Missionaries in southern Israel were handed a resounding defeat last week when the Be'er Sheva Magistrate's Court threw out their suit against Yad L'Achim and Be'er Sheva's Chief Rabbi, Rav Yehuda Deri.
Not only did the judge reject the missionaries' demand for NIS 1.4 million in compensation, he ordered them to pay Yad L'Achim and Rav Deri NIS 1,000 each and to cover their legal expenses, which, the missionaries themselves say, topped $40,000.
In their suit, the plaintiffs claimed that Yad L'Achim had learned of a baptism ceremony to be held for Jews on Shabbos and disrupted the event using violence. Yad L'Achim was accused of trespassing, vandalism and inciting others to riot at the scene.
Rav Deri, who was notified in advance of the event by Yad L'Achim and conducted a public tefillah outside the facility where the baptism was to be held, was similarly accused of trespassing, vandalism and incitement to violence.
In his lengthy ruling, the judge pointed to several contradictions and outright lies in the missionaries' claims:
1. In their original suit, they said Yad L'Achim had falsely claimed that a baptism was being held in the facility. During the trial, they retracted that charge.
2. The missionary Howard Bass claimed that Rav Deri had entered the premises of the Messianic congregation, but later admitted that he never saw the Rav inside the facility. He conceded that his "knowledge" of the Rav's whereabouts came from the radio and Internet.
3. Bass also claimed that Yad L'Achim incited the crowd against him and his cult and that all the damages resulted from this incitement. His "proof" was a newspaper article publicized after the event on Yad L'Achim statements regarding the dangers of missionaries. Bass had no logical answer to the judge's question of how an article appearing after the event could have incited violence at the facility. Moreover, the judge said the missionaries failed to prove any connection between Yad L'Achim and that article.
4. The judge further ruled that the missionaries had failed to verify the extent of damages they allegedly incurred. They claimed NIS 1.4 million, but could prove only damage to a projector and glasses, which totaled NIS 7,000.
The judge asked why the missionaries didn't sue the people they claim were directly responsible for the damages, rather than Yad L'Achim and the Rav of the city. They had no answer.
Not one of the plaintiff's witnesses could prove a connection between those who allegedly caused damage and Yad L'achim and Rav Deri.
The judge ruled that the transfer of information between Yad L'Achim and Rav Deri – regarding an upcoming baptism of Jews in Be'er Sheva - is legitimate.
He also made two rulings on general matters of principle:
Messianic Judaism is a religious stream within Christianity, and this stream is not recognized as a group within Judaism; one of the main tenets of the Messianics is missionary activity.
Yad L'Achim chairman Rav Shalom Dov Lipschitz praised the ruling but added that "we mustn't become complacent in the face of the ongoing efforts of the missionaries, even as they are licking their wounds from this loss. This ruling encourages us to continue to fight them with all the legitimate means at our disposal."
Rav Lipschitz urged Jews in Israel and around the world to "write to religious MKs and demand that they amend the missionary law in Israel in a way that bans all missionary activity throughout Israel."