An indictment has been filed against a 28-year-old Messianic man in the murder of his fellow congregant and friend, Bob Knight, 70, and the attempted murder of Knight’s wife who was attacked right in front of the suspect’s wife and 4-month-old son.
Shimshon Ben Haim was charged with aggravated murder and attempted murder. The two couples were apparently friends, according to Hebrew media reports, and Bob Knight and his wife visited Ben Haim and his family regularly at their home in Lod.
But when the Knights were invited on March 2, the visit took a different turn. According to the indictment, the defendant left his home during the course of the visit. When he returned home a couple of hours later, he had decided he was going to kill the couple.
Knight was sitting in the living room, while the women were sitting next to each other in the yard, with the baby and the other two children playing nearby.
The defendant went into the garden and took a brick then approached Knight’s wife and slammed her in the head with it. After she collapsed to the ground, Ben Haim continued hitting her in the head five more times, the indictment said.
Ben Haim’s wife screamed and tried to get her husband away from her friend and was lightly injured in the process.
When Knight ran over to intervene, the defendant turned on him.
“The defendant did not stop hitting Bob in the head even after Knight collapsed and fell to the ground, until he was dead,” the indictment said.
The suspect apparently only stopped when one of his neighbors arrived at the scene. Ben Haim went to the kitchen and tried to wash the blood off his hands.
The charges against Ben Haim carry a maximum sentence.
“My heart and my condolences go out to the family of the deceased,” Ben Haim’s lawyer, Yitzhak Ben Hamu, said. “We are talking about an unfortunate incident.”
“I cannot comment specifically. I can only say that from speaking at length with my client, I had a very hard time communicating with him and I got the impression that he was not in the best mental health, to say the least,” the attorney said. “We have requested that he be evaluated by a psychiatrist so we can see whether he has any understanding or knowledge of what happened, or his surroundings.”
Kehila News is tracking this story and will publish more details as we get them.
Earlier this week, the Jerusalem Post published an article about a new contemporary translation of the Bible, produced by the Danish Bible Society. While new Bible translations are usually cause for celebration, this new contemporary Danish Bible is cause for serious concern.
Before commenting on the translation, we want to make it clear that we appreciate and respect the staff and the ministry of the Danish Bible Society, and recognize them as our brothers and sisters in the Lord. They are a group of people very committed to making the Bible available and accessible to everyone, and have been doing so for many years.
Our concern is strictly in regard to the translation itself.
In the translation, called “Danish Contemporary Bible 2020” the term “Israel” is almost completely removed from the New Testament, and is changed several times in the Old Testament. As a national Bible Society, the Danish Bible Society did this project using their own budget and team and not under the supervision of the United Bible Societies. The Bible Society in Israel had no knowledge of the project prior to its publication.
In this new Danish Bible (which uses a New Testament translation from 2007), the term “Israel” only appears twice in the entire New Testament, despite appearing more than 60 times in the Greek from which the New Testament is translated. The term “Israel” has been replaced with “the Jewish people”, “the Jews”, “the people…”, and in some cases removed altogether.
A press release of the Danish Bible Society says this translation decision was made because, “for the secular reader, who does not know the Bible well, ‘Israel’ could be referring only to a country. Therefore, the word ‘Israel’ in the Greek text has been translated in other ways, so that the reader understands it is referring to the Jewish people.” From our discussions with the Danish Bible Society, we understand that there was no political agenda behind this decision. The purpose was to engage a secular Danish audience with the word of God, and to make it personal to them.
The local body of believers as well as others in Israel and beyond were very surprised by and disappointed with the approach that the translators took regarding the term Israel and in its implementation in this translation.
We at the Bible Society in Israel have done some preliminary research regarding how the term “Israel” was translated throughout the new Danish Contemporary Bible 2020, and were troubled by what we found. Following are a few examples where the term “Israel” has been replaced or removed.
