by Tony Pearce ( Light for Last Days).
David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, envisaged that within two or three generations Jews returning from different lands to Israel would enjoy a common culture with shared values. The reality today is somewhat different. Many analysts fear that the gulf separating the ultra-orthodox community from secular Israelis is as great a threat to its future as the threat from the hostile nations surrounding Israel.
In the last Israeli election religious parties gained an unprecedented 23 seats in the 120 member Knesset and found themselves holding the balance of power in Netanyahu's coalition government. In the municipal election that took place in November the ultra-orthodox parties became a majority in Jerusalem and the city effectively went under their control.
This is a cause for alarm for Israel's secular majority who fear the intentions of the ultra-orthodox. Uri Ram, a professor at Ben Gurion University spoke of a 'new phenomenon in Israel - the mobilisation of the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) as a political force.' He said 'Secular Jews are afraid of everything the ultra-orthodox symbolise. These people - the fundamentalist, religious, nationalist camp - are inherently anti-democratic and don't have any respect for the concepts of liberty, pluralism, equality of the sexes and freedom. Can the ultra-orthodox take over in Israel? Yes, they can. Look what happened in Iran, and we are on the same track. I must say I don't know if a solution can be found before there is a catastrophe.'
Common complaints against the ultra-orthodox are that they seek to impose their way of life on the rest of Israel, that they avoid military service and that they take out far more than they contribute to the welfare system. Journalist Ze'ev Chavets suggested a novel solution to the problem: dividing Israel into two nations, a secular state with Tel Aviv as its capital and a religious state with Jerusalem as its capital. 'Many readers thought I was joking, but I was not,' says Chavets. 'In fact separation of the two communities is already taking place, except in three areas. We don't have separation of finances because they (the ultra-orthodox) live off us; we don't have separation of military responsibility because we protect them; and we don't have separation in parliament because they interfere with our law making.'
On the other hand the ultra-orthodox are appalled at the 'Americanisation' of Israel, the garish shopping malls, the teenagers in skimpy western fashions, the night-clubs, the yuppie culture of pleasure seeking and materialism, to say nothing of the desecration of the Sabbath with more shops, restaurants and cinemas open than ever before. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Taanis) 'If all Jews would keep one Sabbath properly, the Messiah would come immediately.' If this is so, then a visit to Tel Aviv on a Friday night would convince anyone that the Messiah is going to be long time coming.
The issue of the Messiah introduces us to a third force in Israel today who believe that he has already come, not because the people earned him by keeping the commandments of God, but for precisely the opposite reason. 'For when we were still without strength, in due time Messiah died for the ungodly. ... But God commends his own love towards us in that while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us.' (Romans 5.6-8).
Right now this faith, that Jesus, or Yeshua to give him his Hebrew name, is the Messiah promised in the Tenach (Bible), is under attack in Israel as never before. A bill sponsored by Rabbi Pinchasi, a member of the ultra-orthodox Shas Party in the Israeli Knesset, calls for three years imprisonment and / or a 50,000 shekel fine for distribution or possession of printed materials that may cause someone to change religious affiliation. The main target of this legislation is the printing of material which attempts to persuade people that Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel.
According to the Messianic action group defending the freedom to make known Yeshua's claim to be the Messiah in Israel, the ultra-orthodox have the political power to bring about a favourable vote on this bill. If it is passed the propagation of the Gospel in Israel will become illegal and many Jewish believers in Jesus will face criminal penalties for sharing their faith.
Friends in Israel write of a recent upsurge of violence against believers in Jesus in the land. At the beginning of November a crowd of ultra-orthodox men broke into the Jerusalem apartment of three ladies from a Christian community at three o'clock in the morning. The ladies are described as 'devout Israel loving Christians, who have lived in the land for years, praying for the people.' With great violence they smashed up everything in the apartment, threw all furniture out of the window, collected and burned all books in a bonfire made in the middle of the street. Secular newspapers described the incident as a 'Christian pogrom'. Pogroms were violent incidents against Jewish communities in Russia in the last century, generally incited by the corrupt church.
At the end of November a mob of about 1000 ultra-orthodox surrounded a congregation in Beersheva during a service and attacked it, attempting to take away children, claiming believers have no right to raise them. Eye witnesses say the violence and hatred were enormous: shouting, spitting, curses, throwing of stones and bottles at Jewish believers and physical assaults. No one was seriously hurt, but the building sustained considerable damage.
The Chief Rabbi of Beersheva declared, 'We are not going to tolerate the presence of believes in the city.' This mob action was incited by lying rumours spread in the synagogues that the believers were planning the forceful baptism of 150 children. Our correspondent in Israel makes the comparison between this incident and the way in which the church stirred up anti-semitic mobs in the Middle Ages with lies about the Jews killing Christian children to use their blood for Passover matzos.
