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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Boycott the Bible?

One of the highlights of Israel's Independence Day each year is the finals of the International Bible Contest. Throughout the year, local and national contests are held in cities around the world and on Israel Independence Day the world finals are held here in Jerusalem. Almost everyone in the religious community here knows someone who has made it (I was in the US national finals myself in 7th, 8th and 9th grades a generation ago; after that my school stopped holding the contest). Most of the Israeli kids who are in the contest are religious and the winner is usually Israeli (although I have heard accusations of bias against the kids from abroad on occasion). The foreign kids run the gamut with those from certain countries (US, Canada) being mostly religious, but kids from other countries are sometimes less religious. But what would happen if the religious kids didn't show up? We may find out next week.

In the Muqata, Jameel reports that Yad l'Achim - the largest anti-missionary organization in the country - is threatening to organize a boycott of the religious kids in the contest. The reason is that one of the Israeli contestants - 11th grade Israeli teenager Bat-El Levy from Jerusalem...is a follower of the "Jewish Messianic" sect of Christianity. The contest's mission statement specifically states that it is for "Jewish youth."
Yad L'Achim is currently in touch with Israel's Ministry of Education and leading rabbis around Israel -- calling for Bat-El to be disqualified from participating...or for all religious participants to boycott the contest.

**Israel's Ministry of Justice has determined that according to Israeli law, Bat-El is in fact Jewish (although she and her family are part of the Jewish Messianic sect) [Note that Israeli law and Jewish law may not coincide on this issue. CiJ], and she can therefore participate. I guess they are of the opinion that once a Jew, always a Jew, despite conversion or acceptance of another faith.

Some say, let her participate and lose -- which will show that Jews in fact, do excel in Bible studies. Other are worried what might happen if she wins.
Here's my take on this. First, the odds of Israel's Minister of Re-Education disqualifying someone who is not Jewish from participating in the Bible Contest are somewhere between slim and none. Second, the odds of Yad l'Achim getting kids coming from overseas to boycott the contest are - with some exceptions - not great. If the Israeli kids other than the missionary boycott but the foreign kids don't, it would likely throw the contest to the missionary kid. Third, the odds of Yad l'Achim getting Israeli kids to boycott are good if they get the right Rabbis to sign on. Most of the Israeli kids in the contest are from the National Religious community, and while the current chief Rabbis would likely come under legal attack if they urged a boycott, if former chief Rabbis (like Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu) and other prominent Rabbis signed on, I can see the boycott of the Israeli religious kids being total. Proselytizing for other religions is an issue with respect to which - at least in the religious Jewish community here - there is a wall-to-wall consensus of opposition, which extends to much of the secular community as well.

Like Jameel, I am not sure what will happen, but I am sure we have not heard the last of this.

Read the whole thing.

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