An Israeli couple who are Messianic Jews cannot marry in a traditional Jewish religious ceremony in Israel because they are considered converts to Christianity, a rabbinical court ruled on Tuesday.
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It was the first time a rabbinical court had to deal with the issue of the status of Jews who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, after the couple requested that they be married here according to Jewish tradition.
The dayanim (judges) at Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court wrote that if the couple “declares before the court they have completely given up their Christian beliefs, including their belonging to a Messianic Jewish community and missionary activities, the court will discuss their matter anew.”
The couple were both born Jewish and submitted a marriage request at their local rabbinate in Shoham, central Israel. According to halakha, they are seen as Jewish because even Jews who convert to another religion can still be considered Jewish.
Because of the seriousness of the issue, the case was given to a special panel of three very senior dayanim: Rabbi Zevadia Cohen, head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Ahiezer Amrani and Rabbi Zvi Ben-Yaakov.
The judges consulted with a scholar on Christianity and missionary cults, as well as speaking with and questioning the couple.
The rabbinical court decision is based partly on a High Court of Justice ruling concerning Messianic Jews who wanted to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. The law defines a Jew as a person who was “born of a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism and is not a member of another religion.”
Even though that case involved people who were considered Jewish halakhically, the High Court ruled that they were not allowed to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. The justices based their decision not on their actual status under Jewish law, but on what the petitioners themselves considered to be their religion.