JERUSALEM The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled that Messianic Jews have the same rights regarding automatic citizenship as Jews who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah.
The case was brought by 12 applicants who had been denied citizenship primarily because they were Jewish believers in Jesus. Most of them had received letters saying they would not receive citizenship because they "commit missionary activity," according to an e-mail circulated by Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of The Jerusalem Institute of Justice.
A clerk at the Ministry of Interior reportedly had told one of the applicants that because she was committing missionary activity, she was acting against the interests of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.
Israel's Supreme Court ended the two-and-a-half-year legal battle April 16 by ruling that Messianics should receive equal treatment under the Israeli law of return, which says that anyone who is born Jewish can immigrate from anywhere in the world to Israel and be granted citizenship automatically.
"This is yet another battle won in our war to establish equality in Israel for the Messianic Jewish community just like every other legitimate stream of faith within the Jewish world," Myers wrote.
Jim Sibley, a professor at Criswell College in Dallas and a former missionary to Israel, told Baptist Press that Jewish believers had been excluded from the law of return by previous court rulings, including one in the 1980s declaring that if a Jew believed in Jesus as the Messiah, he was not to be considered Jewish.
Traditional rabbinic Judaism teaches that Jewishness is determined by the mother's bloodline, Sibley explained. Biblically, though, it is traced through the father.
"Apparently at least one of these 12 who were being denied citizenship had a Gentile mother and a Jewish father," Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at Criswell, said. "Even in a situation like that, it's usually enough to be granted citizenship. All this [court decision] does is to basically say the same rules that apply to any other Jewish people would apply to Jewish believers in Jesus."
With the ruling, Sibley said, Messianic Jews may seek citizenship in Israel without religious discrimination.
"It's really a huge ruling because the court apparently further ordered the Israeli Ministry of Interior to stop persecuting Jewish believers," Sibley said. "Some of the very Orthodox Jewish sectors of society had taken positions in the Ministry of Interior and had been using their positions to revoke believers' citizenship, deny visas and generally harass not only Jewish believers in Jesus but also Christian workers in Israel."
The Supreme Court's decision should alleviate some of the pressure that Jewish believers and foreign Christian workers have felt in Israel, Sibley said, adding that he "can't help but believe" the ruling is related to a terrorist attack on the Messianic community that occurred in March.
In that incident, 15-year-old Ami Ortiz, whose parents are noted Messianic congregational leaders in Ariel, opened a bomb disguised as a gift delivered to his home. He suffered extensive damage to his body but is expected to recover after at least a year of treatment. Though a police investigation is ongoing, anti-missionary Orthodox Jews were among those originally suspected as perpetrators.
Sibley said Orthodox Jews should reconsider their view of Messianic believers and stop persecuting them.
"With the multitude of Jewish people simply walking away from their Jewish identity and assimilating through secularism and intermarriage, Israelis don't need to fear Messianic Jews," Sibley said. "As they themselves should know, Jewish believers in Jesus not only affirm their Jewishness, they insist on it. And furthermore, those who are citizens of Israel are patriotic. They serve in the military and they pay their taxes."