The long-awaited trial against Beersheva's chief Sephardic rabbi and the Yad L'achim anti-missionary organization opened on Wednesday morning.
Rabbi Yehuda Deri and Yad L'achim are on trial for their alleged involvement in a violent demonstration against Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua's Inheritance), a local Messianic congregation, on December 24, 2005.
Inside the courtroom, Rabbi Deri listened quietly as police and local citizens confirmed his presence at Nachalat Yeshua on the day of the demonstration, when an estimated 500 Orthodox Jews rampaged at the tiny gathering.
It took 100 policemen nearly three hours to disperse the angry mob, the police officer who had been in charge of the force testified.
At a follow-up hearing scheduled for June 21, the plaintiff's lawyers hope to prove Rabbi Deri's and Yad L'achim's involvement in the incident.
The rabbi's lawyers contend that he arrived on the scene to disperse the crowd and help bring order to the violent demonstration, which took place both inside and outside the building.
Messianic leaders from around the country attended the hearing at the Beersheva District court.
"The outcome could have a major impact on our freedom to worship the Jewish Messiah [Yeshua, Hebrew for Jesus]," one Messianic pastor said.
Following Wednesday's hearing, Howard Bass, the leader of Nachalat Yeshua told CBN News he was encouraged by the judge's affirmation that a "very serious incident" had taken place on that day.
"We're very thankful that the judge acknowledged there was a very serious incident on December 24, 2005, both inside and outside the building where our congregation meets," Bass said.
"Our challenge is to prove that Rabbi Deri and Yad L'achim were responsible for this very serious incident and will be held liable for what took place that day," he said.
Deri's opposition to Messianic Israelis is not new.
In a 2007 interview with the Israeli news agency ArutzSheva Deri said, "We note of late the terrible phenomenon of Messianic Jews wreaking havoc and destruction in Israel by trying to bring Jesus as Messiah into Israel. With pleasantness and kindness, they bring Torah, fear of G-d and even Torah commandments, but all with one underlying theme that Jesus is Messiah."
Deri was one of a three-member committee of rabbis that banned Jewish participation in a May 2007 conference that focused on women's issues from a Judeo-Christian perspective.
The rabbinic ruling forbade Israeli women from participating in the conference.
Focusing on "Judeo-Christian values" and "the Jewish foundations of Christianity" is actually "part of a long-running campaign to bring Israeli Jews to believe in Jesus," a statement from the rabbis read.
The conference, co-sponsored by the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem under the banner, "I am my Sister's Keeper," was, according to the rabbis, "in opposition to Torah thought and law."
"[The sponsors of the conference] strive to create a partnership between well-known Christian preachers and leaders of organizations that have worldwide missionary programs to missionize as many Jews as possible. Events of this nature have been banned in the past by Torah giants throughout the generations, and they are forbidden," the statement read.
In 2002, Rabbi Deri was appointed to a committee of four rabbis to investigate the "Jerusalem Fund," an organization that distributes large amounts of money contributed by evangelical Christians to help Jews immigrate to Israel and absorb into the culture.
The fund also contributes sizable amounts to various welfare organizations - $15 million in the past year alone - and provides support for Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
In a strange twist of interests, Deri is also brother-in-law of Yaffa Deri, whose charity organizations are beneficiaries of the Jerusalem Fund.
Rabbi Deri is the brother of Arieh Deri, the former chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, who served a three-year jail sentence for taking $155,000 in bribes during his tenure as Interior minister.