High Court: Jews for Jesus Are Not Automatic Citizens

The decades-long controversy over who is a Jew has not yet been resolved, but the High Court of Justice has ruled who is definitely not a Jew — Messianic Jews, commonly known as “Jews for Jesus.”

Although Gary and Shirley Beresford, immigrants from South Africa, filed for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, a three-judge panel reached the unanimous conclusion this week that they are not entitled to it, even though both petitioners were born to Jewish parents.

The Law of Return states that every Jew has the right to come to Israel as an immigrant and receive automatic citizenship.

It defines a Jew as a person born of a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism.

But according to the decision written by Justices Menachem Elon and Aharon Barak, and concurred with by Justice Avraham Halima, the Beresfords do not qualify, because they are voluntary converts to a different faith.

Elon’s interpretation of the Law of Return from a halachic, or religious, viewpoint upheld the Interior Ministry’s denial of citizenship to the couple on grounds of their religious beliefs.

Barak, arguing from a “secular, liberal and dynamic” position, reached the same conclusion.

MEMBERS OF A DIFFERENT FAITH

According to Elon, the petitioners are “members of a different faith” who regard their belief in Jesus as the Messiah as the central element of their faith.

“Messianic Jews attempt to reverse the wheels of history by 2,000 years. But the Jewish people has decided during the 2,000 years of its history that Messianic Jews do not belong to the Jewish nation and have no right to force themselves on it.

“Those who believe in Jesus are, in fact, Christians,” the justice wrote.

Barak stressed that the Law of Return is a secular law intended to guarantee the national goal of returning Jews to their homeland.

The law therefore should be interpreted in secular terms, based on the feelings of the majority of the Jewish people as well as on the Jewish religion, he wrote.

The 90-page ruling was not made public but was widely quoted in local newspapers on Tuesday.

It has no bearing on demands by the Orthodox establishment to amend the Law of Return in a manner that would exclude persons converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis.

The Beresfords insist they are Jews and deny they have converted to a different religion. They registered with the Jewish Agency for immigration to Israel after their marriage in 1982, and entered Israel on tourist visas in 1986.

The three justices suggested that they apply for citizenship under the Citizenship Law, which allows non-Jews to acquire Israeli nationality, though not as an automatic right.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

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