Evangelical Christians in the US and Europe are helping Messianic Jews in Israel gain political rights to evangelize, build Messianic schools for their children and other Messianic Jewish institutions, and it may be problematic.
In the most recent case, when leaders within the Hebrew speaking Messianic community in Israel became aware of an anti-missionary bill being proposed by Orthodox religious parties, they reached out to a well-known American Evangelical, who subsequently wrote an article describing “a major and disturbing new development in the country [Israel]” and aimed at enlisting Evangelicals to help stop the bill. Within days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly opposed the bill proposed by his Orthodox coalition partners, and many Messianics were convinced that US Evangelicals had persuaded the prime minister.
However, the Orthodox religious parties in the Knesset have a history of proposing anti-missionary bills whenever they are in power, and these bills have never even made it to an official reading before the plenum because no Israeli government is foolish enough to pass a law that restricts freedom of speech and religion in a democratic society.
While it is uncertain whether Netanyahu rejected the law because of his Evangelical connections, or to avoid confrontation with his Orthodox coalition partners, the fact remains that the Messianics have a powerful friend in the US who can sway the Israeli government to protect their interests.
However, this partnership with foreign entities is problematic, for it allows the local Messianic Jewish community to manage their institutions and protect their interests (or God’s interests, they might say) without walking the hard path to remaining a part of the Jewish nation.
Back in the 60s and 70s when we began publicly promoting our Messianic beliefs in Israel, we understood instinctively that there was a price to pay to earn our place within our society and to be able to talk about our Messianic Jewish faith in meaningful and authentic ways to our nation.
When we were denied jobs, rejected from important positions in the IDF, and prevented from renting apartments because of our faith, we encouraged our people that the best way to deal with this was to be responsible workers, citizens and soldiers, and that wherever you might find yourself, make the best of it, not only for yourself but for your fellow workers, the business or the army unit where you end up serving. Plant yourself there and try to produce good fruit, we explained, and it worked. Today Messianic Jews are even sought out to serve and work in places they were once denied.
Clearly there are serious sacrifices we must be willing to make to undo the presuppositions that have bound Jesus to a non-Jewish and anti-Jewish Christian Messiah.
When the Messianic community in Israel manages to gain their rights to live and spread their faith in the country and establish their institutions with the help of foreign entities, such as US and European Evangelicals, it may lead to Israel becoming a more tolerant and democratic state that recognizes the rights of all minority groups. And that’s a good thing. However, if this is achieved through the influence of a foreign entity, be it political or religious, it feeds the perception that Messianics are not a genuine part of the Jewish people and faith, and worse are really Christian “missionaries” in disguise seeking to subvert the Jewish nation.
Furthermore, the involvement of foreign entities in the political and social affairs of Israel is reckless, as interference in the country’s internal affairs can potentially lead to accusations of treachery or disloyalty. In Israel, it is seen as akin to the leftists getting money from Europe and the US to force their agenda on the nation. It is important for Messianic Jews to be sensitive to these concerns and to work toward gaining acceptance and recognition within Israeli society based on their own merits and contributions, rather than relying solely on the support of external actors.
Establishing a distinct identity as Jewish believers in Jesus while remaining a part of Israel and the Jewish people can be a challenging task. However, here are some steps that Messianic Jews can take to achieve this goal:
- Emphasize our Jewish identity: Messianic Jews need to continue to emphasize their Jewish identity and make it clear that they are not trying to convert Jews to Christianity. They should demonstrate that their belief in Jesus is an outgrowth of their Jewish faith and heritage, and not a rejection of it.
- Respect Jewish tradition: Messianic Jews should respect Jewish tradition and culture, and work to build bridges with the larger Jewish community. They should participate in Jewish cultural events and show support for Israel and the Jewish people.
- Engage in dialogue: Messianic Jews should engage in dialogue with other Jews and work to build relationships with Jewish leaders and organizations. They should be open and honest about their beliefs and listen to the concerns of others.
- Pursue political representation: Messianic Jews can pursue political representation by forming their own political parties or working to influence existing parties. They could work to build coalitions with other minority groups in Israel should they be inclined to demonstrate their commitment to democratic values.
- Promote education and advocacy: Messianic Jews can promote education and advocacy by creating institutions and organizations that promote their beliefs and values. They should work to educate others about their faith and the role of Messianic Jews in Israel’s political and social landscape.
Establishing a distinct identity as Jewish believers in Jesus while remaining a part of Israel and the Jewish people requires a delicate balance of emphasizing Jewish identity, respecting Jewish tradition, engaging in dialogue, pursuing political representation, and promoting education and advocacy.
The advantage of being integrated more fully into the life of our people is that it potentially empowers the Messianic community to have real-life influence helping guide Israel toward biblical morality (not mere democratic values) while providing a recognizable witness to what following Jesus looks like on a national, or even international scale.
The Messianics in Israel can be an example of a community that rewards one with a joyous self and a creative family, and that impacts society from the ground up – rather than through top-down politics.
It is important to recognize that any foreign involvement in another country’s political affairs can be viewed as unlawful interference. However, it is also important to acknowledge that there are valid concerns and challenges faced by Messianic Jews in Israel when it comes to their religious and political rights.
One approach to this issue could be for Messianic Jews to work towards building alliances and partnerships with like-minded individuals and organizations within Israel who share their values and goals. This should involve working within existing political structures and advocating for the rights of Messianic Jews as a legitimate minority group within Israel.
Additionally, Messianic Jews could work toward greater integration and engagement with the broader Jewish community in Israel, demonstrating their commitment to Israel and their respect for Jewish traditions and values.
Ultimately, the key to achieving these goals is through respectful dialogue and engagement with all parties involved, including the Israeli government, Jewish organizations, and the broader Israeli public. This approach may take time, patience and persistence, but it is ultimately the most effective and sustainable way to achieve lasting change.
Last week a well-established local Messianic school and kindergarten reported that it was being closed down. This battle, as difficult as it will be, should be seen as a hard-earned opportunity by a genuinely concerned local Messianic community to fight for the education of our children according to biblical and Zionist values in Israel, and not, for the sake of children’s future in this land, be given over to a foreign entity, Christian or otherwise, to pressure the country, as enticing as that may seem.
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