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Monday, March 24, 2008

Ariel Tragedy and Identity Crisis

Posted by Ellen W. Horowitz

I was not going to issue any lengthy update on the pre-Purim attack against a Messianic/Hebrew Christian family which took place in Ariel. I think everyone is appropriately distressed by this tragic incident. We hope that the young man involved recovers, and we are anxious for the police to do their work. There are just far too many unknowns in this case to start speculating.

But now I feel compelled to say something, because Messianic Attorney and Pastor, Calev Myers of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (and law firm Yehuda Raveh), seems anxious to steer this episode in a different direction. As a good friend suggested, it’s to the benefit of certain parties to “ride this horse until it drops dead! “ So, I just have to say,“Whoa!”

Before we examine the agenda of Advocate Myers, I think it’s worth noting that the Director of the Jerusalem branch of Jews for Judaism, Penina Taylor, was quick to condemn the attack:

“We at Jews for Judaism, Jerusalem condemn this atrocity and hope and pray for the complete healing of this boy and the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator of this heinous crime.” Her full statement on the attack can be read at: http://www.jewsforjudaism.org.il/

Rabbi Dov Lifshitz, of the counter-missionary organization, Yad L'Achim, told the Jerusalem Post that,
"Someone who thinks logically will not do this. It just harms the struggle. I'm sure this is not connected to the anti-missionary cause." …If the culprit is Jewish, the bomber "is either crazy or does not understand the struggle." …
"We are now pushing for legislation that would make it illegal for members of any religion to try and convert others to their faith,"
Lifshitz said. "Our struggle isn't against anyone. What we're saying is, we are Jews. Let us be Jews. Christians should remain Christians. In our 50 years of activity, we've never had any violence. We have a big argument with messianic Jews, but that doesn't include violence,"Lifshitz said.

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1205420759947&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

But Calev Myer’s thinks otherwise and has been quoted in a number of news sources - and he appears to be pointing the finger at “radical Orthodox Jews”:

But Caleb Meyers, the primary legal representative for Israel's Messianic community, explained that "there is a campaign of harassment against the Messianic Jewish community by radical religious organizations that are trying to create dehumanization – especially in religious newspapers."
Propaganda that aims to dehumanize Messianic believers could produce in the minds of some radical Orthodox Jews a kind of justification for carrying out the bombing of an innocent family.

http://www.israeltoday.co.il/default.aspx?tabid=178&nid=15518

Meyers explains that the messianic community, which numbers about 15,000 people in Israel, "sees itself as a legitimate branch of Judaism. The central belief is that the messianic branch is influenced by the Old Testament as well as the New. It's a bridge between the Jewish and Christian worlds and harassment comes from this because it threatens the worldview of extremist religious bodies that want to uniquely define who is a Jew." http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/Comp/ArticleLayout/CdaArticlePrintPreview/1,2506,L-3521856,00.html

I imagine Calev Myers was indeed upset by the original YNET and Haaretz reports on the explosion, because headlines on their homepages inferred that a “cult” may be involved in the incident.
Boy hurt in blast; cult involvement suspected
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3521692,00.html
Cult may be involved in blast that seriously hurt Ariel teen
Teen suffers shrapnel wounds, possibly from firecracker; Family belongs to group considered a cult.
http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/966623.html

[NOTE :The stories later clarified that police classify the Messianic movement as a cult.]

Not only is there a big question with regards to the identity of the perpetrators of this crime, but there also remains a big question within the Messianic community as to their own identity. They refer to themselves as “Messianic Jews”, “Hebrew Christians” ,“Judeo-Christians”, Jewish believers in Jesus”, or simply “Believers”.

Calev Myers reflects that confusion on his own website (JIJ.org.il), and has simply clumped everyone together, and refers to, “the illegal mistreatment of Judeo-Christian Minorities.”
According to the Jerusalem Institute of Justice site,
Throughout the years of his professional experience, Calev became acutely aware of the inferior state of the civil rights of Israeli Evangelical believers, Messianic Jews and families of mixed (Jewish-Christian) marriages (“Judeo-Christian Minorities”).

http://jij.org.il/about_us.php

The Jewish community, as well, is at a loss with regards to finding a politically correct term to describe “Jewish believers in Jesus”, as well as born Christians who dress the dress, walk the walk, and talk the talk of Jews – but who retain belief in Jesus (Yeshua) as their lord and savior. Halachically, all of these people are simply practicing Christianity.

The incident in Ariel is to be taken seriously and we all hope Ami Ortiz quickly recovers from his severe injuries, but we think Calev Myers should stop salivating over what he may deem to be PR opportunity to present the “Judeo-Christian” church as a persecuted entity in Israel ,and to promote Messianic Judaism as an authentic and legitimate branch of Judaism.

It should be clearly understood that those of us who are concerned with maintaining the physical and spiritual continuity of the Jewish people, and who seek to preserve the dignity and status of Judaism as an independent faith community (separate from Christianity), will continue to strive towards establishing proper legislation, and will turn to our halachic authorities for guidelines and guidance. And we will continue to use educational and democratic means to counter the missionary activities and efforts by certain evangelical and messianic groups who wish to encourage Christian belief among Jews in Israel.

