Survey conducted by Kai Kjær-Hansen and Bodil F. Skjøtt. Jerusalem: United Christian Council in Israel in cooperation with the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies, 1999. 319 pages.
Bodil F. Skjøtt and Kai Kjær-Hansen, authors of Myths & Facts: About the Messianic Congregations in Israel, respond to Jeffrey Wasserman’s review.
As authors of Facts & Myths About Messianic Congregations in Israel, we are encouraged by Jeffrey Wasserman’s recommendation of the publication, especially since it comes from one who has himself surveyed Messianic congregations both in the States and in Israel for his Ph.D. dissertation. He will then also know that it can be said about many books and papers that they “could have benefited from more sophisticated analysis.” Facts & Myths is certainly no exception, but we find it difficult to agree that therefore it should be described as only “a directory,” even though the reviewer also calls it “a welcome addition to the literature on Messianic congregations.” Despite its many shortcomings we dare to maintain that there is not another publication like it.
We set ourselves the task of presenting the Messianic movement in Israel after fifty years of statehood by looking at the existing congregations today, through information provided by their leaders. We intended to present this information in such a way that these congregations and leaders would be able to recognize themselves in our description. As stated in the introduction (p. 14), “a certain scholarly ‘price’ has been paid” because of this. It seems the reviewer did not pay sufficient attention to this fact in his critique. The history told is the history which those in leadership today tell. The emphasis is on actual data and less on our evaluation. Instead, the material is presented and questions are asked with the hope that their publication will stimulate the present leaders to evaluate the movement they are responsible for and better equip them to guide their congregations towards the future they desire. As the data presented clearly indicates, the responsibility for strategizing and planning the future of the Messianic movement is now in the hands of the local leadership and not in the hands of “foreign Gentile-dominated organizations,” with which the reviewer associates the publication. He fails to recognize that Facts & Myths is a double issue of the journal Mishkan, on whose board there also sit local Israeli believers. This lead us to the next point.
Wasserman questions the wisdom of putting this information in the public eye, with the risk of inviting religious persecution. As people familiar with the religious climate in Israel and also informed about the conditions of believers in the Messiah elsewhere in the world, we question the wisdom of using words such as “religious persecution” about the situation of Messianic believers in Israel. We have noticed that other local leaders do not share Wasserman’s concerns. We have been encouraged by the fact that they have expressed appreciation of the openness reflected in our book. They see this openness as a mean to combat the misconception that being a believer in Yeshua in Israel is dangerous, if not illegal. Those who want to fight against Jewish believers in Israel are already well-informed; if not, they will continue to manufacture their own information to fit their purpose. Mention made of Facts & Myths in the Orthodox press already shows this to be true when they deny the accuracy of the figures and continue to present their own inflated ones.
As mentioned, the decision to conduct and publish the survey was made by the board of Mishkan. However, as authors, we are responsible for the final publication and also for the inclusion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. Mishkan is an academic journal and should be read as such. In the book it is clearly stated that we do not consider these groups to be part of the Messianic movement (pp. 12 and 56) and their numbers are not included in the statistical material. But we are of the opinion that any minority group, in this case the Messianic movement, will benefit from reflecting on the fact that others also suffer because of their conviction (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do in Israel). The inclusion of the Mormons serves as a warning against establishing agreements with the Israeli authorities which make evangelism illegal (p.56).
In our attempt to be realistic we have—in the eyes of Mr. Wasserman—come across as being pessimistic and not able to take count of the significant developments within the past fifty years of the Messianic movement in Israel. It is true that the numbers of Messianic believers put forward in here are lower that those that were often given previously. Those earlier figures were based on estimates and guesswork. The figures presented here are the result of using those given by the leaders, and it is the first time in the history of the movement in Israel that the figures quoted can actually be checked. We find it hard to accept that—because we present realistic figures lower that those given by some who talk strongly about the openness of the gospel in Israel—the “significance” of the increase of believers in Israel should have “escaped” our attention. As we said in the introduction, “It is sad if one’s joy is founded on numerical myths. It is equally sad if one cannot rejoice in realistic figures—however small they might be.” We can and do rejoice—in realistic figures.