Shalom from Tel Aviv!
According to the Jerusalem Post editors, the Reform and Conservative movements of American Jewry are in the midst of the most serious battle with the Israeli political system since the "Who is a Jew?" fight (which they won). Until now, Reform and Conservative conversions performed outside of Israel have been recognized in Israel. But such conversions performed in Israel have not been recognized as legal here. However, Israel did not actually have a law stating such, only procedures established by the various ministries, and accepted by the government.
On April 1, a bill passed its first reading in Israel's Knesset which gives Orthodox Jewry the sole right to conduct Jewish conversions in Israel, thereby concurrently angering and alienating the vast majority of Jews in the rest of the world. The conversion bill will make Israel the first democratic state which legally discriminates against Jewish citizens by distinguishing between 'kosher' Jews and 'flawed' ones," says the Jerusalem Post. (Apr. 4, 1997)
CODIFYING THE TYRANNY OF THE MINORITY
The Orthodox are wanting to make the existing discrimination into law in order to keep the Israeli Supreme Court from overruling the Orthodox monopoly. The law would once and for all disqualify Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel, undermine their rabbis' authority, and, in effect, classify them as second-class Jews.
"The law would codify the tyranny of the Orthodox minority over the majority of Israeli citizens, calling into question Israel's right to call itself a democracy. In a democracy, even the minority has a voice," says a leader of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. (Ibid., Feb. 24, 1997) The Rabbinic Assembly of the Conservative Movement resolved on April 9 at its meeting in Boston, "We are outraged at the latest attempt to deny full religious rights to the largest segment of world Jewry." (Ibid., Apr. 11, 1997)
THE ORTHODOX PARTIES PUT NETANYAHU IN POWER
The sole reason, of course, that this bill is before the Knesset is political pressure from the Orthodox parties. By orchestrating a vote of 51-32, with seven abstentions, the Likud party under the leadership of Benyamin Netanyahu was only keeping its coalition agreement which it had signed with the religious parties before the elections. One must not forget that Bibi Netanyahu is Prime Minister of Israel today because the Orthodox voted him in.
What shocked many, however, is the fact that the opposition Labor party leaders, whose party claims to stand for human rights and democracy, chickened out and did not show up for the vote (except for former Prime Minister Shimon Peres who won't be running again for office). However, it really shouldn't be surprising--the liberals are thinking ahead! They want the Orthodox to put them in office the next time around. (Ibid., April 2, 1997)
SOLD DOWN THE RIVER
Even one of the greatest symbols for human rights of this century, Natan Sharansky, who spent years in the gulag as a prisoner of Zion because he wanted to immigrate to Israel, has succumbed to the paralyzing political clout of the Orthodox. Heading up the Russian immigrants party, Sharansky has voted on the first reading in favor of outlawing non-Orthodox conversions--which if it becomes law, will affect 200,000 of his constituents--Russian immigrants branded by the Orthodox establishment as "not real Jews". Journalist Michal Yudelman says that these Russians "have failed to realize yet that their own leaders have sold them down the river." (Ibid., April 4, 1997)
The passage of the first reading of the conversion legislation came a day after the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada issued a provocative statement against the Reform and Conservative movements. "The Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all. While their adherents are Jews, their religion is not Judaism." (Ibid., April 2, 1997) The Union declared: "Despite their brazen usurpation of the titles' Judaism,' 'Jewish heritage,' 'Jewish tradition' and' Jewish continuity,' Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all. They are outside of Torah and outside of Judaism."
(Ibid., March 24, 1997)
SICK AND TIRED OF BEING SUSPECT
In the U.S., Reform and Conservative rabbis were venting their frustration and anger. "People are getting sick and tired of other people questioning their fundamental legitimacy," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. (Ibid., April 2, 1997) Rabbi Rafael Grossman, President of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America--a more moderate Orthodox branch--seemed to agree. "Anything that can be interpreted as a disenfranchisement of Jews in any way is absolutely unjustified and uncalled for."
Jewish Agency Chairman Abraham Burg, an Orthodox moderate, had called on the Knesset to prevent changes to the conversion law that would further divide the Jewish people. "We must not forsake the unity of the Jewish people," Burg said. He urged the Knesset to accept the Jewish Agency's call for refraining from legislation that undermines the religious status quo. The Agency has established a special committee for the "unity of the Jewish people" to represent all streams of Judaism on religious legislation. (Ibid., March 24, 1997)
The spokeswoman for the Conservative movement in Israel said, "If the Jewish people and the State of Israel take the pluralistic path, then there will be room for everyone, including the Orthodox. If the Orthodox dominate, this will split the Jewish people in two." (Ibid.)
