The situation of Hebrew-Christians in Israel

At this juncture, where Christian nations are about to transmute their Christian identity and values into terms of wordly and social ones in combination with an ecumenical dimension, it is obvious that in the very land, the cradle of Christianity, nationalism is only conceivable in conformity with the pertinent religious affiliation.

In the Near Middle East, which still holds a conservative position of Islamic stamp in spite of our enlightened time, Christianity has to overcome extreme difficulties to maintain its footing within a restricted sector. Lebanon, with a Christian population of about former 53 percent, is more and more dominated by those Moslems, who have already precipitated the so called Switzerland of the Middle East into chaos. Israel`s inroad into Lebanon has rather quickened the process of its absorption into the Moslem world. Other examples may be adduced to show that the Christian half-hearted sense of confession carries its price. Thus the once Arab Christian city of Ramallah, north to Jerusalem, is controlled by Moslems. The Islamic selfconsciousness represented by Khomeini in Iran has also extended its influence in the whole area. Today, the religious services held on Fridays in the mosques, are mainly attended by zealous young people, in contrary to the past, where these services were only attended by old people. Bethlehem, the city of King David and the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is sharing the lot of Ramallah. The shrill call of the Moslem muezzin opposite the Church of the Nativity, drowns the chime of the various Churches and Christian institutions clustered there, a metaphor for the increasing breakdown of Christian unity and solidarity.

The State of Israel emerged in 1948 as a new religious and political force in „Palestine“(as the Romans called the land of the Philistines). Holding the station of a persecuted minority until the modern period, the Jewish population has developed adequate measures for their survival strategy. The enemy is not only found beyond the borders, but actually also within the Jewish State. The de-facto annexation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has further aggravated the situation. Those who presumed that the Arab-Christians would adopt a more conciliatory attitude toward the State of Israel than the Moslems, were wrong. Not enough, that Arab- Christian groups would gladly cross out every reference to „Israel“ in the Bible, above that, they are tending to adopt the doctrine of the Church as being herself the „New Israel“ which has substituted the old one; on account of their opinion that „ethic“ Israel has no future range of divine salvation in the last days - because, since having rejected Jesus as her Messiah, all God`s promises made to Israel, - automatically are now valid for he Church of the Gentiles.

Since there were Hebrew-Christian congregations in Judea before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., it is not anomalous that the young State of Israel has to face up again this phenomenon. From the political side Israel is a pluralistic State with a democratic cast, but she is truly considered to be a Jewish one, where politics and religion form an indissoluble unity. Through this kind of „national selfconsciousness“ it is unavoidable that separate minorities are constituted to which undoubtedly Arab Israelis of Christian or Moslem persuasion belong, as well as Christian Israelis. In this connection it must be emphasized that the latter are rather unnoticed by the public eye, for they obviously refrain from showing up on the political scene and are quite content to remain unmolested. The law of the country has taken care of protecting its society from possible activities through the Hebrew- Christian minority for not becoming a nuisance. Thus on 1.4.1978 an „Anti-Missionary Law“ has been enacted that can make a missionary liable to a penalty of five years' imprisonment; the „Citizenship“or „Loyalty Law“ from 29.7.1980 has vested the Minister of the Interior with the discretionary power of revoking citizenship rights from a citizen whenever his loyalty to the Israelian State is not absolutely certain. So Mr. Shalom Ben-Chorin in a review, he published in the Israeli press, felt challenged to doubt the loyalty of the undersigned on account of the remark in his book entitled „Israel World- Focus“ (Schwengeler Editions) „whether Zionism is racism or not“. Nothing seems to frighten the rabbinic authorities more than an insight into the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew prophets, and a recognition of the messiaship of the „Suffering Servant of Jehovah“, so meaningfully recognized in chapter 53 in the book of Isaiah. It is the ambiguity of the rabbis concerning their idea of the Messiah which is betrayed by their hesitation whether He is an individual person or the whole community of Israel during the time of their dispersion among the nations. They brand anyone with the stigma of „missionary“, irrespective of his being a catholic priest, an evangelical minister or a messianic Jew (as a Hebrew-Christian is ter-med in Hebrew), who believes in Jesus' messiaship and also confesses his faith.

