Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

15 Av 5759 - July 28, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Missionaries Offer Converts Illegal Payments

by E. Rauchberger

Religious Affairs Minister Yitzchak Cohen demanded of Internal Affairs Minister Shlomo ben Ami, that the Police Department enforce the laws against missionary activity. Offering material inducements to change one's religious is totally against Israeli law, though no one has ever been prosecuted under that law.

Cohen spoke in the Knesset plenum in response to the Rabbi Meir Porush's parliamentary motion regarding hundreds of Jews whom missionaries attempted to baptize a number of weeks ago in the Tiveriya area. Cohen said that this was a gross breach of the law, since the missionaries had promised the people material benefits in exchange for their conversion. "In general, they turn to the low socioeconomic strata -- to people who have totally despaired of life -- and promise them all sorts of benefits, such as jobs for the unemployed, loans on easy terms, and low-cost dental care. All this is, of course, against Israeli law."

Cohen related that one of the women who was brought to the baptismal ceremony readily admitted that she was receiving money in exchange for her conversion. Nonetheless, police took no action to stop the scandal. "This is a most serious, ugly deed on the part of those who exploit the distress and innocence of people with financial troubles," Cohen said. "It was precisely this that the law was supposed to prevent."

He stressed that the entire event had been photographed and documented, and that when the material reaches the Religious Affairs Ministry, it will turn it over to the Attorney General. "Anyone with a bit of intelligence knows that if such broad missionary activity is taking place in the cities, it must be an economically motivated. The only reason those unfortunate people agreed to convert is that they are desperate for money."

The Religious Affairs Minister reported that the organization behind the missionary sect operates in the open from an address on 8 Shtomkin Street in Rishon Letzion, where it conducts various activities in order to attract unfortunate, innocent people. "They don't hide their activity and even admit that they persuade people to betray their faith. Of course this is the result of a failure to enforce the law. The Israeli police are obligated to investigate the issue thoroughly," Cohen claimed.

MK Zehava Galon of Meretz defended the Christian missionaries: "I think it's time to stop fretting over the fact that a few lost souls might baptize themselves. All people in the State, whether Jews or not, are independent, thinking people, and generally emotionally stable. I propose that they should be left to decide on their own which religion appeals to them. This entire style of a regimented personal life has no place in a modern state," she claimed.

Chareidi observers were surprised that a representative of Meretz, that always champions the importance of Israeli law, would suggest such weak reasons for ignoring a clear statute on the law books.

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