Happy New Year from Tel Aviv!
During Passover the greatest religious battle of all times took place when the Jewish leaders, the propagators of a human tradition, and Yeshua the Messiah, inheritor of the Abrahamic promise (Gal 3:16), clashed head on.
On purpose, Yeshua lost the battle. For He came into the world in order to lose His life, to give His life as a ransom for many.
Today another battle line is forming. The religious leaders in Israel are growing stronger, louder, and more domineering with each passing day. The Israeli newspapers are full of indignation and wrath over their attempts to manipulate and control the State of Israel.
Yet the secular population does not have the backbone to stand up to this fanatical religious minority. One thing that all secular analysts agree on is that bigotry and extremism has over taken the Orthodox Jewish movement in Israel. The papers call it Khomeiniism after the ruler of Iran.
The Israeli government, whose charge it is to be the protecting force for democracy, is failing to do its job because atheistic politicians who clamor for the religious vote, are willing to compromise themselves and give in to the ever increasing demands of the Rabbis.
But on the horizon another very small army is forming. It is growing and gaining strength throughout Israel. One day there will be a showdown between this growing army and the Orthodox, who are openly talking of a religious dictatorship in Israel as their ultimate goal.
ORTHODOX JUDAISM'S "ARMY OF THE LORD"
Some months ago a long article appeared in the magazine section of the Jerusalem Post called "Army of the Lord."* It is one of many articles of concern and anxiety over the quality and quantity of fanaticism in Orthodox Judaism today. We take the liberty to quote from this article and others appearing in the press.
In 1948, the late David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, agreed to defer army service for up to 400 Yeshiva students. (A Yeshiva is a Jewish "Bible School" but instead of Bible, Talmud and similar books are studied.) He did this in order to keep the Yeshiva system open so that they did not close for lack of students in the face of an ongoing war.
Today, to the consternation of a great number of Israelis, the number of Yeshiva students who do not serve in the Israeli army is 5 to 7 percent of all Israeli men eligible for the draft. December 10, 1987 statistics say 18,000 Yeshiva students will not be serving in the Israeli army, this year.
The cost to the taxpayer is estimated at a whopping 100 million dollars a year, as 25 to 50 percent of the Yeshivot (plural for Yeshiva) budgets come from the government. According to the newspapers, much of the moneys finding their way to the Yeshivot allegedly arrive through fraud, double payments, and non-accounted for funds processed through various religious-dominated government departments.
The extent to which this small country supports a monastic caste of scholars may be without precedent in any society, says the Jerusalem Post. This in a nation of less than 4,000,000 Jews where the men are burdened with a month's annual reserve duty into their 50's.
Furthermore, another group of men at least equal in number to the above 18,000, do enter the army after attending yeshivot, but only serve a few months, by virtue of their relatively advanced age and having children.
"THIS IS NOT MY ARMY AND THIS IS NOT MY COUNTRY"
Equally serious is the fact that of the 370 Yeshivot in the country, most of them are anti-Israel. They do not believe that the State of Israel should exist. The Messiah, they say, will establish the new state.
Knesset member Rabbi Menachem Hacohen himself a moderate Orthodox, feels that allowing Yeshiva students to be deferred is "poisoning the social fabric" of the nation. Hacohen contends that Yeshiva students have become a priviledged elite, living outside the framework of national obligations.
"Many start out by feeling hostility because they have to prove that the faults in the nation and the country are what justify their non-service. They argue: 'This is not my army and this is not my country,' Hacohen says.
"Hostility to the country snowballs, since even those youngsters who attend a Yeshiva high school are taught by Haredi (extreme Orthodox) teachers who encourage them to request deferment and continue their scholastic careers in Haredi yeshivot," Hacohen says.
"We are doing everything possible to let the anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox educate an increasingly large generation of anti-Zionist draft dodgers at the expense of the taxpayer."
Hacohen argues that Israel's position as a world center for Yeshiva study would be maintained more than adequately if 1000 students are deferred.
