Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Call to the Faithful Who Stand with Israeli Believers

The following is an appeal that was written by one of the Israeli Messianic leaders in the Land of Israel.

In the midst of the world-shaking events going on around us all, and the normal press of daily life, the situation surrounding the court case in Beer Sheva continues to impress me as something of greater significance than might initially meet the eye. We have spent time with Howard and Randi Bass (Yeshua's Inheritance Congregational leaders in Beer Sheva) and know that we are all in accord concerning what I have written here.

Though many of you are already aware of most of what I am going to share, I sense that putting it all together on one canvas might help us to see better what lies just beneath the surface. God has given us historical markers in the natural realm to help us see and understand those things that are spiritual in nature and invisible.

Many of us believe that this Beer Sheva incident, the situation in Arad, the Ortiz case, and various other “attacks” are not isolated incidents against single communities or individuals but part of the enemy’s strategy against the whole Body. Given the danger we (Israel) pose to the enemy’s very existence, should we not also consider that the powers of darkness amassed against us are national or even international in scope and authority? Friends, it is imperative for the Body in Israel, as well as the Body in the nations, to recognize this fact and respond in a commensurate manner.

It is also important to understand that though this matter involves a legal suit, the essence of the case is not about justice for the Messianic community, nor about the end of persecution, nor about our legal right to worship and gather. It is about a confrontation with a demonic stronghold that has kept multitudes of our people spiritually blind for thousands of years.

It is about preparing the way for the return of the Lord. And while we do not hold that a victory in court is necessary for a victory in the spiritual realm, we believe that God has called the Body of Messiah in Israel to confront this darkness in the public arena of the judicial system within the context of a suit against the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Beer Sheva and the Yad L’Achim organization. Furthermore, the decision to go to court was reached through much prayer with the confirmation and blessing of Messianic leaders throughout Israel.

The background of the case is as follows: In 2005, on Shabbat, December 24th, two young ladies were scheduled to be immersed in water as part of the regular weekly congregational gathering of Congregation Nachalat Yeshua in Beer Sheva. The “anti-missionary” organization Yad L’Achim erroneously informed the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Beer Sheva, Yehuda Deri, that there was to be a mass baptism of Jews and that ten tour buses full of people were coming to participate. Rabbi Deri passed the false information to a number of other rabbis in Beer Sheva.

As a result, about 600 Haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews) descended on the Beer Sheva congregation.
They destroyed property, accosted several of the believers, and even fought with a number of the 70 policemen that came to quell the riot. Verbal statements and signed depositions by Rabbi Deri confirm these facts and place him at the site from about 10:30 AM until around 1:00 PM.

The Judge declared in court that there was no question that a terrible thing happened there. Howard Bass, as the plaintiff of record, contends that at the very least Rabbi Deri was negligent in not exercising his authority to stop the riot and was in fact responsible for causing it, and that Yad L’Achim knowingly misrepresented the facts in order to foment a confrontation such as took place.

November 23rd has been set as the third and final day of the court proceedings. The Judge’s decision will be issued on December 23rd.

Friends, on December 25, 1989 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that if a Jew believes in Yeshua he or she loses his (or her) automatic right to citizenship. The riot in Beer Sheva that gave cause for the current court case happened on December 24th. By law the Judge is required to render his decision by December 23rd. (It could be sooner). Can this really be coincidental? I think God wants to get our attention!

In both ancient and modern history, the fate of nations has come forth from the sands of Beer Sheva. It is the one city associated with all three of our Patriarchs.

In the wilderness of Beer Sheva (Gen.21:15) God opened a well preserving Ishmael’s life, and declared he would be a great nation. There King Abimelech acknowledged that God was with Abraham (Gen.21:22) and with an oath restored to him a well he had dug. Abraham planted there a tamarisk tree, and called on the Everlasting God.

In Beer Sheva Abraham received what was probably the most difficult command ever given to a man…to offer up his son of promise, Isaac. His wrestling with the Lord and decision to obey happened in Beer Sheva. There and then, the foundation was laid for the nation of Israel. I would go so far as to say that the way was opened for the coming of Messiah in Beer Sheva. From there, Abraham journeyed to Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, where he actualized what had been already established in his heart.

Nearly 4000 years later, at the time appointed for the Israel’s rebirth, the Land was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The decisive military victory that broke the Islamic stronghold and opened the way for our eventual statehood was the liberation of Beer Sheva on October 31, 1917. The battle was a life-or-death matter. Facing almost certain death from thirst, 800 Australian and New Zealand soldiers on horseback elected to charge across a flat desert plain directly into a line of entrenched Turkish machine guns and cannons for the water in the wells of Beer Sheva. This remarkable victory only claimed 36 lives. From there the British forces went on to Jerusalem…just like Abraham. (It’s interesting that this confrontation with Islam happened where God encountered Ishmael.) How significant is this city!