12 comments:

Michele Bartlett said...

Educational and democratic means -- that's fine. But I have friends in Jerusalem who have personally felt the harassment, such as oil being smeared on the floor outside their apartment during a Bible study so that participants would slip and fall upon leaving, or cassette tapes with Hebrew curses left in the bushes under their windows. So much for v'ahavta et re'echa kamocha.

Kae Gregory said...

"Halachically, all of these people are simply practicing Christianity..." as well as following the Torah min Hashaymyim and keeping covenant back to Mt. Sinai.
*
You are obviously proud of your Jewishness. So am I. And while technically accurate, your definition excludes one key point; I was born Jew and regardless of other attempts to categorize me - I will always be a Jew.

ellen said...

Hi Michele,
Appreciate you commenting. Spilling oil and shouting curses are obviously inappropriate and ineffective tactics - and they are a little desperate and stupid.

I think the problem requires education,legislation, and intelligent - but vocal and visible protest.

What is unfortunate is that every time the Israeli government has tried to pass anti-missionary legislation, the Messianic and Evangelical communities have applied draconian tactics to stop such legislation.

These groups have used the US State Department, Congress and even the ADL to interfer in internal matters of the State of Israel and to try and change the very character of the Jewish State.

Spreading the Gospel has become official US foreign policy via the International Religious Freedoms Act of 1998.
Israel has even been threatened with trade sanctions if she passed anti-missionary legislation.

Now that's harrassment on a very high level! And it may explain some of the crude tactics on the streets.

ellen said...

Hi Kae,

If you were born a Jew, then you have the opportunity to return to your people. I hope you do.

I am not the person to debate this issue with you. But Penina Taylor of Jews for Judaism is.
She is a former Messianic missionary who returned to her people. She is available at
director@jewsforjudaism.org.il

I leave you with a thought by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on this issue...
"This brings us back to our original question: What can a Jew lose by embracing Christianity? The answer is everything. Christianity negates the fundamentals of Jewish faith, and one who accepts it ejects the very essence of Judaism. Even if he/she continues to keep all of the rituals, it is the same as if he/she abandoned Judaism competely. The Talmud teaches us, 'Whoever accepts idolatry, denies the entire Torah'. A Jew who accepts Christianity might call himself a 'Jewish-Christian', but he/she is no longer a Jew."

MAOZ said...

Thank you, Ellen. And thank you, Batya.

Somewhere I had read, in regards to this incident, that this Christian missionary group in Ariel focusses on trying to convert Muslims; and that possibly Muslims who resented their conversion efforts had been responsible for the attack. Anything to that, as far as you know?

ellen said...

Hi Maoz,
The investigation is under wraps and there is nothing new to report.
Earlier it was reported that Ortiz had received death threats from the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim side, and that on atleast one occassion he had been beaten. The complaints against Jews fall more into the category of "harrasment" than violence. It appears that Ortiz actively missionizes Muslims, whereas he maintains a small "messianic" community in Ariel.

But things are volatile. take a look at this video
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/967870.html

Anonymous said...

The Talmud is not part of the Torah so you are wrong Ellen but then you have a heart of hate.

Anonymous said...

I may not like what a man says, but I do in most cases defend his right to say it.

If we wish to operate in the realm of education, rather than violence, than we need to allow people the freedom to speak.

You yourselves are in the business of trying to convince people to change their religion...that is, to convince Messianic Jews to change their religious beliefs...from Christianity to Judaism. Do you really want laws that would forbid this?

You should try to understand that it is not that the U.S. is so much promoting the gospel, as the freedom of people to speak their views...even if their views are that Jews should believe in Jesus.

ellen said...

To anonymous 1

I don't have a heart of hate. I have a Jewish heart. And if that disturbs you, then I wonder what kind of heart you have.

ellen said...

To anonymous 2

I am certainly not in the business of trying to change anybody's religion.

I am trying to ensure the spiritual continuity of the Jewish people.

I am very opposed to Israel adopting American-style personal freedoms. I think the American tradition of excessive tolerance and liberty would be destructive for Israel and for Judasim - and it is certainly destroying America. I much prefer an emphasis on respect,
privacy and boundaries as outlined in the Torah.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ellen,

I am sure you are correct about some typically American exaggerations of personal freedoms. But what confuses me is this. You are referring someone to Penina Taylor, quite explicitly in the hope that Penina will convince that person (if they were born Jewish) to change their religion from Christianity to Judaism.

I don't understand...do you want to convince Messianic Jews to change their religion or not?

You are certainly right that there need to be some limits on the whole issue of freedom of speech. The Torah most certainly did not allow missionizing for idolatry.

But when it comes to free discussion of the merits of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam between consenting adults, in a country with a substantial minority of Christians and Muslims, ought we to start making that illegal?

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