Members of Lehava, a violent anti-assimilation organization led by Ben-Zion Gopstein – a former disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahana – have been attacking a safe house for at-risk youth which is operated by a Messianic family.
“When they came, during opening hours, we asked them to leave and said that we have three little children here,” Michael, who manages the home, told Kehila News Israel (KNI). “They didn’t care. They left and came back throwing bricks and stones at us. One flew right by one of our heads.”
Lehava members have repeatedly attacked the home over the past two weeks. On Feb. 15, young men walked into the home, trashed the place, threw glass bottles into the garden and stole a cell phone. At 5 a.m. they returned and threw a rock at the front door, shattering the glass and waking up the family.
Police are investigating the attacks and the organization is installing a surveillance system in the meantime.
The outreach is operated by a Messianic organization from Michael and his wife’s private home in Jerusalem. The home provides an address for at-risk youth and former Orthodox Jews, supplying anything they might need and being available 24/7 for a warm meal, a place to sleep, a hug, a cup of coffee or a heart-to-heart talk. Young people from Orthodox families who doubt, or even leave their faith, are often ostracized from their families.
“Former Orthodox Jews, especially if they are from an ultra-Orthodox background, need a place that will accept them as they are and help them transition into the outside world. Our home provides workshops in music, English lessons, and more,” Michael explained. “Sometimes people with black ultra-Orthodox clothes will arrive just to speak out. They don’t believe in God anymore, but they have to study in the yeshiva and live within the Orthodox community and pretend. Otherwise they will lose their wives and children.”
As this reporter was interviewing Michael for this article, Lehava members returned and again threw rocks at the windows.
“I worry just going to the store now,” he said. “What if they come and attack the house when my wife is alone at home?”
“It is important to emphasize that Lehava is an extremist Jewish organization, which is widely condemned, also by many religious Jews,” Michael said. “A lot of the young ex-religious people who we help are boldly standing on our side against their former peers. It’s amazing to see. Others left once the trouble started.”
These recent attacks are part of a long string of persecution against Messianic and Christian outreaches. Twice in recent years Lehava organized protests that turned violent in Jerusalem – one of which was at a Messianic concert attended by several children.
Yad L’Achim, another anti-missionary organization that stalks believers and speaks out against Messianic and Christian organizations, is also “raising awareness” about the safe house. On a radio program, Shimon Avergel, a Yad L’Achim field officer, said the safe house is a secret missionary base where vulnerable youth are lured into Christianity.
Michael denied this.
“Our prayer is for everyone to be saved. But because these people are in a confused situation of searching for the truth, it’s not the right time to push for a different faith. If they ask us, we will gladly explain to them what we believe and why. But we are not forcing our faith upon them. We are not demanding that they listen to a sermon or pray a prayer to receive help. Even if an angel from God would come and tell us that ‘this specific person will never be saved’ we would still help him. That’s what we do here. We have received a mandate from God to serve and love everyone.”
On the radio program, the host asked Avergel how to distinguish between acceptable humanitarian aid and a “secret missionary” place.
“They don’t have any rules at missionary places. They let you do whatever you want,” Avergel said. “Also you will find missionary literature sneaked in between regular books like Harry Potter.”
Michael laughed at the analogy.
“They are just making things up now,” he said. “Other humanitarian places in Jerusalem allow them to drink and smoke whatever they want. We prohibit all kinds of smoking and drinking in or around our home. Whenever people spend the night, we don’t allow guys and girls together. The only issue where we have fewer rules than other places is that we don’t put a curfew. If it’s late we don’t throw them out, we let them spend the night on our sofa. We just can’t send them outside in the cold. It is rare that people spend the night, but it happens. And about the books? That’s just a ridiculous accusation. It’s our home, those are the books we read.”
What do you want to tell the readers of KNI?
“Ask them to pray for those who persecute us. They are poor teenagers who have been brainwashed to think they’re doing ‘God’s work’ when they throw bricks and attack us. Pray that God will take them out of this hatred captivity. Pray also for us, for divine protection and for wisdom, and for the populations we serve here, that they won’t get hurt.”
