Religious intolerance in Israel
Part 2: Limiting religious expression.
Religious conversions. Attacks.
Limiting religious expression:
Moshe Gafni of the religious Torah Judaism Party and
Nissim Zvili of the Labour Party, both members of the
14th Knesset (Israel's parliament), proposed a bill which
would severely limit religious expression. If passed, it would
the possession, printing, copying, distribution, sharing
of, and import of advertisements to induce religious
As initially worded, the bill stated:
||"A) Whoever possesses contrary to the law or
prints or copies or distributes or shares or imports
tracts or advertises things in which there is an
inducement for religious conversion is liable for - one
||"B) Any tract or advertisement in which there is
inducement to religious conversion will be
"Explanatory notes" appended to the bill states
that the state of Israel is opposed to "missionary"
seduction which has as its goal the conversion of people from
one religion to another; in particular they are opposed to
such activity which targets minors. Apparently, the term
"missionary" would include employees of religious groups as well as
volunteers pursuing what they feel is a personal responsibility to convert
others. The bill could be interpreting as criminalizing the distribution of the
Christian New Testament or copies of the Qur'an -- the Muslim holy book.
During the discussion, some members of the
Knesset allegedly stated that they plan to introduce bills in
the future which would outlaw all Messianic organizations and
groups are composed of Jews who retain their Jewish faith and
practice, while recognizing Yeshua (Jesus Christ) as the
It appears that the bill did not become law.
Conversions to Judaism:
There are three main movements within Judaism: Orthodox,
Conservative and Reform. For years, the state of Israel
recognized that only conversions to Orthodox Judaism made a
non-Jewish person into a Jew. So, only a person who had
converted to Judaism via the Orthodox movement would be
automatically granted the right to emigrate to Israel under
their Law of Return, and be registered in the state's population registry
as a Jew.
On 1998-DEC-30, a Jerusalem District Court Judge ruled that non-Orthodox
converts must be registered by the government as Jews, regardless of where the
conversion took place. However, the ruling did not address whether non-Orthodox
Jews could make a claim under the Law of Return.
Shocked by the courts recognizing religious diversity, the
ultra-Orthodox political parties fought back. They proposed a
bill in early 1997 which would invalidate all conversions to
Judaism performed in Israel, unless they were performed by an
Orthodox Rabbi. Conservative and Reform Jews outside of Israel
reacted with anger. A compromise bill was then written. It
allowed non-Orthodox conversions to be recognized and recorded
by the government. However, the Interior Ministry would record
that the individual was not born Jewish and that a Reform or
Conservative rabbi had performed the conversion. This would
allow Israel's chief rabbinate to continue to discriminate
against those who were not converted by Orthodox rabbis. The
bill was never passed into law. The initiative for ending
discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews once more passed to
the courts. 1
On 2002-FEB-20, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that
the Ministry of Interior should register, as Jews, 24
plaintiffs in the Population Registry. They had
converted to Judaism within the Reform and Conservative
movements, some in Israel, others abroad.
According to Michal Sela, writing for IRAC, a Progressive Judaism movement:
"This ruling ends
a 7-year struggle for Israelis, children and adults, who do
not wish to commit themselves and their families to the
Orthodox way of life, as demanded by the Israeli Orthodox
conversion religious courts." 2
Attacks on Christian sites:
On 1997-OCT-21, the Phalei Rachamim Messianic synagogue
in Haifa was attacked for the second time.
Damage totaled about US $50,000. 3Messianic congregations
follow many Jewish traditions. This congregation, for example, has a Sefer
Torah (Old Testament scroll) and a Torah ark. However, they
also recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They have many beliefs in
common with conservative Christians, and actively recruit
Some news sources have reported that a source of opposition to this
Messianic group has been the Yad
L'Achim (A Hand to Brothers), a Jewish group which opposes
missionary activities among Jews by members of other faiths.
According to Baruch Maoz,
chairperson of the Messianic Action Committee, attacks on
Messianic Jews and their buildings have increased since an
anti-missionary bill was introduced in the Israeli Knesset.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Israel: Religion and the Secular State," ADL, 1999-JAN-27, at:
Michal Sela, "Reform and Conservative Converts Recognized to be Registered
as Jews," 2002-FEB-22, at:
"Messianic Synagogue Firebombed in Israel," Christians
in Crisis magazine, 1997-NOV/DEC.
The Israel Messianic Action Committee has published "An
Urgent Call for Prayer and Solidarity". See:
Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-12
Latest update: 2009-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson