The United Christian Council in Israel, composed of eighteen Protestant denominations, is weighing the pros and cons of a landmark proposal, one that would ask the government for official community status.

Although Protestants have served in Palestine for more than 100 years under three different governments (those of Turkey, Britain, and Israel), none have ever been given recognition as a community. During Turkish and British rule Protestants functioned as registered societies and enjoyed almost the same rights and privileges as other recognized communities (e.g. Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Marionite, Jewish, and Muslim). In 1953, however, following the establishment of the state of Israel, the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law was enacted giving exclusive jurisdiction over personal status affairs to the ecclesiastical courts of the recognized communities. While this law resulted in the strengthening of the authority of the ancient millet (religious community) system, it created serious civil disabilities for non-recognized denominations and left Protestants and others virtually without benefit of marital laws.

It is difficult, for example, for a Protestant to get married in Israel and impossible for him to get a divorce. The problem also extends into matters of inheritance and succession in the event of a contest and litigation. No civil court is able to decide matters pertaining to laws that concern family life.

Failure of the government to make adequate provisions for the rights of Protestant and other non-recognized bodies has become a matter of growing concern for the United Christian Council. But not all members agree on the community plan as a way out. Some object even to an organizational framework that could give the impression of a super-church. Others fear that to become a recognized community would result in Israel’s Protestants’ becoming a part of the Middle East’s ancient millet system with its highly restricted communal life. Still others feel it would violate the principle of separation of church and state.

The Rev. Magne Solheim, representing Lutheran groups, says that community status for Protestants is not the ideal solution. He maintains it would be far better if the government would allow civil courts to deal with personal status affairs. But, he adds, inasmuch as the government strongly opposes such court jurisdiction, Protestant churches are obliged to seek another solution.

Said Dr. Robert L. Lindsey, noted Baptist leader in Israel: “None of us is happy in promoting the project, but we are trying, in our concern for those adversely affected, to expand the area of personal status to persons deprived of such rights as are essential to a normal and free life, until the situation improves.”

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There is no guarantee that the government would be willing to give community status to Protestants, even if they ask for it on a broad basis, but observers are convinced that they can get a sympathetic hearing.

A ‘Wonder Of The Nations’

An all-Christian settlement in Israel, after months of uncertainty, may at last look forward to accomplishing its aims. The Israel Cabinet gave its blessing to the project early this year.

Purpose of the Protestant settlement, known as Nes Amim, is to provide a new experience, proving to Israelis that there is a genuine attitude of good will among Christians based on profound respect for Jewry and Judaism. Also sought is a more direct opportunity for Christians to appreciate the values and problems of the creative effort of Israel.

The name Nes Amim is taken from Isaiah 11:10, “The root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the people,” or, literally, “a wonder of the nations.” A messianic concept is suggested in the name, thereby emphasizing Israel’s kinship with the nations.

The first settlers, a Swiss family, moved to the site last April. Two hundred sixty acres of fertile farm land were secured twenty miles north of Haifa between Acre and Naharia. Here the directors hope to develop both agricultural and industrial projects. Among the settlement’s American backers are Fred Worrell, a Southern Baptist from Atlanta, and Orie Miller, a Mennonite from Akron, Ohio. The founders of Nes Amim include a civil engineer and a surgeon from Switzerland and a physician from Holland.

Until the Nes Amim project, the approach of Christians to Jews usually fell into one of two categories: attempting to convert the Jew by every available means, or rejecting him as somehow being responsible for the death of Jesus. Both attitudes resulted in the erection of a formidable wall that prevented any effective encounter between the two faiths. The founders of the settlement say their aim is not to convert Jews but to “heal the breach which has existed between Jews and Christians for 2,000 years.”

Before the government of Israel would entertain any consideration of support and assistance for the project, Nes Amim directors had to give guarantees that the village would not prove to be a center of missionary activity. A joint supervisory committee with the government was established to assure that all commitments would be strictly observed.

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The Conversion Rate

Charges of proselytism leveled against Christian schools in Israel were deflated last month in a speech by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. He told the Cabinet that in thirteen years no more than eleven Jewish children had been baptized as Christians. The baptisms, he added, had not necessarily been influenced by Christian schools. He said that during the same period a total of 200 Jews were converted to Christianity or Islam and 407 Christians and Moslems were converted to Judaism.

There are currently about 52,000 Christians in Israel’s population of 2,400,000, and most of them are Arabs. The country has 210 Christian churches and places of worship, twenty more than there were when Israel became a state in 1948.

Analyzing ‘The Deputy’

Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy is the most controversial play to hit Broadway in decades. In the United States, as in Europe where it played earlier, it is arousing bitter criticism (for a sampling, see page 29). Outside the theater policemen keep order as pickets march in protest, denouncing the play in the name of Christian unity. Catholics are asked to join the boycott, and one picketer cries, “What has happened to brotherhood week?”

Inside, where outside noises are audible, ticket holders are given a booklet that contains two letters, one from the then Cardinal Montini, and another from Albert Schweitzer in which he declares that the Roman Catholic Church bears greater guilt for the slaughter of the Jews under Hitler’s Germany because the “Protestant Church was an unorganized, impotent, national power” whereas the Roman Catholic Church was an “organized, supra-national power in a position to do something.”

