Panic in Petach Tikva: Ultra-Orthodox Oppose Messianic Presence in Major Israeli City
A few weeks ago MyNet, Petach Tikva’s Hebrew online news site, published an article, in which haredi (ultra-orthodox) leaders sounded an alarm over what they called “missionary activity” in the city. Petach Tikva’s acting Mayor Uriel Boso, a member of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, joined them in calling on city residents to “beware of the propaganda” being distributed by Messianic groups.
As most Messianic believers know, this same warning is sounded year after year, in different cities throughout Israel. The accusations against the Israeli Messianic community by anti-missionary groups such as Yad L’Achim and Jews for Judaism are as repetitive as they are baseless: we are practicing deceit by embracing Jewish customs, our leaders are motivated by lucrative salaries, we recruit new believers through entrapment, we indoctrinate minors to leave the Jewish faith in violation of Israeli law, etc., etc…. all with the goal of destroying the Jewish people.
These charges were vaguely repeated by MyNet’s sources as justification for raising the alarm yet again. But in order to convince the news site that the recycled accusations are newsworthy, MyNet was informed that anti-missionaries had obtained “an inside peek” at the sinister tactics of the soul-stealers in their city. Mr. Boso added weight to the claim by declaring that as a city official he has been dealing with the “dire phenomenon” of Messianic literature being distributed over recent months, and he identified activity by Jews for Jesus as particularly threatening. Mr. Boso encouraged MyNet readers to report and hand over any Messianic material they receive, so that “no more people will be hurt” by it.
How much credence was given to these allegations can be seen in the response of MyNet journalists Korine Elbaz-Alush and Yonatan Ochion, who informed their readers in the first paragraph that their “conversations with members of the organizations” identified as a threat revealed a “complex” story. It was one that not only contradicted the haredi charges but also appeared more newsworthy: the claims by Messianic Jews of being harassed and persecuted by the haredim.
For Messianic Israelis this too is old news. So was the defense of Messianic individuals interviewed by MyNet, that our faith is a natural extension of the Jewish stream introduced by the New Testament, a Jewish book based on Tanach (the Jewish Bible).
However, a truly new revelation – in fact, quite a startling one – appeared in the second paragraph of the article. Judging from the scant attention it received, its significance was lost on the journalists, who spent most of their effort trying to determine how Jewish or Christian our community is in its thinking and practice, whether Messianics qualify for the “cult” label, and how many approve of distributing literature as part of sharing their faith. The general conclusion of the article was that it appears Messianic Jews are good for the country, and that the believers in Yeshua may have more to fear from the haredim than vice versa.
So what was the bombshell that went unnoticed? According to MyNet’s haredi sources, the reason their community in Petach Tikva is so up in arms over the distribution of material about Yeshua is that “they are afraid it is drawing hundreds of new adherents – mainly the members of the haredi community in the city.”
If there is one claim continually published by the anti-missionaries, it’s that only Jews who are alienated from their Jewish heritage, or those ignorant of the Jewish Bible, would “fall for” the Messianic interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures as pointing to Yeshua. These “distortions” can be easily refuted, they say, by anyone who is properly educated in Tanach (or even fluent in Hebrew); and for this reason they urge donors to fund their educational efforts.
In Israel, Yad L’Achim has banked on this strategy in producing “Mehapsim”, a magazine targeting Hebrew-speaking Messianic Jews. The publication is crammed with testimonials, arguments and invitations about the power of Torah study, under rabbinic guidance, to “cure” Jews of their faith in Yeshua. Following that organization’s characterization of the Jews “most vulnerable to the influence of missionaries”, MyNet’s anti-missionaries refer to Israelis who are “easily exploited” by Messianic outreach precisely because they are (presumably) Torah-illiterate.
Yet at the same time we have a complaint, voiced by leaders of the Torah community, that the Petach Tikva residents most heavily involved in Torah study are “mainly” the ones being drawn to the Messianic claims of Yeshua; and that they are not a handful, but rather must be counted by “hundreds“.
A few Israeli believers were asked by MyNet if they understood why the ultra-orthodox are so hostile toward us. Their answers focused on what the haredim think of us, ranging from the perception that they “sometimes come to accept us after they get to know us”… to the conviction that “they are against us no matter what we do.” A spokesperson for Jews for Jesus reaffirmed our rights under Israeli law to hand out printed information and to “approach any adult (over 18) who would like to hear about our faith.” None of the believers who were interviewed mentioned the possibility that the hostility might be a panic reaction.
It would appear that the haredi community is quietly experiencing a spiritual meltdown of historic proportions. These people, who literally spend all their waking hours in Torah learning, are so starved for the real Word of the LORD that hundreds are willing to read ‘forbidden’ material in order to find Him.
In the third paragraph, before launching into their encounters with the Messianic community in Israel, the MyNet journalists again touched on the real scoop without recognizing it. They wondered whether the outspoken Messianic witness in Israel really has a “far-reaching” influence, or whether it just served as a “permanent scarecrow”, one of many that “the haredi community likes to use to unify its people against” a perceived outside threat. Either way, these reporters got the impression that current tensions would not be channeled into one more round of debates: “Word on the street is that this time we’re talking about a real confrontation, which might even lead to violence.”
If it should come to that, we as followers of Yeshua need to remember the real reason behind the panic in Petach Tikva… and rejoice that Messiah is so powerfully reaching those of our people who have lived all their lives “behind the Torah Curtain”.
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The Kehila News Staff is a team of Israeli believers in Yeshua.