It is clear that there is a huge spiritual battle raging for the soul of Israel. The ultra-orthodox claim that this is a battle between those who stand for the Torah delivered by God to Moses and heretics who are bringing foreign gods into Israel. Is this so?
Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah
It is interesting that one of the major driving forces behind ultra-orthodox Judaism is Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. There was an outcry at the time of the last election in Israel over tactics used by the Shas Party, which is one of the strongest opponents of the Messianic Jews. The Party distributed tens of thousands of amulets bearing the likeness of their leader, Rabbi Kaduri, a Kabbalist, with Hebrew letters on them. Some people believed that the amulets, which have the holy names of angels, have the power to bring them luck or fend off evil.
Mystic healers are abounding in Israel, especially amongst Sephardi Jews. Among the methods used are the use of written words, usually passages from the Talmud or the Torah, and of 'gematria' - adding up the numerical value of a person's name, finding a Biblical passage with a corresponding value, and using the result as an amulet. These are supposed to appease evil spirits.
Hebrew University anthropologist Yoram Bilu has spent years researching the growth of mysticism in Israel and expresses concern about the trend. 'Rationalism is definitely shrinking in this country. In the 70s these people were on the periphery of society. Now they are in the centre. Knesset members openly consult them. The religious establishment is very ambivalent about attacking these practitioners on what amounts to folk religion. They can't be seen to be going against the current.'
So what is Kabbalah? The word means 'to receive' and has come to mean the receiving of a hidden or mystical doctrine. The Kabbalists teach that this mystical doctrine came from God and was first given to Abraham, then passed on to Moses with additional inspiration and finally passed on to the Jewish sages. The teaching of Kabbalah was not meant for the common man, but was revealed to and received by certain elected individuals. We see this in the following quote from the Apocryphal (i.e. non-biblical) book of Esdras: 'These words you must publish openly and those you must keep secret.' In this reference it is claimed that Moses was commanded to teach the simple contents of the Law to all, but the higher mystical teaching was to be taught only to the elected ones.
In fact the Bible makes it clear that all the words of God through Moses are written in the Torah and that there are no hidden teachings only for the elect: 'Joshua read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the congregation of Israel.' Joshua 8.34-35).
Kabbalah teaches that one cannot know God, who is called the 'Ein Sof', the unknowable God, by the simple content of the scriptures, but by the mystical interpretation. The scriptures are considered to be a garment of God. It is further taught that just as we cannot know the essence of a person by his clothing, in like manner we cannot know the infinite, unknowable God by the scriptures (i.e. his clothing). Kabbalah seeks to peel off, as it were, the clothing of God and to know as much as can be known of the unknowable God. In opening up the individual to the spiritual experience, which is supposed to be available to those 'enlightened' by Kabbalah, the practice has incorporated doctrines and practices which are common to the occult worldwide. These include: belief in reincarnation, contact with angels, demons and departed spirits; 'monism' (believing that light and darkness, good and evil are all aspects of God); attributing secret messages and hidden meanings to words and statements which mean something else at face value; self induced trances, resulting in visions and 'astral' (out of body) travels; and harnessing of superhuman powers by pronouncing sacred names.
The origin of Kabbalah is not to be found in the writings of Moses and the Prophets, which actively condemn such practices (Deuteronomy 18.9-14, Isaiah 8.19-22). It was in Babylon, which became a centre of Talmudic learning after the dispersion of the Jewish people, and from where they absorbed much occult influence. Far from being authentically Jewish it is simply a Jewish recycling of the pagan mysticism which influenced corrupted forms of early Christianity through Gnosticism and which is basic to eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. It is a common source to the New Age paganism, which is now sweeping the world.
The significance of the spiritual conflict in Israel
By contrast the believers in Jesus as the Messiah are following one who was prophesied in Moses and the Prophets and who is the only Messiah whom God has any intention of sending and the only one who can bring about true revelation of the God of Israel. In the last century Bible scholars like David Baron and John Wilkinson saw from passages like Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and Zechariah 12 that there would be first a physical and then a spiritual rebirth of Israel. This spiritual rebirth would come about through a conflict, both external and internal.
The external conflict of Israel is prophesied in such passages as Psalm 83, Ezekiel 38-39 and Zechariah 12-14. There are also passages, which speak of a spiritual conflict over Israel. One such passage is Isaiah 66. In verse 5 we read:
'Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: "Your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for my name's sake, said, 'Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see their joy.' But they shall be ashamed.'''
The ones who tremble at God's word are described in Isaiah 66.2 as those who are 'of a poor and contrite spirit.' This describes those who genuinely believe in Yeshua the Messiah, who are contrite and repent of their sins. They believe God's word which prophesies his coming as the one on whom 'the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53.6).'
