Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

17 Adar I 5760 - February 23, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Lev L'achim's Fight Against Missionaries in Israel

by Moshe Schapiro

Nine missionary "synagogues" in Yerushalayim alone; 60 communities nationwide; 10,000 Israelis in messianic Jewish groups; over 3,000 active missionaries; according to staff members of the anti-missionary division of P'eylim / Lev L'Achim -- these are the grim statistics of the year 2000.

They point to a huge growth in the activities of Christian missionaries in Israel, but worse, to their employment of a new and extremely effective method through which they penetrate mainstream Israeli society and ensnare the tens of thousands of Israelis who are looking to make religion a bigger part of their lives.

Like the wolf that dresses up in sheep's clothing, the missionary of today now dresses himself up in the garb of a religious Jew, complete with black hat and beard, to reach his prey. For the unsuspecting traditional Jew who has more of a love of learning than learning itself, this is especially dangerous. His respect for Torah and talmidei chachomim will make him automatically show respect to this "rav," and he may not be able to see past the beard and payos to discern the false teachings. Thus, he is all too easily caught in the trap laid for him.

Another tactic, equally dangerous, is the "tzedaka" these missionaries give. Over the past two decades hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians, mostly from the United States, gave millions of dollars in tax-deductible donations to missionary organizations based in Israel. Supplied with these vast sums of money from abroad, these organizations are in an excellent position to offer assistance to poor Jewish families.

New Russian and Ethiopian immigrants are especially vulnerable to a favorite ploy, offering a needy family a rent subsidy. The catch is that someone from the family has to come to the missionary "shul" to pick up the subsidy check. Once there, the person is encouraged to come for prayer services, take home the group's pamphlets, or attend "shiurim." The person is often not in a position to say no.

One such heartbreaking instance involves a 19-year-old girl who had been a student at a top girls' seminary in Yerushalayim. Troubles at home made her flee into the arms of American Jewish missionaries, who were more than happy to provide her with lodgings and food. In return, the girl became baptized. Although the girl says that she doesn't believe what she hears, she still takes part in the prayer services, receives their money and has yet to return to her Jewish home.

Although there are groups, such as the International Christian Embassy and Bridges for Peace, that give assistance to needy Jewish families without trying to convert them, there are many others out there whose hands are not as clean.

Funding by missionary groups is not taking place on just the individual level. In some instances, settlements -- and even some yeshivos! -- in Yehuda and Shomron have been adopted by American missionary organizations posing as pro-Israel Christian groups. Rabbis in these areas have come down on both sides of the issue, with some absolutely refusing to take this money, while others believe it is permissible as long as the groups do not actually attempt to proselytize or interfere in any way.

Recent statements by Rabbi Eliezer Waldman of Nir Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba, which receives money from one of these organizations, illustrates the degree of difficulty some yeshiva administrators are experiencing in turning down Christian money:

"These non-Jews," Rabbi Waldman says in reference to the pro- Israel Christian organizations, "sincerely believe that the salvation will come from the Jewish People. True, they have their own faith, but they are in the process of getting enlightened. I can't say the same thing about all of them. Of course one must take precautions to avoid missionaries. One must definitely be careful. But still, those that are in the process of becoming enlightened, and who recognize the unique rights of the Jewish People to Eretz Yisroel, should be given the benefit of the doubt."

But Sandra Brege, a senior official of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFIC), a group that supports several communities in Yesha, paints an entirely different picture:

"Look," says Brege, "let's face it -- there is not a single Christian in the world who does not believe that in the end, the Jews will accept our faith. The only issue under debate is what method we should use to attain this goal: through missionary tactics, or through more passive means."

And so what, you may ask, is being done to counteract these attacks on Am Yisroel?

Two years ago, during Netanyahu's administration, missionary activities reached such a fevered pitch that a special Knesset committee was convened to draw up legislation that would outlaw "preaching with the intent to cause another person to change his religion."

Netanyahu came under tremendous international pressure to vote against the bill. The legislation was never passed.

However, all is not bleak. One organization in Eretz Yisroel, Lev L'achim, is mustering its forces and finding equally ingenuous ways to counter the tactics of these groups. Working in conjunction with The Committee for Rescue of Immigrant Children in Israel, an organization based in England, Lev L'Achim runs a wide range of anti-missionary activities nationwide.

When you walk into the anti-missionary headquarters of Lev L'achim in Netanya, it feels like you're walking into a witch's brew of avoda zorah. On each wall are rows of files divided into categories with labels that scream at you. To the east, Christian missionaries; the south, Cults; the north, messianic Jews; and wedged behind the door, Informants and Volunteers.

A computer is in the middle of the room. The screen displays the photograph and biographical details of a friendly looking man with beard, side locks and yarmulke.

The man also happens to be wearing a cross.

The "Informants and Volunteers" section of files suddenly becomes clear. If they can do it, why can't we?

It hasn't been easy, but Lev L'achim has managed to assemble and train a small group of yeshiva students willing to go undercover and infiltrate the missionary groups operating in Eretz Yisroel. Two to three volunteers are sent to each community. The boys become friends with the group's members. Once they are an accepted part of the group, they begin to monitor the group's activities.

One simple but effective tactic the volunteers employ is to rifle through the mail. If they see a letter from someone new to the group, they return the letter. If the group receives a shipment of messianic literature from abroad, they return the shipment. If they hear that the group is going to stuff their literature in a particular neighborhood's mailboxes, the volunteers contact Lev L'achim. When the missionaries get to the neighborhood, they are greeted by a group of kollel men, and the mail doesn't get delivered.

The "Informants and Volunteers" operation costs Lev L'achim some 12,000 NIS a month. But despite the high cost, the organization feels that it is money well spent.

Lev L'achim is also in the forefront of stopping missionary activity hiding under the guise of art. When the play "David and Batsheva" opened in Israel, the organization discovered that funding for the production came from missionaries. Lev L'achim organized demonstrations in front of the theater, at a cost of 5,000 NIS per demonstration, and the play, which had a messianic message, was forced to cancel its scheduled tour.

Another tactic Lev L'achim uses is to bring a minor to one of the group's activities. Although it is not illegal to try to get an adult to convert to another religion, under Israeli law it is illegal to seek to influence a minor. And so one messianic group may be closed down.

But without a comprehensive law in effect against proselytizing, Lev L'achim's anti-missionary efforts are often thwarted. And there won't be such a law because the missionaries have a powerful public relations tool, which they wield all too effectively in the international press: the freedom of speech and religion argument.

According to this line of thinking, if Israel wants to see itself viewed as an enlightened democracy, it has to allow missionaries to freely disseminate their ideas. The cost to Jewish neshomos is clearly not taken into account.

Therefore, we will continue to see photographs of Israeli elected officials warmly smiling as they greet Evangelistic convention organizers. And we will continue to read about Lev L'achim's fight to preserve their fellow Jew's right to remain Jewish.

In an effort to support Lev L'Achim's war against the missionaries, the London Committee for the Rescue of Immigrant Children in Israel will host a play produced by Marion Hermes and Doris Lanzkron at The Institute Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb (ladies only) on the 7th, 8th and 9th of March. Tickets are available from: 455-3239; 455- 8589; 203-2239; and 806-3851.

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