"ISRAEL MUST BE JEWISH--NOT ORTHODOX"
Fifteen Rabbis met with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was in the U.S. to try to dissuade him from supporting the Orthodox legislation. Dr. Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, told him, "If Israel wishes to be the center of the Jewish world, it must be Jewish; it cannot afford to be Orthodox." (Ibid., April 11, 1997)
Knesset members opposing the anti-democratic bill pointed out that Netanyahu availed himself of Conservative services when he married his second wife, Fleur, a Christian who underwent a Conservative conversion. Netanyahu, who was married in a Conservative ceremony by a Conservative rabbi, does not hesitate now to vote for disqualifying Conservative rabbis worldwide, the Knesset members said. (Ibid., April 4, 1997)
Senior editorial writer for the national Hebrew newspaper Ma 'ariv blames apathetic Mr. Average Israeli for the growing tyranny of the Orthodox in Israel.
"To all these decrees we have surrendered, even though they are unjust, unnecessary and unwanted. . . .It doesn't end there. Over the past few years a massive haredi (ultro-Orthodox) army has mushroomed, sustained predominantly by the secular taxpayer. Its members don’t hold jobs or serve in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. Their trade is their faith, and their faith is their excuse. . . [They] are God's artillery.
"Disconnected from the world, educated to despise Zionism and the state, sinking into condescending ignorance and obediently serving their religious leaders, this gargantuan, unenlightened force goes on amassing political and public power. . .
MR. AVERAGE BELLYACHES, BUT DOES NOTHING
"'And so what if, in the process, the vast majority of American Jewry gets alienated? It means nothing to them. . . . The haredim may be using democracy to force a lifestyle it doesn't want on the secular public, but they aren't to blame for what's going on. It's apathetic Mr. Average Israeli, who bellyaches but doesn't actually do anything. . . .
"It's the secular parties, who'll sell their souls to enlist the haredim in their fight against their secular rivals. . . .And it's the Conservative and Reform Jews in the U.S. who never made a serious effort to put down roots in Israel that could have served as a counterweight to Orthodox dominance." (Ibid., April 11, 1997)
The Jerusalem Post editors affirm the apathy--and even tacit agreement—of Israel's secular population. As grating as the Orthodox monopoly is to secular Israelis, they do not really view Reform and Conservative Judaism as a legitimate arternative, but an American import that does not speak to the Israeli experience. Clearly, the synagogue that secular Israelis don't go to is Orthodox! The Post editors offer a ray of hope and a suggestion:
"Attitudes can change, and it certainly would not hurt for the Reform and Conservative movements to help provide Israelis with a wider range of educational and congregational choices. At the end of the day, however--and here we get to the Israeli hobbyhorse--the only way to make a real impact is for these movements to vote with their feet.
"If more of the best and the brightest of American rabbis moved to Israel and set up shop, Israelis might begin to appreciate the meaning and potential of Jewish plurality by seeing it in action. The Rabbinical Assembly, on this score, is to be commended for resolving, as part of their response to the conversion bill, to 'educate their congregants about. . .the mitzvah [commandment] of aliya [immigration to Israel].'" (Ibid.)
Let those who have ears, hear.
Meanwhile, because of the outcry of American Jewry, Netanyahu, Sharansky and other non-Orthodox coalition members are looking for a temporary solution. If the Reform and Conservative movements are willing to drop their legal challenges in the Supreme Court, perhaps the religious parties would drop their conversion bill for now.
AMERICAN JEWS TO GIVE TO THEIR OWN RELIGIOUS CAUSES
One possible development could have a lasting affect on the Israeli political horizon. Reform and Conservative leaders hope the conversion law may yet turn to their advantage. The leaders think that until now Jewish American money went mostly to finance what one called a "corrupt, coercive and anti-democratic religious establishment." Some Jewish federations who raise many millions of dollars each year for Israel, have already decided to divert their contributions from the United Jewish Appeal and Jewish Agency directly to Reform and Conservative institutions in Israel.
Let those who have ears, hear-both Messianic Jews and Christians.
It is our belief that the Orthodox population will continue to grow rapidly in numbers, and thus in political power. The Israeli people, especially the youth, are very hungry for God. They want to find Him, and the only address they know is Orthodoxy.
The Orthodox, feeling their day has come, are determined to stamp out any other expression of faith in the land. Some Orthodox rabbis have spoken openly that their goal for this country is an Orthodox dictatorship. Even the massive, powerful, wealthy, and politically-astute North American Jewish population cannot break through the colossal forces of Orthodoxy in Israel.
Meanwhile, just today, a youth from our congregation was interrogated by the police. Many questions were asked--what kind of meetings we have, who is attending, what ages, what we do in the meetings, whether or not we pay people to come to the meetings (!), etc. The unbelieving parents are seeing the changes in their children, and are glad. But the phone calls from the police asking about the "cult" that their children are attending, are of course disconcerting to them.
One of our new believers who is a university student told us the other day: "I now see it clearly--there is going to be a division in Israel. The battle lines are being drawn. Israelis will either become Orthodox Jews or Messianic Jews."