An article published in the „Information Service of the Evangelical Central Research Office on World Views“ of Stuttgart on the January 1985 issue of its bulletin draws an synoptic table of the religious communities established in the Middle East stressing the fact that the Hebrew-Christians of Israel are split into different groups having not yet reached the stage of a formal union. Israeli believers unfortunately must endorse this statement. The question still remains how they can get out of this isolation when dwelling among the whole people. This predicament is aggravated by the fact that they cannot rely on any help coming from one of the main Churches because that would mean to renounce their distinctive character stemming from their Hebrew heritage as described in Romans 11:16-24. Therefore they are bound to follow the way shown by their Lord Jesus Christ.

The “Messianic Witness Fellowship“in Israel
Under these circumstances it is not difficult to understand how important and necessary the establishment of the „Messianic Witness Fellowship“ in Israel is, to which the author of these lines belongs. Yet it is a daring venture, for only a straight and public witness to „Jeshua Hamashiach“ (=Jesus the Christ), unmarred from the dogmatic fallacies of the Church may convince the people of Israel to come to know the Jewish Son of Man and the Saviour of the World and thus enable them to move out of their shadow-existence. Should the communists of Israel with their atheistic ideology, even represented in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) as an independent party, show more courage than the Hebrew-Christians of Israel?

Taking as example the Apostles and their zeal in professing their faith, the „Messianic Witness Fellowship“ made its first public appearance on 24.11.1981, and the Israeli daily newspaper “Ma'ariv“ reported on this memorable event in its issue of 11.12.1981 under the title: “In Quest of the Good News“.

The profession of one's faith involves readiness to suffer

„If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you“, said Jesus to His disciples according to John 15:20. So it was quite presumable that, as I was delivering my lecture, the Tel-Aviv rabbinate had been alerted already, and during the following discussion which ensued a violent diatribe conducted by the zealots of the Torah, we were earnestly attacked by them. The time of the Acts of the Apostles seemed to have come back. The rebukes of the fanatics nowadays echoed literally what the New Testament related about the pharisaic arguments in those days. Thus the authenticity of the biblical account got further confirmation. In any case the interest of the audience was aroused and not just the hatred displayed for Jesus of Bethlehem (as the lecturer uttered His name avoiding the epithet “of Nazareth“, since the prophecy of Micha 5:1 states that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. Thus the Jews rightly contest that a Messiah coming from Nazareth in Galilee was not promised at all). At the end of this meeting many auditors added their names on the lists prepared for this purpose, a fact which did not escape the press reporters' attention!

The Zionist Organization which had housed our meeting before, declined leasing out again their lecture hall to our Fellowship, but as one door is shut, another will open: at a distance of five minutes walk the Journalists' Association premises are located, where our subsequent meetings took place. The public was invited to attend by announcements published in the press.

On 29.11.1980 our Fellowship had already issued its „Declaration of Principles“ distributed to all the home - and foreign press in the country, glorifying the name of Jesus the Christ and His salvation. One thing was clear to us: that a movement serving this zeal had to be launched within the nation as a whole. The reproach of the observant Jews against us – which did not arise at the Apostles' time – for being „missionaries and emissaries of the militant Church with the goal of drawing people away from their Israeli communion and identity – is to be investigated and counteracted.

Thus we have to trust in the Lord and in His mighty deeds, but first of all we have to overcome our own human fears and weaknesses so that our hearts and minds are open for the enlivening presence of the Holy Spirit. Whether we take seriously the office vested in our people by the divine promise conveyed by Isaiah 52:7-10, 62:6,7 definitely depends on our disposition. The experiences of the past years have taught us that the path we are following is hard and thorny, but never did we miss spiritual encouragement or relief during our ministry. Even when the Israeli daily „Ma'ariv of 24.10 1984 printed on two pages its report on our witness under the headline: „The Messiah lives again in the Journalists' House (authored by Mr. Yoram Kaniuk), turning our performance into a laughing-stock, yet such presentation offered many positive clues to Israelis who are in quest of the truth. Many souls have already perceived the urgency of a spiritual renewal in this country. An article published on 19.10.1984 by the two daily papers - which have the largest circulation in the country- under the headline: „Inflation, Iniquity, Intolerance, Criminal Fanaticism and Violence within a Divided Nation“ scourged these features as symptoms of the social ills which beset our people, and this grim picture found a wide echo in public opinion.

By correspondence our Fellowship informed many prominent personalities about our convictions and activities. Among those who responded were the Prime Ministers Itzak Shamir and Shimon Peres and a number of university lecturers.

