The Christian missionary organization known as "Jews for Jesus" is about to launch a new proselytizing campaign in Israel. Their redoubled effort to gain Jewish converts comes on the heels of a controversy over the participation of an Israeli girl who worships Jesus in the annual International Bible Contest, to be held on Independence Day in
Several rabbis agreed to call for a boycott of the contest if Levy was allowed to compete.
The family of Bat-El Levy, 17, the winner of the Jerusalem District Bible contest for secular public schools, is known to be active in a group whose members call themselves "Messianic Jews." Her success in the regional competition earned Bat-El a place among four students representing Israel in the Bible Contest finals on Independence Day, this Thursday. Dozens of Jewish youth come to Israel each year for the last leg of the Bible Contest.
In reaction to the participation of a worshiper of Jesus in the Bible Contest, the head of the anti-missionary organization Yad L'Achim sent a letter to rabbinical and lay leaders in the religious community last week calling for efforts to get Levy disqualified. Several rabbis agreed to call for a boycott of the contest if Levy was allowed to compete. Among the rabbis supporting the idea of a boycott are Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who is the son of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, son of the Shas party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, dean of Kissei Rachamim Yeshiva, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Motzkin Rabbi Meir Druckman, and Har Hamor Yeshiva dean Rabbi Tzvi Tau.
In a letter to the Education Minister, Yuli Tamir, Knesset Member Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) asked last week that Levy be disqualified from the Bible Contest on the grounds that she is not Jewish according to the High Court of Justice. In cases relating to the Law of Return, granting automatic citizenship to Jewish immigrants, the High Court has ruled that those who profess the Christian faith will not be recognized as Jews regardless of their ethnic background. Furthermore, Porush said, the Bible Contest itself may be turned into a tool for Christian proselytizing among Jews, which is forbidden by law in Israel.
According to MK Porush, one of the goals of the annual Bible contest, officially called the International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth, is "to strengthen the religious awareness of the students and their appreciation of the Bible as the source of the fulfillment of the commandments and the religious lifestyle." Therefore, the competition is open only to Jews, which would exclude Jews who believe in or
Because Levy is listed as Jewish in school records and in the Population Registry, she is Jewish for the purposes of the Bible Contest.
Levy Cannot Be Barred
In response to the controversy, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said that because Levy is listed as Jewish in school records and in the Population Registry, she is Jewish for the purposes of the Bible Contest as well. Therefore, she cannot be barred.
Yad L'Achim has already sent letters about the situation to the Education Ministry, the Jewish Agency, which sponsors the events surrounding the contest, and to the Bible Contest organizers. The organization is now in touch with some of the contest participants, according to Yad L'Achim director Rabbi Shlomo Dov Lipschitz. He is hoping to convince them to boycott the contest, he said, although he realizes the difficulty in his request, considering the great efforts the students made to take part in the competition.
New Jews-for-Jesus Missionary Campaigns
Even as the Bible Contest controversy is reaching its apex, in a letter to supporters, the Jews for Jesus organization announced a series of new campaigns in Israel. "The campaigns are scheduled to begin in 2008 and continue through 2013," the missionary organization announced. "These campaigns could be the most important thing we in Jews For Jesus have ever done...."
Claiming that "only one tenth of one percent (.001)" of the Jews in Israel "believe in Jesus," the missionaries see a positive side in that Israel "is the only place in the world where - when we do street evangelism - we don't need to wonder who is Jewish. All we have to do is walk outside and talk to everyone we meet!"
There are about 8,000 people who worship Jesus and who claim to be Jews in Israel. Yad L'Achim says that there are over 100 missionary, or "Messianic", churches operating in Israel, representing various branches of Christianity.
A 'Spiritual' Hamas
Experts countering the efforts of Christian missionaries, say that both the Messianic Judaism movement and Jews for Jesus have as their goal the elimination of Judaism and its replacement with Christianity as the faith of the Jewish people.
The young Bible Contest competitor, Bat-El Levy, is part of "a parasitic movement" to convert Jews using the ruse of "infiltrating the Jewish community and co-opting Jewish cultural norms to present themselves as normative Jews" instead of as Christians, said one counter-missionary expert. It is "like having Arab members of Knesset dedicated to destroying the Jewish State," he quipped.
Levy's participation in the International Bible Contest "so important to them because they are desperate to be accepted as a normative denomination. It's a bait and switch," he said.
Explaining the timing of the latest campaign announced by Jews for Jesus, The expert said that it is part of an "unprecedented urgency" such evangelical groups feel "to convert as many Jews as possible." The reason for the sense of urgency among missionaries is that events in the Middle East, especially Iranian ascendancy and its threat to Israel, have enflamed "old-time Christian eschatology" requiring Jews to convert to Christianity in order for Jesus to return to Earth.