Jewish identity crisis continues as recent Nation-State law passed
In case you hadn’t heard, there was a recent “Nation-State Law” adopted in Israel. It says the following as reported by haaretz.com:
So the question is, “Is it good or bad for Israel?” Well, that depends on what part of Israel we look at.
There is the part of Israel that still lives in the shadow of the holocaust, a very understandable mindset given the fact that holocaust survivors are still living and walking among us, bearing constant testimony that the Jewish people are in fact an endangered species that therefore MUST fortify and protect its national/ideological identity at all costs in the face of never-ending adversities. This Israel is usually reactionary, on the defense and anxious, and who can fault them?
There is also the part of Israel that is convinced of the fact that our national “resurrection” of the recent 70 years has reached a point of such strength, fortitude and stability that it needs not be obsessively defended any longer as if the slightest breeze of opposition can knock it off base. This Israel is relaxed, self-assured, open minded, proud of our remarkable accomplishments. Its motivation is to find our place among the nations of the world as a respected and appreciated enlightened democracy and an economic powerhouse.
And then there is the part of Israel that actually believes in God and draws its sense of purpose and direction from the Bible, the divine mandate. This Israel is walking the tight rope of trying to balance seemingly contradictory biblical principles that on the one hand command the Jewish people to uphold and preserve their identity in their Promised Homeland, while at the same time showing hospitality and granting equal justice to the foreigners dwelling in our midst.
And finally, there is the vast number of Israelites who are scattered in between those camps, populating the regions of “I’m not sure what’s really going on,” and “frankly, I don’t care.” These good folks are simply too busy living the good life we enjoy here in Israel, too disillusioned with politics, or most probably a combination of both.
Technically speaking, as some argue, this law is not necessary at all as it basically states the obvious since our Declaration of Independence, Basic Laws, successive court rulings, the majority of our citizens, and the international community all recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. In other words, why bother irritating and scaring our minorities while frustrating our international friends in order to drive home the sensitive and “politically incorrect” facts that everyone already knows?
The opponents fear that a hyper nationalistic interpretation of the Nation-State Law will grant national preferences to the Jewish majority of Israel in matters of human rights and economic opportunity, damaging Israel’s image as an enlightened and inclusive democracy. The advocates of the law fear that without such clear legislation, Israel’s historic and biblically centered identity will continue to erode toward a complete “Mission Creep” where we lose touch with our original purpose and risk losing our identity. Both are scary propositions, and both should be avoided.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence, our founding document from 1948, clearly declares that Israel “is the national home of the Jewish people” while also stipulating that the state “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” Not bad at all for a fledgling, isolated state whose actual existence and viability were seriously doubted by both friend and foe at that time. And if Israel found the courage and moral fortitude to take that generous and noble stand 70 years ago, why are we doubting ourselves today?
The divine mandate, for those Israelites who actually believe its message to be relevant for us today, says that “after you enter the land I am giving you as a home … the same laws and regulations will apply to you and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Numbers 15:2, 15:16,) Even more, the Bible requires us to love our minorities. Why? Because “… you are to love the foreigner, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Ouch!
So, is this recent Nation-State Law good or bad for Israel? It’s neither good nor bad; it is simply necessary. Necessary as a natural outcome of our intensifying national conversation trying to come to terms with our true identity and calling as a Jewish nation back in our homeland.
Because, if we are merely the result of biological, political and societal dynamics spreading across thousands of years of incredible highs and lows, accomplishments and struggles, then we had better do our best to play the favorable cards the universe dealt us in recent decades, join the family of nations as an equal player, and stop irritating the world with our “Jewish uniqueness.”
However, if there is truth to the ancient claims of God on our people, and if it is by His purpose and sovereignty that we were carried through millennia of pain and brought to a safe harbor in this last chapter of our history according to many prophecies of our own prophets, then we had better open our hearts and focus our attention on God and His word to gain a better understanding of who we truly are and what is going on around us.
Warning from what he considered the impending danger of the Jewish nation forgetting its identity and purpose, our national poet/prophet, Nathan Alterman, wrote in his poem (published after his death) “Satan then said:”
“Satan then said
How do I overcome
This besieged one?
He has courage
And implements of war
…only this shall I do,
I’ll dull his mind
And cause him to forget
The justice of his cause.”
I pray that Israel’s national memory be jarred, refreshed, and if need be re-charged to embrace the greater truths that while we are called by God to be set apart from other nations, we are also destined to be a light to those nations. And the real question that still eludes many of our people is why and for what purpose the Jewish nation was created and set apart in the first place?
Not a small task, I agree. Certainly not one that we can accomplish by our own wisdom.
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Being married to a lecturer of archaeology has a tendency to get me also out into the field, literally.
These pots took my supervisor and I six months to put together. Together they consist of 360 pieces. We didn’t start with two separate piles of 180 shards. We started with hundreds of shards of different shapes and colors. Gradually finding random pieces that fit each other until two distinct pots started forming.