MORE YESHIVA STUDENTS THAN AT ANY TIME IN HISTORY
Today there are more than 60,000 Yeshiva students in Israel. Never before in the long and rich history of the Jewish people have there been as many Yeshiva students in one country as there are today in Israel.
In all of pre-Holocaust Europe, inhabited by some seven million Jews -- that world of "Fiddler on the Roof" -- there were no more than 10,000 to 12,000 Yeshiva students at anyone time, according to Rabbi Moshe Tennenbaum, head of the Israeli Yeshiva Committee. Other authorities put the number much lower.
The turning point in Israel was the Six-Day War, which sparked a religious awakening and a growing sense of messianism.
The truth was that Israelis were looking for spiritual reality, and the only direction they knew to turn, as Jews within Judaism, was to a totally committed Orthodox life of study.
Some of the 2,600 students who are enrolled in special baalei teshuva (repenters) Yeshivot for the newly religious are men who had served in crack combat units and even a few air force pilots.
The army, alarmed at the lure of the Yeshivot, has stopped organized visits by groups of soldiers to Yeshivot which formerly had been part of the army's educational program to acquaint the troops with various facets of life in the country.
A WORLD TO ITSELF
"The Yeshiva world is not one of blind faith or religious obscurantism as outsiders may think, says the Jerusalem Post, but a rich intellectual and social milieu offering great satisfaction. Studying in pairs, the students proceed through the volumes of the Talmud like law students arguing the meaning of passages as they go along.
"Each day there will be a lesson with a rabbi who will sound them out on their interpretations and then provide his own insights. The rabbi will raise apparent contradictions within the text or write other texts," says Dr. Menachem Friedman of the Orthodox Bar-Ilan University.
"The Talmud is ad hoc and he extracts principles. The object is to bring apparent contradictions into harmony. You build a theoretical building, you build assumption on assumption and you examine the 'building' from all sides until it all locks into place.
"Students capable of doing this find in it the most sensual pleasure. The words they use to describe it are sensual -- 'beautiful,' 'clear,' 'sweet'.
"In addition to the sense of intellectual adventure, the Yeshiva also offers a vital social life filled with communal celebration and personal contact. Students rise at 5:30 and start their studies two hours later after prayers and breakfast and continue until about 11 p.m. Married students spend seven hours a day studying, for which they receive $250 - $300 a month."
CONDITIONS OF THE MESSIANIC BELIEVERS
The Messianic Jews of Israel, on the other hand, instead of receiving help from the government, are harassed by them. Finding a legal building for a congregation or a Messianic Yeshiva is truly a miracle of the first order.
Yet the number of born again Israelis is steadily growing, and we are continually hearing of new believers rising up in kibbutzim, villages, and towns throughout the country. Guestimates stand somewhere around 5,000 Israeli believers in Israel.
Our congregation itself has regularly 80-100 in attendance, and our own growth is hampered by lack of space. For example our children are taught in the noisy entrance area of our Kehilah (congregational) building. Rooms for our children would attract more parents with families.
A prayer group from our congregation is coming together once a week to pray specifically for our own Messianic Yeshiva where the Israelis can learn the Word of God and receive His Spirit and move in the power of God. The acquiring of a facility for such a Yeshiva will be as big a miracle to us as the opening of the Red Sea! But we are convinced that God wants such a training center in Israel -- for how else can men and women be quickly trained for the coming revival?
We have no opportunity to leave the work here and spend many months abroad raising the funds. For then the work here would falter.
But with God nothing is impossible and for that purpose we are coming together to pray.
As God's true army gets stronger and stronger, it will be able to stand against those who would destroy it. And God's will shall be done in Israel. For God is not a man that He should lie!
Will you pray with us, that God will make a facility available to us for our own Yeshiva a Messianic Jewish facility where the
Word of the Lord will go forth from Zion, and not the laws of men?
Will you pray that God will prepare His people who have large sums at their disposal to invest in the salvation of Israel? That He will put a burning desire in their heart to see "all Israel saved"? If we pray in faith believing, God will do it!
1988, is going to be the greatest year Israel has seen since Yeshua Ha Mashiach walked this Land! It is a priviledge to be a part of His plan.
In our Messiah,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram