Israel's Messianic Jews Draw Ire of Orthodox Jews

Tension over religious faith has been boiling between two communities in Israel and recently spilled over into a shocking attack on one group of Jews by another.

In the past few months, Orthodox Jews have been responsible for a malicious bomb attack that severely injured and disfigured a 15-year-old pastor's son, and the burning of hundreds of copies of the New Testament.

The attacks, separated by only two months, were clear signs that something had gone wrong between Messianic Jews – Jews who believe in Jesus as their savior but still observe Jewish holidays and customs – and Orthodox Jews in Israel.

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From their side, Orthodox Jews have long disliked Messianic Jewish – whom many view as traitors for joining the Christian faith. But Orthodox Jews in Israel tolerated the small Christian community there as long as they worshipped quietly and kept their faith to themselves.

But tension flared when Messianic Jews began to more actively evangelize and pass out New Testaments to Jews.

Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon, who had organized the yeshiva students responsible for the burning of New Testaments in the central Israeli town of Or Yehuda in May, had initially defended the act as a way of "purging the evil among us" and fighting those that break the law by trying to convert Jews, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Aharon, a strong anti-missionary activist, said Israel cannot allow Messianic Jews to "come into our homes and incite against our religion, and turn our children away from Judaism. That is against the law."

He later publicly apologized for the burning of Scriptures and said it was unplanned.

Not long after the incident, in the Jewish settlement of Ariel, flyers were seen everywhere – car windshields, telephone poles, and in bus shelters – with the warnings to the local community. "Beware, these are the members of the Jewish Missionary Cult. They are baptizing Jews into Christianity," they stated, according to Time magazine. The photo and address of Pastor David Ortiz, whose son was injured after receiving a bomb package, was included on the flyers.

As Messianic Jews and foreign Christians increasingly follow their commission and share about Jesus Christ, Orthodox Jews have increasingly pushed back in response.

Pastor David Ortiz says his family is afraid that what happened to them will happen to other Messianic Jews in Israel.

"With us, they crossed the line, and we're afraid of it happening to someone else," Ortiz told Time.

On March 20, Ortiz's son, Ami, removed a chocolate from an anonymous gift box left at his door and detonated a bomb that blew out all the apartment's windows and was heard a mile away. Doctors found over 100 pieces of metal – nails, screws, and needles – implanted throughout the boy's body. Although Ami survived, he will need to undergo six more operations involving skin grafting and the removal of shrapnel from his eyes.

But Ami's mother, Leah Ortiz, assures concerned Christians around the world that Christians are not being persecuted in Israel. She called what happened to her son "insanity," not religion.

The Ortiz family, who are originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., plans to stay in Israel despite escalated violence against Messianic Jews in Israel and Ami's injuries.

"Jesus wasn't born in Brooklyn. He was born here," Ortiz told Time. "We're staying."

There are between 6,000 and 15,000 Messianic Jews in Israel.

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