Every time my wife comes home from a dig, I ask her: “Did you find anything?” The standard answer would be: “Yes, some rocks that looked like a wall and some broken pottery from the bronze and iron age.” Unfortunately they didn’t use coins in the First Temple Period, so it’s hard to date things precisely.
I once found a coin at a site on the Mount of Olives from the reign of Franz II, the last Holy Roman Emperor before Napoleon’s conquest. It was minted in about 1800 C.E., not even old enough to rate as an antiquity with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Canaanite pottery sometimes has colorful decorations on it but Israelite pottery is rarely decorated (remember no graven images). Rarely are pots stamped with writing in this period – with one exception! King Hezekiah stamped some storage pot handles on jars that were in use when he was threatened by Sennacherib in 701 BC. So far about 2000 of these impressions have been found representing 21 different inscriptions.
Imagine everyone’s excitement when I pulled one out of the dirt at last week’s excavations at Tel Burna. This was not something abstract that was from somewhere in the Iron Age, but could be precisely dated and connected to a specific king of Judah. I might even sign up for the archaeology course offered for international students in the Year in Israel program at the Israel College of the Bible.
Kevin Gyllenberg settled in Israel in 1977. Works freelance in software, writing android applications and hosting websites. Continues to represent Israel in skydiving competitions around the world.
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The good and bad of Israel’s Nationality Law
In a contested vote last week, Israel’s Knesset passed a new Basic Law, enshrining the Jewish character of the state into Israel’s constitutional framework. While the idea of the law is straightforward – it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state – the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory and possibly racist.
The gist of the new law provides that Israel is a nation state of the Jewish people, adopts certain Jewish symbols and holidays as national symbols, promotes immigration and settlement of Jews into the nation and encourages outreach to the Jews living outside of Israel. The biggest problem of the law is what is absent. Israel’s Declaration of Independence formulated the vision for the nation, i.e. a Jewish state that would provide equal rights to all of its inhabitants, which includes a sizable number of Arab citizens. The new nationality law is silent on equal treatment of its citizens, and the question becomes whether the provisions emphasizing the Jewish national character will trump the democratic values upon which the state was founded.
The good news of the law was that some its earlier more onerous renditions were changed. This included permitting settlements that could exclude others and mandating the use of Jewish law in the court system. The bad news is that all laws have unintended consequences. Since the founding of the state, Israel has been known as and acted as the nation state of the Jewish people. At the same time, it has built a thriving and prosperous democratic country, where there is a vibrant free press and an independent and active judiciary. In recent years more right wing political parties became upset with Israeli Supreme Court rulings that struck down laws that violated democratic principles embodied into other Basic Laws. These parties have been lobbying for a new Basic Law – to assert Jewish nationality over and above other values. The result was the passage of the new nationality law.
How this new law will affect the democratic character of the country remains to be seen. However, one egregious action occurred the day after the bill’s passage. A provision added to the law by the ultra-Orthodox ensured that Orthodox Judaism will be the sole representative of Jewish values disseminating from Israel to other Jewish communities around the world. Orthodox Judaism has a religious monopoly in Israel, whereas the vast majority of Jews living outside of Israel belong to more progressive branches of Judaism.
In a show case of their power, a rabbi of the Conservative movement was just arrested in Israel for performing an “unauthorized” wedding ceremony the other day. Only Orthodox rabbis are permitted to officiate at weddings. In this case the ceremony was never considered official. Rather, the rabbi was performing the ceremony in an unofficial capacity. It didn’t matter – at the insistence of the ultra-Orthodox, he was arrested. This is an extremely bad sign and signals that the motivation behind the nationality bill is to undermine freedoms throughout the country.
For Messianic Jews this new law could prove highly problematic. Messianic Jews are already discriminated against with respect to immigration. With the adoption of the new law, this could conceivably be extended to housing, jobs, access to the courts, meeting places, rights to build congregations and more. This current government is the most right wing government in Israel’s history. It is not a friend of Messianic Jews, and its outreach to the Christian world is highly hypocritical.
Jamie Cowen is a Partner at Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh Law Offices, Petach Tikvah, Israel; Former Rabbi, Tikvat Israel Congregation, Richmond, Viriginia; Former President, Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations; Former Chief Counsel, US Senate Subcommittee 1978-1986
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Dealing with polygamy
We have been asked by pastors how to deal with polygamy during a revival (particularly in pagan, African and Islamic areas). What is the solution for people from a polygamous background that come to faith in Yeshua, according to Judeo-Christian values? Here are some suggested biblical principles:
- Repentance – Since there are complexities to the issue, we should face it with prayer, humility and sensitivity. Biblically, people would repent, cry, fast and seek the Lord to find solutions for similar issues, such as slavery and pagan marriages. (Ezra 9)
- Gospel – Every true solution involves a change of heart. Until one is aware of the love of God, the grace of the cross, the miracle of the new birth, then the root of the issue cannot be dealt with. (John 3)
- Biblical Teaching – Scripture’s clear standard must be taught that God’s will is for one man and one woman to be married. (Matthew 19) This prevents anyone in a polygamous marriage from eldership within a local congregation. (I Timothy 3)
- Forbidden – Polygamous marriages are not permitted in a community of faith. No compromise should be made with believers. The question at hand is only concerning those who come to the congregation with a previous condition.
