Messianics are threatening Israel’s identity
Israelis who believe in Jesus are gaining too much sway in the Jewish state
Some call it a miracle," states a Christian Broadcasting Network report on the Messianic Jewish community in Israel. "Many say it's the strongest growth since the time of Jesus and that the Messianic movement could be on the brink of a great revival."
And it is not just talk. While the Messianic camp's own claims that it numbers 10,000- 15,000 seem to be wildly exaggerated, it is likely that there are 8,000 so-called Messianic Jews in Israel - double the number from a decade ago.
For many Jews, especially Orthodox folk like me, the growth of Messianic Judaism is alarming. You only need to watch the roaring trade in red strings near the Western Wall to conclude that the Israeli public is hardly discerning in religious matters - so this bolstering of Christianity in Israel will put Jewish souls in danger.
But the growth of the Messianics raises another worry. Israel is producing yet another minority group prepared to tell the world how hard-done by it is.
As the Christian Broadcasting Network report makes its way round inboxes of Christians and Messianic Jews, so does another news item. It relates to Ami Oritz, a 15-year-old son of the Messianic preacher in Ariel, the West Bank, who was injured by a bomb planted in mishloach manot left in his porch on Purim. It severed two toes, damaged his hearing and harmed his basketball career.
The family is adamant that the culprits were Jews who are angry about having Messianics in their midst. The stories circulating relate to Oritz's slow recovery, the fact that Messianics now pray under armed guard, and allegations that police are indifferent to fears for their safety.
Another story of "Messianic victimisation" came ahead of the state-run Bible Quiz on Yom Ha'atzmaut. A furious controversy erupted when Bat-El Levy, one of the four Israeli finalists, was outed as a Messianic.
Her community made much PR capital out of the notion that people wanted to dash the hopes of this cute 17-year-old because she believes in Jesus. But this was nothing compared to the sympathy they are likely to gain from their legal battles over coming months.
Messianic Jews have long been considered ineligible to settle in Israel under the Law of Return, based on the legal precedent of the 1962 Supreme Court case of Carmelite monk Brother Daniel, aka Jewish-born Oswald Rufeisen. He was barred from aliyah on the grounds that becoming a Christian annuls one's Jewish identity.
But in April, the Supreme Court ruled that 12 Messianics who had Jewish fathers but not Jewish mothers should be allowed to make aliyah. For complex legal reasons, Messianics who are halachically Jewish are still barred.
This paradoxical situation will feature prominently in planned legal challenges - and the fanfare of publicity from the community's increasingly media-savvy leaders.
The status of Messianic Jews in the Jewish state is a hard issue. Israel is committed to a Law of Return that welcomes people with so few ties to Judaism that neo-Nazism is on the rise. But it wants to keep out proponents of an alien faith who have unquestionable Jewish credentials.
Israel is very good at ignoring trends in its population until they become uncontrollable. Aside from obvious matters relating to Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, thousands of youngsters today avoid army service because of an exemption given nonchalantly decades ago to a small number of yeshivah students. And the Shas party, born out of the long-ignored dissatisfaction of Sephardi immigrants, can now hold any government to ransom.
But Israel cannot afford to create a new group of self-declared victims, one whose battles will turn the Law of Return into a laughing stock and one which has the ability to use every struggle to raise its profile among Jewish Israelis and to make itself a cause célèbre for Christians worldwide. Israel needs a coherent policy on this community, and should work on one now, before things get out of hand. After all, we had Jesus-believers capitalising on "persecution" from Jews in these parts once before, and look what that led to.