In Isaiah 66.5 these believers are hated by their brethren and cast out for the sake of God's name. This describes precisely the situation in Israel today, whereby Jewish believers in Yeshua are despised and rejected for the sake of the name of God, whom the Orthodox consider that they are defiling. In fact when the showdown comes it is the believers in Yeshua who are justified and their rejecters who are brought to shame. This is what will happen at the second coming of Yeshua when he reveals himself as the Messiah and rescues Israel from certain destruction at the hands of the Antichrist, the deceiver who will take world power at the end of this age.
Much is revealed about this one in Daniel 7-12 and even more in the New Testament Book of Revelation. He will come to power initially through a false peace treaty over Israel which will break down and lead to the worst time of trouble Israel and the world has ever known. If God did not intervene this time of trouble would mean the end of all life on earth (Jeremiah 30, Matthew 24).
The probability that the ultra-orthodox will be deceived by the Antichrist and therefore brought to shame is shown by a book called 'The Real Messiah' by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, which attempts to disprove that Yeshua is the Messiah. In his final chapter he describes his view of the 'real Messiah', whom he describes as 'a charismatic leader greater than any other in man's history. Imagine a political genius surpassing all others. With the vast communication networks now at our disposal, he could spread his message to the entire world and change the very fabric of society.'
He describes a possible scenario which brings him to power. 'One possible scenario could involve the Middle East situation. This is a problem that involves all the world powers. Now imagine a Jew, a Tzadik (literally a 'righteous one') solving this thorny problem. It would not be inconceivable that such a demonstration of statesmanship and political genius would place him in a position of world leadership. The major powers would listen to such an individual.'
He goes on to describe how he would regather the exiles to Israel, cause the Temple to be rebuilt and teach all mankind to live in peace and follow God's teachings. He concludes, 'As society reaches toward perfection and the world becomes increasingly Godly, men will begin to explore the transcendental more and more. As the prophet said (Isaiah 11.9), 'For all the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.' More and more people will achieve the mystical union of prophecy, as foretold by Joel, 'And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.'
To those with discernment this is simply a Jewish recycling of the New Age delusion of a Messianic figure appearing to bring world peace and spiritual enlightenment through some kind of mystical experience. In fact God's way to peace is through repentance and faith in the Messiah Yeshua who has come once in fulfilment of specific prophecies in the Bible and who is coming again soon to judge the world in righteousness according to how we have responded to his message.
On his return Yeshua will not come in the form he came in the first time, but with all the power of God at his disposal. He will stand on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14) and bring to an end the final war raging over Jerusalem. Then he will bring in the true Millennium, the 1000 year reign of peace when the nations will beat swords into ploughshares and not study war any more (Isaiah 2.1-4, 11, Revelation 20).
In this article we have looked at the internal situation in Israel. What is happening around Israel should alert us to the coming of a tremendous crisis in the area, which will of course affect what happens inside the land.
Russia's new Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, is long time supporter of the Arab - Muslim cause. He is very receptive to the powerful lobbies in Russia that seek to re-engage with the old Middle East allies of the Soviet Union. He has close ties to Iraq, Iran and Syria and counts Syrian President Assad and Saddam Hussein as his personal friends. He has no objection to selling Russian missiles to Iran and Syria. He is opposed to strengthening ties with Israel. Russian missiles being shipped to Cyprus, ostensibly for use against Turkey, could also be used against Israel.
Turkey is in alliance with Israel and potentially in conflict with Syria. Syria is at odds with Turkey over its plans to build dams on the Euphrates River, a key source of water for Syria. King Hussein of Jordan is not expected to live for long and the US and Israel are deeply concerned about the ability of his designated successor, Prince Hassan, to hold on to power in Jordan. There are fears of Iraq or Syria taking advantage of any unrest in Jordan to destabilise the situation. Even more worrying is the possibility (probability?) that Arafat will provoke a civil war which will overthrow the Hashemite kingdom and seize power through the 75% Palestinian population of Jordan. Jordan would then be linked to the Palestinian Authority and provide it with an ally along Israel's longest border and a through passage to Iraq and Syria. Arafat maintains his threat of declaring the Palestinian State in May 1999, which would inevitably bring him into conflict with Israel. He is preparing his own people for such a conflict and building alliances with nations around Israel so that they would support him if there is a military stand off with Israel.
Iran now has missiles capable of hitting Israel, with help from Russia. Israel is developing the most advanced anti-missile system in the world, the Arrow 2 missile. It is expected to be partially deployed in 1999 and its first battery will be fully operational in 2000. An additional two batteries will be deployed in the following years in an attempt to provide Israel with a substantial, though incomplete, protective missile shield against incoming ballistic missiles.
The western world is desperate to see a Middle East peace in place to avoid the possibility of a major war in the region which would disrupt the flow of oil and trade and be yet another factor in triggering global recession (remember the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and its aftermath).
All these developments tie in with the end time prophecies of a growing circle of conflict around the nation of Israel (Psalm 83, Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 12-14) leading to the return of the Messiah Jesus at the final conflict of Armageddon (Revelation 16). Even the detail of the dams on the Euphrates has significance (see Revelation 16.12).