A contestant in Israel’s annual Bible knowledge quiz created a controversy after people found out she was a Messianic Jew—an individual of Jewish descent who practices Judaism but believes Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah. Although attorneys for the competition determined that there was no reason to disqualify her, influential Rabbis encouraged Israelis to boycott the competition over her presence.
On March 20, 2008, the son of a Messianic Jewish pastor living in Ariel was critically wounded after a bomb disguised as a Purim gift basket blew up. The Israeli media characterized the victim, Ami Ortiz, and his family as “cult members.” Some have speculated that anti-missionary Orthodox zealots may have been responsible for the attack.
Messianic Jews in Israel are no strangers to persecution in Israel. The Israeli government has twice passed anti missionary legislation and anti-missionary organizations such as Yad L’Achim, which purportedly receives funding from Israel’s Interior Ministry, devote themselves to undermining and reversing missionary efforts. Until last month, Israel denied Messianic Jews citizenship under the Law of Return on the grounds that they had willingly converted to another religion and thereby lost their Jewish identity.
The question of Jewish identity is a sticky one that extends beyond the most controversial—Messianic Jews—to gentiles who converted into any of the mainstream Jewish denominations. Israel’s High Rabbinical Court recently upheld the decision of yet another Rabbinic court to retroactively annul the Orthodox conversion of a woman who had failed to practice orthodox Judaism following her conversion 15 years earlier. The decision has created a fear that hundreds or thousands of other gentile converts will similarly have their Jewish identity denied.
The real fear for Jews is that “conversion” to other religions, or the gentile-convert’s failure to preserve the integrity of modern Jewish religious practice, will lead to the wholesale destruction of the Jewish people. One can make the case that much of modern Jewish identity has grown out of defending itself against two millennia of the Church’s rabidly anti-Semitic practices. Less than a century after the Holocaust, this is an understandable fear. Anti-missionary terror and tactics, however, are an indefensible response.