Messianic Jews Head Toward Breakup
Will the local Body of Messiah in Israel survive the current serious debates?
Short of divine intervention, it appears that the Messianic Congregations in Israel are moving toward a major division.
In what is shaping up to become the first official breakdown among the Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel, those of us watching are hoping for the best, but it is not looking good.
Troubles began two years ago when a few Messianic Jewish leaders reported to the Hebrew-speaking Leadership Conference on what they saw as troubling theological positions being promoted by a ministry called Tikkun. Based in Jerusalem, Tikkun has planted and oversees numerous local Hebrew and Russian speaking congregations in Israel. Their leadership remain highly respected by both Messianic Jews in Israel and Christians abroad.
So what’s the problem?
In a word, theology. Positions thought to be held by Tikkun are threatening to divide large segments of Messianic Jewish believers in Israel. Here are the main issues driving the conflict with Tikkun and its leadership:
- Alignment. Asher Intrater, one of the leaders of Tikkun based in Jerusalem, wrote a book called “Alignment” which teaches about Israel and the Church in the End Times. According to the book, Gentile churches should come into “alignment” with God’s purposes for Israel and the Messianic Jewish believers. Intrater says that this proper relationship between the church and the Jewish people was broken when the church cut off her Jewish roots and adopted replacement theology (the idea that the church replaced Israel). Coming into proper alignment or relationship, according to Tikkun, is part of the restoration of the church as promised in scripture in preparation for the return of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Watch Asher’s teaching on alignment.Critics of Tikkun say that Intrater teaches that Gentile Christians must submit to and be under authority to Messianic Jewish believers. This idea is connected to an understanding that Messianic Jews are the “big brother” of believers in Yeshua, and therefore have both a present and future leadership role over the world-wide Body of Christ. Intrater’s critics believe that he is teaching that Jewish believers in Yeshua have a role of leadership and authority over the Gentile church, both now and in the future.
- The Narrow Wider Hope. This is a term coined by Dr. Daniel Juster, founder of Tikkun. In a serious and well-thought out position paper, Juster attempts to come to terms with the concept of a just God who, according to Evangelical theology, may even send those who have never heard of Yeshua to hell. What about Jews who have never hear of Yeshua or have yet to have a chance to hear the gospel presented in a way that is not antisemitic as has been so evident in the historical church? Are they to going to hell? Critics are concerned that these ideas are foreign to traditional Evangelical theology that teaches that without a confession of faith in Jesus Christ all men and women are condemned to eternal punishment. They are concerned that this crucial foundation of salvation through Jesus alone is undercut by the idea of a wider hope, narrow as it might be in Juster’s theology.
- Apostles. Leadership of Tikkun call themselves apostles, with a small “a.” They understand this to mean servants of God with oversight of congregations or other inter-congregational leadership responsibilities. They point to the five-fold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4 which include apostles given to build up the church. Some of Tikkun’s leaders point out that apostle in Hebrew is shaliach, one who is sent to fulfill the purposes of God and not necessarily an official title.Critics say that the office of apostle is not intended for today’s church. They also point to relationships between Tikkun leaders and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a global Evangelical church-planting movement. Critics view NAR as a controversial and problematic movement that they hope to prevent from having influence over the Messianic Jews in Israel.
The Hebrew-Speaking Congregational Leadership Conference, or Kenes Artzi in Hebrew, appointed a subcommittee some months ago to look into the charges against Tikkun. After months of dialogue and debate at conferences and online, a meeting has been called for in March to decide on a path forward. While there has been some movement on the side of Tikkun to review its teaching material and tone down what they say, “were not intended to but could appear to support unbiblical ideas,” both sides of the controversy remain hunkered down refusing to budge.