- Social Change – Through the influence of prayer and biblical moral values, our hope is to change the laws of the country, and the social norms of the community around us, for monogamous marriage only. (Deuteronomy 16)
- Workable Solution – Yeshua said that Moses temporarily permitted divorce because of people’s hardness of heart. This indicates that even when it is against God’s best desire, sometimes we have to find a temporary solution to deal with a wrong situation. (Matthew 19)
- Each Case Separately – When pagan marriages were dealt with in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, after they realized the error and repented, they set up a system to interview and examine each case individually. (Ezra 10)
- Judicial Committee – In order to handle each case, a committee of investigation should be set up in each community (or work with the local government if they are cooperative). This judicial committee should serve under the authority of local elders. (Compare to I Corinthians 6 regarding the need for judicial decisions.)
- Protect the Innocent – The law’s purpose is to protect the weak and innocent. In this case, the women and children involved must be protected financially, socially, psychologically and morally. In each case, this must be taken into account.
- Preferred Annulment – If the women and children of secondary marriage can be set free without damaging them, then the polygamous marriage should be annulled, and the women and children are permitted to leave. (Compare to I Corinthians 7 regarding freedom of non-believers to be released from marriage vows if they desire)
- Possible Compromise – If after investigation, no annulment can be arranged without severe damage to women and children; and if the woman knowledgeably prefers and desires to stay, then a compromise continuance can be permitted (Compare to Deuteronomy 15 regarding a slave deciding to stay with family after servitude period finished). Any wife remaining should have full status and not be considered a concubine.
- Written Decision – The judicial committee (or local court) should make the best decision possible and write it out, so as to bring order and stability to the families.
In conclusion, let’s ask the Lord to continue bringing revival among Muslim and African pagan communities, and for wisdom for church leaders dealing with these situations.
This article originally appeared on Revive Israel, July 19, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Asher Intrater is the founder and apostolic leader of Revive Israel Ministries, and oversees Ahavat Yeshua Congregation in Jerusalem, and Tiferet Yeshua Congregation in Tel Aviv. Asher was one of the founders of Tikkun International with Dan Juster and Eitan Shishkoff, and serves on the board of the Messianic Alliance of Israel and Aglow International.
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Commentary on Parashat Devarim
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:1–3:22
This week, we start a new book, Deuteronomy! The book of Deuteronomy is an important book for us believers since God reminds us of so many things that He told us before. I believe there are two main reasons for these reminders: The first one is that we are forgetful people and therefore need to be reminded. The second one is that God puts a strong emphasis on some things that are important for Him, so we would be wise to pay attention to them.
As I was reading this week’s portion, one account caught my attention:
Then you answered and said to me, “We have sinned against the LORD; we will indeed go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.” And every man of you girded on his weapons of war, and regarded it as easy to go up into the hill country. And the LORD said to me, “Say to them, ‘Do not go up, nor fight, for I am not among you; lest you be defeated before your enemies.’” So I spoke to you, but you would not listen. Instead you rebelled against the command of the LORD, and acted presumptuously and went up into the hill country. And the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you, and chased you as bees do, and crushed you from Seir to Hormah. Then you returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD did not listen to your voice, nor give ear to you. So you remained in Kadesh many days, the days that you spent there.
This record reminds us of the events that took place in Numbers 13 and 14, where God instructed Moses to send 12 men to inspect the Land that He promised to them. Of the 12 men, 10 of them brought fear, lack of trust, and rebellion into the congregation of Israel, which resulted in God’s judgment over them. You can read more of my blogs on this subject in my blog on Parashat Shelach from this year and the last (click here for this year’s; click here for last year’s).
In our story this week, we see that the children of Israel still did not get the message that God was trying to deliver to them, which is to trust, obey, and listen to Him as well as to do things His way.
Even after they supposedly repented of their wrongdoing against Him, they still tried to take matters into their own hands instead of seeking Him and what He desired for them. They went to war against His will, which resulted in heavy judgment on all of Israel.
As I reflect upon this, I can’t help but think about Israel today, and about the fact that things have not changed much over the millennia! There is still only one way to do things, and that is in accordance to God’s Will. We can’t prove ourselves to God, we can’t become righteous in our own right; we have to do things His way or else it simply is not going to work.
Yeshua said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
For followers of Messiah today, there is a very important message here: Seek Him always, and act in accordance to His instruction!
This article originally appeared on Hope for Israel and is reposted with permission.
Moran is the Founder and Executive Director of Hope for Israel, which is a service and resource-providing ministry that aims to bring the hope of the Messiah back to Israel. It is also a resource center for current and timely news updates concerning Israel that provides daily prayer alerts, Bible teachings, and weekly blogs in order to help believers across the world understand what God is doing in the Land, how to pray for Israel and filter everything through the Word of God.