Helping the Poor and Needy

Helping the poor is a basic part of almost all religions. Churches and Christian ministries throughout the world are involved with feeding the hungry, disaster relief, soup kitchens, etc.

In Israel, however, a Messianic ministry who spreads the gospel will receive a lot of pushback if they try to also help the disadvantaged. Missionary activity is permitted in Israel as part of freedom of speech, but two laws are limiting it. One is that you may not evangelize to minors, and the other is that you are not allowed to offer gifts or pay for switching religion. Most Messianic Jews think these laws are reasonable. Offering money for switching religion wouldn’t be genuine and no right-minded Messianic Jew would dream of doing so.

However, as soon as a Messianic ministry helps Israeli needy people, the anti-missionary organizations accuse them of seeking to proselytize “in exchange for favors,” applying an extremely broad interpretation of the law. Lately this happened in Ashdod. The local Messianic congregation gave out warm blankets and heating devices to needy holocaust survivors. An Israeli radio program interviewed an anti-missionary activist who accused them of breaking the law. The broadcaster said that they had turned to the Ashdod municipality who answered they would investigate whether this work was “disguised missionary endeavor.”

Even if these cases never make it to court, the mere accusation and the problems which arise from it makes some Messianic organizations wary of even trying. In a few extreme cases, some ministries who focus on helping the needy have banned evangelization altogether, while others who spread the gospel have decided not to get involved in helping the poor at all.

Jewish religious organizations do not fear these accusations. They are helping the needy while at the same time encouraging those who receive their help to get closer to the religion. Some organize free proselytizing children’s camps to secular families every year, without pushbacks. No one accuses them of trying to proselytize minors, even though they are. On paper, Israel has freedom of religion, but in reality there is a strong bias against any religious organization which is not Orthodox Jewish.