According to the Messianic leaders we have spoken with, there is still a lot of confusion as to what will happen at the upcoming meeting. Will Messianic Jewish leaders be called upon to vote and determine if Tikkun is teaching false doctrines? Will Tikkun leaders and their congregations be considered false teachers or banned from the Kenes Artzi? Meanwhile, a number of Messianic Jews have already left, or are threatening to leave the Kenes Artzi over the controversy.
This is not the first time there have been heated debates and even splits within the Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel. Controversy over the Divinity of the Messiah some years ago eventually led to a clear line of demarcation being drawn in order to determine true Messianic biblical faith vis-a-vis the Messiah in the Godhead. Heated debates between Charismatic and non-Charismatic streams of Messianic Judaism continue and often hinder Messianic Jews in Israel from the rich and authentic fellowship and practical cooperation available through unity in Yeshua.
Many of these controversies remain unresolved, and as a result attendance at the Kenes Artzi has diminished over the years. When the Kenes Artzi was established some 40 years ago, it was intended to provide a conference where the different streams of local Messianic Jewish congregational leaders could fellowship together, debate issues and work together on joint projects and in a unified body to further the purposes of God and His Kingdom among the people of Israel. We often disagreed but managed to remain one body and enjoyed the camaraderie and sweet fellowship so important to our spiritual growth.
The Kenes Artzi called for a ban on publications covering the controversy. Israel Today has talked with proponents on both sides but out of respect for the process refrained from publishing, until now. News of this controversy, which has gone on for over 2 years, continues to spread around the Christian world and we felt it was time to inform our faithful readers in a non-partisan way so that you can “stay informed and pray informed.”
Messianic Jews in Modern Israel
Thirteen years ago, loaded with two suitcases and a backpack, I boarded a plane and trekked from my birthplace in the United States to the homeland of my people, Israel. Within the next year, I was married and had officially immigrated to the Land. Since then, I’ve gained an entire apartment full of treasured belongings and a home filled with the playful laughter of my Israeli children.
Being a native English speaker with a thick American accent has its downfalls in Israel – taxi drivers always want to charge you extra money, for example. But it also has its perks. I write and edit newsletters of organizations that are doing spectacular work to serve their local communities, so I’ve often had the pleasure of communicating with the outside world about all the amazing happenings in and around the country.
What does it mean to be a Messianic Jew, especially in Israel?
Answering that question is a near impossibility – almost as hard as if one were to ask, “What or who is a Jew?” While Jewish believers in Jesus in Israel agree on the central tenets of our faith, we are extremely diverse in our family backgrounds, native tongues, theological interpretation of Scriptures, and how we live them out.
The modern State of Israel is relatively young and mostly populated by first, second, and third generation immigrant families – each from another country, speaking different languages, and holding a different set of traditions. While Hebrew is Israel’s national language, nearly 25 percent of the population speak Russian and 20 percent Arabic. Messianic congregational services are held in Hebrew, Russian, English, Amharic, French, Spanish, etc.
How many Messianic Jews live in Israel?
Trying to pinpoint an exact number of Jewish believers in Yeshua poses even more of a challenge. The last professional study was conducted in 1999 by Kai Kjaer-Hansen and Bodil F. Skjott. They found that there were nearly 5,000 believers (both Jewish and non-Jewish) attending Messianic congregations in the Land. While that number has certainly grown in the last two decades, it would be hard to describe that growth as a revival of massive proportions. In the “International Religious Freedom Report for 2017: Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza,” it says, “There is also a community of approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews, as reported by the Messianic Jewish community.” These estimated numbers are largely due to the fact that Messianic congregations are often attended by both Jewish and Gentile believers. In fear of retribution from anti-missionaries, congregations don’t post an exact number of members.
While most Israelis might now be able to tell you that they’ve met a Messianic Jew, most children from Messianic homes are still probably the only one in his or her school. These statistics show that Messianic Jews still make up only a fraction of a percent of the population, but it is apparent that Messianic Judaism has made huge gains in the awareness of the Israeli public.
How do Messianic Jews live?
