Behold, the messianic!

mdl2And now for something entirely different ... Jack Teitel has attracted a lot of media attention since the Sabbath. An American Jew who made aliyah in 2000, Teitel was arrested by Israeli police and charged with several acts of terror, including the murder of two Palestinians in 1997, the bombing of a leftist Israeli professor's house and the Purim bombing of a teenage boy. Police said Teitel also took credit for killing two gay Jews in Tel Aviv in August -- though he hadn't actually been involved.

It sounds like no one told Teitel the Gush Emunim Underground was shut down a long time ago -- in fact, before he would have become bar mitzvah, if he did.

But this post is neither about Teitel nor the past and present of Jewish terror organizations. (Every religious group has its extremists.) It's about an off-hand reference from the The New York Times to the religious beliefs of one of the people Teitel allegedly targeted:

The Israeli boy who was badly injured a year and a half ago, Ami Ortiz, is still recovering from wounds caused by an explosive placed in a gift basket traditionally given out on the Jewish holiday of Purim. His mother, Leah Ortiz, also American and living in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, said in a statement that her "blood ran cold" when she heard about the arrest, especially the knowledge that the suspect lived only minutes away.

"We are horrified by the fact that there are elements of Israeli society, Jews who feel justified in taking the lives of other Jews because of their beliefs," she added.

The Ortizes are part of a small and mistrusted community of messianic Jews in Israel, who consider themselves Jewish but believe in Jesus.

Mr. Teitel's neighbors said they were amazed and found it hard to believe ...

That's it. Granted, this is a fairly short story, and it's totally accurate to say that messianics are "a small and mistrusted community" in Israel. But should readers have to infer from that clause -- "who consider themselves Jewish but believe in Jesus" -- that Ami Ortiz was targeted for his beliefs? And if reporters don't yet know why Teitel allegedly gave the gift bomb, can we at least learn a little more about messianic intergration into Israeli society?

In fact, the community there has only been around for about two-thirds of the life of the modern Jewish state, and has been growing in recent years. You may recall that last year a group of religious Zionist rabbis called for a boycott of the national Bible Quiz when a messianic made it into the quartet of finalists. Or, on a related note, that shortly after Orthodox Jews torched a pile of Bibles left behind by missionaries to a predominantly religious Israeli town. And long before that was the Christmas Eve 2005 incident.

Even in the United States, messianic Jews are treated as an oddity. Clearly there is something more there. David Klinghoffer, after publishing "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus," discussed it in this 2005 op-ed for The Forward:


Certainly it is understandable that some Jews feel as they do about these Jewish Christians. For many, there is something stomach-churning about a Jew who embraces a faith with a centuries-long record of treating his own ancestors in cruel and humiliating ways.

And yet what is understandable, just like what is necessary, also isn't necessarily fair. After all, we live in America with her unique philosemitic Evangelical Christian tradition. To imagine American Christianity, of which messianic Judaism forms a part, as if it were indistinguishable from medieval European Christianity is historically inaccurate.

No, I'm not trying to be judgmental about anyone's beliefs. There is value, however, in shining light on an area -- of interest to believers in Judaism as to believers in Jesus -- that has been wrapped in murkiness and unreason. Let there be light.

As a Christian named Greenberg, I've never understood the messianic Jewish pull. Culturally, I connect with Jews, but theologically I don't -- and there is the split. Unfortunately, the NYT's limited reference to the Ortizes' beliefs do nothing to help us understand more.

Instead, I recommend this 2007 article, also from The Forward, about messianism finding fertile ground in the Bible Belt.

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