The Israeli Knesset has introduced and passed a new bill that has caused anger and confusion in the Jewish nation, and “could tear apart the Jewish people,” according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Jewish News, July 22, 2010) In order to become law, the bill must pass three readings in the Knesset, and some Jewish lawmakers are threatening to deliberately stall the process in a desperate attempt to defeat it.

The bill was pushed by David Rotem, the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. “This bill will pass, no doubt,” Rotem declared.

This new law would put the Orthodox rabbinate, a minority of Israelis, in charge of determining who may be considered a Jewish citizen. “This bill disenfranchises the vast majority of Jews both in Israel and around the world who are not ultra-Orthodox,” according to Rabbi Aaron Bergman.

The concern is that within a context of a rapidly declining Jewish population, large numbers of Jews could lose their Israeli citizenship and right to be considered Jewish. Current estimates are that only about seven percent of Jews in the world today consider themselves to be Orthodox, which could mean that large numbers of Jews would be threatened with disenfranchisement.

Such a conflict within Judaism has been brewing for decades, in which Orthodox rabbis have continually disparaged the religious beliefs, rituals, and customs of other large, more liberal, mainstream Jewish sects.

A similar disenfranchisement has taken place for centuries, as Jews who converted to belief in Christ have been stripped of their right to be considered Jewish. Since Judaism steadfastly refuses to consider Christianity as a legitimate offspring, Christian Jews are denied Jewish citizenship. Will a similar situation result in non-Orthodox Jews also losing their right to be Jewish?

Many Jewish leaders consider a Jew to be a religious term, not a racial designation. In fact, the Encyclopedia of Myth and Magic (article: Lost Ten Tribes) speaks of Jewishness as a religious designation limited to a spiritual sense: Abraham is their spiritual father because they inherit his beliefs and rituals, they claim.

In stark contrast to this, most Christian leaders instead consider the word, Jew, to be a racial designation for those who are physically descended from Abraham, and “Jewishness” to be determined only by blood relation. Quite incorrectly, they also say that virtually no Jews have ever converted to Christianity, a claim that is plainly contradicted by the Biblical book of Acts. An excellent analysis of this, “Did Israel Reject Christ?” by this author is found on the web at www.israelite.info

Noted theologian R.T. France does not see prophecy fulfilled in a non-Christian Jewish state, according to his monograph, “Old Testament Prophecy and the Future Of Israel.” (Tyndale Bulletin 26) He states, “In fact, the New Testament writers never suggest that Old Testament prophecy is to be fulfilled in a political restoration of the Jewish nation. When Paul asserts that the ‘hardened’ part of Israel will one day be reintegrated into the true people of God, and so ‘all Israel will be saved’, he gives no hint that he is thinking of anything other than their spiritual conversion.” (p.77)

This confusion within Christianity concerning the role of the modern Jews in the plan of God is nothing new. Dr. Mark Bonnington, in his commentary on Galatians (1999), says, “…it is clear that earliest Christianity grew up on a social context where Jewish identity was fundamentally and antagonistically contested: gentile outsider perceptions were frequently both stereotyped and derogatory.” (p.151)

While Jewish stereotypes are no longer derogatory in mainstream Christian literature, there is no question that a pervasive stereotypical mythology still exists. Related to this is the typecast that says Western Christians have no Israelite ancestry whatsoever, and stridently opposes any evidence to the contrary. One can only wonder what the famous professor Dr. Albert Schweitzer knew when he stated that most Christian prophecy teaching is “an embarrassment resting on a mistake.” This is a good definition of a large percentage of the Christian prophecy books, steeped in dispensational futurism, that are published today.

Yet if being Jewish is related to their acceptance of the God of the Bible as well as the rituals of the Old Testament, what of the secular Jews who reject all religion? Professor Edwin Yamauchi stated, “The defection [from Judaism] of such Jews as Sigmund Freud…was based on intellectual reasons.” (Tyndale Bulletin 29, p.167) A very large and growing number of secular Jews today are non-religious.

The growing battle within Judaism over who is a Jew is reminiscent of a similar bitter struggle that took place during the first century between the Pharisee and Sadducee sects. The Sadducees were the liberals of their era. They were indifferent to the Torah (Mosaic laws), and rejected the biblical ideas of angels, resurrection, and literal belief in the Scriptures. The Pharisees were not only conservative champions of the law, but added their own proscriptions that went far beyond the commands of Scripture. In reading the New Testament, it appears that these two highly antagonistic groups seemed to agree on almost nothing other than their hatred of Christ! Their modern ideological counterparts may be seen today as we witness the vitriol between the Orthodox and other more liberal sects within Judaism. Christians today are largely unaware of the earlier first century religious fight and how it finally ended by means of a legal disenfranchisement of the Sadducees.

Historian Victor Eppstein explained, “…the Sadducees were effectively eliminated circa 60/61 C.E. by the simple expedient on the part of the hakhamin [legal establishment and scribes] of making it impossible for any Jew believing in Sadducee-halakhah [rituals and customs] to enter the temple without incurring the dreaded penalty of extirpation.” (JBL-85, p.214) The Sadducees were effectively legislated out of existence!

Will a similar legal proscription from the Israeli Knesset sound the death-knell for modern liberal Judaism? What does the future hold for the Jewish people? To paraphrase an expression by Dr. J. Moltmann, in “Theology and Hope” (1967), the Jewish people have only one real problem, “the problem of the future.”