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ISRAEL: Purim custom abused

March 22, 2008 |  6:53 am

A previous post told of how the Purim holiday tradition was used to show a massive support of solidarity between Jews in Israel. But someone has chosen to abuse a beautiful tradition of sending gift baskets by exploiting it for the opposite purpose.

A gift basket sent to a family in the town of Ariel this Purim was opened by the family's 15-year-old son, probably assuming it contained traditional offerings of candy. But there was nothing sweet about the package which exploded upon opening, sending metal shards into the boy's body. The teenager was air-lifted to a hospital where doctors were forced to amputate a limb and are now fighting to save the boy's eye-sight.

At first, it was thought that the boy had been injured by a fire-cracker, commonly used during the holiday. But a far less benign explanation emerged before long: the boy's family are members of a community known as "Messianic Jews." These are Jews who believe in both the Old and New Testament and believe that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jewish people. They stress that he himself was Jewish and took care to call himself by his Hebrew name,"Yeshua."

There are around 15,000 Messianic Jews living in Israel in different congregations throughout the country. Many are Israeli born and most sons serve in prestigious army units, as did the brothers of the Ariel teenager, the youngest of six sons.

Feared as proselytizing missionaries, some believe Messianic Jews are soul-snatchers that prey on innocent Jews. Over the years, campaigns have been waged against various congregations and individual members; some have gotten ugly. Members have said they feel uncomfortable, even afraid.

Religious circles have long opposed this group, rejecting their claim to Judaism entirely and warning that their dangerous end goal was converting Jews to Christianity.

In the past, Messianic Jews claimed they had been harassed and intimidated by an organization named Yad L'Achim. The non-profit organization, established decades ago to help new immigrants find a suitable religious framework, has among its other departments a "counter missionary department" and states that it sees "the saving of each and every Jewish soul from Christian cults as a sacred mission."

But they haven't been mentioned in connection to this, nor has anyone claimed responsibility for this attack so far.

Members of the Ariel congregation say they have suffered harassment from both Jewish and Muslim organizations and expressed hope that it wasn't Jews behind the attack.

Attorney Calev Meyers, who represents the Messianic community in Israel, explains that the group sees itself as a legitimate stream of Judaism. Their belief in both the Old and New Testament serves as a bridge between Judaism and Christianity, and it is for this reason they are harassed. This threatens the world view of radical religious elements who want a monopoly on defining who is a Jew, he told the Israeli news site Ynet.

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

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