The way Messianic Jews in Israel live out their Judaism is also quite varied. Most Messianic Jewish Israelis could not be called Torah observant, but a small number are, and they adhere to the rabbinical interpretation of Scripture. It would be difficult for many of us to distinguish the difference between these believers and the people in the Orthodox Jewish community. Their style of dress and their outward worship is compatible with that of the orthodoxy. Some will even attend a synagogue rather than a Messianic congregation.
On the flip side, some Messianic Jewish Israelis have completely distanced themselves from the Jewish religion. It would be hard to tell the difference between their weekly Shabbat services and that of a Christian church in any other part of the western world – except perhaps for the fact that the service is in Hebrew. However, the large majority of congregations and believers in the Land fall somewhere in the middle – celebrating the Jewish holidays in a way that recognizes Yeshua, using some traditional Jewish liturgy in worship services, and perhaps even keeping kosher. In spite of their differences, all Messianic Jews in Israel consider Yeshua the Messiah and are trying to express this unique belief in their everyday lives.
What is the status of Messianic Jews in Israel?
The status of Messianic Judaism in Israel is still under debate. Instead of being labeled Jewish or Christian, we have often been branded as a cult. As a result of this social stigmatism, often we are not considered worthy of being hired for a position or trustworthy enough to rent property. Many Messianic Jews are still not granted the right to make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel under the Right of Return, as the court generally sees Jewish believers as having converted to Christianity. Some small number of Messianic Jews still do immigrate every year but must jump through hoops to hide any evidence that they might be believers. This is especially true if they have ever openly shared their faith, as “missionary” is still considered a curse word in the Hebrew language. Despite all of these setbacks, Messianic Jews are free to practice their faith in Israel, and are starting to get a better reputation due to popular online videos in Hebrew and social projects that serve the community.
What do Israeli Messianic Jews have in common?
What can be said of Messianic Jews in Israel? We are a small, but growing and diverse community of believers in Yeshua (Jesus), outcast for, but living out our faith in a world that fails to see us as either Jewish or Christian. All of us share the same goal: to love, serve, and work to bring the good news of salvation through Yeshua to our people Israel.
Messianic Judaism Gaining Momentum in Israel
In recent decades, Messianic Judaism, a movement of Jewish people who have accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and continued to embrace their Jewishness, has been steadily growing—especially in the United States.
Jews have been coming to faith in Yeshua for centuries, increasingly so after Israel became a reality again in the late 1800s with the Zionist movement. After the Holocaust, when Israel became a nation again in 1948, the number of Jewish believers in Yeshua has been increasing worldwide, almost in lock step with Jewish immigration to Israel.
But what is the state of Messianic Judaism in Israel itself?
Because Israel is in an extremely dangerous area of the world, surrounded by Arab countries that have threatened its extermination, Jews there live with a certain amount of anxiety. When would the next Intifada take place? Which country would declare its desire to push Israel into the sea? When would Hamas rockets fly again?
Living with those concerns, the people have become cautious about “outsiders,” especially after nearly two millennia of “Christian” anti-Semitism. Thus, Christian missions to the Jews of Israel often have been met with suspicion. Yet some have been successful, especially if they are sensitive to and supportive of Messianic Judaism.
There are historic Anglican Jewish missions from the United Kingdom. King of Kings (kkcj.org) is a congregational ministry of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. The Caspari Center (caspari.com) is a Scandinavian Lutheran mission to the Jews. Christian Witness to Israel (cwi.org.uk) sponsors Grace and Truth congregation in Rishon L’Tzion. They also publish books, as does Keren Yeshua.
Modern Jewish missions are also active in Israel. Jews for Jesus (jewsforjesus.org) has a new center in Tel Aviv. The Christian Jew Foundation (cjfm.org), not only does missionary work, it also supports a number of national pastors. Chosen People Ministries (chosenpeople.com) has centers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and congregations in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ariel. Maoz (maozisrael.org) is an Israeli organization that publishes books in Hebrew and supports Israel while helping Jewish people meet their Messiah. There are others as well, but, as with most overseas missions, indigenous works have had the most success. Nowhere is this truer than in Israel.
