Reprint of an important article not available elsewhere online
BECAUSE THIS STUFF SHOULD NOT BE HIDDEN
FROM PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE
Messianic Jews from Beersheba
Sue Local Rabbi and Yad L’Achim
by Jorg Luyken,
The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition
In a case which Pastor Howard Bass says is “opening
up a hornets’ nest” for the Rabbinate, the small Nachalat
Yeshua Messianic congregation from Beersheba is taking the city’s
chief rabbi Yehuda Deri and the anti-missionary organization Yad
L’Achim to court this October. The case stems from an incident
in December 2005, when Bass’ church was attacked by an angry
mob of 500 Orthodox Jews.
Deri is believed to have called the demonstrators
to the church after being informed by Yad L’achim that 10
bus loads of Jewish children were about to be taken there to be
baptized, recounts Bass. This claim, he says, was wildly exaggerated.
“Only two people were supposed to be baptized on that day.
Bot were over 18 and were exercising their rights under Israeli
Three of the demonstrators were arrested that night,
but no charges were brought against them.
Bass is unsure about his chances of success. “It
seems like so many laws were broken that an honest judge should
see that, but this is Israel, and given the unpopularity of followers
of Yeshua here, the pressure he will face from the people and
the Rabbinate will make it very difficult for him to come to that
This is not the first time Deri, the brother of
former Shas leader Aryeh Deri, has been at the center of violent
protests against Beersheba’s Messianic community. In remarkably
similar circumstances in 1999, Deri says he called on the city’s
Ultra-Orthodox Jews to make a “peaceful” demonstration
after it had be rumored that Messianics were baptizing children.
One observer noted that “some were throwing rocks. They
were in a frenzy. This wasn’t a demonstration; this was
On that occasion the police made no arrests.
Yad L’achim has also been suspected by Messianic
congregations of causing criminal damage. The leader of the congregation
at Kiryat Yam, Eitan Shishkoff, has previously told The Jerusalem
Post that in 1997 continual harassment by the organization led
to the fire-bombing of his church’s warehouse. [Actually
the “church” was located in the warehouse, it wasn’t
just a warehouse the congregation also used, but it was the congregational
Indeed, a Yad L’achim member by the name of
Menachem Ferster was taken to court last year by Messianic pastor
Eddie Beckford, who was asking that a restriction order be placed
on him. However, in a surprising turnaround, Beckford himself
ended up being charged after it emerged that he had assaulted
Ferster. Yad L’achim has video footage showing him trying
to run Ferster over in his car and then getting out and beating
Art Artovsky, an administrator at Yad L’achim,
says, “we absolutely deny inciting anybody to attack or
take any action that is against the law. This is nothing but a
vicious accusation.” Asked if some members in their eagerness
to contribute to the cause, might occasionally go beyond orders,
he answers emphatically “no, absolutely never.” He
says the claims by Messianics that they are victims of organized
violence is part of a propaganda campaign to paint themselves
Bass denies this. He believes that if the judge
does not rule in Nachalat Yeshua’s favor it could lead to
more cases being brought against the Rabinnate, given what he
describes as the commonplace discrimination against Messianic
Jews in the country.
There certainly seems to be some evidence pointing
in this direction.
The Jerusalem Congregation is a church of around
200 members Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. However, according to a member
of their congregation, when the Rabbinate found out that Christians
were worshipping there, it threatened to take away the hotel’s
kashrut license. Facing a serious blow to its main source of revenue,
Ramat Rahel had little choice but to stop renting them the hall.
Yad L’achim claims to “support the measures taken
by the Chief Rabinate to withdraw the kashrut certificate of any
catering hall in which missionary events take place.”
Yoyakim Figueras is pastor at the Chasdei Yeshua
church in Arad. He says his congregation has faced constant harassment
from Yad L’achim for the past three years.
Every Shabbat at least two of them sit outside our
meetings and taunt members of the congregation in a very personal
way. For example, if someone is fat they will mock them for this.
There are two children whose family attends the congregation.
They were told by these people that their father would die in
Figueras has also had stones thrown through the
windows of his house, but he says the police are reluctant to
protect them. “Volunteers at the police station and members
of the actual force have told me they have direct orders not to
interfere. I believe that these orders come from the chief of
police in Beersheba. At the start of the troubles our Ultra-Orthodox
Jews were arrested, but I was told by members of the force that
they were soon released after three different Knesset members
called about the matter.”
This case is complicated because Artovsky claims
he has evidence that Figueras has proselytized to people under
18, which is illegal. Like Figeuras, he complains that the police
never followed up his complaints. But he claims that a member
of the police in Arad told him it is because of pressure put on
them by wealthy evangelicals via the Knesset.
Even if Nachalat Yeshua is successful, Figueras
says his church is unlikely to follow suit. “At this moment
we have decided not to take them to court,” he says. Even
if we go to court, who is to say that the harassment will stop?”
This type of harassment is just one part of a wider
problem. Calev Myers is an Israeli lawyer and the founder of the
Jerusalem Institute of Justice. He says such cases as those in
Arad and Beersheba are rare, but that discrimination, particularly
in the Interior Ministry, is more widespread.
Shas has controlled the ministry off and on since
1988, when Aryeh Deri took over. Myers claims that during this
period, workers have been indoctrinated into thinking that Messianic
Jews are a threat to Israeli society. This has led to many citizenship
applications being rejected.
In a Supreme Court case scheduled to be heard May
31, the Interior Ministry is trying to prevent four families from
entering the country because it claims they are missionaries.
According to Myers these claims are false and have come about
because of close co-operation between the Ministry and Yad L’achim.
The peculiarity of this issue is that the discrimination
Messianic Jews face in Israeli is fairly well known, yet scant
action is taken. For Jews of even a semi-religious persuasion,
the fact that many of the congregations are proselytizing is a
big problem because they see it as threatening the Jewish character
of the state. According to Artovsky “Messianic Jews, like
other missionaries, want to see the Jewish people wiped out. Their
sole objective is to bring the Jewish nation to Christian belief.
This objective is one against which any Jew would protest.”
Even the Christian Allies Caucus in the Knesset
seems to be in agreement with Yad L’achim, which whom Caucus
chairman Benny Elon recently told Arutz 7 he “works closely.”
Josh Reinstein, the Caucus’ director, told The Jerusalem
Post Christian Edition that “any Christian who faces harassment
is a concern to us” but that “the Caucus does not
work with” and is “fully against” the work of
Messianic Jews in Israel.
Bass openly admits to proselytizing, and believes
that this will have an affect on the outcome of the case. But
he doesn’t think it should be counted against him, saying
“we are neither forcing anyone to convert, nor are we offering
tem any inducements.”
But Artovsky says that the methods the missionaries
use are morally bankrupt since, in a country where the majority
are fairly ignorant of their religious heritage, they claim to
be “real Jews” in order to lure people in.
All this could change if a new law proposed by Rabbi
Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism party, which would make
proselytization illegal, comes into effect. But such a law would
come into conflict with the pre-existing freedom of religion legislation,
since it can be argued that evangelism is an essential tenet of
Christianity. At present, there are only two laws limiting missionary
activity in Israel:
1) No one can offer a material inducement for someone
to change their religions; and
2) No one can discuss changing religion with a minor (under 18
years of age) without their parent’s permission.
Prosecutions under either law have been extremely