Today we stand on the precipice of another great breakthrough…the spiritual awakening of the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Driven and empowered by the same spiritual forces that have rejected God’s rule since the days of Mount Sinai, covered in black, as if hiding from the light, a host of blind guides continues to block the path to life for multitudes of true Jewish seekers and lovers of God.

Woven into the spaces between the letters of God’s own words are the tentacles of a man-made religious system that has held our people in bondage for centuries. They curse the Name of Yeshua, openly disdain the law of the land, rebel against civil authority, and exercise political power disproportionate to their numbers.

I was recently with friends in Germany to discuss this matter. As we prayed, Olga Dammer, a respected voice in the Body there, was given a vision. She saw a gathering of many Orthodox Jews. From the heavens, the angel of Israel handed a scroll to the angel of the “church” in Beer Sheva who handed the scroll to Howard. We took from this that the course of action chosen by Howard and Randi was in fact God’s decision. If we believe this to be so we must seriously seek the Lord so that we do not miss an appointed hour of visitation.

Art Banner by Spencer Williams

The questions of if, when, where and why are behind us. Before us remain the what and the how. Our strategy for this spiritual battle is not to confront the enemy but to passionately call on the Name of the Lord in worship, which is the highest and most effectual act of spiritual warfare. If we prepare a place for Him who is the light, what can the darkness do but flee? The shofar has sounded. The clock is running. There is not much time to prepare and respond.

Even though we perhaps cannot say anything for 100% certainty:

- Can we acknowledge the likelihood that this is a defining moment in the life of our people and the nations?
- Will we each acknowledge this battle as being “ours” and not anothers?
- Can we imagine that anything less than an unprecedented response from the Body in Israel and the nations will be enough to achieve the breakthrough we all desire?

We have asked that every congregation in Israel gather a team of worshipers and intercessors to journey to Beer Sheva to worship and pray there in the congregational hall before November 23rd, and are seeking the Lord also about a time for a one-day national gathering there. Actually, there is time to come until December 23rd, when the Judge will give his decision.

All breakthroughs of this dimension, as in the aforementioned instances in Beer Sheva, are costly. When King David stood to offer a sacrifice to the Lord on Mt. Moriah, he refused to offer burnt offerings with that which cost him nothing. (See 1Chron.21:24).

What do you think? What do you believe to be true? Do the words you have read here resonate in your spirit? Will you respond? Can you come? Are you prepared to give a costly offering? Please please, for the sake of the Lord, for the sake of the blind House of Israel, for the sake of your own soul, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. Do not be silent. Share this with everyone you know.

See about putting together a group…even three four people. Come in the name of your congregation. Come in the name of your nation. Come for two days. Come for a weekend. Come for a week. The shortest time could well accomplish the most. If you can’t come, sponsor someone that can. If you can’t find someone to sponsor, make a donation to cover the court costs.

Never in our day has there been such a moment.
Never has the Body of Messiah come together in such a way.

In order to protect these leaders, all inquiries about responding to this appeal to come to Beer Sheva to intercede for these proceedings should be directed to donna@israelprayer.com I will not be releasing any information to those who are unable to show proof of who they are - Christian or Messianic believers verifiable in a congregations as faithful believers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Clash between Two Minority Groups in Israel - Religion and State

This is a guest column by Senior Legal Advision to the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, Michael Decker. Decker is also a Messianic Jew.

Several months ago, a same-sex couple petitioned the courts in an attempt to sue the religiously affiliated commune Yad Hadmashona for punitive damages. According to the petitioners, the moshav prohibited them from holding their marriage celebration on its premises. Clearly, this subject strikes personal discord for both parties—the couple aims to expunge all forms of supposed discrimination and intolerance, while the institution struggles to function successfully within the parameters of its belief system.

Founded in 1971, Yad Hashmona was presented to the state of Israel as a gesture of solidarity by Finland. Today, the grounds function as a commune and serve the public by running a guesthouse, convention center, and banquet hall, which the couple sought to rent for their celebration. Administrators seek to maintain a specific religious ethos and as a result place limits on the type of events renters wish to host. Now, because Yad Hashmona denied its services for the purpose of a same-sex marriage celebration, the commune faces a moral and legal dilemma. While this decision is not a reflection of the commune's feelings regarding homosexuals as individuals or citizens of the state, it is a direct reference to the institution’s devotion to the sanctity of marriage. Forcing Yad Hashmona to allow such events would defile the community's fundamental beliefs, business would be destroyed and Yad Hashmona may cease to exist.

Vanguard of Israel’s activist judicial system is Supreme Court Justice, Aharon Barak. He presided over several suits that have since set the precedent for the relationship between religion and state. Two cases in particular highlight his position on the Israeli government’s responsibility to protect religious institutions while guarding the freedoms of secular society. Citing these cases, in our opinion, will provide the insight needed to gain legal perspective on the suit filed against Yad Hashmona.

