerusalem,' the City and the Film

An IMAX camera films at the Western Wall. Photo: Nicolas Ruel, courtesy Jerusalem US LP/National Geographic Society/RNS

The old city of Jerusalem is smaller than one square mile. In 5,000 years of recorded human history there have been 180 conflicts around the city. It has been conquered 44 times, and completely destroyed twice. The story of conflict in this city is clearly not a new story.

When the producers of Jerusalem, a new movie for IMAX and other giant screen theaters, decided to approach the topic, they wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the long history.

“Jerusalem is a city in conflict,” said Taran Davies, one of the producers of Jerusalem, at a recent screening of the movie. “We wanted a new way to think about it. This [movie] is more a celebration.”

Pope to Visit the Holy Land, But Details Spark Debate

Maysa Al Shaer via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Overlooking view of Bethlehem, photo courtesy of Maysa Al Shaer via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Christmas is the one time each year when much of the world turns its gaze to Bethlehem, the West Bank town at the heart of the Gospel account of Jesus’ humble birth in a stable.

But Bethlehem may be in for a second round of global publicity in the span of a few months with the expected visit of Pope Francis in May.

In an interview earlier this month, Francis confirmed rumors that he planned to travel to the Holy Land — probably stopping at sites in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank in the Palestinian territories — and said preparations were underway.

Then last week the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, the top Catholic official in the region, revealed that the visit was set for May.

Given the political and religious combustibility that attends almost any event in the Holy Land, a papal trip was bound to be fraught and a debate over the visit quickly erupted as Israeli newspapers reported that the preliminary itinerary for Francis’ pilgrimage has him spending just one full day in Israel proper — probably arriving in Jordan on Saturday, May 24, traveling to Israel on Sunday morning, then celebrating Mass in Bethlehem on Monday before heading back to Rome.

'Jerusalem,' a Tribute to the Holy City, Comes to the Giant Screen

An IMAX camera films the Western Wall during Pesach. Photo: Nicolas Ruel, courtesy Jerusalem US LP/National Geographic Society

It may be as close as a person can get to praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, without actually going there.

The newly released movie “Jerusalem,” filmed in 2D and 3D and playing on IMAX and other giant-screen theaters across the U.S. and the world, gives viewers grand, hallmark panoramas, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.

For years filmmakers had sought the rights to capture the city from the air, but never before had permission been granted, in part because the holy city is a no-fly zone.

Still, before filming began in 2010, producer Taran Davies came up with an extensive wish list of all the sites and rituals he wanted in the film, and presented it to advisers familiar with the spectrum of religious and secular officials who would have to approve.

“They all laughed and said forget about it,” Davies said. “They said, ‘It’s impossible and you’re not going to get half of what you’re looking for.’”

Fate of Jerusalem Looms Over Peace Talks

Photo courtesy Petr Louzensky/

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo courtesy Petr Louzensky/

As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prepare for preliminary talks in Washington today, the future of Jerusalem — holy to three faiths — looms as the thorniest and most difficult issue to resolve.

The State Department announced Sunday that the two sides had accepted invitations from Secretary of State John Kerry to come to Washington “to formally resume direct final status negotiations.” The department said two days of initial meetings will begin this evening.

The announcement came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, a key part of the Kerry-brokered deal.

Court: Law Designating ‘Israel’ as Birthplace Unconstitutional

Photo courtesy RNS/

United States passport. Photo courtesy RNS/

A federal appeals court has ruled unconstitutional a 2002 law that allows Americans born in Jerusalem to designate Israel as their birth country on their passports.

The lawsuit, brought by an American couple whose American son was born in Israel in 2002, challenged the government to uphold the law. Instead the court found it unconstitutional.

The State Department has not permitted Americans born in the city to list “Israel” as their birthplace on their passports, despite the law.

On Scripture: Mary and Martha, Use Your Gifts — Whatever They May Be

Stained glass of Jesus, Mary, and Martha. Photo courtesy Odyssey Networks.

Stained glass of Jesus, Mary, and Martha. Photo courtesy Odyssey Networks.

It is a lovely late afternoon in the little village of Bethany on a hilltop outside Jerusalem. This is a delightful place to visit because it offers a breeze above the valley. But Jesus stops here often for more than that.  He knows he has friends in the persons of Martha and her siblings, Mary and Lazarus.

This day, as the family of Bethany looks down the road, they see Jesus and some of his disciples approaching. They know there will be time for conversation and food and rest before this group heads on into Jerusalem.

After a flurry of greetings, Martha is off to organize the meal. In a world without freezers or the possibility of takeout, unexpected guests can cause a bit of a stir.


Tisha B’Av: An Unloved Jewish Holiday Alters its Rituals

Photo courtesy RNS.

Rabbi Marc Fitzerman views the destroyed temple as a call for introspection, not a call to rebuild. Photo courtesy RNS.

Most people have heard of Hanukkah and Passover and maybe Yom Kippur — the Jewish Day of Atonement. But Tisha B’Av?

Translated as the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, it counts as one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar. But even many Jews have not heard of this period of mourning, which requires a 25-hour fast to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Tisha B’Av, many rabbis say, can be a tough sell, in part because a radical group of far-right Jews wants to rebuild the temple on the site of what is now the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most revered sites.