A Messianic Jewish student’s bid to win Israel’s annual youth Bible quiz has triggered a controversy because of her belief in Jesus.
In a protest letter quoted by the Israeli newspaper Maariv, the anti-missionary group Yad L’Ahim argues that the 17-year-old Bat El Levy should not be allowed to participate in the May 8 International Bible Contest for Jewish Youth, held in Jerusalem on Israel’s 60th Independence Day. Yad L’Ahim chairman Rabbi Shlomo Dov Lipschitz claimed Israeli law forbidding Christians from proselytizing should bar Levy’s participation. He further argued that the girl’s belief in Jesus should disqualify her from the quiz since, in his view, she is not Jewish.
According to Israel National News, Meir Porush, a member of the Knesset, asked that Levy be disqualified because she is not Jewish according to Israel’s High Court of Justice. The High Court has ruled in cases related to the Law of Return that citizenship is automatically granted to Jewish immigrants.
However, it has ruled that those who profess Christianity will not be recognized as Jews regardless of ethnic background.
Israel’s Education Ministry, which runs the contest, rejected the argument that Levy is not Jewish. “The girl is designated as Jewish, and her personal beliefs are not a matter of concern to us,” a spokeswoman from the ministry said.
Levy, who has won several regional Bible contests, is one of four Israeli students participating in the international competition.
The Levy family has not denied that they are members of a messianic Jewish congregation, and says there had been attempts by Yad L'Ahim to dissuade Bat-El from taking part in the competition.
Representatives of Israeli Jews who believe in Jesus say they number between 8,000 and 10,000 people, out of 7 million Israelis. They keep a low profile in a state where many blame Christianity for past European anti-Jewish persecution.
Jewish Christians in Israel have occasionally been targeted for attack. In March, a boy was maimed when a homemade bomb exploded in a West Bank settlement where members of the Jewish Christian community live. Last October, a firebomb attack damaged a Jerusalem church that holds services in Hebrew.
Several rabbis have called for a boycott of the Bible contest if the girl is allowed to participate.