PROPOSED LAW TO OUTLAW MESSIANIC JEWISH EXPRESSION
As is known, another bill is currently before the Knesset: a bill to outlaw the possession or publication of Gospel literature. We Israeli believers still need the help of the family of God throughout the world. We need a continued flood of letters, faxes, phone calls, and email coming into the Israeli government protesting this infringement on basic human rights month after month. Suggestion: Write your congressman or government representative and ask him or her to write a letter to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu protesting the proposed anti-freedom of religion law (next page) which would give vague and wide ranging powers to the police.
TRANSLATION OF PROPOSED ADDITION TO LAW CURRENTLY BEFORE ISRAELI KNESSET: After paragraph 174B to the Penal Law 5737--1977 Prohibition of inducement for religious conversion 174C. A) Whoever possesses contrary to the law or prints or reproduces or disseminates or distributes or imports tracts or publicizes things in which there is an inducement to religious conversion is punishable by -- one year imprisonment. B) Any type of literature or publication in which there is inducement to religious conversion will be confiscated. [Note: this law would allow police search of private homes suspected of having Gospel literature.]
If believers will continue to write even once a month, it will maintain pressure upon the Israeli government and cause it to realize that it cannot pass such a law without massive protest from its friends and without greatly damaging its image as a free and democratic nation. Below is a typical response from the Israeli government to a protest letter. The response is meant to put the concerned writer to sleep!
Response of Information Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org: The law in question was presented to the Knesset as a “Private Member’s Bill.” As such, it will have to pass four (4) readings in the Knesset to be enacted. The bill was not presented with the Government’s approval or backing and in fact on two occasions the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Proposed Legislation considered the bill and recommended that the Government oppose it in the Knesset.
Remember that Israeli officials represent Israeli interests and part of their duty is to reassure concerned friends that there is nothing to worry about--regardless of reality. Only when the Israeli government insists that this proposed legislation is withdrawn, will the God-given basic human right to follow one's conscience and religious beliefs be preserved in Israel. It is imperative that such messages receive a return reply. Here are facts for your responses:
78 OUT OF 120 KNESSET MEMBERS IN FAVOR OF LAW
True, the proposal to forbid freedom of religious expression is a private member's bill. But important members of the Government supported it--for example the Minister of the Treasury, Mr. Dan Meridor. The Government's voice has not been heard since, concerning this bill.
An informal poll shows that 78 out of 120 Knesset members are favorable towards the bill. Only 61 votes are needed to make it law. All 23 members of the Orthodox parties are working aggressively to pass this law. The soon-to-be-head of the Labor party, Ehud Barak, has stated he would vote for the bill. (Time needed to pass such a law is normally about four to five months.)
Unless a clear message from Netanyahu's government is sent early in the legislative process, the Orthodox will insist upon the passing of this or a similar law, outlawing freedom of speech and rendering illegal what enlightened mankind universally recognizes as a fundamental human right.
Whatever steps we take, we must always keep in mind that by far the most essential and powerful act we can do is to pray. Prayer changes things. It allows the Spirit of God to have a free hand in shaping events, and causing the works of Satan to be turned into further opportunities for proclaiming the Gospel in the land.
We therefore earnestly ask your continued prayers for the believers of Israel to boldly proclaim the Good News. Pray for opportunities for the whole nation to hear that Messiah died and rose again, and lives in the hearts of more and more Israelis with every passing day!
We depend upon you, as our fellow laborers in the Kingdom, for your prayers and your financial support. Through you and other readers of the Maoz newsletter, this ministry is carrying out the many faceted work of pioneering a Hebrew speaking congregation, evangelizing, discipling, giving to the poor and helping other Israeli ministries.
With you as our partner, we are able, along with our fellow workers in Israel, to make a difference. e are seeing Israelis saved, healed from physical illnesses and emotional wounds and delivered from addictions, to become living, vibrant witnesses to the greatness of our God.
A FINANCIAL NEED FOR THE ENTIRE ISRAELI MESSIANIC BODY
Now, added to our own ministry needs is this national need. Therefore this month we invite you to give an additional gift above your regular contribution to the ministry of Maoz. The congregations throughout Israel are collecting contributions for the large outlay of funds needed to stand against the passing of this anti-freedom of religious expression law.
A six month budget of many thousands of dollars has been drawn up by the national committee to engage professional services to help us navigate through government corridors and to publicize and advertise in newspapers and the media, so that Israelis can know who we are, what we stand for, and how anti-freedom forces in the land are trying to silence us. Our own congregation is collecting a monthly offering for this fund. We welcome the opportunity to let other Israelis know who we are!
Every gift that is given marked "Anti-Religious Freedom Law", will go directly and wholly to the Messianic Action Committee fund. We will report in our July newsletter what the total of your contributions for this fund was!
We are so grateful that we in Israel do not have to fight this battle alone. God is on our side. The Messiah is directing the battle, and His Body is intensely engaged with us! We are encouraged and sustained through your support. May He give you victory in all your battles, and make your cup full and running over!
For the lost sheep of Israel,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram