When is a call to Jews to follow Jesus not considered an appeal to convert to Christianity? When the Israel Police are asked to explain why they refuse to take action against missionaries.
Rabbi Sholom Dov Lifshitz, chairman of Yad L'Achim, recently sent a letter to Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter bringing to his attention a missionary brochure headlined, "All for Jesus", which calls on Jews to abandon their religion. Rabbi Lifshitz demanded that the minister, who is in charge of the police, halt distribution of the brochure, since it includes offers of financial inducements to heed the call to follow Jesus, in violation of the law.
The response, from Chamutal Sabag, an attorney and the officer in charge of public complaints, left Rabbi Lifshitz shaking his head in disbelief. The police conceded that "an examination of the brochure shows that we are speaking of a call to Jews to join for the sake of Jesus" but, continued Sabag in her letter, "there is no call to convert, and no mention of any religion, not even Christianity." The letter concludes: "Since there is no law against missionary activity, only against activity aimed at getting one to leave his religion, there is no criminal violation and therefore no room for police involvement in this case."
In response, Moshe Morgenstern, a member of Yad L'Achim's legal team, sent a sharply worded letter to the police blasting the artificial distinction made between getting Jews to abandon their faith and getting them to follow Jesus He cited a number of High Court rulings that affirmed that while cults like the "Messianic Jews" claim to enable Jews to remain Jews, they are in fact drawing them away from their religion.
Even former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who consistently placed democracy above Judaism in his rulings, wrote, "Faith in that man as the messiah, and effective proselytizing toward that faith among Jews through the creation of a special community for this purpose [Messianic Jews], turns the person into the worshiper of another religion, in a way that takes him away from his Judaism."
Morgenstern asked the police to retract its opinion and to open a criminal investigation against those who offer financial rewards to Jews for expressing belief in Jesus.
Yad L'Achim was even more astonished at a letter that MK Rabbi Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) received from Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter on the same topic. Rabbi Porush had submitted a parliamentary query based on information he'd received from Yad L'Achim regarding a missionary soup kitchen at which the poor were asked to bless that man in order to receive food and drink.
In his response, the internal security minister wrote that he'd sent someone to monitor up close goings-on at the soup kitchen. "Some 60 people arrived at the place," the minister acknowledged, "most of them down-and-outers and depressed. There are also 12 activists of the organization" – here he was referring to the missionary organization that operates the place.
The minster acknowledged that his representative saw that "one of the activists recited aloud a blessing in the name of Jesus, spoke of Holocaust Day, and then gave the meal." The minister also noted that "it became clear that the soup kitchen serves as a house of prayer for the activists and that some of the [local] population attend these services."
But then the minister contradicts himself, writing: "There is no sign of activity pointing to violations of 174A of the criminal code [against proselytizing], but rather charitable activities of an association that believes in helping the needy. Moreover, from questions asked by my representative it emerges that the activists didn't promise anyone material benefits for giving up his religion, and therefore there is no criminal violation."
Rabbi Porush didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Doesn't reciting a public blessing in the name of J. constitute an attempt to persuade someone to convert? And don't free meals constitute material benefit?
Rabbi Lifshitz said this week that "the far-fetched explanations on the part of those who are entrusted with law enforcement are a result of the sad state in which there is no clear law forbidding missionary activity of any kind. Only an amendment, that leaves no room for misunderstanding, will put a brake on missionaries."