BEERSHEVA, Israel - Four and a half years after hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews disrupted a Messianic Jewish service, throwing chairs and assaulting some of the members, an Israeli court ruled against the Messianic Jews’ civil suit this week.
"[It was] a complete miscarriage of justice," said Howard Bass, pastor of Kehilat Nachalat Yeshua (Congregation Yeshua's Inheritance) in Beersheva.
Bass and his congregation (with the backing of many Messianic Jewish leaders in Israel) were suing the chief rabbi of Beersheva, Yehuda Deri, and the anti-missionary organization, Yad L'Achim, for what they believe was their part in the melee that took place on December 24, 2005.
(Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.)
Judge Iddo Ruzin ruled that "the two defendants are innocent of any wrong-doing concerning the events before, during and after 24 December 2005," Bass wrote in an email. Ruzin also determined that the Messianic Jews "did not produce sufficient evidence to prove any personal liability on their part.”
"I think the judge at some point was influenced in a way to not really hear our side of the case," Bass told CBN News.
According to Bass, the judge acknowledged “that an extremely serious event did take place." However, he claimed that Deri and Yad L'Achim were not responsible for any illegal activity – before, during or after the incident.
The trouble started on Christmas Eve day in 2005 when the congregation had planned to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah with a special baptismal service. But hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protestors crashed the celebration before it began.
Despite a heavy police presence, the rioting continued for three hours as protesters overturned furniture and harassed members, singing and dancing disruptively. A young member of the congregation caught some of the fracas on camera.
The police turned over two of the handcuffed hooligans to Rabbi Deri, without asking if Bass wanted to press charges. The next day, Deri tried to whitewash the entire incident in a radio interview.
It wasn't the first time the congregation had been bothered. Seven years earlier, more than 1,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews came against the congregation.
Now, the judge has ordered Bass and his congregation to pay not only the lawyers' fees but a percentage of the claims they had demanded from the Deri and Yad L'Achim – altogether more than $40,000.
"The message is fairly clear," said Bass. Part of it is a "wake-up call" to the local Body of Messiah to see the reality that the believers here are dealing with at this stage in God's plans. Messianic Jews can't expect the system to support them," he said.
There are an estimated 20,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. Theoretically, they have freedom to practice their faith and most of the time they are not bothered. But if they are harassed, it is difficult to get the justice system to take any action against the perpetrators.
Bass said they do not know yet whether they will appeal the verdict. They have until July 9 to decide. They still believe they did the right thing in going to court, he said, and they have enough reason procedurally and factually to appeal the ruling to the District Court.
Nevertheless, he said, they will consult with other Messianic Jewish leaders in Israel and pray about it first.