A reporter from Yediot Achronot,” the largest Hebrew daily newspaper in Israel, had interviewed Dan for an article.  Dan had called to tell me that the reporter not only failed to report what he said accurately, but the article and the sidebars published with it were full of distortions and outright lies, deliberately presenting a false portrait of Jewish believers in Jesus. 

Cover page from Yediot Achronot in Israel:

Yediot Article I

With the Help of Yeshua (and the security guards)

The messianic Jews increased their activities in Rehovot and in response the ultra-orthodox declared war ò The result: violent confrontation

Main Article:

Seeking Yeshua in Rehovot (the name of the city, but when accented on a different syllable means “in the streets”)

A violent confrontation in Rehovot between the members of the messianic Jewish cult and chasidim ò The director of the messianic Jewish organization: “We haven’t had dialogue with them. We just get beatings from them.” ò A former cult member: “It’s forbidden to be in contact with the outside world.”

Messianic Jewish activists had a confrontation last week with resident chasidim of Rehovot. The incident began when the messianic activists walked during the afternoon on Herzl street, distributing literature from the New Testament to passers-by and tried to convince them to join them and their religious faith.

At the intersection of Herzl and Ezra streets a group of chasidim carefully observed the messianic Jewish activists and began to confront them. Secular passers-by also joined the protest and a violent conflict broke out between the two groups. About 15 people from both sides participated in the conflict and people that passed by the spot testified that during the course of the conflict they heard shouts and curses from every side. During the entire time two security guards—who accompanied the messianic Jews throughout the day—defended them.

Not one of the many passers-by did anything to prevent the violence or stop the attack on the messianic. After the violent conflict was over, they continued to walk the main street. There were people who protested against their activities and tried to shut them down.  “Who are they anyway?” yelled one of the passers-by. “I don’t relate to them. They are like air.” One resident said, “In my opinion, it’s cheap manipulation that’s done on na?ve people, new immigrants.

Onto the scene arrived activists from the organization Yad L’achim, which fights against missionary activity and against attempts of religious conversion aimed at Jews. In contrast to the local chasidim of the city, Yad L’achim activists did not use violence toward the messianics. They collected from people in the street the material that the activists had distributed, tore it, and threw it into the trash. They only verbally confronted the messianics without using physical force.

We arrived a few minutes after the incident ended and we tried to understand from the messianics why they were attacked, why—of all places—they are working in Rehovot, a city where a majority of the residents are traditional or religious.  They refused to respond and tried to prevent us from photographing them.

The hard reactions against their activists didn’t deter the them, and again this week the messianic Jews continued to work in the area of Rehovot, but this time without falling into any violent confrontations. It seems that last time they signaled the area that their purpose and activities in the city are growing.

Dan Sered (30) is the head of the amuta Y.L.Y.—Yehudim L’ma’an Yeshua (the cult). He tells how he arrived to the cult. “I was born in Israel, grew up in a typical secular home in Herzliyah: regular education, had a bar mitzvah, Jewish holidays, etc. When I was 16, we went to the United States because my dad worked in the ministry of national security. While in my studies abroad I met a young Jewish woman who told me that she believes in Yeshua. I asked her, “Who is this Yeshua? What is she talking about?” and she said that it’s Jesus.

I was very curious and the subject interested me. Despite the fact that I grew up in a secular home, I always knew that God exists. Despite the fact that my parents are atheists, I began to get deeper into the matter and slowly, slowly I was drawn in. There are no laws here. Each one tries to do as much as possible. We have freedom. You are not obligated to lay tefillin every morning or keep Shabbat.”

In what countries are you working besides Israel?

“We are working in countries that have big Jewish communities. We want people in every area and city to have the option to believe in Yeshua. In Rehovot and Nes Tziona there are a lot of people that want to know more, to read the New Testament. We are doing everything in a calm and peaceful manner. The religious are the ones who come to beat us.”

Are you doing a special push in the area right now?

“Yes, at the moment we are focusing on this area. That’s no secret.”

Is the public receiving you with understanding?

“We are finding thousands of people that want to hear. On the other hand, the ultra-orthodox are trying to shut our mouths. I don’t know what they are afraid of. I don’t understand their fear. We haven’t had dialogue with them. I’d be happy if there was. We just get beatings from them.”

 an increase in activity

The director of “Those Hurt by Cults in Israel,” Danit Keren: “Many who have been hurt by  messianic Jews and from other cults turn to the “Israel Center for those Hurt by Cults” to receive care, assistance and support. Messianic Jews work with a lack of transparency, without proper disclosure, and with the pretense of being the true Judaism. It’s a grave matter in our eyes. They spread their faith in an intensive and aggressive manner, often while exploiting the weaknesses and hardships of na?ve people. Among other things, more than one complaint has been served to police about attempts to convert minors.

Rabbi Aryeh Greenberg, leader of the Chabad house in Mazkarat Batayha and rabbi at the “Da’at” yeshiva in Rehovot, says, “Recently, we’ve seen an increase in activity from the messianic Jewish cult in the area. In Judaism, there is a verse that says, “The Lord does ‘this against that.'” It’s meaning is that for every holy thing there is a an impure thing. When someone becomes aware that a person is drawn in the direction of the cult, he should make every effort to open that person’s eyes.