The fanatics, however, poured at once their anger on the premises of our new Fellowship center in the city of Ashdod. Brother Otto Hirschfeld, a dentist, who ministered to our local congregation, was informed by the proprietor of the house and his advocat that the whole building would be blown up if divine services and meetings are continuing to be held there. The „Anti-Mission League“ called „Yad le- Ahim“ had entered the lists. It first broke into the building, carrying away the file containing documents on our activities as well as a camera used by brother Hirschfeld to take a picture of some observant Jewish visitors who had come to talk to him some days ago. Finally the fanatics attempted to set the house on fire in October 1984 by throwing in burning material through the backyard window. Thank God, that the caused damage did not exceed the amount of 3800 dollars. The undersigned in his capacity as Chairman of the Fellowship branded at a press conference this offence as an act of modern vandalism. The daily paper „Yediot Aharonot“ of 30.10.1984 and other media published detailed accounts of the attacks perpetrated against our second center. Between the provincial news-sheet appearing in Southern Israel, a pen duel was triggered in which rabbis accused the editor of the Ashdod periodical of selling his soul to the devil by printing our rebuttal. Rabbi Henfling of Ashdod went even to the length of likening the members of our Fellowship to the Nazis, lodging a complaint against us with the Minister of Education, Mr. Navon. We grieve especially to the fact that the local police espoused in the course of its investigations the view of the zealots, shunning the examination of the visible traces of combustible material, clearly to be seen on the door step, and attributing the cause of the fire to short circuit, though no electrical implement was plugged at that time.

Although the attacks of the Jewish religious establishment against our small flock of believers were discouraging- „gigantic“ demonstrations were also staged, and a torrent of abuse was poured through a loud- speaker set up on a car to stir up public opinion against us, and „Yad le -Ahim“ even mentioned in an inflammatory article printed on its organ the location of all our centers – we took up the cudgels by writing in other periodicals and eventually contributed an article under the headline: “Jesus and Salvation“ (which appeared on „Kan Darom“ on 23.11.1984). So did our Savior turn evil into good.

Our lone fight is going on, for we do not pursue our own interest, but serve our Savior Jesus the Christ, who ministered to his people with bowels of mercy, disclosing that He was sent to the „lost sheep of the House of Israel“. Labors of love lavished on Israel are wasted, if not countenanced by the Spirit of her Messiah, who still stands before her leaders as „stone of stumbling and a rock of offence“ (Isaiah 8:14f). So they will plunge Israel still deeper into the pit of despondency of her misfit and misfortune. The solution of her economic and political woes is already beyond the ken of her overburdened „Jewish genius“. Only from whom the Lord has withdrawn the capacity and power of the self, may He redress and lift up, heal and strengthen, bless and ultimately grant peace and rest.

It is a long way to the point where the Lord of history may discern in Zion „a crown of glory“ and a „royal diadem“ (Isaiah 62:1f). We Hebrew-Christians together with helpful and praying brethren among the nations, and naturally the people of Israel themselves, share all the same concern of how soon God' s salvation – plan will come to its end, since without the inclusion of Israel the future fulfilment of the divine promises will necessarily be incomplete and indecivise.

In order to overcome our difficulties in witnessing to our people in Israel on our messianic faith, we had planned to convene again a public meeting in the house of the Journalists' Association, where our Chairman would deliver a lecture on the theme: “The truth about the way and the future of Israel“. The daily paper „Ma'ariv“, however, declined to publish on its columns the announcement about this event. Furthermore, the manager of the said Association disclosed that he had been informed about the intention of Jewish extremists to use violence if such meeting were held. He consequently asked us to sign a statement to the effect that our Chairman assumes financial liabilty for all damages to person or property which might ensue. We were of course compelled under these circumstances to cancel the lecture, since we are unable discussing matters of faith by using the arguments of terrorism and explosives. We are accustomed to fight with spiritual weapons alone. Thus, as long as the Jewish religious establishment is not prepared to revert to the truth enshrined in the prophetic promises and to serve the purpose of their fulfilment by the establishment of a new Covenant, we don't see here any hope for a better future in our homeland and for the attainment of a new messianic consciousness.

Let us therefor pray together that the Lord and Savior of us all may carry out His promise according to His prophet's oracle:

    Thus saith the Lord of hosts: I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury. Thus saith the Lord: I am returned to Zion, and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain. Thus saith the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in right- eousness.
    (Zechariah 8,2,3,7,8)
Klaus Moshe Pülz

eine Information des ZeLeM e.V (2007)