JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Knesset members were shocked when they opened up a package in their mailboxes Monday morning.
Inside the envelope, select Knesset members found the annotated Hebrew Bible, including the New Testament, mailed as a gift from the Bible Society of Israel, with a cover letter from General Director Victor Kalisher.
In the letter, Kalisher notes the 90,000 cross-references in the new edition that "shed light on the holy texts and help in understanding them."
The cross-references, he points out, show the "close connection" between the Old and New Testaments and how many of the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament writings.
The Bible was published recently. It's the first time ever the complete Bible, with the New Testament, has included cross references and study helps in the language of the prophets -- Hebrew.
Kalisher, a second generation Messianic Jewish believer born and raised in Israel, told CBN News the Bible was given as a "tool" to help Israeli leaders interact with other world leaders and not as a "missionary act."
"This [annotated, cross-reference] Bible is the fruit of many years of hard work," he said. Responding to the gift "with prejudice doesn't show respect to people who appreciate the Book."
"The people in the Knesset have a lot of contact with the Christian world, which is based on the Bible," he continued, "so reading it will increase their understanding of the people with whom they're interacting."
But media coverage here in Israel was less than positive.
The Jerusalem Post quoted MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) saying, "it cannot be that missionary materials can be distributed in the Knesset."
"Texts that were used to persecute and harass [Jews] cannot be distributed through the front door of the State of Israel," Hotovely reportedly said, reflecting the perspective of many who point to centuries of pogroms and persecution of the Jewish people.
The Post went on to quote a couple of other Knesset members, as well as Israeli law, against "granting material benefits as an inducement to conversion" and the prohibition against converting "anyone under 18 unless one parent is a member of that religion."
Israel National News wrote that MKs were "furious after finding…what many called missionary propaganda promoting the New Testament."
"Members of all parties in the Knesset were shocked to see a Christian book that tries to link the Christian New Testament with the Jewish Bible," it reported on its website.
Upon hearing that MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) "tore up a copy of the New Testament and posed for photographs with the destroyed Bible," the Anti-Defamation League called on him to apologize publicly.
"As Jews, we expect others to treat our holy books with respect and understanding," wrote ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. "We should likewise show respect for the holy books of other faiths."
"A member of parliament and a representative of the State of Israel should know better than to show such profound disrespect for another faith. His actions run counter to Jewish values and the standards of Israel's democratic society," Foxman continued.
"In statements to the media, the publisher has asserted that the intention was not to proselytize, but rather to inform MKs of the wealth of religious texts produced in Israel," Foxman said.
'A Jewish Book'
But Kalisher takes a different tact. He believes Israel's leaders, "of all people," should read the Bible and rejects accusations that distributing the Hebrew study Bible was an act of provocation.
"It was done in an act of respect, caring and love," he said.
"The New Testament is a Jewish book, written by Jewish authors. It was given to the leaders of Israel who, of all people, should read this book," he said.
He cautioned against focusing on the negative response of a couple of ministers that doesn't necessarily reflect everyone's reaction.
"I think the 'noise' in the Knesset and 'furious' reactions by MKs is actually a very, very small number. The vast majority were appreciative," Kalisher told CBN News.
On its website, the Bible Society in Israel describes itself as a "publisher and distributor of the Word of God."
It goes on to say, "Our heart's desire is to bring God's life-changing Word to the People of Israel that they may know the Messiah of Israel."
And therein lies the rub. To many Israelis, that aim translates as an intent to convert Jews to Christian beliefs because Judaism teaches the Jewish Messiah is yet to come.
But that doesn't deter Kalisher, who said his intention is to "open up the Word of God to the people of Israel -- to the people of the Book."
"I want people to consider the true Jewish Scriptures," he said.