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Religious intolerance in Israel

Part 2: Limiting religious expression.
Religious conversions. Attacks.

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Limiting religious expression:

Moshe Gafni of the religious Torah Judaism Party and Nissim Zvili of the Labour Party, both members of the 14th Knesset (Israel's parliament), proposed a bill which would severely limit religious expression. If passed, it would have criminalized the possession, printing, copying, distribution, sharing of, and import of advertisements to induce religious conversion."

As initially worded, the bill stated:
bullet"A) Whoever possesses contrary to the law or prints or copies or distributes or shares or imports tracts or advertises things in which there is an inducement for religious conversion is liable for - one year imprisonment."
bullet"B) Any tract or advertisement in which there is inducement to religious conversion will be confiscated."

"Explanatory notes" appended to the bill states that the state of Israel is opposed to "missionary" seduction which has as its goal the conversion of people from one religion to another; in particular they are opposed to such activity which targets minors. Apparently, the term "missionary" would include employees of religious groups as well as volunteers pursuing what they feel is a personal responsibility to convert others. The bill could be interpreting as criminalizing the distribution of the Christian New Testament or copies of the Qur'an -- the Muslim holy book.

During the discussion, some members of the Knesset allegedly stated that they plan to introduce bills in the future which would outlaw all Messianic organizations and proselytizing. Messianic groups are composed of Jews who retain their Jewish faith and practice, while recognizing Yeshua (Jesus Christ) as the Messiah.

It appears that the bill did not become law.

Conversions to Judaism:

There are three main movements within Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. For years, the state of Israel recognized that only conversions to Orthodox Judaism made a non-Jewish person into a Jew. So, only a person who had converted to Judaism via the Orthodox movement would be automatically granted the right to emigrate to Israel under their Law of Return, and be registered in the state's population registry as a Jew.

On 1998-DEC-30, a Jerusalem District Court Judge ruled that non-Orthodox converts must be registered by the government as Jews, regardless of where the conversion took place. However, the ruling did not address whether non-Orthodox Jews could make a claim under the Law of Return.

Shocked by the courts recognizing religious diversity, the ultra-Orthodox political parties fought back. They proposed a bill in early 1997 which would invalidate all conversions to Judaism performed in Israel, unless they were performed by an Orthodox Rabbi. Conservative and Reform Jews outside of Israel reacted with anger. A compromise bill was then written. It allowed non-Orthodox conversions to be recognized and recorded by the government. However, the Interior Ministry would record that the individual was not born Jewish and that a Reform or Conservative rabbi had performed the conversion. This would allow Israel's chief rabbinate to continue to discriminate against those who were not converted by Orthodox rabbis. The bill was never passed into law. The initiative for ending discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews once more passed to the courts. 1

On 2002-FEB-20, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Ministry of Interior should register, as Jews, 24 plaintiffs in the Population Registry. They had converted to Judaism within the Reform and Conservative movements, some in Israel, others abroad.

According to Michal Sela, writing for IRAC, a Progressive Judaism movement:

"This ruling ends a 7-year struggle for Israelis, children and adults, who do not wish to commit themselves and their families to the Orthodox way of life, as demanded by the Israeli Orthodox conversion religious courts." 2

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Attacks on Christian sites:

On 1997-OCT-21, the Phalei Rachamim Messianic synagogue in Haifa was attacked for the second time. Damage totaled about US $50,000. 3 Messianic congregations follow many Jewish traditions. This congregation, for example, has a Sefer Torah (Old Testament scroll) and a Torah ark. However, they also recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They have many beliefs in common with conservative Christians, and actively recruit members.

Some news sources have reported that a source of opposition to this Messianic group has been the Yad L'Achim (A Hand to Brothers), a Jewish group which opposes missionary activities among Jews by members of other faiths.

According to Baruch Maoz, chairperson of the Messianic Action Committee, attacks on Messianic Jews and their buildings have increased since an anti-missionary bill was introduced in the Israeli Knesset. 4

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Israel: Religion and the Secular State," ADL, 1999-JAN-27, at: http://www.adl.org/
  2. Michal Sela, "Reform and Conservative Converts Recognized to be Registered as Jews," 2002-FEB-22, at: http://www.irac.org/
  3. "Messianic Synagogue Firebombed in Israel," Christians in Crisis magazine, 1997-NOV/DEC.
  4.  The Israel Messianic Action Committee has published "An Urgent Call for Prayer and Solidarity". See: http://www.teshuvah.com/

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-12
Latest update: 2009-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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