Have you ever known someone in the messianic cult?

“Yes, I met someone who was a member of their congregation, a new immigrant. When we met, he began to study Judaism and slowly, slowly he left the cult.”

What do you say to those who claim that Chabad activities are also missionary?

“The activities of Chabad are to strengthen the faith of Jews and not to change their religion to another. We do not work to get people to turn to Orthodox Judaism, but rather to bring them nearer to Jewish roots and to the tradition of Am Yisrael.”

The response of the secretary of Kretschniff institutions, Aryeh Hamburger: “We are aware that missionary activities of those who believe in ‘that man’ have been getting stronger in several cities in Israel, including the city of Rehovot.”

On Monday of this week a city council member, Rabbi Pinchas Humaner, met the messianic Jewish activists and ??? their activities in the city. “According to their own words, they exploit the depressed socio-economic situation of part of the population, and convince na?ve people to convert. Many passers-by, among whom were also non-religious, joined the protest, but without yelling and cursing.

Regarding the activity of the messianic Jews, Rabbi Humaner says, “They catch na?ve people and exploit their hardship. We really hope that the authorities, by all lawful means of enforcement that are available to them, will remove them from the city. We in Rehovot live in peace and quiet with all (??? racial groups). Our Admor (revered teacher and rabbi) teaches us tolerance and not violence—ways of peace and calm. As a member of the council I turned to the municipal department of security and they are checking the laws to see if the activities of the cult are against the law.”

We received the following response from the Rehovot police: “We are aware of the matter.”

INSET #1:

FORMER CULT MEMBER: “THEY WORK ON YOU WITH MANIPULATION AND HEAVY PRESSURE”

A resident of Rishon L’Tzion, who was a member of a messianic Jewish cult, tells how he fell into the cult: “I fell in love with a young woman who was a cult member. I went after the love, not after their ideology. The church intentionally sends out girls to recruit young Jewish men into the cult. Ninety percent entered  by way of the bed of young women who seduced them.”

“After I entered, I realized that the girl that I fell in love with was the daughter of one of the senior priests of the cult. I was exposed to a lot of things because of my proximity to the priest. In the beginning they work on you with manipulation and heavy pressure so you’ll stay. They use psychology and I heard about times they used violence. In my case, this was pretty close, but I knew how to defend myself.

“It’s forbidden to be moderate there, in other words it’s forbidden to be in touch with  the outside world with family and friends. Your only connections and your work are exclusively within the framework of the cult. The cult limits anyone who thinks about keeping a Jewish flavor, a normative life, work, university, recreational pursuits, etc.—like a ghost.

“I participated in exorcisms. I was present at a few ceremonies where 12 candles—according to the apostles of Yeshu—were in a circle, where a man, who according to the cult was demon-possessed, stood in the middle. Verses in Latin from the New Testament and other sources were spoken aloud. They used violence. The most serious thing that happened that I witnessed was a spurt of blood from his wrist.

“They made a judgment to expel me, in which they had witnesses that testified about my sanity and rebellion in the cult. After the testimonies came the verdict and it was decided to expel me and cancel my engagement. There were three judges, a lot of yelling, and at the end of it, I left the church and wasn’t alloed to come back. The one who is expelled is called the knight of death—it’s forbidden to be in touch with him, he is excommunicated.

INSET #2

WHO ARE THE MESSIANICS?

Gabi Zohar is a social worker and a family therapist who serves as a counselor in the Center for Those Hurt by Cults. Zohar, who wrote the book “Happiness Has No End”—which deals with cults and the care for those hurt by their activities—deals with about 30 such people a year.

Zohar says that the messianic Jews are defined as a cult, since they are an organization with an ideology, ritualistic rules and a separation from normative religion, despite the fact that they include elements of both Judaism and Christianity. “I know between 20-30 groups of messianic Jews,” says Zohar. In his own words, “Some of them don’t celebrate Jewish holidays and don’t participate in national celebrations. They see themselves as outside the national identity.”

As to the third aspect of messianic Jewish activity Zohar says, “I’ve had people come to me who have experienced instances of very heavy pressure, once when a couple joined the cult, and after some time one of them asked to leave. That’s when the heavy pressure started so that he would stay, or in place of that to pressure the spouse that stayed to divorce the spouse that left.”

Zohar says that the messianic work on three principle elements. The first is the creation of a new faith that is presented as the most correct alternative. In his own words, of course it’s the secular that are drawn in this direction. The second component is an identification with the ideas and belonging to the group. The third element is spreading love. Zohar says, “The messianics spread a lot of love around, they wrap people in love and affection. The messianism helps to lighten the daily pressures—psychological, social, emotional and familial.  The messianic Jews are no different than other cults that exist today. They are people who live a regular life, but on the other side there’s a very strong ideological, psychological and group affinity between them and the organization they belong to.”

The phone number of the Center for Those Hurt by Cults is 03-6708811.

Read David Brickner’s response to this article in our June 2009 edition of RealTime.