Reviewers have criticized the play as a malicious, unwarranted attack upon the Roman Catholic Church, and particularly upon Pope Pius XII for his failure to protest during the war-years the wanton, massive destruction of Jews in Hitler’s gas chambers. Yet The Deputy is not an anti-Roman Catholic play. Hochhuth conveys the fact that Roman Catholics secretly saved the lives of many Jews, helping them across borders and hiding them in clerical garbs and in monasteries. The pros and cons of Pius XII’s difficult and unenviable position are equally presented, and as many lines of script are devoted to explaining the ambiguities of the situation that counseled silence as are devoted to criticism for his failure to raise his voice in protest.

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Reviewers have also criticized the play as an attempt to shift German guilt onto the shoulders of Pius XII. Yet this analysis also is too glib, for the play carries anguished lines decrying the silence of everyone as millions of Jews went their lonely way to extermination.

The play is largely a running conversation about what was happening offstage in the gas ovens of Auschwitz. In its written version the five-act drama includes an appendix called “Sidelights on History” containing documentation for nearly all the conversations. Most of the characters in the play are actual historical personages.

For all its historicity, the play has its moments of taut emotional power and its measures of subtlety. Although the outcome is known by viewers, there are areas of high suspense. And there is an occasional disturbing voice from the audience. Some walk out. At the end some Jews step into Times Square with tear-reddened eyes.

In the last act the background—men, women and children again plodding on to the ovens of Auschwitz—is more important than what is being said up front. It is consequently disappointingly weak. But one can hardly imagine a better last act as a concluding foil for Pope Pius’s final decision to remain silent.

The plot is simple. Kurt Gerstein (Philip Bruns), a deeply religious Protestant, has worked himself up in Hitler’s SS, where he functions as a double agent to discover whether the extermination camps really exist. He succeeds so well that he finds himself compelled not only to see what is going on but to do his part in the exterminations. He makes a tremendous impression on a young Jesuit, Father Riccardo Fontana, who makes impassioned pleas that the situation be presented to Pope Pius with an appeal that the Pope make public protest against the Nazi massacre of Jews, some of whom are Roman Catholics. The final confrontation with the Pope is highly dramatic, but no more can be elicited from Pope Pius than a bland and generalized statement. Pius argues that he must maintain the Vatican as a “haven of neutrality” to keep himself free for the role of mediator between the Allies and Hitler.

The whole play turns on the center of the Pope’s decision to remain silent, which for Hochhuth means hundreds of thousands of European families going to Hitler’s slaughterhouses “abandoned by everyone, abandoned even by the Deputy of Christ.”

Was the Pope right or wrong in not speaking against Hitler’s methodical extermination of Jews? Was he right in his choice to apply a political measure to the problem? Critics vary widely. Some label as naïve Hochhuth’s assumption that a protest from the Pope would have changed Hitler’s Jewish policy. Others contend that papal protestations would have brought bitter reprisals upon Roman Catholics in all the Nazi-dominated countries of Europe.

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None of these is wholly convincing, for none really answers the moral indignation Hochhuth has just because he takes the papal office for what it claims to be.

According to Catholicism’s own conception and claim for the papal office, its occupant is the vicar of Christ, the highest and ultimate moral authority on earth. By virtue of his office, Pope Pius XII was God’s deputy, empowered to speak, and to speak infallibly, on matters of morals. Confronted with one of the most diabolical moral monstrosities the world has ever seen, his silence was a loud declaration that Christianity, and God himself, had nothing to say.

Pope Pius, confronted with monstrous immorality, did not remain silent because the moral problem itself was hopelessly ambiguous, or because he was a cold-hearted, avaricious, calculating politician, oblivious to suffering. Had he been able to speak his personal moral convictions—God’s Word to this situation—he would gladly have spoken and died for his convictions. But precisely because he was the Pope, God’s voice for others and thus the conscience of millions who would feel obligated to be obedient to his voice, he could not speak. Had he spoken and set the church of Rome against Hitler, millions of Roman Catholics might well have suffered the brunt of Hitler’s demonic, irrational wrath. (A Martin Niemoller could speak because his word did not automatically bind the consciences of others.) Pope Pius XII, the man, the Christian, could not do what his office demanded and his conscience forbade. The moral ambiguities, not of Hitler’s massacre of Jews but of his office, made it impossible for him to speak. Indeed, no Christian is able to meet the moral demands of the papal office. By his silence the Pope proved himself more Christian than his office, and his office less Christian than Roman Catholics claim.

God faced a greater evil and spoke, though it meant the sacrifice of his own Son; the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, faced with a historical form of this same evil, could not speak and thereby sacrifice his children. This was to the credit of his conscience, and his Christianity—for he by his silence sacrificed his office and contradicted its claims for conscience’ sake.

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This Hochhuth does not understand. He understands the claims of the papal office and is accordingly bitter about Pope Pius’s silence. Had he perceived the inner moral contradictions and ambiguities of the papal office, which an ugly history brought to light, his bitterness and moral indignation would have been tempered.

Hitler’s history unwittingly demonstrated the Protestant contention that no man can fulfill the office of Pope and be the consience of another. Hochhuth unknowingly shows it in the theater.


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