Bar-Illan Street is no longer simply a street, but a conduit for heated debate between the ultra-orthodox and secular communities in Jerusalem. In 1997, petitioners approached the Israeli Supreme Court claiming that the closure of Bar-Illan on Friday evenings during Shabbat was a coercive measure to violate freedom of movement. Justice Aharon Barak presided over the case and was forced to decipher the appropriate degree of state-intervention in religious matters. The suit quickly became a watershed in determining the relationship between religion and state.

A main vessel through which traffic flows into the center of the city, Bar-Illan Street also cuts through the nucleus of surrounding ultra-orthodox neighborhoods. Petitioners claimed that the Friday evening roadblocks impeded the freedom to use the street by non-Sabbath observers, along with emergency vehicles. Any alternative routes, they argued, were inconvenient. This upset the petitioners, who disregarded the injurious effects opening the street would have on the religious community. It was up to the courts to create balance and initiate an environment of tolerance.

Despite the opposition, it was clear that the harm induced by allowing of vehicles on Bar- Illan Street outweighed the inconveniences faced by the petitioners. Barak ruled that because the closure did not block off alternative routes, it was the responsibility of the petitioners to respect their cohabitants by changing the course of travel during hours of prayer. Their freedom of movement was minimally injured. This case became a benchmark in Justice Barak’s secular rulings regarding the cost of limiting human rights to protect religious sentiment.

In 2004, a similar case was brought to the Supreme Court. The subject of debate—the Enabling Laws, created in the 1950s to empower local authorities with control over the sensitive issue of the sale of pork and pig products in Israel. In Solodkin vs. Beit Shemesh, the courts once again were challenged with balancing Jewish national identity with secular democratic standards.

At the time of its induction, the Enabling Laws operated without noted opposition. However, an influx of immigrants in the early 1990s and subsequent societal shifts complicated its enforcement. While some bylaws disabled the sale of pig meat within the entire district, in other places, they were restricted to specific zones. Newly diversified communities compounded with citizens' frustration with the law's ill-administration led to unrest among the secular community.

In the court case, Solodkin vs. Beit Shemesh, petitioners agreed that the sale and consumption of pig in religious communities, where it would harm the feelings of the public, should be prohibited. However, they argued that the enforcement of such laws without due cause (i.e. in secular and mixed secular-religious communities) threatened to violate the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty by instating religious-based legislation that de facto coerces the non-religious community to follow. They also contended that the enabling laws violated the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation by restricting business and employment opportunities on the basis of religious law.

Once again Justice Barak ruled that the injury caused by the sale of pig and pig products in religious communities takes precedence over the minimal damage to the petitioners, since they can sell pork it alternative areas. The decision was supported by Barak's insistence of the simplicity of purchasing pig outside of restricted zones and reassurance that the prohibition of pig was not a coercive religious tactic. Mixed neighborhoods, he asserted, should be judged with discretion by local authorities.

Justice Barak believes that Israel is obligated to maintain a tolerant and pluralistic society. As such, it is in the interest of the country and its citizens to protect the religious sentiments of all groups. Judging from the precedents set in the aforementioned cases, it seems plausible for the religious sentiment of Yad Hashmona to be declared secure and the charges, null.

As a private institution that does not seek to coerce the surrounding community, Yad Hashmona should be able to create religiously-inspired bylaws that are respected by surrounding communities and the government.
However, legally Yad Hashmona is categorized as a 'public place', which is broadly defined as any location 'meant for public use, including a tourist site, hotel…space…used for entertainment…etc.' Therefore, the commune is de facto resolved to following Israeli laws that explicitly prohibits discrimination by sexuality, religion, race, personal views, or disabilities. Additionally, Israeli law includes a segment that addresses sex-based discrimination or sexual harassment, which deems discrimination against someone on the basis of his or her gender or sexuality as unlawful. As a result, Yad Hashmona runs the chance of being charged for discrimination, however if the origins of and reasoning for the bylaws are examined carefully, in our opinion, the institution’s intentions should be clear and charges dropped.

While the couple should have the right to proceed with their marriage celebration, they are free to choose any other available venue. But their decision to challenge and potentially damage the religious sentiment of Yad Hashmona is antithetical to the nature of a tolerant, pluralistic society.

The wild shooting rage that killed three and wounded fifteen in Tel Aviv's homosexual community is tragic and serves to highlight the hatred and intolerance that boils at the surface of Israeli society, oftentimes ending in violence. Israel’s minority religious groups should all stand in solidarity against such hate crimes.

Michael Decker has a B.A. in law and is a licensed attorney in Israel. Michael also serves as Senior Legal Advisor to the Jerusalem Institute of Justice.

For further inquiries regarding the issues mentioned in this article, please do not hesitate to contact Michael Decker at counsel@jij.org.il.