Birthright Israel says no to Messianic Jews

To prevent Messianic Jews from participating in their program, organizers for Birthright Israel have begun screening candidates interested in free trips to Israel.

A Birthright questionnaire obtained by the Jerusalem Post asks about an applicants’ religious faith. Under a category titled “eligibility rules,” applicants must declare that they are Jewish.

They are also asked to declare that “I do not subscribe to any beliefs or follow any practices which may be in any way associated with Messianic Judaism, Jews for Jesus or Hebrew Christians.”

The questionnaire stipulates that any applicant who lies will be immediately dismissed from the program and will lose a $250 deposit. In addition, the person might be obligated to pay the full cost of the trip, normally paid by Birthright — valued at $2,500 to $3,000.

Messianic Jews are often Jewish by lineage and/or identify themselves with the Jewish people, but believe that Jesus is the messiah. Most celebrate the Jewish holidays and study Jewish texts in addition to the New Testament.

Attorney Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, which provides legal counsel to Messianic Jews in Israel, called the screening practice “blatant, ridiculous discrimination” and “a shame.”

“Instead of drawing children of Messianic Jewish families closer to their Jewish roots, they are excluding them from participating,” he said.

Myers said the practice of asking questions about belief in Jesus was new. “As recently as this past summer, Messianic Jews who took part in Birthright trips were not asked these questions,” he said.

However, Taglit-Birthright CEO Gidi Mark said Messianic Jews has been excluded since Birthright’s founding in 2000 as part of the agreement with its funders.

“People who opt out of what constitutes being Jewish according to the accepted Jewish denominations should not be eligible for Taglit-Birthright’s gift,” Mark said.

He said Jews who “choose the Messianic path — and in so doing accept the Christian belief in Jesus — have chosen a path that separates them from the accepted parameters of Jewishness in contemporary Jewish society. Such a choice is regarded as analogous to freely converting out of normative Jewish belief systems.”