Missionaries in the Knesset?

MKs incensed by mailing of New Testaments to the Knesset by messianic Judaism institution.

Knesset building 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Knesset building 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Many MKs opened their mailboxes on Monday morning and were appalled to find a New Testament inside, sent to them by a messianic organization.
The Bible Society in Israel, a messianic Judaism institution for research, publication and dissemination of holy books, sent a “Book of Testaments,” which combines the Tanach and New Testament in one, leather-bound volume, published with references in Hebrew for the first time.
While the sect incorporates elements of religious Jewish practice, it holds that Jesus is the Messiah.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) sent a letter of complaint to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, writing that “it cannot be that missionary materials can be distributed in the Knesset.”
“Texts that were used to persecute and harass [Jews] cannot be distributed through the front door of the State of Israel,” Hotovely fumed.
Christian Allies Caucus chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) said the mailing is “not missionary work, but an act of foolishness.”
Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev did not receive a package, but said the society had crossed the line between free speech and proselytizing.
“These are people who believe that all the Jews in Israel must be converted to Christianity. They get donations from all over the world towards that cause. How can we give them freedom?” Ze’ev, one of the few Shas MKs who is an ordained rabbi, asked.
Ze’ev called for more government- sponsored activities and television programming to teach youth Jewish values “so Christians don’t fill the vacuum.”
In addition, the Shas MK said the existing law against missionaries should be stricter.
The 1977 law, passed one year after the New Testament was published in modern Hebrew for the first time, prohibits anyone from granting material benefits as an inducement to conversion or to convert anyone under 18 unless one parent is a member of that religion.
The Knesset staff does not intervene in the handling of MKs’ mail, and as such the Knesset Spokesman’s Office had no comment.
The book was accompanied by a letter from Bible Society head Victor Kalisher, stating that he is proud to present the new publication featuring 90,000 annotations, which resulted from cooperation between researchers in Israel and abroad “that love the holy texts.”
“Through these annotations, you can see the close connection between the words of the Torah and those of the New Testament,” Kalisher wrote.
“Many of the Torah’s prophecies come true in the New Testament.”
Kalisher told The Jerusalem Post that some MKs already received books, and he plans to eventually send them to all 120 legislators, including ministers and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
When asked if he would send New Testaments to haredi politicians, Kalisher said: “Every enlightened man expects others to respect the Torah, and should show respect for other religions.” At the same time, the Bible Society head said he did not mean to offend anyone by sending the books.
“This is a tool to promote communication and understanding for the People of the Book,” Kalisher stated.
When asked why the People of the Book need a different religion’s book as a tool, Kalisher responded that it is “arguable if it is a [Jewish] book or not, because the New Testament is written by Jews.
Every Jew should learn it to understand Judaism better.”
“We are an organization that researches holy books,” he said. “We are not missionaries.
We are promoting holy books as an illuminating tool. Most people in the world who support [Israel] do so because of this background [the New Testament], and this will help MKs communicate with them.”
However, despite stating that he is not a missionary, Kalisher said his intention in sending the copies of the New Testament is “to spread the word of God.”