The primary evangelistic work in Israel is not through missions. It is being done through local Messianic congregations. The larger ones are in Tiberias, K’far Saba, Netanya, Jerusalem and Joffa. There are 150-plus congregations in Israel with as many as 15,000 Messianic Jewish believers, of whom about 60 percent speak Russian as their first language.
The growth in the number of congregations has increased over the last 20 years, just as it has in the United States and other countries. Nearly every year, another indigenous congregation or two springs up, and as more and more Jews from around the world return home, this will only increase.
Israel is a small country—about the size of New Jersey—so these congregations are easily noticed by their fellow Israelis. More and more, Israel is increasingly aware that there are Jews who trust Yeshua as the Messiah and savior, much as it was in the New Testament era.
These Messianic Jewish congregations are now led by Israelis, even though they may have a mix of Jews and Gentiles. Most services are in Hebrew (sometimes Russian, Amharic, French or Spanish). The music too is indigenous, as is the style of worship —very Israeli. The melodies have a distinctly Middle Eastern tone to them. Most meet on Saturday when Jews generally hold worship services. These congregations of Yeshua-followers are clearly Jewish.
Messianic Jews are gaining more acceptance in Israel. Instead of being perceived as threats to the Israelis, due to prejudices going back 2,000 years, they are recognized as friends, fellow citizens, and an active part of Israeli society. In part, the groundwork for this was laid by the benevolence work of groups such as Chosen People Ministries (chosenpeople.com), The Joseph Storehouse (www.visionforisrael.com), the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America’s Joseph Project (mjaa.org), and other similar works.
Israelis, who have been especially challenged during the wars with Lebanon, Hamas and the high taxes used to pay for defense, are grateful to Messianic Jews, sometimes in spite of themselves, for food, clothes, medicine and other supplies. They need our help. This is a very tangible expression of the love of Messiah. Messianic Jews are being trusted enough to allow them to materially assist Israel during her most difficult times.
It is known that there are many Messianic Jews serving in the army—mostly the children of immigrants from the United States and Europe—who were raised in Israel. This shows unity with the people, so much so that the funeral of one Messianic Jewish soldier killed in the last war was well attended by Israel’s leaders. The newspapers noted that he was a Messianic Jew, part of a congregation in the Haifa area.
A television special featuring interviews of members of the Christian Moshav, Yad Hashmonah, was widely watched. It included a Messianic Jewish family celebrating Shabbat, etc., giving a very good impression of Messianic Jews in Israel. No longer are followers of Yeshua seen as people to stay away from. Now, they are embraced as fellow strugglers in Israeli life.
Over the past centuries, because of all the atrocities done to Jews in the name of Jesus, Jewish people have avoided having anything to do with Him, His followers, or His teachings. It was too costly, too risky. And in Israel, where people are more vulnerable to attacks, this is acutely so. But Messianic Judaism is changing things. Now, Israelis are more open to talking about Yeshua and considering his claims to Messiahship.
The congregational leaders in Israel need connections with pastors in the West. Many would appreciate prayer, fellowship and sometimes even financial support for special projects.
Western pastors have a lot to give to Israel’s Messianic leaders by way of training and guidance, as well as prayer. Most Israeli pastors do not have much formal training and would benefit from partnering with non-Israeli pastors. Most Israeli pastors are pioneers and need more seasoned spiritual mentors to guide them.
Encouragingly, the perception of Messianic Jews is undergoing a steady transformation in Israel these days—from one of mistrust and outright loathing to recognition and acceptance. Knowing the love of Yeshua in the Messianics’ hearts, the bridge between them and Orthodox Jews is getting shorter all the time. Doors to hearts once closed are beginning to open wide.
Rabbi Barry Rubin is the president and publisher of Messianic Jewish Publishers and Resources/Jewish New Testament Publications. He is also the Rabbi of Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation.